Diane Gottlieb writes open-hearted stories about people in pain who choose to grow.

Spring Cleaning– And "Sparking Joy"

Times, so Steven pulls out pages that he thinks I might like and puts them in a pile for me on the dining room table. And when I get home, I put them on top of a pile on desk. Hmmm.   I picked up an article the other day from that pile. It was dated January 27: “When You’re Drowning in Beauty Product Samples,” written by a woman named Jolie Kerr.  It was a short piece placed under the section “Modern Love.” I wondered about the connection.

I can only imagine how many drawers full we’d have if we’d been married 30 years!

    The title of the article intrigued me. For, while Steven and I are not exactly “drowning” in anything, we do have a dresser drawer filled with little shampoos and lotions from the various hotels that we’ve stayed in over the last 4.5 years of our marriage. (I can only imagine how many drawers full we’d have if we’d been married 30 years!)   I suddenly remembered that about three years ago I bought a little hardcover called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, which of course I hadn’t read yet—or I would not have a drawer full of small bottles of hair products). It took me a while to find the book—I am a true book “collector”—but find it, I did, and I read, and … I told Steven that it’s time to “get rid of a few things.”  

The only thing that scares him more than getting rid of stuff is the “c” word—CHANGE!

  Steven does not enjoy “getting rid” of anything, actually, so his “oh no, she’s onto something that’s going to affect me” antennae were on high alert. When I quoted Ms. Kondo by saying “It will change your life,” I think Steven was ready to head for the hills. The only thing that scares him more than getting rid of stuff is the “c” word—change! “I like my life the way it is,” he is fond of saying. And I always answer, “Yes, dear, me too, but …” (I really have to get him to read more of my blog posts!)  

I KNOW I have too much stuff—but where to begin the purge?

  Tidying Up! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book—or the new Netflix series—Ms. Kondo has a decluttering system that she swears by.  She claims that it is magical and even fun. She also says that if you follow it, it will truly change your life. (Sorry Steven.)   We all have too much stuff, she contends. We have so much stuff that we don’t even know how much we have! I was determined to make a change. I KNOW I have too much stuff—but where to begin the purge?  

When you hold up that article of clothing, when you touch it, you need to ask yourself one simple question: Does this ____ (fill in the blank) give me joy?

  We’ve all heard the recommendation that we go through our closets and toss anything that we haven’t worn or used in six months. Makes sense. But what about those size 4 pleather pants that I am still hoping to squeeze myself into one day? It’s been way over six months that I’ve even tried to tuck myself into those babies—but toss them??? Really??? I wouldn’t dare!   Thank goodness, Ms. Konda has a different criterion for deciding which items to keep and which to toss. Just hold up that pair of pants … or the sweater you forgot you even had, the one that was buried in the back of a drawer … or the jacket with the sequins and the pearl buttons (I just imagined that—I don’t have one of those). Let your intuition be your guide. When you hold up that article of clothing, when you touch it, you need to ask yourself one simple question: Does this ____ (fill in the blank) bring me joy?   If the answer is yes, you can breathe—you’re allowed to keep it! If the answer if no, you can still breathe—you are ready to let it go!   The key is to take all of your clothes—she means ALL—and put them in a pile on the floor. If this is just unfeasible (if you only have eight-foot ceilings and your pile would definitely top ten feet) start with blouses, or sweaters, or pants. The key is to make it fun! Have a glass of wine nearby, if that suits you (no pun intended) and put on some music that you love. (I poured myself a glass of wine—it was the weekend—BTW, I still have been alcohol-free during the week.)  

What is our attachment to “things” all about anyway?

      I cleared out so many of my things and actually feel much lighter. Steven has a huge garbage bag filled with clothes to drop off at Good Will. And I have a bunch of bags of clothes to give to a few people whom I know could use them. And now, not only can I breathe more easily but my closets and drawers can too! What is our attachment to “things” all about anyway?     Why is it so hard for so many of us to let go of clothes/papers (like my pile of articles)/books (I have more books than I could read in three lifetimes)/serving trays, salad spinners, extra linens “for guests who don’t come,”/pictures, our mother’s old tchotchkes …   Why have we attached so much importance to things?   According to Dr. Frank Niles who was interviewed about this very subject for NBC news (https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/why-you-have-such-hard-time-getting-rid-your-stuff-ncna803421),there are two main reasons. The first is our need for the 3 S’s: safety, security, and stability.  

Those “what if” questions can feel scary!

