Keep what you love.

***Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Sifting and sorting…as much as you want to.

Last week I wrote about knowing when enough is enough. That post was about medical treatments at the end of life. However, the concept of “enough” also applies to our possessions, and that’s what I’m addressing today.

In either case, determining what is enough—and what is excess—challenges us to think about our values, what’s important to us, what we cherish.

What to keep?

In an earlier post about what to do with your things, I suggested a mind shift…

What if, instead of focusing on what we will get rid of, we look for the treasures in what we have. The point is to keep the treasures and move the rest along in appropriate ways. …Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things.

Well…now is that time!

Curating my surroundings has been high on my mind recently. It started when I had to clear everything except six large pieces of furniture out of my living room and dining room so the ceiling and two walls could be repainted. Because the picture hooks were removed and filled in, I started thinking about how to arrange art and accessories in different ways. That gave me ideas for tweaking the furniture arrangement. Before I put anything back, I assessed what would stay in the space. My criterion was “Does this say something about me?” And the result is perfect for me!

Sifting and sorting…

I have a long-standing interest in the idea of knowing ourselves to shape our environment. My first aha moment came more than twenty years ago, before clutter clearing and downsizing were in our vocabulary. I was living for a few months at Schumacher College, a centre of transformative learning for ecological and social change in the south of England.

I know! I’ll keep only what I can care for exquisitely.

So said Jeanne, who had spent a week grappling with what was, for her, a very big problem. Too much stuff, accumulated in the six years she had spent in the same flat. A gypsy at heart, she’d lived most of her adult life in a caravan (travel trailer). She felt weighed down and didn’t know how to sift and sort her things. When the solution hit her, it was clear—keep only what she could care for exquisitely.

The current version of the same principle is expressed beautifully in Marie Kondo’s books, in which she talks about keeping what sparks joy and thanking our things as we let them go.

Marie Kondo is Japanese, and these attitudes are embedded in her culture. Not so for Westerners, who are generally less tuned in to invisible energy. The following video gives a flavour of Marie Kondo and her approach, starting with a demonstration of what it feels like in your body when something “sparks joy.”  You also get to see her signature method for folding clothes, which includes an energy compnent.

Despite finding it odd when she talks about showing respect for your space, feeling how your belongings affect your energy, and putting love into your clothes as you fold them, North Americans embraced Marie Kondo’s Netflix series (January 2019).

In Spark Joy, her most recent book, she offers a lot of practical tips in addition to explaining the rationale behind her approach. Below are a few key ideas, but I recommend reading her book to get the whole picture. It’s a quick read and available in most libraries.

A few Marie Kondo principles and tips…

Having spent most of my life looking at things of every description, including those in my clients’ homes, I have discovered three common elements involved in attraction: the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value).

  • Tidy by category, not by room. Categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items (includes photos). Bring all items from a category into one room and sort them all at once.
  • Tidy in the order listed in the previous point. Clothes are the easiest and you can gain experience by starting with them. Sentimental items have the most attachments so it works best if you tackle them at the end.
  • Finish discarding first, before you organize what remains.
  • When tidying papers, a “pending box” is essential for all papers requiring action (bills, letters, etc). Put them in it as you find them and forge ahead with the main job of tidying. Your papers will be safe there until you can get to them.
  • “As with clothing, you must begin by taking every single book off the shelves and piling them on the floor. Then take them in your hands and keep only those that spark joy. Whatever you do, don’t start reading them.”
  • “If you have too many books to choose all at once, sort them by categories, such as general (for reading), practical (references, cookbooks), visual (coffee-table books) and magazines, and do the joy check for each category.”
  • Tidy before moving. Note for elders who may be anticipating moving to smaller quarters: This is very good advice.
  • Do not keep something because “it might come in handy.” It never will. (I plead guilty, and she is mostly right. But I’ve been vindicated once or twice!)
  • If you have trouble telling if something sparks joy for you, compare it to other items in the same category. Find your top 3 in the pile in 3 minutes. This will help you hone in on what it feels like when something sparks joy in you.
  • “I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum.”

For more of Marie Kondo, I suggest this delightful interview for further insights into her approach. Of course, she isn’t the only person with advice about dealing with your belongings.

Next week: Swedish death cleaning. See you then!