It Used to Be Mine

Ever since Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, Tidying Up, hit the screen on January 1, 2019, a lot of us, it seems, have come to realize that our lives are full of things that no longer “spark joy.” Every time I hear Kondo’s famous phrase, I think of Lucinda Williams’ song, “Joy”:

“I don’t want you anymore

Cause you took my joy”

If this past Sunday at Goodwill is any indication, there are scores of us idling in our cars, waiting to purge our apartments and houses of the joyless detritus of our lives.

You know you are a cultural phenomenon when your name becomes a verb, as in “I Marie Kondo’d My Love Life.” And I will be the first to say, last summer I was on the “do not touch my books” bandwagon backlash–which, of course, was very “on brand” for someone whose life has been anchored and inspired by words. Yet, as I manage not only my things but also my almost two-year-old daughter’s belongings, I am beginning to see the wisdom and serenity in minimalism.


* * *


In line behind carloads of people, I watched as a fit woman in black Lululemon workout pants and, what I imagined were, her two teenage sons removed a teal macrame lawn chair, several boxes full of clothes, and a black end table. The now empty trunk space of their Buick SUV looked remarkably roomy as she closed the hatchback.

The Goodwill workers hauling all of this woman’s stuff were all efficiency. No time for chit chat as the cars kept coming. And if you are able to itemize taxes, you had to ask for the deduction sheet as they are not offering it unless requested. Goodwill was hopping.

Suddenly, as Ms. Lululemon and Sons drove away, it was my turn to abandon the mini-basketball slash soccer goal set that cheered whenever my daughter scored, and the whale bathtub we washed her in when she outgrew the kitchen sink but was still too small for the vastness of the bathtub. Also up for donation, one small box of my family’s clothes and a lone plush caterpillar Luci no longer paid attention to, except to throw on the floor as she rifled through the rest of her toys.


* * *


In these donations, I see my baby kicking her legs in furious delight as her father and grandmother wash her tiny body. I remember the caterpillar’s former owner, my friend’s son Gus, five months older than Luci. The caterpillar traveled from Cape Elizabeth, Maine to St. Louis. Jenna and I met when we were 17 years old. Now we are mothers together.

In the first weeks of my daughter’s life, Jenna sent me lactation cookies, brewer’s yeast to make more cookies, warm and clean hand-me-downs, and so much love as I navigated the sleepless and joyful haze of new motherhood. I see those early days in these donations. I remember those moments without the objects, of course, but these artifacts prompt a visceral reaction, a desire to hold on just a little bit longer.

“But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go,” Kondo wrote in her 2014 guide, “there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

Most of the possessions I am beginning to cull from my family’s life are rooted in a desire to hold onto what no longer is. Stasis is fine for replenishing the nitrogen of fallow fields, but not for humans who wish to continue to grow and learn.

Similarly, looking through my personal library, I wonder how many of these books, however loved, I will read again or thumb through to read the marginalia I penned in purple or green ink.

I cannot, will not, get rid of all of my books, of course, but the vast majority of them are nods to a young woman who found solace and solidarity in the written word. Or, as many point out, the books I own are not my personality and Kondo is not trying to take my books. She is, instead, asking all of us bibliophiles if the books we own are something we love and use or are just good at collecting dust.

Those words will still be there–in libraries, bookstores, and thrift stores like the one where I wait to donate the vestiges of my only child’s babyhood.