I am 30 years old. My closets are overflowing with wool coats, shiny at the elbows from use, and belts whose leather curves approximate the shape of a woman’s waist. But the clothes don’t bear marks from my own body; they belonged to my mother, who died when I was 23.
“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 writes in her best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo’s book has inspired people around the globe to go through their belongings and cut back on the clutter in their lives. She urges readers to touch each possession and let go of the ones that don’t “spark joy,” making room for new items and memories to come into their lives. Part therapy, part organizational guide, the book has inspired viral videos, some based just on the Marie Kondo method of folding T-shirts.
In her book, Kondo describes working with middle-aged women with adult daughters who end up holding on to bags and bags of their daughters’ hand-me-downs, concluding, “I think we should avoid creating situations...where a mother’s affection for her daughter becomes a burden.” The line rankled. What would Kondo say about daughters who are gatekeepers of their departed mother’s things?
I had never thought of Mom’s belongings as a burden — mostly they were a comfort, a connection to her — but after reading Kondo’s book, I could no longer close the closet door and ignore the weight of what was behind it.
“It is only when we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke that we can truly appreciate our relationship with them,” Kondo writes. So on a recent Saturday, I picked up black trash bags, a box of tissues, and a camera and set about going through Mom’s things.
Her Pink Blazer
Mom wore her blush pink blazer to visit me when I was studying abroad in Paris at age 20, the bright pink matching her cheeks after a glass of French wine. She wore it to my 21st-birthday dinner in Providence, her matching lipstick staining the cloth dinner napkin. She wore it again on a double date with me and my then-boyfriend shortly after her diagnosis, her cheeks flushed from chemo instead of cabernet.
When I put the jacket on my own shoulders now, it is too big and boxy, a reminder of all the ways she will always seem larger than life to me. I put it in the donation pile.
Read the full essay on Refinery29.