  Let’s take the pineapple corer you have in the back of the kitchen drawer (along with the watermelon slicer, the melon baller …) You never buy a whole fresh pineapple, just already-cut- up chunks. In fact, you’ve only used the corer once—and that was five years ago! But … what would happen if you decided sometime in the future that you want to prepare a fresh pineapple … what if … you no longer have that awesome tool?   As silly as it may seem, we clutter up our closets and our lives on the off chance that we may one day be left empty handed if we didn’t. Those “what if” questions can feel scary!  

When we toss a picture, it may seem that we are tossing that person or that memory.

  The second reason we hold on to things we no longer need—especially the hard to get rid of mementos—is our fondness for nostalgia. Ms. Kondo suggests leaving decisions about “sentimental items” for last. Photos, she suggests, should be the very last subcategory in the sentimental-item group.   When we toss a picture, it may seem that we are tossing that person or that memory; it is especially hard if that person is no longer in our lives.   Mementos and photos can connect us emotionally, even viscerally, to the past, to the people we love. But, as with everything else, when we have too many of those sentimental items, each one loses some of its power to bring the special feelings our way. Kondo recommends leaving these for last because by the time you get to your “sentimentals,” you will have become much more adept at determining which things truly bring you joy. It is only then that you will be ready to choose from the mementos and pictures and pick the ones that you will keep. The others you will lovingly let go.   (Ms. Kondo even claims that this process will help build confidence in your  general “decision-making capacity.” If you can make keep/toss decisions that truly feel right, you will have gained, or honed, an important skill that you will carry with you in all endeavors.)  

I am aiming to take only the things that “spark joy.”

  I have successfully tidied up my clothes and I have rid myself of tons of paper—curriculum packets for which I no longer have use. I’ve even filled up a trunk-full of books that I am driving over to the library this afternoon. I still have a ways to go—books are in my group “sentimenals,” and I haven’t yet tackled the knickknacks and photos. I will be sure to keep you posted on the progress, though.

Maria Kondo’s book of “magic” could not have come to me at a better time. Steven and I will be putting our house on the market next spring and we really need to start thinking of what we will be letting go. We will be moving into a much smaller place with no basement, garage, or attic, so scaling back is a practical decision for sure. But it is also a life-changing decision on an emotional level. Next chapter sort-of stuff.   So … what “stuff” will we carry with us? I am aiming to take only the things that “spark joy.” That way, we can move into that next chapter, lighter and freer. We will have more space (physical and emotional) to welcome the new joys that our future will bring.  

Have you been thinking of “tidying up?” What scares you the most about the process? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please send me an email or leave a comment.

  Here’s a link to Ms. Kondo’s wonderful book: https://smile.amazon.com/Life-Changing-Magic-Tidying-Decluttering-Organizing/dp/1607747308/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1LIYNHOSBWLKG&keywords=the+magic+of+tidying+up&qid=1551961972&s=gateway&sprefix=the+magic+of+t%2Caps%2C155&sr=8-2  

Have a wonderful, magical week!

See you next Friday!


Diane Gottlieb



  1. Sarita K Sid on March 17, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Thank you Diane 🙂

    I can relate to much of the contents of this blog & the comments.

    I once asked my husband to clear out a drawer full of stuff he’d collected over a couple of decades & he just couldn’t do it; he ended up putting it in a bag, which now sits on a shelf in the garage! I’ll have to try again with him, to figure out the cause(s) of his reluctance.

    I really need to go through everything in the house & donate what we no longer need. I’ve been through everything in the garage a few times, but each time the girls came back home from university with all their surplus stuff, it felt like I had to start all over again.
    Now that they’re both working in Northern California (we live in Southern Cali), when I attempt to clear the garage I’m overwhelmed with the reality that they no longer live at home, & that that chapter in our lives is over. I know intellectually that the trajectories of their lives are good & normal, & I’m really grateful. And at least they still live in the same state. But I do still miss them…a little less as more time passes.

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 18, 2019 at 1:14 am

      Oh Sarita! I can so relate! I still have a bunch of my kids’ stuff in the attic, and before we move, the kids will either have to come and get their stuff or good-bye to it all. Not looking forward to that task–moving forward is bittersweet!

