I know that many of you have been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I’ve seen the Facebook posts and the tweets. Marie Kondo, with her infectious smile, is getting us all to tidy up our spaces. Monday, when I had nothing better to do (or I probably did), I decided to watch the first episode just to see what I could gain from Marie Kondo’s ninja cleaning skills. As it turns out, I am not us untidy as I think I am. I know I’ve talked about all the stuff in the basement and the cleaning out of junk and how it feels like I’ll never get any of that accomplished. But the rest of the house is a different story. Also…I had help collecting the trash and junk in the basement. Cleaning out a dead man’s collection is hard work. Of course all of that is gone now, thanks to flooding.
I have a vague memory from childhood of my mother standing in the doorway of my playroom with an angry face and a trash bag. She just started grabbing up whatever and shoving it into the bag. There were no moments of pausing to ask if the item sparked joy. It just went into the trash bag. I don’t know if the moment traumatized me or trained me for the future. Probably a little of both. Every season, I go through my closet and get rid of clothes. Twice a year, I go through the kitchen and remove utensils and kitchen tools that rarely, if ever, get used. I frequently sort books for donation and I frequently throw things in the trash. I accidentally threw our spare set of car keys for the Malibu into a clothing donation bin. I threw away the power cord for my external hard drive. The first day I was left completely alone in the house after Chris died, I pulled out all of his clothes and bagged them up for donation. That was really more of a rip-the-bandaid-off situation and I didn’t know what else to do with myself. But I do not have a problem with throwing things away.
Emotions, on the other hand, are things that I hold on to. I store them deep down and tucked into the spaces between my internal organs. Eventually those spaces fill up and those feelings come bubbling to the surface. A confrontation from fifteen years ago with some random person will float up just as I’ve settled down in my bed. Then I’ll lay there for twenty minutes re-hashing the conversation and how I could have said things better. Finally I’ll say “ENOUGH!” and shove it back down into some already crowded space. The spaces between my guts are like any number of ridiculous TV closet scenes where when you open the door all of the things comically fall out in an avalanche, burying the person who dared to open the door. I can’t just say “ENOUGH!” to that fifteen year-old confrontation and let it go. I’ve got to put it away to chew on some other day. I gained two bits of useful knowledge from Marie Kondo’s show: her clothes folding technique and ‘does this spark joy?’ I neatly fold and put away my clothes every week, but her folding method gave the ability to organize by color and gave me more space with only getting rid of three t-shirts.
The question of does this spark joy is one that I’ve started applying to all of that emotional junk. For example, the other day a Mumford and Sons song triggered a memory of Chris singing like a muppet. The memory came at an inconvenient time, but I took a moment to recognize the equal parts joy and sadness that this memory invoked. I tucked that one away for a later day. It is a good memory. I want to hang on to that one. That memory that boils up of that one time Chris and I argued over his purchase of yet another metal desk? Not a good memory. It doesn’t spark any joy. Also it’s stupid to re-hash that one because at the end of it all, he knew I was right and told me so. So, I’m going to hold that particular memory in my hands and say ‘thank you’. I’m going to thank thank that memory for the lessons it taught both of us and then I’m going to let it go.
Grief is unavoidable. I started to finish that sentence with ‘this time of year’ but it is all times of the year. This year, I’m making space for that grief. I’m holding memories in my hands and sorting between those that spark joy and those that make me feel ashamed or angry, those memories that do not serve me. I’d rather have those closet spaces between my guts filled to capacity with good stuff. What a trip that would be to open that door and have all that joy avalanche out and bury me in it.