The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014
What you don’t need, your family doesn’t either
Finish discarding first
My sister is three years younger than me. Quiet and a bit on the shy side, she prefers to stay inside and draw or read quietly rather than to go out and socialize. Without a doubt, she suffered the most from my research on tidying, serving as my unsuspecting victim. By the time I was a university student, my focus was on “discarding,” but there were always things that I found hard to dispose of, such as a T-shirt that I really liked but that somehow didn’t look right. Unable to bring myself to part with it, I would try the item on repeatedly, standing in front of the mirror, but in the end, would be forced to conclude that it just didn’t suit me. If it was brand new, or a gift from my parents, the thought of getting rid of it made me feel very guilty.
At times like this, my sister came in very handy. The “gift for my sister” method seemed the perfect way to cast off such items. When I say “gift,” I don’t mean that I wrapped it up like a present—far from it. With the unwanted outfit in my hand, I would barge into my sister’s room where she lay on her bed reading contentedly. Extracting the book from her hand, I would say, “You want this T-shirt? I’ll give it to you if you like.” Seeing the puzzled look on her face, I would deal the final blow. “It’s brand new and really cute. But if you don’t need it, I’ll have to throw it away. Are you OK with that?”
My poor, mild-mannered sister would have no choice but to say, “I guess I’ll take it then.”
This happened so frequently that my sister, who hardly ever shopped, had a closet jammed to overflowing. Although she did wear some of the clothes I gave her, there were many more that she wore only once if ever. Yet I continued to give her “presents.” After all, they were good clothes and I thought she should be happy to have more. I only realized how wrong I was after I began my consulting business and met a client whom I will call “K.”
K was in her twenties, worked for a cosmetics company, and lived at home. As we were sorting through her clothes, I began to notice something odd about the choices she was making. Despite the fact that she owned enough clothes to fill one large closet, which is an average-size wardrobe, the number of clothes she chose to keep seemed unnaturally small. Her answer to the question, “Does this spark joy?” was almost always “No.” After thanking each item for a job well done, I would pass them to her to discard. I couldn’t help noticing the look of relief on her face every time she put an outfit in the bag. Examining the collection more closely, I saw that the clothes she chose to keep were mostly casual things like T-shirts, while the ones she discarded were a completely different style—tight skirts and revealing tops. When I asked her about this, she said, “My older sister gave me those.” When all the clothes were sorted and she had made her final choice, she murmured, “Look at that. I was surrounded by all this stuff that I didn’t even like.” Her sister’s hand-me-downs had comprised over a third of her wardrobe, but hardly any of these had given her that important thrill of pleasure. Although she had worn them because her sister had given them to her, she had never liked them.
To me, this seems tragic. And this is not an isolated case. In my work, the volume discarded by younger sisters is always greater than the volume discarded by older sisters, a phenomenon surely related to the fact that younger children are often accustomed to wearing hand-me-downs. There are two reasons why younger sisters tend to collect clothes they don’t really like. One is that it’s hard to get rid of something received from family. The other is that they don’t really know what they like, which makes it hard to decide whether they should part with it. Because they receive so much clothing from others, they don’t really need to shop and therefore they have less opportunity to develop the instinct for what really inspires joy.
Don’t misunderstand me. Giving things you can’t use to others who can is an excellent idea. Not only is it economical, but it can also be a source of great joy to see these things being enjoyed and treasured by someone close to you. But that is not the same as forcing things onto your family members because you can’t bring yourself to discard or donate them. Whether the victim is a sibling, a parent, or a child, this particular custom should be banned. Although my sister never complained, I am sure that she must have had mixed feelings when she accepted my hand-me-downs. Basically, I was simply transferring my guilt at not being able to discard them onto her. In retrospect, that was pretty despicable.
If you want to give something away, don’t push people to take it unconditionally or pressure them by making them feel guilty. Find out in advance what they like, and if you find something that fits those criteria, then and only then should you show it to them. You can also offer to give it to them on the condition that it is something they would have been willing to pay for. We need to show consideration for others by helping them avoid the burden of owning more than they need or can enjoy.