Perhaps you’ve seen the new show on Netflix, Tidying Up or you’ve heard of Marie Kondo and her philosophy of how to go through your home deciding what to keep and what to let go. In her “KonMari Method” she speaks about honing our sense of what brings us joy. So the idea is we hold an item in our hands and if it brings joy, keep it. If it doesn’t, we thank it for what it gave to us, and we let it go.
This isn’t an easy task to take on. Perhaps some areas of your home or life will be easy to find joy in, but other items or categories may feel very difficult.
It is all the more challenging to consider applying a philosophy like this after a death.
Our survival instincts in grief tell us to “hold on” to everything – letting go is completely counter-intuitive. Because we were unable to keep the person, we turn to their things to find comfort – to find them. None of this is wrong, it just is.
One of the episodes of Tidying Up featured a recent widow who decided it was time to go through her husband’s things and make a significant purge. As a deeply sentimental person I felt slightly jarred by her desire to go through and get rid of things just 9 months after his death. But, for her, many of those items were no longer “sparking joy” – they were symbols of powerful pain and grief.
She selected her favorite items of his to keep – things that clearly brought light to her face. And the rest, she donated. It was painful, she cried a lot. But a weight was lifted and in the end, she was glad it was done.
When do I start?
When you feel ready. This will be a different timeline for everyone and you will know when you are ready to begin. Even if your starting point is just a junk drawer of theirs, starting is starting. If your first go at “tidying” can have encouraging results it will help you stick with the plan.
What do I get rid of?
We all experience sentimentality in different degrees. For some, items are symbolic and the sentiment attached to them is a powerful force that brings back a rich flood of sensation and memory. For someone who feels that way, it may be hard to understand that other people may simply not have that strength of attachment to items. They may see sentiment in places, memory, or stories and so their joy might take up a little less space.
The important thing is to not privilege one of these types or styles above the other. Wherever we find joy we need to treasure it.
To that end, it is not better to get rid of more if it costs you joy. And for some of us, more items or things might bring us joy than someone else. I think in grief especially, it is important to not be too hard on yourself and to not push these questions too much. The thing about joy and memory and meaning is that they are all dynamic, just as we are. Therefore, something that brought you joy 10 years ago may not hold the same sensation for you now. Things can sometimes surprisingly change from joyful to burdensome.
The KonMari Method isn’t something you apply once in your life and it’s done. It’s something that should be continually used as a tool to help weed through the garden of life and home to ensure that we keep the things that truly give the peace of joy.