Why Are You Hanging On?

When we really delve into the reasons for why we can't let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future. - Marie Kondo

One of the many reasons I’m able to handle this “KonMari” method of ruthlessly purging my stuff is because in the book Ms. Kondo brings up many pertinent questions about why we hang onto things in the first place. The above quote is one of the better examples of this; when you pick up something and you feel that tug of possessiveness, ask yourself: is this fear of the future (But what if I need this later?) or is it attachment to the past (I must honor the memory) or a combination of the two (I can’t donate that to the bookstore, what if the person who gave it to me finds it and thinks I’m an ingrate?). 

Part of the fear of the future has to do with the scarcity mentality – what if I need this in the future and I don’t have itIt’s easy enough to let that be argument enough to put it back in the drawer – but what if you take it further? What if that happens, you need it in the future and it’s not there? What would you actually do?

The answer is one of three things:

  1. You’d use something else.
  2. You’d go out and get it.
  3. You’d do without.

When you put it like that, it suddenly becomes much less fearful. Ms. Kondo says in her book that sure, people have missed things that they discarded through the KonMari process – but never to the point of emergency, and usually it’s accompanied by a sense of liberation and a can-do attitude. Much like I found when I started minimalist travel, you really don’t need as much as you think, even in day-to-day.

Honoring the Past

The other side of things is a bit more tricky. Surely we need to hang onto that ashtray Eldest Twin created in middle school, all the packages of school picture that we forgot to mail to relatives, and that T-shirt from the convention where I met that woman that I dated that time? If we throw them away, aren’t we saying we don’t care? That we are ready to forget? That these experiences didn’t mean anything?

Well? Are we?

I’m pretty sure, when you think about it, the answer is “no”. It’s kind of ridiculous; your memories of these events, of these people, are your own, inaccurate and spotty as they may be. They are not contained in any one item, nor is the joy you remember (which, happily, grows as time goes on and you forget the bad parts).

It can still be hard to let go of things, but Ms. Kondo has another question to ask: What was the purpose of this thing? Let’s say it’s a birthday card. What’s the purpose of that card? To wish you a happy birthday. Did it do that? Yes. Then it’s doneTime to let it go.

Natasha embodied that as she picked up a cute little stuffed patchwork bear that had rested on a shelf for months. “My Mom sent me that to make me feel better,” she said.

“Did it make you feel better?” I asked, and she knew where that was leading.

“Yes, it did!” she exclaimed. “Thank you, Bear! Good job! Goodbye!” And into the discard pile it went.

(Yes, talking to your possessions – including your entire dwelling – is also part of the KonMari technique, but I’m not quite up to that yet).

Whether You Kon or Kon’t

I’m not saying that Marie Kondo’s book and methods are for everyone. It’s scary, for one thing, even though there’s a sneakily growing suspicion I have that it would make the world a better place.  Others agree.

What I do think is that asking these kinds of questions can help in all kinds of ways – and not just when we’re cleaning out closets. How about asking that question about your habits that you want to change? Am I hanging onto this because of a fear of the future, or an attachment to the past?

Come to think of it, might not be a bad idea to apply it to the habits you think are ok, as well. Not because they necessarily need changing – but rather because intentionality is the cornerstone to an informed and well-lived life.

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