Thanks, Mariko Kondo

Mariko Kondo says if it doesn’t spark joy, dispose of it. If I were getting rid of fast fashion and furniture I might find it easier, but many of the things that take up space in my home carry more complicated baggage.

Recently, I impetuously donated a chair that I had owned for more than 40 years to a high-end thrift shop. As I drove away, I felt a pang. That chair carried so many memories… I purchased it on a day when I gave myself permission for a tiny vacation from college and the worst waitressing job I ever had (at a chain motel along the interstate).  On a Saturday, I drove the scenic route, instead of the interstate, from campus to visit my parents, who lived hours away (two if I took the highway and three or four that one time I took the scenic route). On the way, I stopped at an antique/junk store and bought this chair, if memory serves, for $5 — back then, the total of my tips from an entire breakfast shift.

Eventually, I refinished the chair at my parents’ house, scraping paint off of the oak and giving it a light finish. Eventually, I had it re-upholstered with fabric I purchased from a small Harlem-based not-for-profit for which I did some volunteer work. The not-for-profit was founded to help neighborhood young people build design skills and many of the fabric patterns were based on traditional African prints. The pattern I chose was inspired by mud-cloth, which comes from Mali. Back then, if I had the courage and skills, I would have loved to start something similar.

When I was much younger, I used to imagine myself as an ‘old’ person appreciating reminders of my youth — I vaguely saw myself happily remembering the good times.  Now that I am getting close enough to old age to see it on the distant horizon, I realize that even if I become decrepit, I am not going to want to read old letters or gaze at things I acquired long ago. It would have shocked my younger self, but so far, the good times continue.

This week, I stopped by the thrift store — the chair was in the window with a $125 price tag. The validation that this old chair could have that much value to someone else is nice, but I am glad I got rid of it. Keeping these souvenirs feels increasingly maudlin.  In fact, a lot of the possessions I am trying to get rid of give me an unpleasant cloying feeling once I pay careful attention.  I still want to donate these objects where they can do some good, rather than occupy space in a landfill but suddenly the list of possessions I am ready to part with is growing. Now I defer to the insight of Mariko Kondo – if it doesn’t give me joy, I will find a new home for it!

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