31: How Marie Kondo fucked up my life

Halfway into the first episode of “Tidy Up” Noel and I were pulling armloads of things out of our closet.  I started watching on New Years Day night inevitably to avoid doing something else I should have been doing.  Now the monster has been unleashed.

If you don’t know about this show or Marie Kondo (first of all I don’t know where you’ve been the last few weeks), she is an organizing consultant and author who suggests that we decide what to keep and what to throw away by determining what “sparks joy.”  All I could think about watching her tutorials with a couple that needed a divorce more than a Japanese organization expert was this olive green polyester shirt with an awkward cowl neck that I bought on clearance from Kohl’s nine years ago.  I hate that shirt. WHY am I still keeping, let alone EVER WEARING that shirt?

I am not generally a saver of things.  I have come to realize that horizontal surfaces just become places for clutter to collect.  I also am fairly ruthless when it comes to saving keepsakes.  Only the most special, most unique things make the cut.  The one exception is clothes.  I think the reason for this is two-fold.  1) clothes = all the memories and 2) I never want to look boring.

Growing up new clothes were the sign of some important event.  We got new dresses for Christmas and Easter church.  We got a new first day of school outfit.  As we got older, a school dance was an occasion befitting something new.  Money was tight but our mom would rather walk around with holey socks (literally) than see us go to the stupid Snowball Dance without a new dress.   We would make the trek 45 minutes to the mall, twittering in anticipation about colors or features that might be nice to look for.  We’d walk the whole mall to all the usual tween places looking for just the right thing.  But of course “just the right thing” also meant finding the bargain.  And then there were the shoes.  Always the shoes had to be the perfect compliment, also at a bargain.  In the end I was so sure we found exactly the right thing for this occasion.  We would stop over at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house as we arrived back in town so they could oooooh and ahhhh the latest ensemble.

As the years have gone by I realized that I have just found more “occasions” to dress for. First dates.  Job interviews.  Trial.  Dinner party.  Vacation.  Holiday.  My closet became my scrapbook.

As Noel and I stood in our giant walk in closet, the one we cut our master bedroom nearly in half to build, pulling out garment after garment I had to tell the stories.  First garment out, that hideous green shirt.  I bought this shirt nine years ago on clearance at Kohl’s when I was staying with my parents over Christmas break my 2L year.  Lucas had just broken up with me and I was so sad.  My parents convinced me to come out to some dinner my stepdad had for a professional group.  It was at one of those cook-your-own steak places.  I had three dirty martinis.  I definitely got drunk and cried all the way home.  I literally think about that night every time I wear that stupid shirt.  It fits awkwardly, it gives me pit stains.  The only reason I still wear it is because I can easily layer it with a black suit coat and pants.  That is possibly the dumbest reason ever.  Gone.

A lot of the things were like that.  Shirt, Banana Republic clearance, so I could wear under a suit.  Almost everything I’d owned for at least five years and most close or upwards of ten.

This pair of pants was the first thing I bought after I got married the first time in 2004.  We finally had a spare $40, so I bought these and this shirt from Anne Taylor Loft clearance because my mom always said that place was perfect for me.

This shirt was $3.50 at Charlotte Russe in 2005.  Krissy and I bought “going out” shirts at the same time and then swapped them like three years later.

This shirt is fine for work if the safety pins hold.

And there it is.  The oldest thing in my closet.  A black polyester suit dress with a matching knee-length jacket.  My mom and I bought it at the same time we got my confirmation dress.  That’s 10th grade.  18 years ago.  Maurice’s clearance.  She said I’d need something to wear to job interviews.  Little did either of us ever think I’d still be wearing it to the office, every time thinking “I probably shouldn’t be wearing this anymore.  It’s too short even when I wear black tights.”

None of these things spark joy anymore.  They were things I bought because they were colorful, I found a bargain, and I wanted things around for those time when I *might* need to wear it.  They weren’t special, they didn’t fit right, they certainly didn’t make me feel my best self.  The time had come to keep the memories and lose the garments.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I held on to simply because of those memories.  Not gonna lie, I still get into my Homecoming Queen dress sometimes just because I can.  Even some garments that will never fit me again, there’s still something there.  Something special and joyful that tells me it’s not time to shove it into a yard-waste bag.

We were able to completely reconfigure our closet.  About four bodybag-sized bags went to Goodwill.  Sometimes I get anxious when I go in my closet and only see fifteen shirts hanging there.  But at least I know that whatever I put on I’ll feel good in.

So that’s just the closet.  Marie says you’re supposed to do this with your whole house.  Little by little I take 20 minutes to empty out this drawer or that.  It is truly freeing to feel like you can see and find the things you need in your house.  It also got me thinking about my life, like the stuff you can’t see.

What are the things that spark joy? What are the things I’m hanging on to that don’t?

It was no accident Netflix released this show at the time of year when people are focused on change and self-improvement.  As I mentioned in my 2018 year in review post, I, too, use the new year to refocus and create some goals for the upcoming year.  This year I was challenged to come up with a word. One word to become a mantra or a touchpoint.  A word came to mind immediately: unapologetic.  Almost as quickly I dismissed it.  That’s not what I mean.  That’s selfish.  It sends the wrong message.  Until I realized that’s exactly why I needed to stick with it.

