How Marie Kondo Helped Me Tidy Up My Gender Feelings

By Jae Lin

I didn’t read the book with the whole-hearted intention of following her words, really. After watching her Netflix Special, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. I was curious more than anything else. I also really liked her spirit in the show—so I wanted to soak in more of that.

Reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up really filled in the gaps for all of the reasoning, knowledge, and experience behind her process and theories. The show does a good job of practically illustrating her method, but the book allows her much more space to explain and show all of the thought and life lessons that have led her to her conclusions. It’s a tidy book with very little fluff, which can be hard to find in self help reading.

But after finishing the book, I found that what she had written was really staying in my headspace. I don’t consider my home or life to be incredibly cluttered; over the past 8 years, I’ve moved 7 times around Austin, and a natural part of moving for me is paring down belongings. Still, I know there are definitely parts of my closet that I avoid touching and things in my room that I try not to think about (because I don’t know what to do with them). It would be a dream to live in a home surrounded by things that bring me joy.

So I decided to give it a go. Kondo advocates strongly for organizing by category rather than by location, and her first category is clothes. I pulled out all of my clothes from every nook and cranny of my closet and room. I even did laundry to add the clothes from the hamper into the pile. I put all of it on my bed, as I’ve seen a dozen times on her show, and dove on in.

So—but—wait. Let’s take a quick look in my mirror. I am a transgender nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns. I am more sure now than ever about my gender and all it encompasses. Despite common stereotypes of nonbinary people, I am not gender neutral, and my identity and expression encompasses genderedness of male, female, and beyond. I know this about myself now, but for over two decades of my life, I also lived exclusively under the labels of female, girl, and woman. I am not ashamed of who I was or how I looked during those years, and I don’t want them to be erased or forgotten. However, those labels just don’t fit who I am now, and they feel uncomfortable when they are used to describe me. Sometimes, I still hear this voice in my head, no matter how confident I am, that says “You can’t really be trans—you’ll always be just a girl—this is just a phase—give it up already.”

And all of this makes itself evident in this big pile of clothes on my bed.

Kondo recommends starting off with the easiest things to recognize as articles that spark joy. So, I grab the clothes that I wear often and with love. And slowly I start moving through the pile, separating everything into keep, donate, or toss. I kept most of my button up shirts, letting go of only a few flannel hand-me-downs. Going through my t-shirts was a little harder; many of them were from events or handed out as promotional items. I tried to keep just the shirts that made me feel happy when I held them, deciding that reminders of a past event shouldn’t be tied to keeping a shirt. I kept all of my favorite dresses and skirts. I tossed some old underwear and socks that were worn pretty thin or just didn’t fit anymore.

It finally came down to the items that I was really putting off until the end. I had already lovingly chosen to keep all of my binders, and now I was facing my old bras, swim tops, and some exercise tops that had built-in padding in the chest. (The common thread seems obvious now, listed out like that, but it wasn’t a theme I recognized in the moment, haha) My struggle with deciding came down to feeling like these articles of clothing were really essential. These were bras I used to wear everyday, even though they never fit. To go swimming, I have to wear a swim top. And the exercise tops were nice for cardio when I didn’t want to wear a sports bra. Over time, I have replaced all of these things with binders even though I know it’s not ideal to swim or exercise in a binder, since it restricts my breathing.

I had held on to all of these clothes that I didn’t want to wear because of this doubting voice in my mind that tells me I’m not actually trans, and when I finally accept that, I’ll need these essential types of clothing. Honestly, these don’t even fit me and my breasts well. And when I hold them, they make me really sad and heavy.

Marie Kondo helped me give myself the permission I needed to hear to let go of these clothes I dislike but keep out of self-doubt, self-fear, self-loathing. Even if I ever want to wear a bra or feminine swim top again, I should wear ones that make me feel happy. Deciding to toss those items also became a catalyst for evaluating what it is about chest appearance that gives me dysphoria. I really love wearing a binder, and I also like the way my chest looks without a binder. Maybe it’s the way those clothing tops make my chest look rather than the body itself. That’s a really freeing thing that I’ve started thinking about.

When I’m not in a self-criticizing headspace, I really believe optimistically that gender is fluid and wavy, and that means that someday in the future, the possibility exists that I might not want to identify as trans forever. I want to take that possibility out of the realm of doomsday fear, because that journey would still be beautiful. I’m trans right now, & that’s enough.
How do clothes and gender interact in your life and closet? Are there things that you’ve been holding onto out of fear or doubt? Let us know your story on social media: Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.