Spring cleaning, the Kondo way

By Kris Ferrazza | Mar 11, 2020

My daughter Elizabeth is cleaning out her room, but all I can see are dollar signs.

Most mothers would be thrilled to watch their teen sort and discard old and unused items, sweep the room clean and start over....but not this mom.

Lizzy doesn’t suffer from the sentimentality I do. She moves confidently through the room, picking items left and right and dropping them into piles on the floor.

“This is trash. This will sell, and I know my little cousin would love this,” she says, as the piles grow higher and higher.

I watch in stunned silence as I tally the losses. A jean jacket she begged me to buy, so she and a friend could match on “Twins Day” at school: $28. Worn twice.

There were puka shell necklaces she had to have because they were the hottest new trend. We had a fun day, scoured the mall, then the Internet and bought several varieties. Then she tried them on and announced, “They just aren’t me.” Trend over.

I see a night light I splurged on at Christmastime because it was magical and I knew she would love it: $50. Now, three short years later, it has been deemed “too little-kidish.” Huh.

My heart breaks at the expense and investment of time, money and emotion. Yet she forges on. It isn’t because she is an uncaring or selfish person. She isn’t. She just isn’t attached to things.

So I resist the urge to guilt her into hoarding these things. Instead, I fill bags. One goes to the trash. One will be donated. Another is perfect for the prize box at my school.

As I haul the bags downstairs, I silently swear to never buy my daughter another thing, then laugh at my lying ways.

Back in her room, she is eyeing the remaining things like a teenage Marie Kondo. She channels the Netflix tidying expert as she ponders which items should be taken with her into the future and thanks the items that have served her in the past but are no longer useful.

“Do you want to bring this with you into the future?” I ask sarcastically, interrupting her process. “Does this spark joy?”

I’m holding up an old Elmo basket she received as a gift one Easter years ago. It still has shredded paper “grass” in the bottom and bits of foil from the chocolate eggs she devoured that year. I’m tempted to save it for display in the Smithsonian exhibit that no doubt will be housed at the museum one day in the future. My daughter smirks.

“Byeeeee,” she says, with a wave of her hand.

Elmo is toast.

The basket goes into the donation bag and I can visualize a little child enjoying it greatly in the future. But I still resist. I hold the basket in my hand, like Kondo advises and think hard.

Does it spark joy?

My answer is yes. It’s always yes. The memory of this ridiculous basket is tied to happy memories of my girl running around our lawn gathering eggs in a fluffy Easter dress.

Am I supposed to just let that go? After a while holding Elmo, I decide the dozens of photographs, hours of home movie footage and vivid memories will have to suffice. The furry red menace goes out the door.

When my daughter was young, I remember she once walked into her adorable little room. It was cluttered with toys, books and clothing and she wrinkled up her nose and said, “I don’t want to live here anymore. It’s toooo messy.”

At the time I laughed, since she was the one who made the mess and refused to put her things away. But now I realize she is a minimalist. Her favorite style is spare walls with not too many things. Everything has its own place and most of it is out of sight.

She likes to live the KonMari way.

It took me years to realize this. I used to sneak toys out of the house to pass them along to other children, fearful she wouldn’t want to part with them. One day my car hit a bump in the road. A plastic toy hidden in a bag in the backseat started to play music. I cringed.

“Hey, Mama, I hear Handy Manny,” she said brightly, as the theme song blared.

“Huh. Weird,” I said, and turned up the radio. In hindsight, she probably would have been perfectly happy to show Manny the door.

On “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” Marie says it’s all about choosing joy. Does this item spark joy? Do you want to take this puka shell necklace with you into the future? Or has it outlived its usefulness?

I repeat these mantras now when I am trying to clean out a messy space. But I can’t quite bring myself to do the next step. That is where she thanks the items, expresses her gratitude and might even give them a little hug, a squeeze or a quick peck before dropping them into the discard box.

Maybe I’ll get there one day.

The more I watch the show, the more tempted I am to really emulate the tiny force of nature. The author of a New York Times bestseller, she always shows up looking serene and in charge, ready to transform any living space.

Dressed in her trademark uniform: a feminine skirt and crisp white blouse, Kondo first greets the living space. She sometimes walks around the house until she finds just the right spot, then kneels on the floor and silently introduces herself. After a moment of peace, she traces her fingertips in a graceful arc on the floor around her while the homeowners look on in awestruck wonder.

Then the zenmaster goes to work. She has them proceed in categories, first gathering every article of clothing they own and heaping it into a massive mountain. This is usually such a revelation that the owners of the hoard immediately begin paring their wardrobes.

Sentimental items are gathered and sorted, with the owners becoming mindful of what matters and looking toward the future instead of to the past. But as she preaches “less stuff,” she also offers an online store that sells furniture and household items like kettles and canisters, teas, trays, incense, baskets, boxes and bins. Curious.

At the end of my daughter’s day of tidying, I must admit her room was transformed. She even took down the curtains she begged for ($14.99 times two, cha ching!) and dropped them into the “give away” pile. New curtains hung in their place. Potted succulents were grouped artfully here and there. Light and airy artwork adorned the walls.

“I feel like I can breathe,” she said, smiling serenely.

I have to admit, seeing her like that did spark joy.

And the beat goes on.

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