Out with the old.

A couple of weeks ago I did something huge. Something I’ve been dreading, a chore that honestly scared me. And as a result, I’m floating into 2016 on a freakin’ feather.

About nine months ago, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. You may be familiar with her work, as she made quite a splash with this book. Her method is somewhat unconventional, even spiritual, wherein she requires that each item you keep “spark joy” for you in some way. Anything else must go — thank the item for whatever it has brought into your life, and simply discard it immediately.

She recommends a specific order to discarding your belongings, the last and most advanced of which is sentimental items. I breezed through the other categories — clothing, books, papers, “komono”, or miscellaneous items like CDs and DVDs, accessories, makeup, kitchen items — and it was exhilarating to lighten my load so quickly and efficiently. I was into it. But when the time came to finish the job by assessing the sentimental, I recoiled as if the box were on fire and basically ran from the room with my hands over my ears yelling “LALALALALAAAAAA.”

In the top of my studio closet, I keep five plastic tubs. These tubs are full of old photos, essays, clippings, show tickets, playbills, love letters, birthday cards, yearly planners, elaborate scrapbooks from high school and college, and journals from more or less the past 15 years. They are the product of a diligently documented life. But I never look at any of it. It’s all just sitting up there, a dusty albatross of a life lived.

The day after Christmas I had too much coffee and pulled those boxes down on a whim. I didn’t have a plan, but I couldn’t deny a sudden and and strong desire to CREATE SPACE. Unburden myself. Clear out the old and welcome the new.

First, I decided to read my old journals to determine if they contained any memories that “sparked joy” or writing worth saving. I dove in without really considering what it would feel like to revisit former versions of myself so intimately. Some of it was cute, some of it was funny, some of it was…extremely boring. The hardest ones to read were those from the years I spent living in New York right after college. I’ve always said I wouldn’t revisit my 20s for a million dollars, and now I remember why, in great detail. Yikes. New York can be an extremely challenging place to live, especially for a sensitive girl of limited means confused about her life path. Absolutely no regrets, though. Thank you, journals, for helping me process all of the overwhelm. Thank you for giving me space to honor my own challenges and practice putting them into words.

Next I tackled the boxes of loose memorabilia and photos. I’ve always been a saver of bits and pieces, and I’ve always seen photos as somewhat sacred, something you weren’t allowed to ever throw away. But…they’re just paper. The memories they captured live in my head and my heart. I distilled the important events down to a few images and tossed the rest.

The task saved for last was scrapbooks. I started making scrapbooks in high school, and my craft evolved into a major hobby as I moved through college. It was fun to see my style evolve, growing more sophisticated with layouts, colors, and lettering. I never imagined these masterpieces would be relegated to the top of a closet. I literally NEVER look at them. They don’t even live on an accessible bookshelf. I was ready to let them go, but there was still a sliver of doubt, so I compromised with myself. I carefully photographed each spread. They are digitally preserved, and that is enough for me. So thank you, scrapbooks. Thank you for the creative outlet you provided, and for gently holding all the memories that have shaped me.

So now, five tubs are one. The top of my studio closet is free and clear, a fresh new space perfect for storing…well, I don’t know what! The point is that it’s open to possibilities, and I love it.

Like what you read? Give Maggie Wilhite a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.