Does this spark joy?

 

So… something HUGE is happening… And when I say HUGE, I mean shaking-it-all-to-the-core and life-transforming!.. Are you ready?.. I am tidying up my home! ‘Oh yeah? Big deal…’, I hear you say, ‘Maybe you’ve just been living in a mess until now – about time then!’ But let me clarify – I have been tidying up – the KonMari way! If you have heard about it, I can see you knowingly nodding your head as you have probably already applied it in your own life like millions of others who have set out to ‘organise the world’. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I suggest you start Google’ing and YouTube’ing without any further delay. Because what you are about to discover is nothing short of magic!

The KonMari Method

KonMari or Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant and an author of 4 books. The book that has so profoundly inspired my revolutionary tidying up is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Now, I feel like it’s really important to note that I am generally not someone who hoards a lot of stuff or has a cluttered house, especially after having moved homes nearly 30 times in my life. Tidying up the KonMari way is not just some random Saturday afternoon exercise of cleaning the house and getting rid of a bit of clutter. We are really dealing with some advanced magic here! Allow me to briefly introduce the method – although for all its juicy details I highly recommend that you pick up the book.

So what is all the big fuss about? Marie, the author, who has spent her whole life since the early age of 5 fascinated by home organizing and tidying up, insists that dramatic changes in our homes can result in equally dramatic changes in our mindset and lifestyle. And the reason why her approach is so dramatic is that it requires reviewing everything one owns. Every. Single. Thing. Tidying up the KonMari way means taking into our hands every single article of clothing, book, piece of paperwork, photo, etc. – one by one – and asking ourselves: ‘Does this spark joy?’. Only those things that really speak to our hearts and make us feel joy should be kept, while everything else gets discarded.

The point of all of this is that things surrounding us inevitably become intertwined with our thoughts and memories, and it is as if they take on a life of their own. Even if we do not notice it consciously, being surrounded by things that are constantly reflecting anything other than positive energy back at us, will result in less than joyous experience of our homes. The author, actually, goes a step further and talks about things as if they literally have a life of their own. She invites the reader to talk to things (it doen’t have to be out loud) and to imagine what it would feel like being a t-shirt squeezed underneath a pile of other t-shirts folded on top (which I found out was an incorrect way of folding that I have been using my whole life!), or consider the feelings of a thing that is lost somewhere in the clutter, left unused and forgotten. Things, therefore, should be carefully reviewed to choose only those that spark joy, stored and cared for with respect and in such a way that expresses our appreciation and love to them. After all, they are here to serve us and bring us joy, and if they are not fulfilling that purpose, they are better off to be let go off.

The whole process of review and discarding should be done as quickly as possible, preferrably in the mornings when the mind is clear and rested. It should also follow the right sequence of categories – starting with clothes, then moving on to books, paperwork, miscellaneous items and, finally, photos and sentimental objects. The reason for this is that when things are reviewed in such a way, they will evoke in us very real emotions, and starting with objects to which we are less attached allows us to sharpen our radar for what really sparks joy.

Discarding things, according to Marie, is neither shameful nor wasteful, as not all things come into our lives to stay with us till the very end (ours or theirs). Just like people in our lives come and go, some books are not meant to be read to the end (or at all), and we might part with some things even if they might still have some use left in them. The key to discarding is being mindful and grateful, saying thank you to each thing for coming into our lives and enriching it – really, having a mini parting celebration ceremony to bid them farewell on their new journey.

My tidying up achievements so far

T-shirts resting in my drawer!..

Ideally, this whole process should be done in one go, but the next best alternative is to do it as quickly as possible. I am down to the last two remaining boxes mostly filled with photos and letters, which I know will be the most sentimental – and yet the most necessary and liberating – part. I will not list the countless objects that I have already thanked and parted with, but allow me to mention some memorable things that have been sent off with gratitude:

  • The souvenir hippopotamus from my dear friend which always made me think about the year when she got very ill, and then I always felt guilty for wanting to get rid of it.
  • That old clay lizzard with broken legs that I made inspired by my first trip to Barcelona with one of my exes. I kept thinking that when I feel creatively inspired I will fix it (secretly and subconsciously, perhaps, hoping it would fix the relationship). I have decided that my creative juices are simply not worth it. Ciao, lizzard!
  • That very cosy brown wrap sweater that would make me think of the summer when my parents divorced, I went through a tough break-up, stressed to complete my dissertation, AND (!!!) Michael Jackson died.
  • The stack of university notes and hundreds of articles that I was determined to re-read some day… just to keep being all educated and all… Nearly 7 years later that was still on my to do list. No, thanks!
  • All dried up markers and every ballpoint pen that in any way irritated me by not letting me experience the smooth joy of writing.
  • My socks are no longer stressed and stretched potato-like lumps (like I bet yours are!) but are neatly folded the KonMari way.
  • That comfy red t-shirt which reminded me of an argument I had on the day I bought it in Prague.
  • The collection of CDs with mysterious data on them that I would certainly review one day… like when I retire in a few decades and feel really really bored…
  • And the winner is… my only pair of diamond earrings! On the day when I received them many years ago and saw the box, I actually thought it was a proposal ring!.. I have simply realized that despite their monetary value, they no longer hold any sentimental value for me. Plus, they have fulfilled their purpose as I received my proposal ring from the man I was meant to be with!

 

Final thoughts

So, Marie is right. There is a point in this whole process where something just clicks, something transforms and a realization comes about how little one needs to be perfectly happy. The decision to keep only what sparks joy somehow dissolves the fear of not having enough in the future or losing the amazing memories lived. Keeping only what brings joy fills with the certainty and deep knowing that joy has somehow expanded, even though the amount of possessions has reduced.

The process wakes something up. Throughout it I found myself in a nearly meditative state – repetitively asking myself whether each object I was holding sparked joy, pausing to recognize it and feeling grateful for that object regardless of whether I chose to keep it or to let go. It felt like breathing – keeping for now, letting go, keeping for now, letting go. I discovered that practicing non-attachment and letting go is easier than I thought. And that the key to it is spending a moment to feel genuine gratitude to each thing for being our companions in all those memories and experiences.

Finally, it felt like a profound exercise in fine-tuning the discernment of what sparks joy and feeling blissfully thankful for it all. The more I repeated the question the more I realized that it is a key question, relevant not only to tidying up but to everything – relationships, looking for a new job, choosing the next meal, decisions we make, or even some thought we might catch ourselves obsessing over. Practising the question with all of it allows becoming really good at recognizing joy and, therefore, choosing more of it in our lives. So… as you go about your day today – tidying up or not – try asking yourself ‘Does this spark joy?’ and watch the magic that begins to unfold.

The deep emotions in my heart when sending off things that have fulfilled their purpose, emotions much like those experienced at graduation; the thrill I feel at the ‘click’ of fate, when something finds where it is meant to be; and, best of all, the fresh, pure air that fills a room after it has been put in order – these are the things that make an ordinary day, with no special event, that much brighter.

Marie Kondo (KonMari)

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