There is one drawer in my desk and it is filled with letters from friends, mostly from 2010 to 2012. Many of these people I don’t talk to anymore, or don’t talk to beyond an occasional “thinking of you hope all is well” Facebook message sent once a year. Some of those letters I look back wistfully on, while others remind me of negative people that I can’t believe I was ever friends with.
In procrastinating on cleaning out my stuff from my parent’s house, I’ve been thinking a lot about Marie Kondo. I haven’t read any of her books, but I have read every New Yorker and New York Times feature, so I feel pretty well informed on her methodology. One of the key premises is if when you hold an object it doesn’t “spark joy”, you should throw it away. That’s a pretty high standard, and in some ways it’s helped me think about my clothes and knick-knacks differently.
This is a pretty effective way of sorting through books I will never re-read and clothes that have spent years shoved in the back of the closet. Objects like letters are much harder. How do I apply this high standard to these emotional accoutrements that fill my desk drawer? The goodbye/thank-you note from a woman I worked with when I was seventeen? That gives me joy. So does a note from a girl I was lucky enough to become close with my senior year of high school. The letters from a friend I now see once a year about what she did on a Thursday in 2011? Maybe joy, maybe just a blend of nostalgia and ambivalence.
The glove compartment in my car has accumulated papers differently. There are some things in there that are important whether or not they spark joy, like the owner’s manual and registration for the car along with some back-up Benadryl I keep for my sister. I’ve also shoved in a bunch of receipts from oil changes and car repairs, probably mixed with some pay stubs, napkins, take-out forks, and granola bar wrappers.
I have put off cleaning out this junk because I know that somewhere in this contained mess is the program for a friend’s mom’s funeral. I vividly remember going, picking up another friend before driving a couple towns over to a service so full people had to stand. I remember how much love there was in those eulogies and how much sadness there was in that old, white church. I drove around with the program sitting on the passenger seat for a week before carefully laying it in the glove compartment. This was almost 4 years ago.
What was I supposed to have done differently? Immediately recycled it when I got home that afternoon? Shoved it in the desk drawer with the rest of my cards and letters? Just left it in the pew?
I used to tell myself that having that program in the car meant that she was watching over me, keeping me safe as I drove. As time goes on, that feeling (could I ever call that joy?) has faded. I feel sadness that I have lost touch with this friend, confusion about what our friendship even meant to start with. I feel like I need to get that wrinkled piece of paper out of that beat-up glove compartment, while my brain screams at me
how can I possibly throw this away.
Somewhere buried in my desk drawer are these cards and letters that spark joy (maybe there are some in my glove compartment too, hidden under everything else). They must be buried deep, surrounded by pieces of paper that prompt feelings of confusion, pity, resentment, ambivalence, loss. So many feelings of what could have been. Marie Kondo advocates for a swift and almost ruthless clean-out, promising a feeling of lightness on the other side. But the prospect of encountering all these pieces of young-adult baggage makes me question whether that emotional slog would make the lightness worth it.
(some of the letters and cards from my desk drawer, 2009-2012)