The Christmas wrapping paper has been discarded, the decorations stored away, and the new toys have found homes. In that feverish bliss of reorganization, you probably decided that this is the year. You’re going to turn all of your clothes hangers backwards and toss whatever you haven’t worn by next New Year’s Eve. You’re going to DIY some more efficient bathroom storage so that your morning routine is streamlined and efficient. You’re going consign your first grader’s baby clothes. With your game face on, you fling open the closet doors, prepared to wallow in that great American pastime, the post-Christmas decluttering marathon.

I don’t need to stockpile material possessions to honor other people. The most powerful gifts they have given me are things that cannot be shoved to the back of a closet.

And you are suddenly faced with the vase your great-aunt gave you for your wedding. Your jazz shoes from your dance class in college. Potholders that your niece weaved for you with the loom toy you gave her for her birthday. Your fingers run over each item, halfway hoping for a rip, a broken zipper, a dent that will justify throwing something away. And you suddenly remember sitting in this very spot at this very time a year before, realizing that the annual trek into the wreckage of your closet is actually a headfirst dive into sentimentality and, often, guilt.

We take it for granted that our materialistic culture celebrates positive emotional investments in physical objects. Our economic empire is built on the assumption that Americans are happy consumers who are habitually thrilled by small ownership gains. But there is a dark underbelly to this fondness of things; the emotional pendulum can swing just as easily in opposite direction.

Thinking rationally about our stuff would probably lead us to more minimalistic living. We don’t actually need everything that we have. But our attachments to things aren’t based on reason, instead, they are often based on emotions. Feeling anxious about the future may lead us to stockpile canned goods. Scoping out a serious discount makes us more likely to purchase an item because it makes us feel clever and opportunistic. Or we could be feeling particularly hopeful and determined, and capitalize on that feeling by investing in pair of goal weight jeans.

And those are just the personal purchases. What about the blender your grandmother gave to you when she upgraded to a fancier model? The mittens knitted by your sister? Birth announcement cards from friends at church? Once those things have served their utilitarian purposes, are they really just garbage?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo has recently taken the organization industry by storm. Her wildly popular method of “tidying up” is centralized on our emotional relationship with things. In short, she recommends that we only keep items that “spark joy.” Items that fail this fail to invoke happiness in their owners are to be held (yes, physically held in your hands), thanked (out loud, with your actual voice), and then discarded. Following through with this method, and Kondo promises that you’ll never have to declutter again.

It’s such a simple way to live, choosing joy. But putting aside fear, guilt, and anxiety, even in our relationships with things, is a hard lesson. It seems ungrateful, or even disrespectful, to reject the possessions that someone worked hard for us to own.  But the people who have loved us well do not harbor hope that we will turn our homes into shrines to the material gifts they’ve given us. They do hope, however, that we live well within the walls of those homes. They do hope we remember the wisdom that they have shared with us. The do hope, however, that we choose joy.

Material artifacts of joy are hard to let go of. When I hold gifts I have been given, I want those symbols of the past to resurrect happy memories. I want them to call up dead people and lost friendships. I want the jeans I wore when I was seventeen to make me feel seventeen again, replete with freedom and potential and hope. But I need to recognize the truth-the joy is not in the denim. The joy was in me, is in me.

I don’t need to stockpile material possessions to honor other people. The most powerful gifts they have given me are things that cannot be shoved to the back of a closet; they are values and strengths that serve me more readily than a secondhand blender ever could. Self-reliance, courage, love for truth, serenity, compassion, patience, joy-these are the virtues, these are the real gifts, immaterial possessions I can always treasure, heirlooms I can pass on to my children, wealth that cannot be forgotten or neglected.

Love frees us. It makes us content and secure and confident. And isn’t this exactly what we’re looking for when we attempt to purge our possessions? When we try, once again, to reorganize our things, let’s remember why we became so burdened with “borrowed” items and hand-me-downs and gifts in the first place-it’s because we were, and are, loved. Let’s embrace freedom from incessant accumulation and anxious clasped fingers. Let’s choose joy.