I am not a minimalist: An attempt at tidying

A few of my favorite t-shirts (and look, not even all of them are Star Wars!)

When Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was released in the US, I picked up a library copy and read it. I even gave it a bit of a trial run with my clothes (though I didn’t pile everything on my bed). Ultimately, though, I realized that while organization and tidiness is great, I actually really like my stuff, and have no desire to part with most of it.

Some of the more Shinto aspects of the KonMari method did resonate with me—thanking each object before letting it go, greeting your house and thanking it for protecting you, etc. That’s not surprising, since Shinto and Wicca share some similarities. Still, the most impactful thing I came away with was a new method to fold my t-shirts and a vague guilty about the boxes and boxes and boxes of Star Wars and comic book stuff I’ve collected over the years.

I did make it through the first episode of the Netflix series, but watching a grown woman have a breakdown over not wanting to do laundry and hearing the word “babe” fifty times in as many seconds grated on me juuuust a bit. Still, it’s been interesting seeing friends and family members take the KonMari method to heart. A co-worker told me her daughter cleared out 8 trash bags full of clothes!

(Internet debate and memes abound on Kondo’s controversial claim that you should keep no more than thirty books, but we all know my opinion there—BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS—so we can talk about that another time.)

Which brings me to the problem at hand. I’m pretty good at getting rid of stuff that isn’t books, sentimental or collectible. If I don’t use/wear something, I can usually let it go. D.J. and I make regular donations to the Vietnam Veterans of America, and we recently discovered we can even recycle worn out clothes unsuitable for donation with Planet Aid.

But, when it comes to my books, sentimental items, and my nerd stuff—well, I like that stuff. Why should I get rid of any of it? Well…

I have a lot of Star Wars t-shirts. Enough to fill an entire drawer, and then some. Stacks and stacks on top of my dresser, to be precisely imprecise. When I counted, I had more than 30 Star Wars t-shirts—not including the ones I retired previously or the one(s) currently on my person and in the wash. I know I have at least two bags full of additional Star Wars t-shirts dating back to the time before they made non-pink women’s cut nerd shirts (and at least one Anakin Skywalker podracing jersey).

Mt. St. Ar Wars (Yes, those are all Star Wars t-shirts)

In comparison, I counted eight plain black t-shirts, two plain gray t-shirts, two plain colored t-shirts, a half-dozen superhero tees, and a half-dozen literary/book-themed tees. Which put me at around sixty t-shirts. That’s…. a lot of t-shirts.

With a few exceptions, most of these have been gifts. And I’m grateful for that, because I hate clothes shopping. I despise it. I will wear jeans that have seven holes for weeks before I get up the nerve to walk into Old Navy. But staring at Mt. St. ArWars every day was nagging at me.

So this is the part where I tell you I threw them all on my bed, went through each one, and only kept a dozen that sparked joy, right?

Well, no. That is not what I did. Not exactly. I really do like the idea of only keeping items that spark joy, but the problem is that when it comes to Star Wars, a Ziploc bag with Kylo Ren on it sparks joy for me. So what’s a fangirl to do?

Of those thirty-plus Star Wars tees, I put fourteen back into rotation. The other half went into my sewing project drawer to be turned into a t-shirt quilt. I also pulled a few super-hero t-shirts that never fit me (also gifts, mostly from awesome guy friends who didn’t know that women’s sizes are fickle assholes and a medium is sometimes the size of an extra small). They also went into the sewing project drawer so that I can alter them, or failing that, cut the designs out and turn them into patches.

This is probably NOT what Marie Kondo had in mind. But what can I say? I am a collector at heart, and I take great joy in my things, especially my nerd things. I did put four or five t-shirts in the donate bag—a few ill-fitting black shirts and an old Pirates baseball shirt that was never really comfortable.

Now, do I need more clothes or more blankets? No, I do not. Clearly, I have more than enough shirts to last me three weeks without having to do laundry. So maybe I should just donate everything I’m not wearing anymore or that doesn’t fit. But that brings me back to my initial point: I like my stuff! I like my convention t-shirts and obscure superhero t-shirts and funky Star Wars mashup shirts! I kept them and wore them (or tried to) because they do, actually, spark joy.

I’m lucky enough to have all this stuff in the first place, and lucky that I get to decide what I keep and what I give away. The thing Marie Kondo misses, I think, is that not everyone has the privilege of only keeping things that “spark joy.” Some people get what they can get, and they hang onto it because it’s not easy for them to get a replacement.

As you can see, most of the Star Wars shirts were not thanked for their service and discarded.

Maybe I’m just not the target audience for the kind of minimalism Marie Kondo is selling. Maybe there’s some weird repressed emotion that’s making me hang on to all this stuff (perhaps the trauma of being a female nerd in the ’90s & ’00s when comic shops were still largely hostile to women?). I don’t know, but it does seem this shift toward extreme minimalism always seems to come packaged with a fair dose of guilt and shaming. That doesn’t sit well with me.

What I do know is that I have a lot of stuff—books, comics, action figures, artwork, posters, Star Wars ornaments, other collectible items. Being surrounded by these things is a comfort to me. I can tell you where and when I bought most of my collectibles. I can name the bookstores I picked up specific books. I can tell you who I was with or what event I got it for. Each item is tied to a memory and a feeling. Sometimes it’s a connection to the character, or the person I was with when I bought it. Sometimes it’s just that I was having a terrible week and buying and wearing a new t-shirt made me feel better about life.

That’s not to say organizing possessions and getting rid of clutter isn’t a noble goal. I do prefer organization, and my goal is to eventually display all my nerd things. But I’m not going to apologize for having so much stuff. I do have a lot, especially books and comics—and Star Wars t-shirts of course. That’s the way I like it.

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