One Christmas season when I was in elementary school, during the long, lean years when my father was running for U.S. Congress (he lost twice before winning), my family's Christmas tree was the castoff from the local middle school.
My sister Kathy, ever so resourceful, had noticed that the tree from the school had been thrown out, and suggested we use it for our tree. We did.
While that particular decision might have been driven more by my family's concern about economics than by our desire to recycle a perfectly good tree, it had an impact that remains with me today: one person's trash might well be another's treasure.
Last year, about this time, I purchased and read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing," by Marie Kondo.
While the title promises magic, the approach and thought processes she describes have been incredibly useful to me.
"When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order too," wrote Kondo. Her logic hit home: I had lost my mother the year before and had recently moved, so I found the prospect of putting the past in order appealing.
Kondo's instructions include the process of taking items one category at time, and discarding rather than putting away. Her selection criterion includes asking oneself this question: "Does it spark joy?"
While this might seem simplistic in our materialistic society, where more is better, the idea of sorting by joy is the only one that makes sense.
In the past year, I have repeated this same question, "Does it spark joy," in deciding whether to purchase new items. The result is that I often return home from shopping trips with few, if any, purchases.
I am spending less and enjoying my possessions more.
I have used the sorting-by-joy process to cull through my clothes, accessories, books and papers. As I gathered items in a pile to give away, I thought of the joy that they could bring the next person in their lives.
Maybe the sweater that was a color that made me look jaundiced would flatter its next owner.
Or the jacket whose sleeves stopped halfway down my teenager's forearms would keep a middle-schooler warm for the winter.
Every item, like every person, has a purpose to fulfill — and if your possession does not bring you joy, then it is not fulfilling its purpose.
It's your job to release the possession and let it make its way to another person in order to provide them joy.
According to Kondo, when discarding an item, "make your parting a ceremony to launch them on a new journey."
That Christmas long ago, the discarded middle school tree brought my family much joy. We were thrilled that we were able to use something that another had considered to be trash.
If the tree had had feelings, I am sure that it, too, would have been glad to have become useful again, to have been part of a joyous celebration, decorated with lights and colored ornaments as if for a New Year's ball.
This Christmas season, may you surround yourself with family, friends and possessions that bring you joy, and may you release the rest to bring joy to others.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.