My parents still live in my family’s childhood home, which is large with loads of space, since all three kids have moved out. I recently moved into a very tiny apartment that barely fits my current belongings. The other day, my mom arrived with three large boxes full of my old stuff—swimming trophies, diaries, photos, and various other personal knickknacks. She’s on a purging kick, and says I need to do the same. I say, she is being a selfish jerk—I can’t possibly hold onto all of this old stuff and will be forced to toss my precious memories.  

Let’s sidestep the whole horrible, unfeeling mother for a sec, and discuss your need to hold onto what sounds like a pretty large amount of old belongings. I mean, diaries—of course!!!! But how much room do those take up? Swimming trophies, on the other hand???!!! I am assuming these are like teenage memorabilia (and not, say, Olympic medals), in which case it might be time send them off to that great high school sporting event in the sky.

The debate on holding onto all of our old stuff has been trending ever since the release of Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Work of Tidying Up in 2014. At this point the how-to-unclutter-your-life book has sold more than six million copies, spent a year and a half on the NYT Best Seller list and convinced a growing army of “Konverts” (as Kondo’s devotees are called), that the greatest thing one can possibly do for themselves is get rid of the material belongings that clog up our homes and our lives.

Of course there has also been a backlash to Kondo’s perhaps overzealous methods, which include discarding baby momentos and culling old photo albums. Personally, I look forward to the time when I feel organized enough to even embark on the journey towards, Kondo-level organization, however there is one part of her philosophy that I like and I think it applies. Basically she says that when it comes to personal keepsakes it’s important to hold onto only the items that “Spark Joy” (the name of her follow up book, btw), and discard the ones that don’t. Kondo wants you to literally hold each item in your hands, which seems a bit extreme, but I think her point—that not all so-called sentimental items are attached to actual sentiment—is a good one. In your case, that means going through the aforementioned trophies and “personal knick knacks” as you call them (for some reason all I can picture is a box of old miniature Troll dolls), and determine which ones are worth holding onto…really worth holding onto.

As far as your mom, I am inclined to agree with you that she’s being a bit of a jerk, but I would add that your parents have absolutely zero obligation to act as your free storage unit.

When I raised your issue with my own mom the other day she said that she would probably agree to hold onto “a reasonable amount” of my belongings, but only if they had been judiciously culled, organized and stored in “matching, nice looking Tupperware”. (No, my mom is not Martha Stewart).

I wonder how and in what condition your stuff was stored over at your parents’ place? If it was messy, then I’m guessing that was the problem. Maybe your mom will feel differently once you clean things up a bit. Then again, maybe your parents want to change your old room into a Pilates studio. That may irk you, but it is 100% their prerogative.

There is no verse in The Cats and the Cradle about the period where the son is sort of independent, but still wants to offload a bunch of belongings at dad’s place. That’s because an important part of development is being able to take responsibility for your own shit, both figuratively and—in your case—literally.

Note that does not mean I’m siding with your mom. You parents have a big house and why a couple of (neat and matching) storage containers would be such a burden is hard for me to understand. Especially since you probably live in a small place because you can’t afford a bigger one, and, well, as much as we can pretend differently, parenting is a lifelong gig. Maybe your mom was having one of those, “Everything is crazy, I need to organize my life kind of days,” and went a little haywire. Like I said, go back to her with your newly Kondo-ified collection of only important and attractively stored stuff and see what she says. Of course I have no idea if she’ll say yes.

What I can say for sure is that you will never regret time spent getting organized. And also your relationship with your parents is more important than any stuff and certainly any swimming trophy. Even if she is being a bit of a purging nazi, I’m pretty sure your mom has done plenty to spark joy in your life over the years, so be glad for that and get over it.