3: “Come and find Julia’s beautiful items!”
Released May 8, 2019
JULIA: Hey everyone, Julia here. So we have an episode for you in just a minute, but first, we have a big announcement. And it makes me sad so I’m gonna let Ula say it.
ULA: Hey! So this is my last episode of Going Forward. I have really loved making this show with Julia, but I have a lot of pans in the fire… I don’t know if that even means anything? I work on a couple of different things, and it’s time for me to admit to myself that I can’t keep this many balls in the air. I sure can mix metaphors though! The good news is that Julia’s gonna keep this show going on her own. I might be back for an episode here or there. We do like working together a lot. But for now, this is goodbye.
JULIA: We’re both sad about this, but also, I think it’s a bittersweet change for both of us. Ula is gonna be focusing on her full time job over at the new podcast Fiasco.
ULA: First episode drops May 23!
JULIA: And I’m excited to keep making the show and hopefully collaborating with more people in the near future.
ULA: I will be grateful forever for the past two years, and I am psyched to hear Julia’s stories the same way that you guys get to. Until then - please enjoy this episode about Julia saying goodbye to stuff from her childhood bedroom!
JULIA: We did not plan this timing.
MARIE KONDO: (Speaking in Japanese)
TRANSLATOR: I think it’s that-- of course we all have problems tidying our homes, but it’s not just that Stephen, we all have clutter in our hearts. And that’s what needs tidying.
STEPHEN COLBERT: That got me right here.
JULIA: You probably know who this is. It seems like everyone does.
JIMMY KIMMEL: Do you guys know the name Marie Kondo?
JULIA: You’ve seen her show. You might have read her book.
KIMMEL: Yeah, how many of you have been cleaning out your closets because of her?
JULIA: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo came out on Netflix on January 1, 2019. It was brilliant timing. Just as everybody was making resolutions to finally clean out their junk drawer...
KONDO (NETFLIX): Hello. I am Marie Kondo.
JULIA: Marie Kondo first became popular in the States in 2014 when her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was translated into English. But the Netflix show made her a bonafide celebrity. Marie Kondo’s “Konmari” method is about organizing your belongings and being grateful for them. But the quintessential Konmari thing is holding each object you own, and asking yourself, deep down, if it brings you joy.
KIMMEL: If it sparks joy, we keep it. If it doesn’t, it goes.
JULIA: I watched the whole show in 2 days. Apparently everyone around me did too. People were posting before-and-after pictures of their closets and sock drawers all over social media.
COLBERT: I don’t understand anything you say when you say it, but even if you had no translator, I would follow you to a cult compound and never leave.
AUDIENCE: (Cheering & laughter)
JULIA: But then the articles and think pieces started to come out. If countless garbage bags full of clothes and books are no longer bringing us joy, where do they end up?
WOMAN (RADIO): Around the country, thrift stores are being swamped with sweaters, shoes, coats, books.
MAN (RADIO): Thousands, and hundreds of thousands of donations. It’s huge. We can hardly keep up with it.
JULIA: We’re taking the show so literally -- like a new fad diet -- binge-watching it and frantically cleaning. It seems unlikely that we’ll completely break out of the cycle of getting stuff and giving it away. But, Konmari method or not, if we’re being so particular about what we keep in our lives -- shouldn’t we be just as thoughtful about where that stuff goes next?
JULIA: This is Going Forward. I’m Julia Drachman.
JULIA: You’ll probably recall this skirt?
JONATHAN DRACHMAN: Oh yeah
PAULA LOZANO-DRACHMAN: Totally
JULIA: This was a classic.
JULIA: After I watched Tidying Up in January, I was feeling inspired and New Years-ish, so I went to my parents’ house to tackle a room full of stuff I’d been avoiding. My childhood bedroom. My parents and I sat on the floor, surrounded by piles of books, clothes, jewelry, movie posters, cds...all the stuff I decided not to bring with me into adulthood, but didn’t feel like I could just get rid of.
PAULA: Hand me some books so I can start going through them.
JULIA: There were some things I knew I was going to keep: my old journals, my bat mitzvah dress. But I wasn’t sure about the rest of it. And when I can’t trust my own gut, I ask my parents.
