The Magic of the KonMari Method: What to Do with Items of Sentimental Value
Author and cleaning consultant Marie Kondo sheds light on what to do with items that bring out the #feels
What do you do with things you've collected for years or photos you've kept for so long? The secret lies in rather than wistfully looking back at who you were before; you keep the things that make you grateful for the person who you are now.
It’s easy to equate sentimentality or past moments with happiness—I know I do. Old letters, photos, gifts, souvenirs and keepsakes are things frozen in time, so to speak, bringing you back to when you were 20 pounds thinner, when you received that love letter, or when you were happier.
Here are some insights as I finished this chapter of the best-selling book:
Not that I’m against #TBT, but I belong to a family that’s uncomfortable with cameras and photos. The last photos we took during Christmas was when I was around seven years old, and the only family portrait we have was taken during my sister’s wedding in 2008.
Kondo's advise: “Remove all your photos from their albums and look at them one by one. When you do this, you will be surprised at how clearly you can tell the difference between those that touch your heart and those that don’t.”
The photos I found that I took were automatically discarded, even without being taken out of the albums. What probably made me brave enough to get rid of all the photos I found was because I had soft copies with me. I wonder what Kondo would advise about how to purge photos from our smart phones, when mothers (like myself) tend to keep photos of our kids doing mundane things, in almost identical poses.
Also, I’m yet to wrap my head around Kondo’s concept of photos helping you “cherish who you are now”, when essentially, photos are about past events and freezing moments. Since this concept confused me, I stuck to the basic “Does this spark joy?” question, and only two photos fit that criteria.
Kondo gave these tips and insights:
- Even if gifts are an “expression of love and consideration,” you shouldn’t keep a gift that you don’t like just because you don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings.
- “The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not things but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. Just thank it for the joy it gave you when you first received it. Surely the person who gave it to you doesn’t want you to use it out of a sense of obligation, or to put it away without using it, only to feel guilty every time you see it. When you discard or donate it, you do so for the sake of the giver, too.”
I’ve hung on to pouches, clothes, accessories and even a bag that looked like a hamster, just because I felt bad to waste the effort of the giver. After much struggle, I realized that the items can only fulfill their purpose if they were given away to be used, so I thanked them, and finally packed them away, to be re-gifted or to be sold.
On items with sentimental value
Discarding the items that I kept purely because of sentimental value is the hardest thing to do, and Kondo knows it. Before I started, I re-read what she said to gather courage, “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not the person we were in the past. Truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard the objects associated with them. 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.”
After reading, I took a deep breath and entered the lion’s den—the bedroom I grew up in. It was crawling with nostalgia, with photos displayed of my school days, and gifts from exes, including a painting of a sunset given to me a week before I gave birth.
The general feeling I had was one of disgust—I couldn’t believe I held on to all these things for this long. I took the only things that sparked joy: the newspaper we bought during my daughter’s birth, and her photo during her baptism. I then tackled around 10 balikbayan boxes, filled to the brim with the things I had in my old condo, but haven’t been opened in almost three years. Looking at them, I felt horrible, thinking that my dad had to pack all this crap for me and it’s been taking up so much space.
Kondo was right to say, “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.”
In my case, my dad brought each box down, I opened them one by one, and the only things that sparked joy were a yoga mat, three stuffed toys to give to my daughter, and an old suitcase. I said goodbye to the rest, to be sold or disposed of, along with the house.
When my dad and I left our family house, I brought along a red leather envelope, filled with things I was still on the fence about. The items brought a small smile to my face, and I knew each item had a place in my heart—my diary, a love letter from the one that got away, a decade-old polo shirt with dedications from friends on our last day of college, postcards from travels, and photos of happiness. I delicately put everything back into the envelope, and stashed it in a secret corner.
It’s just like what Kondo said in the book, “By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too.” I’m glad about a lot of things about the KonMari Method, but this is by far the most helpful thing it’s done for me—it’s made me find peace with my past.
Kondo also says that putting your things in order is “like resetting your life and settling your accounts so that you can the next step forward.” That’s what I look forward to doing now, especially with my dream boards. Because of Kondo, I’m now excited to fill it up with new dreams. Dreams that will reflect who I am now, and the life I’ll be leading—or one that’s even better!
(*Ed's note: This story is the seventh in a ten-part series of articles on the KonMari Method).
All photos are from the author.
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