Getting rid of your stuff is supposed to make you happier.
That’s the main idea fueling Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” When it came out a few years ago, it fueled the minimalist movement and encouraged us to throw out those sweaters from The Limited that we loved once upon a time in the ‘80s.
This book also gave me permission me to purge other random items in a way that I’d never done before. Her approach of “thanking things for their service,” is an effective one for someone like me who is emotionally attached to ‘things’. I do this exercise about twice a year and always feel lighter and happier afterwards. My closets and my mind are clearer and the things I keep, as Kondo says, truly spark joy.
Meet Adventure Bear.
So why should getting rid of a stroller and the last of the baby gear make me so miserable?
Sitting on the cold tile of our basement floor, I’m in nearly in tears. Boxes of dusty baby gear and deconstructed stroller pieces are spread out around me. The seat and cover have been scrubbed and the wheels greased. The aluminum frame gleams, having been wiped clean of fingerprints and dried yogurt and who knows what else.
I’m agonized with memories of each little toy, each bright plastic what-not and then I channel my inner KonMarie: What do we need? What are we using? What sparks joy? I am making good headway, sorting things to donate, things to sell, things to just throw out and then I find Adventure Bear.
Adventure Bear is a small, brown, stuffed animal with a green pacifier attached. It was my older son’s constant companion. I clipped it on the shoulder strap before our first outing in our new stroller. It was a glorious spring day in Chicago, one of those rare early warm days when we emerge, pale and blinking at the sunlight like hibernating animals from their winter dens.
My baby was strapped in his five-point-harness, blue eyes following my every move, clutching Adventure Bear close. It was the first of countless outings as mother and son with that stroller, bear in hand.
Now I rubbed his soft, slightly-pilled ears and inhaled the lingering scent of Dreft. I wondered how many miles he’d logged with us. I started to put him in the Donate bin but I can’t do it. I set him aside with a sigh.
Just then my son wandered into the room. He saw the stroller and the piles of accessories and gear, and he turned to me, his eyes brimming with tears.
“Mom!” he said, “Are you getting rid of that stroller? My stroller?” His voice quivered.
Yes, I said. It’s going to a family with a little boy and they will make more memories just like we did.
He started to cry. I was not prepared for this. I expected him to want to keep special toys and other artifacts from baby days, but a stroller? He fell into my arms, tears falling on my shoulder, his body shaking as he sobbed.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know you would be so sad!”
He pulled away, wiping his face with the back of his hands, his lovely blue eyes now red with tears.
He walked to the stroller and touched the handle lovingly. “I just thought we could keep it so that I could push my babies in it, someday.”
My eyes welled.
“My darling boy,” I said, pulling him close again. “You’re so sweet. Someday you will be the best Daddy! But I think that by then you and whomever you have a baby with will want to pick out your own special stroller.”
He still sobbed. I held him, patted his back, wiped my own tears. Adventure Bear looked up at me from the table where I’d placed him in indecision.
“How about this: This is Adventure Bear. Do you remember him? He went everywhere with you and me, from the very start,” I said. “What if I kept this for you and when you have your babies, I’ll make sure you get it and you can tell them that this is your special bear from when you were little.”
He turned the bear over in his hands, and hugged it to his face, stroking its head softly. He sniffed, and managed a smile. He hugged me again, and I held him tight in my arms, struck with how tall and lean he’d become in the past year. By far a boy, no longer my baby.
“I love you, Mommy. Can we go to the park?” he asked, breaking the spell.
Of course we can. I said. Get your brother.
He handed the bear back, and skip-hopped up the stairs, yelling for his sibling.
I carried the toy upstairs and tucked it into in a box in the back of my closet. It contains just a few precious things from those early days: A tiny Chicago Cubs jersey, a special rattle, and now Adventure Bear.
Downstairs, the boys were wrestling on the couch. Maybe someday they would have their own babies, I thought with a smile, and Adventure Bear will come along for the ride.
And I finally felt that spark of joy.
This essay originally appeared in Fete Lifestyle Magazine, October 2018.