The Surprising Impact Decluttering Had on My Quest for a Baby
By Gina Wimpey
I have always been a “more is more” type, with a touch of a hoarding complex and a big sentimental streak to tie the whole overstuffed package up in a ribbon.
What may have seemed endearing as a child -- saving every card and letter, stashing away spare buttons and ribbons for craft projects that never materialized, etc -- became actual, literal baggage as an adult. Baggage stuffed into closets, boxes, attics, office drawers and car trunks. I rode around with not one but TWO bridesmaids dresses in the trunk of my car for the better part of a decade. My trunk was their purgatory, stuck between “maybe I’ll hem these and wear them as an evening dress” and “Siri, where’s the nearest Goodwill?”
As my husband and I started to envision our life with children, I squirreled away ill-fitting clothes that could be maternity clothes someday soon. Only that “someday soon” wasn’t materializing. Months passed with no luck, so I began to dutifully go through the list of tricks that would make me need to wear those baggy jeans and unflattering tops. I got an app. Saw the doc. We went on a romantic vacation. And then another one. It all started to snowball, much like my closet full of stuff that *might* be useful one day, even if it wasn’t exactly useful right now. Acupuncture. Basal temperatures, bitter Chinese herbs, prescriptions from the doctor, various procedures, yoga, meditation, positive thinking, lots of crying. More crying. Did I mention the crying?
Enter Marie Kondo, patron saint of de-cluttering. Her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was everywhere a few years ago, and it promised big (life changing, to be exact) results if you followed her method of going through each and every belonging by category (beginning with clothing and working your way up to sentimental keepsakes). Kondo insists on doing this all in one fell swoop - no stopping and starting, no “one room at a time.” It was a big time commitment, not to mention an emotional one. But if there were two things I had too much of, it was time and emotions.
I followed her instructions to a T: I started with categories. I thanked, out loud, everything I was discarding, even threadbare socks. I thanked the baggy jeans that I’d saved for maternity clothes and gave them away. I thanked my copy of “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” and tossed it. It took me weeks and weeks, but I touched every single thing I owned and asked if it sparked joy, Kondo’s threshold for keeping something. Not usefulness or future potential - just a quick, gut-feeling reaction when you held an object in your hand.
The problem was that I was in the middle of the most joyless time of my life, with no end in sight. I was afraid nothing I owned would spark joy, and much (most) of what I owned didn’t.
But a shirt gifted from my baby sister did. So did favorite boots that I’d been wearing for 15 years, and all the little handmade cards my husband had given me over the years. There were beloved books and earrings I’d forgotten about . A stack of letters from my college roommate, who I adored but hadn’t spoken to in years. It seemed like such a shame we weren’t in touch anymore, so I called her out of the blue. We talked for hours, including sharing the pain of miscarriages we’d each suffered.
I ended up donating (and occasionally throwing out) roughly ⅔ of my belongings. My husband -- an effortless minimalist -- borrowed a cavernous Sprinter van and made trip after trip to the donation center. I’d toss the bags out of my trunk (including those poor bridesmaid dresses) as quick as I could and get back in the car. No second-guessing.
A few months after my big purge, I finally did get pregnant. That positive pregnancy test stick -- lovingly peed on at 4 in the morning -- sparked all the joy in the world, every little bit of hope and happiness that had been so dormant years leading up to that moment. Did all the tidying up have anything to do with it? Did I tidy myself to a baby? Had I decluttered myself and my home and my soul enough to make enough room for a baby? It sounds nice, at least at first. But it also sounds dangerous, and playing into the notion that if we just do X, Y and Z, we’ll finally get a baby (or whatever it is that we seek). I played into that notion for years, that if I just “relaxed,” or did more acupuncture, or tried fancier reproductive technology, I would get pregnant. But we were never able to identify a reason why we didn’t get pregnant, so perhaps it makes sense to not find a reason why we did. We got lucky. Very lucky, and I’m grateful for that every day.
What I was left with, other than the world’s most welcome fatigue, bloating and nausea, was a closet full of clothes that didn’t fit. I did borrow some clothes from friends, but I also bought myself a few special things that I loved. Not one item of clothing that I’d hoarded for this made it through the joy test. Impractical? Maybe. But it was freeing too. When it comes to clothes that don’t fit or make you feel good, once a bummer, always a bummer. Even if you’re pregnant or nursing.
The nursing wear was much harder, and it took me a lot of tries to find clothes that made me feel like me (and yes, I did find a nursing bra that sparks joy). There was a lot of pressure from fellow mama friends to buy cheap nursing clothes from big-box stores, since nursing was only temporary. But now, a year in and counting, I’m so glad I stayed as slavishly picky as I did. Whether it was nursing a tiny newborn with a terrible latch or pumping in a freezing cold supply closet here at work (there is no joy to be found in there!), it was worth it to find clothes that I love.
It’s about being intentional, whether it’s shopping or nursing or playing with my baby. It’s about letting go of fear -- the fear that I might possibly need something one day, so I might as well keep it around. It’s about treating pregnancy and nursing -- temporary as they may be -- as times that deserve joy, not leftovers.
Thanks Gina for your beautiful and inspiring story! xoxo, Peggy