Resisting Marie Kondo

Getting Rid of Stuff was Unpleasant, Uncomfortable…and Healthy.

Lisa Martens
Jan 16 · 9 min read
I no longer own this bikini, but this still happened.

I am a child. I have been in foster care, lived at my grandmother’s house, and with my mother. I keep being moved around and do not stay in one school for long. I have seizures (which are not yet diagnosed). I’m afraid all the time, mainly of being left or abandoned.

I read to escape and I treasure my books and my things. When my grandmother wants to get me a new mattress, I scream and cry. I don’t want to get rid of my old mattress.

When I wear my shoes out, I scream and cry when I have to get new ones.

I’m only six, and I’m developing an unhealthy relationship with stuff.

I am twenty-seven. I have just been given a remote job. I have PTSD. At first, the job is great. I stay at home all day. I order food.

I nestle into my anxiety. I never have to leave the house again, or even get dressed. I have a literal wall of books . . . about 500 of them. I have clothes that I keep that I don’t even fit into.

I have a dress that I wore once on a date with an ex. We got into a huge argument. I think of it every time I see the dress. Still, the dress is beautiful, and I looked good in it. So I don’t get rid of the dress in hopes that I will wear it again and paint over the bad memory.

The dress still smells like the night of the argument.

I am twenty-six. I work in a bookstore. I just graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing. Books are a part of my identity. I read them at work when the store is empty.

I read Marie Kondo’s bestseller, which is right there by the register. Some of the stuff makes sense. But only 10 books? Clean out your purse every time you come home? I scoff.

That’s crazy. And for me as a writer, sacrilege.

I love my books. I love holding them. I love organizing them. I love reading them. I long for the day I have enough space for a library. On Pinterest, I have boards of library ideas.

Books are a part of my identity. They’re sacred. I put flower petals in them and let them fall out years later. They are smooth, flat, blood red.

There is value in every one of them.

And so, I think this Marie Kondo person is probably very organized and has good intentions, but this advice isn’t for me.

I am eight. My seizures have been diagnosed. I switch schools often. I have moved from New York to Costa Rica to Texas.

My things remind me of where I’ve been. Of the things that I may forget.

I’m already forgetting, and that scares me.

Books are always my escape. I read all the time. I sometimes finish books in the time it takes to get home from the bookstore.

“Why do I even buy you books?” My dad asks. “You can just read them in the bookstore!” He’s sort of joking.

But I need my books. I have to have them. My parents buy me my own large bookshelf. It’s organized by genre and author last name.

I’m proud of all my books.

But I keep other things, too. Papers. Things I find and believe are magical for some reason. Things that are broken. Toys I don’t play with. My room is always a mess.

Sometimes, when I’m not home, my mom throws my things away. This makes my anxiety much, much worse. I start to put strings on the floor, position clothes on the bed a certain way, so I would immediately know if she was in my room.

I am a few months into my remote job, and I am isolated.

I am becoming more isolated.

I tell the men delivering food not to ring my bell or come up. I tell them to call my cell so I can come down.

This is because the sound of the buzzer makes me jump, and because I’m afraid of them knowing exactly where I live.

My co-workers are worse. Some refuse to go anywhere in public. I see myself in them…my anxiety closing in on me.

I have a remote job. I should do something about it. I should travel.

But how? I have this apartment. I have this stuff.

What do I have?

500 books, endless stacks of purses and totes, clothes I do not wear, games I do not play, gifts I feel too guilty to get rid of, and papers, notebooks, spirals, old computers.

I have stuff.

I can’t travel because of my stuff.

I am sixteen and my aunt is helping me get rid of things. She holds up things one at a time and looks at me. If I laugh (which I do when I know the object is ridiculous and I don’t need it), then she tosses it into a garbage bag.

It is much better and much more reassuring than coming home and finding my stuff gone.

A flight attendant costume.

I laugh.

Old, tattered T-shirts from high school.

I don’t laugh. Those are memories. I need those. Those tell a story of where I was and who I was.

My aunt doesn’t push me on some things, the things that have “sentimental value.”

I am twenty-nine. I return to my storage locker after traveling through ten countries with only what I can carry. I’ve become an expert at packing and unpacking. I even do the unthinkable: I unpack my purse after I get home.

I have a spot for my keys. A spot for my wallet. A spot for my makeup.

The past two years have been an amazing journey. I have learned how to belly dance, studied Odissi in India, and I’ve taken a train from Italy to Austria to see friends I met in Costa Rica. I visited a friend in Germany who I hadn’t seen in ten years. I am so confident in using foreign public transit that I taught my Austrian friend how to get from Linz to Vienna.

And she lives there.

I still have PTSD. But every day I push back against my anxiety. It is a part of me without controlling me. Loud noises still startle me, and then I move on.