JULIA: I was on kind of a rampage when I made this list…
PAULA: Well. That’s why we’re here. Pass me more books.
JULIA: In some cases, I was getting rid of presents they gave me years ago.
JULIA: They’re not my style...
DAD: I think I got you this one.
JULIA: Yeah… Is it painful to see stuff that you guys got me…
MOM: No no no. It’s good for us.
JULIA: Most of the stuff was ok to get rid of.
MOM: If you don’t wear ‘em, they’re gone.
JULIA: Other things were relegated to more specific piles like, “Ask your aunt if she wants these books,” or, “See if we can sell this jewelry.” And some things, I just ended up keeping after all.
JULIA: This dress I loved.
PAULA: I love it! What’s wrong with it?
JULIA: Nothing.. I’m keeping it.
JULIA: I have so much stuff. And it just sits in this bedroom that I spend maybe 10 nights at per year. Wouldn’t that stuff be better off if it went to someone else who would actually use it? But it’s never that simple. As soon as I think I’m ready to give away an old tee shirt, it becomes this physical reminder of who I was when I wore it.
JULIA: This is like 17-year-old-Julia. I don’t think it’s very me now.
PAULA: As far as I know, there is one Julia.
JULIA: It’s such a mom thing to say, but she’s right. I looked at the few items that had squirmed their way back into my heart and closet and felt love for them again.
JULIA: Well, I really appreciate you guys taking the time to go through this with me. And letting me record it.
DAD: Wait, you’re recording this?
JULIA: If I’m honest, this whole process wasn’t really Konmari. I watched Tidying Up like how people watch the Food Network while they’re cooking - like a motivational soundtrack. Still, it pushed me to be thoughtful with my stuff. It’s easy to feel like giving all this meaning to your possessions is shallow or materialistic. But at the same time, those objects can be really important to us. They reflect who we are and the people and places that form us. For a lot of people, that’s one of the appeals of the Konmari method. When it’s done right, it’s actually about honoring the relationship we have with our stuff.
ARIANNE TRUE: I’ve been on a journey with KonMari for a few years now, and it’s been a really cool gift to give myself.
JULIA: This is Arianne True. I went to visit her and her girlfriend, Meg, a few weeks ago. They got into Konmari way before the Netflix special blew up.
ARIANNE: I’ve done my clothes and my books and when I open my closet or I look at my bookshelf, I just feel joy. Everytime I open my closet I’m happy. And I love the way that it acknowledges objects as charged with energy and life force.
MEG BOLGER: And you don’t have to believe or even understand any of that. She walks you down this journey of understanding like where this is really coming from.
JULIA: That’s Meg. She was a bit more hesitant to dive into the spiritual stuff.
ARIANNE: You always tell the story that I had seen your socks -- Meg used to always ball her socks -- and I was like “those poor socks! Why are you doing that to them?”
MEG: Yea and I was like, “Look, I’ll read this book, but I’m never gonna not do that. I’m not gonna roll or fold my socks. I’m not gonna do that. They’re fine.” And then I finished the book and I was like, “I’m so sorry socks! I’m so sorry!”
JULIA: Meg and Arianne are seeing a lot of people like me, who watch the show and just jump straight into purging their stuff over the course of a weekend. According to them, if you want to do it right, it’s not gonna be easy or quick.
MEG: At the beginning of the book she says you should do this as quickly as possible. And I was like, “OK.” And then a couple chapters later she says, “and that’s probably 6 months.” And I was like, “OK. Got it. This takes a while.” Purging and Konmari-ing are different things.
JULIA: What a lot of us end up doing - like bagging up our unwanted stuff when New Year’s rolls around - isn’t actually Konmari. In some ways, it’s the fast food version of the philosophy. Marie Kondo isn’t really saying that less is better. But it’s hard to miss the fact that every episode of the show involves mountains of stuff being donated, usually to Goodwill.
AVERY TRUFELMAN: Which is good. Which is good. On the surface of it, that is a fine thing to do.
JULIA: This is Avery Trufelman, a producer at the podcast 99% Invisible. She just produced a miniseries all about clothes.
