Lucy Harbron reflects on why the Marie Kondo minimalist mentality is not as clean cut as it first seems when it comes to the memories we invest in our belongings…
It took five attempts before I gave in. I hung everything back up, hid my old tshirts again, and slammed my wardrobe door. Fuck that.
I’ve tried so hard to be the girl Marie Kondo wants me to be, with a closet hosting only timeless essentials that I’ll one day pass onto my children, still bragging about their sustainability. I wanted it, just how last year I wanted to be the dream scandi minimalist, and I failed again.
No matter how many episodes I watch, or Instagram accounts I follow, I can’t do it.
I can’t be a minimalist.
Maybe I just shamefully love capitalism too much. I sit for hours scrolling through ASOS, making pinterest boards for events I’m yet to be invited to, building images of all the things I’ll own as a way to visualise the future. I live for the concrete, finding the image of my very own antique drinks cart full of expensive gin as a way to imagine what my future success looks like.
What does success look like to me? It looks like a beautiful house full of beautiful things and me, among them, in agent provocateur lingerie, obviously. It’s graspable in a way that imagining emotions isn’t. And admit it, how many times in the month have your bad days been aided by a paper bag holding something new? It’s human nature to project our feelings onto things. The new earrings I panic bought looked just like reassurance, and the dress I’ve searched for three times this week will be the key to happiness. And so, I can’t stop buying life-lines (I mean I probably could, but I actually don’t want to). We can preach and praise a world where we’ve all evolved to a high state of being and find joy in nothing but our own minds and thoughts and visions, but is there really anything wrong in finding value in things?
I can tell you what I wore for every date I’ve ever been on. I can tell you what I wore to the party where I had my first drink. I can tell you what I wore the day I moved to uni for first year, second year and third year – even what I wore the day I came home for the first time. I can recall every possible prom dress I tried on. I can tell you which items of clothing my ex loved, which he hated, and what I was wearing each time someone broke up with me. With these things, there are memories – and even if they aren’t always happy ones, they matter. They’re important. Some of them deserve to be commemorated in physical form, somehow.
And I can’t get rid of any of these things. Most of them hardly fit anymore; we’ve both held on since my early-teen body, pieces now faded and fraying. I can imagine scenario after scenario in which I might wear it, knowing fully I probably won’t. It doesn’t spark joy, but when I tap it back to life, I resurrect an old self, and she felt so beautiful in it.
I’ve never been good at moving on. I can’t seem to thank these past selves and let them go.
Go deep into my attachment issues if you want, but just with photos on my phone, train tickets and text conversations, I can’t throw out things that have become part of a memory. They’re tucked away, stored in boxes and cupboards for moments of introspection. It’s nice to have a reminder that I was there, that it all really happened. Just like my visualisations of success as an extravagant future self, the white shirt I haven’t worn for almost a year is a visualisation of my past self, dropping £40 in Topshop in an attempt to impress a man that wore nothing by £250 t-shirts from Margaret Howell; it has become a testament to the reinstatement of my own self after months of rearranging for another. How do I remember the feeling otherwise? It’s weaved into the cotton now.
It’s a beautiful and difficult thing. When I need to reconnect, I only need to change, reach for the coat passed down from my aunty or the jumpsuit from my mum. But on bad days, so much becomes off limits. Certain t-shirts make my brain smell him, mascara marks reappear on jumper sleeves, or a slightly tighter-fitting waist-line pushes me back into the mindset that longed for me to shrink. It can be difficult to navigate the rack of old selves, deciding on qualities to readopt or avoid that day, wondering which ghosts will be pulled out like loose threads. It’s not as easy as does it fit? Does it make you happy?
The choice to keep or chuck has become wrapped up in a negation of the old me, and it’s a confrontation I can’t do yet. There is a truth in these belongings that I am not ready to throw away yet.
Maybe one day I will. One day I may throw out everything, manage to adopt the brutality Marie and all the others ask of me and donate all the redundant versions of myself. Maybe one day when I’m older and less effective, more certain of the self I want to put on every morning and the memories I no longer need hanging around.
But not yet, so my wardrobe remains a mess.
Words: Lucy Harbron