  2. JULIA CAROLINE KNOWLTON on March 15, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Hi Diane! Loved your piece! I especially relate to those mini-soaps etc, from hotels LoL. I’m stopped
    taking those with me when I travel.
    1)I do a modified Kondo method at the end of the winter and at the end of the summer. I call it “garbage bagging”—I take garbage bags and just move through each room/closet of my house, filling with stuff I haven’t used or worn. I have to put myself in a “take no prisoners” mindset LoL. Then I donate and/or consign.
    2) Even though I’m not planning to die for decades, I don’t want to leave mountains of stuff behind when I do. (My dad left behind piles and piles of stuff and my poor mother has been sifting through it all winter.) I’ve gotten a lot better about clothes: I have 4-5 primary outfits that I wear each season and just add my omnipresent scarves. (About once a year I winnow down my scarf pile.) Anyway thanks for the piece and keep writing!! Julia p.s. I also follow the Minimalists. They are good.

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 15, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Julia! I love your “garbage bagging” method. Will have to add that to my post-winter repertoire! You definitely need a take no prisoners approach–nothing less will do!
      I’ll be sure to check out the Minimalists–thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Diann Schindler, Ph.D. on March 9, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    Love reading this! Of course, you know, I’ve already done all of this tidying up…to the “nth degree.” it was not easy. I needed help because I was making emotional decisions rather than objective, heady decisions. That made it hard to part with lots of stuff. I had an “objective” friend. Actually, I had a couple of them, as I tidied up more and more. Now, I have a single, medium size suitcase, a back pack and a guitar. Confession, though, it is a constant effort to avoid buying more! Especially, clothes..and boots. I love boots.
    Thank you for an excellent blog.

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 10, 2019 at 6:33 pm

      Thank you, Diann, for your comment, and for a peek at your interview next week! I thought this week’s blog would be a nice transition! Looking forward to sharing your remarkable story with the WomanPause readers!!

  4. Nicky Mendenhall on March 8, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Diane – Sometimes what scares me the most is that once I get started sorting stuff, I won’t be able to stop! So I’m saying – one drawer at a time. It is working so far!
    Good luck with your sorting and preparing to move next year!

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 8, 2019 at 9:47 pm

      Thanks, Nicky! Sorting can be addictive, but it feels so good when the drawers and the house are much lighter!

  5. Dorothy on March 8, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Diane how I’ve missed reading your blog! So busy lately and my simple joys always seem to take the backseat. I’m well aware of “Kondoing” she is transforming many closets and card carrying nick knackers! I personally got interested in her Joy theory because I am guilty of collecting at a level and speed of ten! As of yet my efforts are minimal 😆 at best. Congratulations on your progress and Steve’s “change” attitude. Big step for you both to move, talk about life changes, moving is huge. Best of luck with everything involved, as long as you’re not moving away, I’m good. BTW Happy International Women’s Day to all !

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 8, 2019 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks, Dorothy! I haven’t heard the term “Kondoing” but I love it! It really is freeing, isn’t it? And Happy International Women’s Day!

  6. Greta Holt on March 8, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    You can write humor so well! What a nice husband to save parts of the paper; that’s evidence of love, and we crave that action from our spouses. My hubby is kind, too, but he follows what may be a male inclination to avoid change. Yes, let’s go on a trip, but oh no, let’s never, ever move our whole household somewhere else.

    So, I’ve been decluttering as I lose weight. Today is the anniversary of my weight loss journey (195 lbs. to 138 lbs.) and along the way I’ve done my closet and bathroom messes. Yesterday, I wrote to my sisters about my disposing of some of our mother’s many, many letters–she’s one of the Greatest Generation who kept absolutely everything, hers in documents and letters. So, I’ll start on those this week. Sad but so necessary for my health.

    Okay, let’s talk about the size 4. In sixth grade, I went from being a kid to being taller and somewhat beefier than the other girls. I might have fit into a size 4 before then! Even after all this weight loss, and with my skeleton firmly showing, I fit into a size 10-12. Big boned Scottish/Swiss gals do Not wear clothes in the single digits. Wow, congrats on being able to even buy that 4! My now skinny thigh would need both legs sewn as one.

    Great post. See you next time.

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 8, 2019 at 5:20 pm

      Greta! You’re not too bad writing humor yourself!!
      Congrats on the weight loss journey anniversary–and on the weight loss itself! Woohoo! What a great parallel to decluttering! I bet it was fun to say goodbye to some of those 195lb clothes!

      Best of luck with saying goodbye to your mom’s letters. I can see how that will be a tough one. Let us know how it goes!

    • Dorothy on March 8, 2019 at 8:53 pm

      Nicely done ✅ Greta getting her groove on!

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