I’m more open about telling people that I cannot be around loud noises, and that sometimes I have to be alone. People are far more accepting and understanding than I would have thought.

I look at all the books in my storage locker. All those books that supposedly made up who I was as a child, a writer, a scholarly person.

What bullshit.

I am me. I bring myself with me wherever I go.

I buy shoes and then immediately throw the ones I’m wearing away. I bring only what I can carry. I keep only the clothes that fit me well, and pick complementary colors so any two random pieces of clothing will match.

I still read. . . a lot. I read a book, then immediately give it to someone who I think can benefit.

I look through the books in my storage locker.

I got rid of that “fight dress” during my first purge, and that had been hard. I remember the feeling. It felt like failure. I was never going to paint over the memory of that dress.

What bullshit.

Since then, I bought a sundress in Italy with a friend and took hundreds of photos of us looking cute. I have worn many dresses, made memories, and then got rid of the dresses…and the memories were still alive inside me, inside that radiance I felt.

And now, as I look through the books and remember that “fight dress,” I realize something I didn’t realize before.

Like the smell of smoke that a smoker cannot smell, I had become blindly accustomed to the emotional weight of my possessions.

Keeping those objects had come at a price.

Just as I had wanted a mattress that was no good, and just as I wanted shoes that didn’t fit, my attachment to things hurt me.

Like the “fight dress.” Every time I looked at it, I remembered failure. The failure of that relationship, the failure to turn a beautiful dress into a beautiful memory, and the pressure to change that.

There is an emotional toll to owning all these things, and I am finally ready to rid myself of it.

That day, I get rid of 450 books.

I am seven. I am moving to Costa Rica with my parents. I am scared. My mom tells me I can only bring one suitcase. I painfully agonize over which toys and books to bring.

I am more upset over this than leaving my friends.

I try to give my aunt one of my stuffed animals for safekeeping, and then I cry to have it back. I miss it. I need it.

I am thirty. I have quit my remote job to become a yoga teacher. I also blog.

I write more than ever. I read more than ever.

I own less than ever.

I do not need to own books to read books.

I do not need to keep things to prove that events happened.

And why the need to prove something happened?

Stuff does not define me, and neither does the past.

I’m mobile, flexible, capable of change, and capable of letting go.

I am twenty-three and I am in architecture school. I’m terrible at it. I keep searching for the perfect book that will save me. I buy a bunch of architecture books and then keep them. . . for the day I someday become an architect.

That day never comes.

I keep the classics from undergrad at NYU, the ridiculous Animorph books from my pre-teen years, all under these disguises:

  1. I will use them one day for a creative project.
  2. I need these things as a serious writer/reader, and these things somehow make me smart.
  3. Books are sacred, holy objects.
  4. Books have sentimental value.
  5. Just a terrible gut feeling that getting rid of books will mean getting rid of a part of myself.

When my uncle helps me move, he’s shocked at the number of books I have.

“Do you really read all of these?”

“Of course I do!”

I don’t. I have, and maybe I will in the future, but no, I am never actively reading all of my books at once.

I am here, now, and I’m seeing minimalism become more popular. (Thanks, Netflix.)

I see some people embracing. And I see others, who are resistant to the idea.

Who think it’s crazy.

Who have the same resistance I had when I first read Marie Kondo in that bookstore near Columbia University.

Yes, getting rid of my belongings was extremely uncomfortable. It wasn’t always fun, and it didn’t happen overnight…or during the time span of a single episode.

It had taken me years to weave my identity in with my belongings. It took trauma. It was work to develop my unhealthy relationship with belongings . . . the way I bonded with objects because I kept moving, and I didn’t want the hurt of bonding with people, and then leaving.

That behavior didn’t happen overnight.

It was also work to keep all those things all the time . . .emotional work as well as physical. Having to move objects. Organize them. Store them. Lie to myself about why I needed them. Ignore how illogical and irrational I was being. Ignore even the negative feelings these things provoked in me.

Seeing the “fight dress,” and letting it cut me. Seeing the architecture books, and letting them cut me. The high school shirts, and remembering my high school friends I never saw, and then letting that cut me, too.

That was all work. To feel those cuts and to keep living with my heart bleeding.

I just stopped feeling it the way someone working at a desk stops feeling the bad posture.

But it impacted me just the same.

It was work to get into that unhealthy mindset, and so it was work to get out.

And it was not all chipper and happy. It was not a simple before and after photo. It isn’t even something that can just be done once.

It took a commitment: To travel, to not be controlled by anxiety, or be defined by it, to define myself instead of tying my identity to things, tying my intellect to things, tying my sense of self-worth to things.

It was unpleasant, uncomfortable, and healthy.

And I’m not done yet.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Lisa Martens

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The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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