AVERY: I wonder if we are only tossing things away to get new things. Because we are over-donating our clothes. And no one wants your plastic-y Forever XXI sequin jumpsuit. It’s gonna be garbage. Most of the stuff will end up in landfill anyway. So I guess that’s the thing -- it’s not as virtuous as we think. It’s not inherently bad, but it’s not as virtuous as we think.
JULIA: It turns out, when you spend a year researching the fashion industry, there’s a lot to feel squeamish about. In one episode, Avery goes through the life cycle of a pair of jeans. The plastic that makes them stretchy, the chemical dyes that poison rivers, the short life span of clothes that used to be so sturdy that multiple people could share one pair for years.
WOMAN (CLIP): There were as many as three men that wore this pair of pants.
AVERY (CLIP): You can tell by looking at the impression marks on the knees.
WOMAN (CLIP): “The knee marks go up and down in several places. Because they are in several locations, we know that several people wore them.”
AVERY (CLIP): And that was common with jeans. They’d get passed around. “They were sturdy enough that you could do that.”
AVERY: Doing this series changed me entirely – ENTIRELY. I’m a different person than I was a year ago. I don’t shop anymore. I really don’t. I do clothing swaps. Sometimes thrift stores. But the idea of buying a new garment, after what I’ve learned, seems morally unjustifiable.
JULIA: Now that she knows what she knows, Avery works hard to love and use and wear the clothes she already has.
AVERY: I think the most valuable thing you can do is keep a wide variety of items in your closet and you know, of course, clean up and value the ones you do have. But I think it’s important to have a range of things that reflect lots of different versions of you and basically, learn how to shop your closet, learn how to stay amused with the variety of things you already have rather than paring it down to a choice couple of beige-colored tee shirts.
JULIA: When her clothes start to fall apart, she gets them mended. When her style starts to change, she trades with friends. In a time when a fast fashion impulse buy is around every corner, Avery has committed to maintaining her wardrobe. And the relationship that Avery has built with her clothes is kind of just… how she’s been trying to live her life these days.
AVERY: I mean this is crazy -- this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but ever since Articles of Interest came out, I’ve been trying – not always succeeding – but I’ve been trying to be vegan and zero waste. I’ve just got this bag, this backpack that I carry, that’s always jangling around with all my hippy shit.
JULIA: Wherever Avery goes, she has bags of snacks, a coffee cup, a water bottle, utensils, everything she might need that she doesn’t want to have to buy and throw away every day.
AVERY: If you want to take on more consumer responsibility, it is a literal burden you must carry. You just have to carry more things.
JULIA: It might be easy to write off Avery’s lifestyle as crunchy, but it’s kind of common sense. From utensils and coffee cups, to clothes and furniture - she just doesn’t treat her stuff like it’s disposable. And that’s not actually such a novel idea. The cycle where we buy something, use it, throw it away - that’s the newer thing. We’ve been sharing stuff for a long time: think libraries, hand-me-downs, carpooling. Even borrowing sugar from a neighbor. Now, there are clothing rental websites. Ride sharing apps. Airbnb. There are even localized Facebook groups called “Buy Nothing” where people offer up stuff they no longer need, or ask for stuff they do need. The one big rule in Buy Nothing groups is that everything has to be given for free.
After I went through my childhood bedroom, I had too much stuff to put it all on my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group. I could have sold it, but anytime I’ve taken things to a consignment store, I walk away thinking that the value of that item wasn’t really reflected in the cash I got for it. It means way more to me to give my stuff directly to someone who’s gonna love it. I needed some advice on how to handle everything I was getting rid of. So I went to the least wasteful person I know.
MIRIAM AYALA: You know what this is?
JULIA: Where’s it from?
MIRIAM: From the ocean. From when we go swimming. I usually bring home sand and I want to return it back to the beach.
JULIA: Oh my god.
JULIA: This is Miriam Ayala.
MIRIAM: You know, I can’t just let it go down the drain
JULIA: It’s a couple tablespoons.
JULIA: Miriam was my nanny growing up. She was like my 3rd parent. And she is one of those super thoughtful people who can’t stand to waste anything.