Unapologetic doesn’t mean never making amends for doing something hurtful or for making a mistake.  It isn’t about walking through the world unaware of how the things I do affect other people.  It is about not apologizing for who I am.   Who I am is very flawed.  It sometimes means being too loud, bossy, overbearing, demanding and inflexible.  These qualities are also sometimes wrapped up in this package we call power, qualities that if I were a man or in a different profession or a different community may not be something I feel I have to question so much.  These qualities have a flip side: outspoken, leader, encouraging, setting clear expectations, focused on the mission and vision.  All of my qualities are that way.  There are some that are more obviously “good” and easy to accept.  There are others that I have to actively work on to stay on the positive side.  That’s a journey that never ends.  But it’s all me.  Good, bad, or ugly it is the stuff that makes me up and has brought me this far.

2019 needs to be about living as authentically as possible.  Connection feels good to me.  Being unafraid to stand up for what’s right feels good to me.  Using my skills and abilities to benefit myself and the people I love feels good to me.  Appreciating the comfort and beauty of our home feels good to me.  Enjoying the taste of good food.  The sights of places I’ve never been.  The feeling of a fit, healthy body.  The pleasure of rest and quiet.  Soaking in and moving with the energy of the world.  Continuing to discover this city that I love.  All of these things bring me such monumental joy.  I just cannot allow myself to be weighed down by the worry of what others think about it.  I will be too much for some people.  I will fail despite the best of intentions.  I will still encounter all of the challenges that life brings.  But maybe I’ll soar higher heights than I’ve ever known without the weight of the shoulds.  I suspect the greatest critic will be myself.  It’s a world of possibility out there.  I hope to take it for a spin with a lightness and freedom that will make this joy multiply beyond my wildest dreams.

Happy New Year.

28: My Obituary

Only about ten people knew it was my wedding day.  Noel and I decided on a surprise wedding before we even got engaged.  After being a total bitchy basket case the first go-around, I was on the lookout for the best way to do things better.  How do I make sure that we have the experience we want without feeling pressure to do things a certain way?  The idea of eloping didn’t appeal to us.  Having the people we love around was too important.  A few days after Noel’s dad was hospitalized, I pitched the idea and held my breath.  “I love the way your mind works,” he said, and then went to sleep.  Over the next few days we talked more about how this would work.  How do we get people there if they don’t know it’s a wedding?  What are the things that are important to us?  Can we afford to do this in less than three months?  Is it even possible to find a venue?

A few weeks later we were officially engaged and sprung into action planning our wedding and our strategy for keeping the whole thing secret.  Ten weeks goes by quickly so we didn’t have a lot of time to be engaged, which was just fine with me.  The business of getting married, thinking about finances, working out logistics, running all the errands people typically have months to do…all crammed into ten weeks.  All the while, Noel’s dad’s illness was progressing and each week was a reminder of how uncertain we all were about how much time he had left.  One thing I hadn’t considered when I convinced Noel to do a surprise wedding was that when no one knows, there is no one to offload things on.  The time was stressful to be sure.  It didn’t help that things were tense with my sister.  She was going through some tough stuff and despite living with us, there was more distance between us than we’d ever had as adults.

The morning of our wedding Noel and I woke up together on the futon serving as our bed.  He went off to start wedding day tasks.  I headed to yoga.  On the way out the door I hastily texted my sister (who was in on the wedding secret of course) “I’d really like some berries and some eggs when I get home please.  Can you help me out with that?”  “Yeah,” she said apathetically.  Great, the one request I have as a bride and I’m going to end up doing that too, I thought.

As I put on my jacket and socks after the yoga class, I checked my phone.  “Look at this dress I got just for your party” one friend had texted with a picture of a full length sequined gown.  “So excited to see you tonight” said another friend.  I drove the five minutes home on the verge of tears.  I walked into the house and there on the table was my bathrobe folded next to a plate of meticulously arranged berries, a giant toy diamond ring sat on top of the robe.  I just burst into tears.  The most genuine and grateful tears of my whole life.  All of these people, doing things for me because they cared, on a day they didn’t even know was my wedding day.

This is the third week of Advent.  After a week of hope, and then a week of love, this week is about joy.  Catch up on previous posts for the first and second weeks’ posts here:

26: Arrival of Hope,

27: Daddy Issues

Summer 2015, I was in Minneapolis for the weekend.  I visited a UU church and to this day the sermon is the most memorable I’ve ever heard.  The topic: joy.  Specifically what makes joy different than happiness.  “Joy,” the minister said, “is a visceral spiritual reaction to deep connection.”  Happiness can be experienced in isolation.  It is in the mind.  If we were on a desert island with a funny movie we could be happy.   Joy is only possible through connection.  It is felt in the gut and soul.  Happiness interrupts pain, but joy encompasses it.  “Joy is grief turned inside out,” she went on.  Think of that feeling you get when you look at a person you love so much and simultaneously think about the pain of losing them.  Softening to create the connection that forms joy ultimately means the grief of deep loss when that connection comes to an end for whatever reason.  But the depth and experience of joy makes it worth the difficulty of losing it.

