Marie Kondo’s Great Purge and Family Promise

By Stephanie Potra

Stephanie Potra and family

A couple years ago I made the mistake of reading Marie Kondo’s  book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and consequently launching my family and me into several weeks of organizing purgatory. I hadn’t been able to dispose of anything that had even an ounce of sentimental value since my sophomore year of high school, which was also the year my daughter, Giselle, was born.

Unknowingly, the by-product of my family becoming homeless when I was 13 years old resulted in deep psychological consequences that followed me well into early adulthood. I thank God (and Marie Kondo) for bringing that book into my life and recognizing the need to purge my life of all those meaningless possessions I’d been hoarding over the years. I had mountains of old clothes with high school size zero jeans I’ll never fit into again, an extensive collection of my daughter’s toys she hadn’t played with in years, folders and folders of my daughter’s preschool artwork, the cork drink coasters from Pineapple Willy’s on spring break, the notes my sixth grade friends and I wrote to each other during detention, and even the disgusting remnants of my first set of acrylic nails.

Clearly, I had created a pattern of clenching to any good memory and saving those warm feelings in the shape of junk. There was even a huge, ugly, throw-up-green couch where I enjoyed napping during my entire pregnancy. I stored that in our shed for six years, much to the neighborhood raccoon’s delight, because I couldn’t bear the thought of parting with it! I would be brought to tears whenever my family would even entertain the idea of trashing it.

Amidst the tidying up in the form of stuffing clothes in over 20 industrial-size black trash bags, I came across one of my favorite old sleeping T-shirts. It was a size XXX-L white T-shirt with some generic corny Christmas Santa Claus saying on the front in red font. The red font was barely legible, and holes had formed at the bottom. I remember grabbing the T-shirt up, quickly tossing it in garbage pile, and then almost immediately reaching back for it.

I lifted and stretched out the T-shirt in front of me – the way people do when they are physically holding a memory before them. It had been over a decade, but I could still remember the face of the Family Promise volunteer who gave it to me on Christmas Day long ago. As quickly as I could remember the kind face of the woman volunteer, I could also remember the anger, hurt, and ungratefulness stirring in that little girl’s heart. I distinctly remember thinking, “They shouldn’t have wasted their money on such a stupid gift and just bought more things for my little brothers because I’ll never wear this T-shirt.”

The joke was on me because I did wear that T-shirt! For years, I found comfort in that big T-shirt to sleep in. I was so emotional at the act of throwing it away that I even had to hug it tightly before I placed it back in the garbage pile.

When I look back at the moment that a Family Promise volunteer gave me that T-shirt, I can see that God was planting the first real seed of selflessness inside my heart. Even in my ungratefulness, God allowed me to realize Christmas wasn’t about me, but about others, in this instance my precious little brothers. From this little seed would sprout the most beautiful fruit bearing tree of serving that still grows strong today and continues to expand in the form of many branches and organizations where I love to give my time.

A couple of years after the birth of my daughter, I remember that sharing with people about the time my family spent at Family Promise of Gwinnett changed from embarrassment to proclamation. I loved telling anyone about this amazing organization right here in our local community. During my senior year of high school, I even led a volunteer event for a canned food drive for Family Promise and asked Brent Bohannan, the former director, to speak at my high school to raise awareness for the program.

Now in my late 20s, I find myself continuing to share about Family Promise whenever I can, and I am proud to say my family graduated from the program years ago. Upon graduation, my parents were able to secure a mortgage loan for a beautiful two-story, four-bedroom home in Hamilton Mill, Georgia. That house saw me through my sophomore year of high school until I left home and started my own family. That house provided comfort and saw my stepfather through his long battle with renal failure until his death in 2011. Most importantly, that house saw my widowed, single mother through eight years of raising my two little brothers into the responsible men they are today. Through God’s favor and Family Promise of Gwinnett, that house paved the way for my mother to have a home to raise her three children:

  • Stephanie- the teen mom turned Penn State University graduate who has devoted most of her career in the legal field fighting for immigrant rights,
  • Nathan – the U.S. Air Force Junior Officer majoring in aeronautical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and
  • Brandon – the U.S. Army Junior Officer majoring in electrical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.

I urge and encourage those reading this article to share with others about Family Promise. If you’ve ever thought about giving or volunteering, now is the time! Every dollar, every hour, every meal, every social media share, and even every ol’ plain white T-shirt donated matters. God bless Family Promise and God bless you.

– Stephanie is a member of the Family Promise of Gwinnett Board of Trustees.