Sometimes it’s okay to talk out loud to your shoes.
Within every runner is a hidden shoe-hoarding tendency, a little voice whispering it’s totally okay to buy that flashy new pair while simultaneously insisting you couldn’t possibly throw out the shoes you wore during your first 5K 10 years ago.
I’m no different, and in fact, my friends and family will argue I’m much worse. As evidence, I offer the following: a colossal custom-built shoebox my boyfriend got me for Christmas two years ago, filled to the brim with over 30 pairs of shoes.
I used to be proud of owning more shoes than I could wear in a month. Each pair was a testament to my running identity, whether it was the lightweight racers I laced up for speedwork or the shoes I used during my first half marathon.
But as minimalism caught on and an impending move approached, guilt creeped over me whenever I opened my precious shoebox. The fact was, I wore roughly five pairs regularly; the rest were either out of vogue or simply too worn out to run in safely. I needed a way to get the shoes out of my house, but a regular clean-out felt too ruthless for the hundreds of hours and kilometres I’d logged with these friends.
Marie Kondo’s KonMari method seemed to be the solution: a decluttering process in which you only keep items you use regularly and that ‘spark joy’. Sceptical of this tidying trend but faced with the alternative of packing every last pair onto a moving truck, I set aside a few hours on a Saturday afternoon to whittle down my shoe collection. It was time for some sole-searching.
Does It Spark Joy?
After laying all my shoes on the ground, I immediately saw a few pairs I could toss without a second thought. Goodbye to the free shoes I got for working an event, out went the pair I had forgotten I owned.
But after the warmup, discarding grew harder. During this stage, Kondo recommends holding up each item and asking yourself if it sparks joy. I grabbed my next pair (neon yellow Nike Lunars with a bright pink swoosh), and was instantly transported to lunch breaks spent running. Actually, wasn’t this the shoe I’d run my fastest mile [1600m] in?
Lost down memory lane, I scrolled through my Garmin stats and Instagram feed, trying to match the date to the #runstagram. Thirty minutes later, I looked up in a daze to realise I’d never fully answered the question at hand. Sure, the shoes sparked joy in the sweet memory of my fastest mile – but I also couldn’t remember the last time I’d worn them.
The same applied to the pair I wore training for my first marathon and the gorgeous silver-and-teal special edition shoes I got after a 2014 half. In fact, more than half my shoes starred in some of my fondest running memories – yet they were too worn out to use. What then?
Thanking My Shoes for Their Service
I called in another Kondo method for the neon Lunars: thanking the item for its service. Feeling indescribably silly, I cradled the Sunshine Shoes (as I’d come to call them in my head) in my arms.
“Sunnies,” I began, “thank you for your service to me over the past four years. You witnessed some of my fastest runs, like that time we beat our mile PB on a random Tuesday, and we explored so much together. I always loved your neon glow. Anyway, uh, thanks, and I hope your next owner loves you as much as I did.”
And with that, I decisively placed the Sunshine Shoes into the designated ‘donate’ bag – only to look up and find my boyfriend in the doorway, staring at me in disbelief, mouth agape.
“Hey,” I said defensively, “you wanted me to clean out my shoes.”
Step by Step
From there, the process moved more smoothly. I thanked my first trail shoes for helping me survive my first trail race without getting lost in the mountains; I reminisced with the pair I’d taken to my first international race. I bargained with myself over the shoes I won during a particularly gruesome winter running challenge. I even cried once, saying goodbye to the pair I’d worn on the plane to see my mother before she passed away.
For the shoes I had a particularly tough time parting with, I staged an impromptu photo shoot. A granite countertop and natural lighting made my shoes Instagram-worthy, should I ever need a running-themed #TBT. Plus, I reasoned, storing photos of shoes on iCloud takes up a lot less space than storing shoes IRL.
Crossing the Finish Line
In the end, I realised that my shoes didn’t spark joy, exactly; they sparked joyful memories, and emotional ones too, things I’ll never forget even if the shoes themselves aren’t right in front of me.
Plus, owning a lot of shoes doesn’t equate to identifying as a runner. I’m a runner whether I own two pairs of shoes or twenty, and donating dust-gathering shoes doesn’t erase accomplishments like hard-fought 30K+ runs, or PBing my third marathon while battling hand-foot-mouth disease.
Three donation bags later, I have plenty of room in my shoebox. I’m down to a (more) reasonable nine pairs: three I rotate between for casual runs, two for cross-training activities, three for wearing casually – and the shoes I ran my first marathon in. Hey, I’m only human.