Sentimental items - Tidying by category works like magic

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014

Sentimental items
Tidying by category works like magic

Your parents’ home is not a haven for mementos

Now that you have organized your clothes, books, papers, and komono, you can finally tackle the last category—items that have sentimental value. I leave this for last because these are the hardest things to discard. Just as the word implies, mementos are reminders of a time when these items gave us joy. The thought of disposing of them sparks the fear that we’ll lose those precious memories along with them. But you don’t need to worry. Truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard the objects associated with them. When you think about your future, is it worth keeping mementos of things that you would otherwise forget? We live in the present. No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important. So, once again, the way to decide what to keep is to pick up each item and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”

Let me tell you about a client of mine whom I’ll call “A.” She was a thirty-year-old mother of two in a five-member household. When I visited her house for our second session, it was obvious that the number of things in her home had decreased. “You really worked hard,” I said. “It looks like you must have gotten rid of about thirty bags’ worth of stuff.”

Looking very pleased, she said, “Yes, I did! I sent all my keepsakes to my mother’s place.” I could hardly believe my ears. She had used the “send it to my parents” method of tidying. When I first started this business, I actually thought that being able to send things “home” was the privilege of people who came from large houses in the country. The majority of my clients were single women or young mothers living in Tokyo. If they asked permission to send things to their parents’ house, I said, “Sure. As long as you do it right away.” I never thought anything of this until my clientele expanded to homes in rural towns. When I learned the true state of parents’ houses, I was forced to retract my rash words.

Now I realize that people who have a convenient place to send things, such as a parents’ house, are actually quite unfortunate. Even if the house is large with rooms to spare, it is not some infinitely expanding fourth dimension. People never retrieve the boxes they send “home.” Once sent, they will never again be opened.

But let me get back to my story. Sometime later, A’s mother started taking my course. I knew that if she were to graduate, we would have to do something about the luggage A had sent home. When I visited the house, I found that A’s room had been left untouched. Her things filled the bookcase and the closet, and now there were two big boxes parked on the floor. Her mother’s dream was to have a space of her own in which she could relax, but even though A had moved out long ago, with her things still enshrined in her room, the only space her mother felt was hers was the kitchen. This seemed very unnatural. I contacted A and announced, “You and your mother won’t graduate from this course until you have both dealt with the stuff you left at your parents’ house.”

On the day of her last lesson, A looked extremely happy. “Now I can enjoy the rest of my life free from care!” She had gone back home and put her things in order. In the boxes, she had found a diary, photographs of old boyfriends, a mountain of letters and New Year’s cards, and more. “I was just fooling myself by sending the things I couldn’t bear to part with to my parents. When I looked at each item again, I realized that I had lived those moments to the fullest and I was able to thank my keepsakes for the joy they gave me at the time. When I threw them away, I felt like I was confronting my past for the first time in my life.”

That’s right. By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past. If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realize it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too. It’s like resetting your life and settling your accounts so that you can take the next step forward.

Another item that is just as difficult to discard is keepsakes from one’s children. A Father’s Day present with the words “Thanks, Dad.” A picture your son drew that was selected by the teacher to hang in the school hall, or an ashtray your daughter made. If these things still bring you joy, it is fine to keep them. But if your children are already grown and you are keeping them because you think discarding them will hurt your children’s feelings, ask them. They are quite likely to say, “What? You still have that? Go ahead and get rid of it.”

And what about things from your own childhood? Do you still keep your report cards or graduation certificates? When my client pulled out a school uniform from forty years ago, even I felt my heart constrict with emotion. But it still should be disposed of. Let all those letters you received years ago from a girlfriend or boyfriend go. The purpose of a letter is fulfilled the moment it is received. By now, the person who wrote it has long forgotten what he or she wrote and even the letter’s very existence. As for accessories you received as gifts, keep them only if they bring you pure joy. If you are keeping them because you can’t forget a former boyfriend, it’s better to discard or donate them. Hanging on to them makes it more likely that you will miss opportunities for new relationships.

It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson these keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.