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Understanding “Spark Joy”

And Misunderstanding It

Americans are drowning in stuff. The average household has 300,000 items inside.

That’s only an average. Now think of the millions of people who have practically nothing and you can only imagine the absurd amount of stuff some people have.

Does all this stuff lead to happiness? More and more people are saying no and looking for alternatives to the once dominant materialist ethic.

Out of the clutter has risen Marie Kondo: a Japanese woman turned international cleaning sensation and best-selling author. Her book, Spark Joy, emphasizes the profound impact of tidying up and the direct link between the organization of our environment and the organization of our minds.

Without summarizing the entire book, I want to touch upon the “spark joy” insight because it is the most talked about and it is the title of the book.

Kondo teaches organizational skills and they are undoubtedly helpful. But everybody generally knows how to clean. The more important questions that are often harder to answer are: What to clean? What needs cleaning in the first place? What goes and what stays? And what is important? It’s not so straightforward.

To solve this dilemma Kondo says to take the item in question and hold it in your hands close to your body. If it sparks joy, then you keep it. If you feel nothing, then toss it. But before you let go of that thing forever, you must make sure to thank it for what it has provided thus far while recognizing that you need it no longer.

Of course, this approach is susceptible to some well-founded criticism. Isn’t it this emotional-based evaluation which had us walking out of the store with so much useless stuff in the first place? Don’t we need some higher standard to look towards when measuring the worth of our stuff other than emotions?

And yet, a counter argument could be that Kondo does not claim to know what you should keep and throw away. She can’t guarantee that you’re making the right decision when you throw something out. Chances are you’re making a mistake because you will eventually need that thing.

Spark joy is a cure for inaction. It’s effective on two fronts:

1) It teaches you to accept letting somethings go. Without this skill it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell what is important and what’s not.

2) If anything, it forces you to see the things around you in a more mindful way. Taking a few seconds to consider the value of the things around you is a big first step.

Have you tried any of Kondo’s tips from Tidying Up With Marie Kondo? What did you think? Weigh in in the comments.

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