Thursday, March 26, 2015

MentAL Space (ALS De-cluttering Tips)

Something strange happened to me last week - - and in public no less!

I was at a meeting, just minding my own business when suddenly, my blouse walked in through the door and sat down - - right next to me!

No mistaking it, I knew that blouse was mine. I knew it intimately. You see, we had been in a “relationship.”

A quick sideways glance confirmed the fact and brought back a flood of memories. Memories of all the times I’d lift that same blouse out of my closet, hold the hanger high for a better look and then, pause. What followed was a ritual I repeated time after time. Carefully I'd return the blouse untouched, to that special space, waaay in the back; the designated area for clothes that I didn’t wear anymore - - but couldn’t bear to part with.

I’m embarrassed to admit just how old that particular blouse was; having purchased it years ago in some forgotten trendy shop in Hawaii. But, I never forgot the vacation memories it triggered: body surfing in crashing ocean waves and morning jogs along fields of sugar cane. Returning home, I never wore it again; the fit was never the same and the island colors clashed with my then Midwestern surroundings. Never the less, just looking at it triggered many memories, so faithfully I kept it - - through two household moves back in Iowa, one more move to Arizona plus eight more years - - all spent in the dark zones of my closet.

Now, like a bad penny forever in my shadow, that very same blouse was not on its usual hanger but on someone else's body! The fabric mere inches from my right shoulder!  Why?

Well, this year, motivated by my ALS, that particular blouse along with all its buddies made a successful escape out of my closet and into a bag of clothing designated for the local thrift shop. You see, I’m planning ahead - - and hopefully, waaay ahead.

Even though right now I’m still perfectly capable of dressing myself - - by myself, I know that my ALS will slowly weaken me to the point that I won’t be able to do that anymore. So I decided to take charge of my future and begin the process of re-organizing my closet and clothing drawers with the grand goal of accessibility. Accessibility for me right now and for when the inevitable (but hopefully still far off future) time arrives that someone else is dressing me, I want their choices to be only my favorite clothes; not the unexplainable icky-but-it-reminds-me-of-somewhere-else pieces.

The whole ‘keep-throw’ process was much easier this time around because I used the “Kondo method,” developed by Marie Kondo, Japanese author of the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie holds the honor of being the current guru of de-cluttering, and although I deviated from her advice to closet-purge in one long multi-day event (I’d rather ration my energy over several weekends) and I never quite mastered her skill of folding clothes and socks sushi-style, her overall philosophy made sense.

Marie recommends that instead of asking, “Do I need it or, can I live without it?” we should pick up every item we want to get rid of and ask, “does this spark joy?” if the answer is no, then throw it out and, “keep only the things that speak to our heart.” Let our discards move on and give someone else joy.

Joy? I glanced at my seat-mate and her colorful tropical top. Was I feeling joy?   

Outside of the Christmas holiday season we don’t hear the word ‘joy’ used much anymore. But joy is an important emotion linked to more than just happiness or bliss. Research validates that we experience a joy response when the brain releases the chemical dopamine. It’s a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure center. When you take action that favors the greater good (for example: altruism, philanthropy or unselfishness) the release of dopamine allows us to experience a surge of peace, compassion, love, connection and - - well-being.

Marie Kondo’s philosophy mirrors basic stress management and mind-body concepts and her ritual for de-cluttering closets was for me, a metaphor for life. Our bodies and minds perform best when we’re balanced and calm. Dwelling on worries, being anxious about the future and replaying old conversations are just as stressful as living in an environment that is cluttered, overcrowded and visually over stimulating.  Looking into a closet full of jumbled clothes and shoes is the same as a whirlwind of negative thoughts clouding our brains.

So, during the remainder of the meeting I sat quietly. My mind recalling that receent afternoon devoted to gleaning, reminiscing, feeling joy and letting go of the not-joyful. At the end of the project I stepped back to look not only at my accomplishments but also to bask in pride. Pride that I was being proactive as to my ALS, pride that I was making donations to share with others and pride that this one dimension of my life; my clothing, represented who I was now. Gone were the attachments to the past. Gone was the guilt of not letting go. I felt better about my future and I did feel joy.

During a third peek, I had to admit the blouse looked pretty darn good on the woman seated next to me. In fact, it was her color, her style and she even wore interesting jewelry to match. Then it hit me; no wonder we were friends! We shared the same interests, attended many of the same activities and obviously, shared a great taste in clothing! That blouse made her happy.

And that - - gave me joy.


Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger

“When you put your house in order you put your affairs and your past in order too, as a result you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t”.                 
Marie Kondo


  1. Always a joy reading your blog and gaining new insight, now off to my closet!! Thanks Dagmar, always an inspiration!!

  2. I love this and so motivating especially to me who does what you do..hang on to things that bring on the memories....those articles of clothing that flash back great always you inspire me..thank you


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