Growing up, I had a shoebox of treasures. Some of these artifacts of childhood are older than me, toys passed down from previous generations. Others are gifts: a toy from my 1st grade reading buddy, Nikta, from the 4th grade; A pen that doubles as a miniature basketball hoop from my brother, bought for me with his own money. Over the years, my collection grew to postcards and letters. I periodically pared my collection down, but some items still remain, objects that have no real practical use but enormous sentimental value.

Recently, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that we have all reached a point in our lives where we have everything we want. And, subsequently, how difficult it is to still maintain the gift-giving traditions associated with the holidays without accumulating stuff we don’t want. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, one begins to see public ads imploring people to “Give memories, not garbage”. A website lists gift suggestions , many of which are activities that the whole family can partake in.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a family member and go through someone else’s belongings is familiar with the emotionally taxing task of deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Shortly before returning to work from maternity leave last year, I decided to reduce my possessions using the Konmari method outlined in Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up.

For those unfamiliar with the method, some of the central concepts are:

  1. Decide what to keep, not what to throw away.
  2. Keep only things that bring joy.
  3. First discard, then organize.
  4. An object that no longer brings joy has already fulfilled its purpose.

I didn’t follow the method strictly. My clothes are not sorted longest to shortest, and my socks are not ordered by colour. But, I my folded underwear and socks brings me great satisfaction when I open those drawers. The method takes into consideration that ridding yourself of stuff is difficult, but gets easier with practice: it recommends starting with clothes and working towards items that we have more emotional attachments with, like books, kitchen gadgets, and photos. I’m still undecided about photos. There is a unique joy to holding a physical photo that makes me want to print them.

When our possessions are actively curated for the joy they bring us instead of being kept out of tradition, convenience, or guilt, we are better able to treasure the things we have. Decluttering also has the amazing side effect of freeing our minds to better prioritize the less tangible things that matter, like relationships, so that we can treasure them better as well.