A Year Of UnNew Month Five: May
The joy of discarding
Lessons I never thought I’d learn from Marie Kondo
When Marie Kondo hit the home-slash-life-improvement scene in the early 2010s, no one, not even the young entrepreneur herself, knew what effect her “life-changing magic of tidying up” would have on the world. She started her consulting business as a 19-year-old university student in Tokyo, and her now-iconic minimalist aesthetic catapulted her to world-wide fame. (How many professional organizers do you know as a household name?) By 2015, Time Magazine had named Kondo one of the 100 most influential people in the world, right alongside the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, John Oliver, and Kevin Hart.
Photo by Lauren Sauder on Unsplash
The obsession over Marie Kondo has always fascinated me.
My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and so in one way or another, we were always being asked to clear out and leave behind what’s no longer needed. Changing locations every few years meant we didn’t acquire or stow away years-worth of things—we had our essentials, our photo albums, our memories. But that’s not everyone’s story. And it’s not mine anymore, either. Since settling down as an adult in my own home, I’ve noticed how easy it is to acquire, in particular, half-used things. Half-used journals, work notebooks, sets of thank you cards. Half-used pens, pencils, stamp sheets. Half-used lotions, make-up sticks, sunscreen and chapstick tubes.
Not buying anything new has forced me to examine what I have, and to use what I have to the fullest extent, before going out to buy replacements. Case in point: I’ve been using a weekly calendar-planner these last two years; it’s a long, narrow spiral-bound booklet—call me old-school, but I love writing out my week with color-coordinated pens; it helps me visualize what I have to do. At present, I have three blank pages left in my planner. Normally I’d sprint out to buy myself a replacement, but with UnNew on my mind, I first think about whether I can manage the task of planning my days with what I already have on hand. On my bookshelf there’s been a 2021 calendar-planner sitting on the bottom shelf ever since my grandma gifted it to me a few months ago. It’s not in the weekly format that I’ve come to love, and it's not as compact, but the monthly calendar weighs less, still fits in my laptop case, and will, I know, get the job done—so I pick the calendar off the bottom shelf and dust it off.
Using what I’ve already got feels good, like decluttering in slow-motion.
In Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she’s invited into uber-messy homes, tasked with cleaning and organizing. Pulling open a drawer stuffed with odds and ends, she exclaims, “I love messes!” Which is to say: she loves what messes provide: opportunities for renewal, gratitude, and peace. As she repeats over and over again, her mission is to “spark joy,” and she does so through cleaning: The mess is the match, the friction is the cleaning, sorting, hemming and hawing. The resultant fire is joy, feeling the positive change occur. The burnt matchstick stub becomes a reminder of what once was—while also a symbol of the new spaces created.
After you get through the eight episodes with Marie Kondo, Netflix is quick to suggest shows like “Tiny House Nation,” “The Minimalists: Less is Now,” and “Minimalism.” Each document the virtue “less is more,” or, as the creators of “Minimalism” put it: “how our lives can be better with less.” All of this is contextualized within the materialscape of life in the twenty-first century. It’s easy to find yourself with a bin of half-used toiletries, because it’s easy to grab yet another travel toothpaste when you’re on-the-go. The new journal with the cover that catches your eye—of course you want to buy it “for later” or maybe for now, it caught your eye!
But what I’m learning now is the joy of finishing, of using-up, of running-out. To use something to completion is to honor the object. As Marie Kondo encourages people to thank the objects they’re getting rid of, I thank the objects that have served me to their fullest and finest capacity. It’s a form of respect: regarding the materials that went into creating said object, the work it took to get from its origin point to my hands, and the space that it’s occupied in my life. I’m slowly working my way through the bins in my bathroom shelves and the stationary supplies in my office drawers.
And when I’m done, truly done with an object, I toss it in the appropriate waste or recycling bin without a guilty conscience. I say, “Arigato, sunscreen from 2018, you’ve served me well.”
To read more about my Year of UnNew, see the April, March, February and January installments.
Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.
Inspired to clean out your closet? Do you have Summer Hike & Camp gear? Tents, sleeping bags, bikes, and bike gear is in top demand right now. If you have perfectly usable gear gathering dust, list it and sell it. And, whenever you’re in the market for gear that’s in great shape and costs a fraction of new, we’ve got it. May the circle of gear life continue.