This past December, when I was at our local bookstore picking some things up for the folks on my list, I left with something for me, too. I knew as soon as I read the title The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up* that it was going under the tree for me –to Kate, love Kate.
I don’t really enjoy cleaning—which to me says scrubbing, vacuuming and getting dirty. But I really get in to tidying—putting things back where they go, clearing a crowded counter so we can use it again, restoring order to chaotic room. And life-changing magic—who’s not intrigued by that?
You’ve probably read about the approach the book takes – that you should systematically go through everything you own and get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy”—perhaps you’re even one of the 8 million people who have read the book! I’m not going to tell you about how I rearranged my t-shirt drawer or fit all my jeans in one boot-box sized storage container.
What I want to talk about is one of those stickier categories where it’s not so simple to get rid of the things that you don’t love. I want to talk about gifts. Here’s what Marie Kondo, author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, says about them: “The person who gave it to you doesn’t want you to use it out of a sense of obligation, or to put it away without using it.” She says that the function of the gift is fulfilled as soon as you receive it, and to keep it around if you don’t love it only dishonors the good intentions of the person who gave it to you.
So when I was going through my jewelry to see what I loved and what I didn’t, I came on two pieces that were problematic. One was a gold charm bracelet my grandmother gave me. It only had one charm on it—a golden whistle—that she told me to blow anytime I needed her and she would come running. So sweet! And yet, it dangled two inches straight down and clunked in to everything every time I wore the bracelet. Which, to be honest, had been maybe two times. Twenty-five years ago.
The other was a long gold chain with a monogram with my initials that my mom had given me in high school. Which was more than twenty-five years ago. I remember wearing it a few times in college, but it felt a little too preppy even then, in the era of dropped-waist Laura Ashley dresses.
I sat looking at those two gifts, not wanting to get rid of them, and yet also knowing that I would never wear them again. Then I saw it—the whistle would look fantastic on the chain. (And it does, doesn’t it? That’s it in the photo up top.) That one simple switch yielded my new favorite necklace and my new favorite bracelet—which looks great on its own without charms. And I get to wear those pieces that came from my family in a way that feels authentic to me. Goodbye, guilt, hello joy.
The same goes for your gifts that are less tangible. Your artistic spirit that came from your Dad, or your ability to listen that comes from your Mom can mix and match within you and come out as something wholly your own that you can use in any number of ways.**
Whatever gifts you may have received from your family, you don’t have to only use them in the way your loved ones did, or thought it would be nice for you to do. That’s the thing about gifts—once they are given, they become yours to do with as you wish.
It’s always possible to take the gifts you’ve been given and rearrange them into something uniquely yours. Always.
What gifts—whether tangible or intangible—have you been keeping hidden in a drawer because putting them on felt too much like you were walking around in someone else’s stuff?
And what do you need to start owning them and putting them to good use in your life and in the world at large?
I’d love to hear your insights, stories or questions about this in the comments section below.
* Which proves the power of a good title! I don’t really believe books are an impulse purchase, which might explain why so many bookstores carry so many coffee mugs and magnets
** A great book that offers a perfect example of this is Hold Still, a memoir by the photographer Sally Mann. She dives deep in to the lives of her parents and grandparents, and finds the traits the she inherited and then demonstrates how they have shown up in her own life and work. Fascinating!