JULIA: What do you recommend I do? I have books I have clothes, I have some jewelry I used to wear in high school. Like, what do you recommend?
MIRIAM: Well I think we should try to find some people that might find use with those things. What is your junk, might be someone else’s treasure? Or something of the sort.
JULIA: That’s the other reason I came to Miriam. She loves a good adventure.
JULIA: So you could help me do that?
MIRIAM: I would love to. Yeah! I absolutely would love to.
JULIA: Miriam and I decided to pack up my stuff and go try to find people to give it to. She suggested a laundromat in her neighborhood where she’s had some luck offloading books in the past.
MIRIAM: So I have this little garment rack… and I thought, why don’t we just set this up in the middle of the street with some of your items?
JULIA: Love it.
JULIA: We packed up a clothing rack and some hangers and headed out to my car.
JULIA: Some clothes and some books. And then lots of books in this one
JULIA: Getting in the car with Miriam, I felt like a kid again.
MIRIAM: Alright, let’s head out on this adventure!
JULIA: Except this time, I was driving her. And she was holding my microphone.
MIRIAM: So it’s a typical winter day here in Seattle. Grey sky, wet, a little drizzly.
JULIA: We got to the laundromat…
MIRIAM: It’s right over there where that blue sign is.
JULIA: ...and I immediately started to feel a little ridiculous.
MIRIAM: I wonder if there are any laws about doing this.
JULIA: I carried my suitcases to the bench out front, and Miriam started to assemble the rack. It was raining and super cold and I was not sure how successful we were gonna be.
MIRIAM: Come on people! Come and find Julia’s beautiful items!
JULIA: But we hung all the clothes up and put the books out on the bench. And pretty soon, people started to wander by.
JULIA: Do you guys want some books? We’re giving away free books.
MIRIAM: Please look!
JULIA: It looked like a sidewalk sale, we just weren’t charging anyone.
JULIA: This is a dress, these are both skirts. And then this is a scarf.
GIRL: Ok nice, I found a pair of pants! Cool
JULIA: Thank you for taking them off my hands and giving them love.
GIRL: No problem. I’ll give these tons of love.
JULIA: Good. So happy!
MAN: I just came here to have a cocktail and you’re giving away books! How cool is that? Rainy day -- you guys just made the sun come out.
JULIA: We were out there for about an hour and a half. We met 20 people or so. Got rid of about half of the stuff I’d brought. And it was pretty clear that everyone who walked away with a book or a pair of pants or a belt was really gonna love it. One woman even kissed my old Alice in Wonderland tee shirt and hugged it to her body.
WOMAN: Love it! Look at the Cheshire Cat! That’s how I feel right now.
JULIA: What I did with Miriam -- this free sidewalk sale -- it was time consuming. And maybe not entirely legal. And I don’t think it’s the answer. But I like that it slowed down the process of giving things away.
MIRIAM: Wow, you did really well, Julia. I’m so impressed. Everyone that’s come has walked away with something!
JULIA: It feels good to take responsibility for your stuff, even after it doesn’t spark joy anymore. Realistically, the next time I have bags of clothes and books to donate, they’ll probably go to Goodwill. But the goal is to have fewer of those bags -- to slow down the flow of things through my life. A shallow version of Konmari - or really any kind of decluttering -- is getting rid of a tee shirt just to replace it with another tee shirt. I’m starting to wonder if it’s just a matter of deciding to like the tee shirt you already have. That spark of joy? Maybe it isn’t something innate to the stuff we own. Maybe it’s a conscious choice that we can make.
JULIA: This episode of Going Forward was produced by me, Julia Drachman, and Ula Kulpa. Music in this episode is from Blue Dot Sessions and our theme music is by Phoenix Glendinning. Thanks to Crescent Moegling and everyone who stopped by the sidewalk sale.
Avery’s miniseries, Articles of Interest, now has its own podcast feed! We’ll put a link in the show notes.
Special thanks to everyone who has signed up to support us on patreon! Especially, Janus and Renata Kulpa, and Paula and Jonathan Drachman.
If you’d like to support the show, go to patreon.com/goingforward. Or you can find the button on our website: goingforwardpod.com.
Thank you for listening! See you next month.