I am in a discussion group at church.  The group is intended to foster deep listening  and sharing about spiritual topics.  We get the topic a month ahead of time along with readings, activities and questions to consider.  Last month the topic was “memory.”  One of the activities was to speak with people you are close with to ask them what three memories they would share at your funeral.  I thought of a number of people to ask, most of whom I don’t see very often but remain a very important part of my life.  So I sent an out-of-the-blue text to some of my favorite people to see what I’d get back.  I should not be surprised with how in stride my friends took a random text about memories for my funeral, but I was.

Here were some of my favorite responses:

I can’t remember the bar we went to for drink the very first time, but I remember the scene perfectly. We sat on a high top in a corner of the bar. You had short hair and a huge smile. We talked about life. Your accepting and understanding led me to talking all about crazy things from my past. It was weird how much it felt like we were lifelong friends. I don’t know why that memory is so vivid. But I can still feel that warmth and closeness with you. It never went away.

Your raw emotion. You seem determined to feel emotions whether good or bad, like it’s a part of life that you relish. I find that really admirable, especially your ability to control your emotions while still feeling them.

When we broke into the pool to go skinny dipping. I’d never done anything like that before and was so scared we’d get caught but you had this way of pushing my boundaries and making me try new things (that wouldn’t hurt me if course). And it was exhilarating!!

Just always there: we’ve talked about this before, but your mantra is that you show up. I remember you saying to me “it’s what we do, show up.” I think of that often and try to live my own life that way. Showing up.

When you randomly sat down and made me take of my headphones while I was working hard in the lunch room. Ha!  You are fearless. And you genuinely care about people and their stories. It’s one of my favorite things about you. You are willing to take chances that many other people aren’t.

There were so many responses.  Ultimately I categorized them so I could find patterns: connection, emotional openness/sharing, FUN!, inspiration, showing up.  The assignment asked us to consider what others would take away from our life if we took our last breath today.  I was comforted to know that the things I try to prioritize in these relationships seems to be working.  In the end I decided the best way to share these takeaways with my group was to write my obituary.

The Life and Memory of Katie Kegel

Katie Beth Kegel’s life ended on (date).  Katie’s affinity for thoughtful writing and her need to be in control has culminated in a self-written obituary. 

Katie’s life cannot be defined by labels: daughter, sister, wife, lawyer, athlete.  It also cannot be defined by qualities: intense, energetic, persistent, intimidating, over achiever, leader.  These words cannot capture the fullness and complexity of a life so defined by intention.

Katie lived her life to tell the stories.  Through her work, stories of people who have done terrible things and had terrible things done to them.  Dotting the chapters of her life with the long, arduous journey to physical and professional achievements.   But most importantly the stories of shared memories with the people she cared most about. 

Katie will be remembered for the connections she made.  Whether friend-at-first sight or succumbing to her persistence, you saw something special in her and she saw it right back.  There was an energy; you were special, someone she had to know, because you were like her or maybe completely unlike her, but whatever you were, you were interesting with a story all of your own, a story she needed to intersect with her own.

Early and often Katie showed you who she was.  Whether clumsy or effortless the rainbow of her emotions shone bright for all to see, her thoughts and feelings never a secret, but instead poured out in her words or her touch or her laughter.  Her strength captivated you but her softness kept you there. 

It kept you there because she was there. Physically.  Her motto “just show up” guided everything about the way she spent her time.  Just show up for people, however big or small.  For one never knows which of life’s events will be life changing.  And she wanted to be there, for all of your life’s wonderful and terrible changes.  Just as she pulled you willingly or unwillingly into the adventure of her life replete with drinking or dancing or nudity or costumes, so she asked to join you on the adventure of yours.  She challenged you and was challenged by you and wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Her relationships were not easy because life is not easy.  But life certainly can be fun and Katie found all of the crackpot ways to make things fun.  “Wanna come do this with me?” she’d say out of the blue. Yes, just say yes most learned.  It was always worth it.

All those intersections of lives wove a fabric of armor.  A fabric strong enough to withstand time and distance and hardships.  Break ups, break downs, years long breaks in conversation were no matter because when the time came to be together again it was as if nothing changed. 

And now something will change.  Katie is not here to lead the charge, have the ideas, or make that phone call. The stories are what you must share.  SHOW up.  SHARE the stories.  Be brave.  Be vulnerable.  Big or small, sharing creates connection, a connection that honors what you most loved. 

The stories…the stories you created together are what Katie thought about until her last breath.  Her stories will live on through you, and what an honor for her story to be woven in with yours for all of time.

In the end, it won’t be about the accomplishments.  The things that are defining my life are the people in it.  “Surely joy is the condition of life,” Henry David Thoreau wrote.  Indeed sir.  Indeed.