I am keeping joy; it is the joyless stuff I’m getting rid of.
I have been sparking joy left and right.
I have sparked big boxes of it and great plastic bags of it. I have stuffed my station wagon full of it and hauled it into Goodwill. I have dragged some of it to the trash bin and, I confess with some shame, I have parked some of it in the garage to be sparked later.
Actually, it is not joy I am unloading. I am keeping joy; it is the joyless stuff I’m getting rid of.
I have fallen into the cult of KonMari, the Japanese technique of decluttering. Marie Kondo is the author of two best-selling books on the subject: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy,” which is an illustrated guide book.
My observation of two people attempting to declutter their lives inspired me to this state.
1. I met a woman coming into church carrying a handful of yellowed greeting cards. She told me she was clearing out the home she has lived in for 45 years. When she came across these slightly aged but still perfectly good cards, she thought someone might be able to use them.
2. I helped a male friend move out of his home of 20-plus years into a smaller house. He wanted a minimalist look in his new home. He went through his house with a snow shovel and filled four large dumpsters. “Haven’t missed a thing,” he says.
When I discovered the Kondo books, I thought I might have found a middle ground for myself — somewhere between snow shovel and old greeting cards. To keep my inspiration fueled, I’ve been wearing a big yellow button that says “Use Less Stuff.” Sadly, I had to buy two books — two more pieces of stuff — to propel me to actually get rid of stuff.
Stuff is a wonderful word full of chameleon meanings. It can mean a pile of material items (“Wow, you’re throwing out a lot of stuff.”) Or knowledge (“That tax lawyer really knows his stuff.”) Or skill (“That pitcher put a lot of stuff on the ball.”) It can be a verb (“I stuffed everything into my closet.”) It can be dismissive. (“Oh, stuff it!”) It can describe courage and character, as in the book “The Right Stuff.” It can be vague as in “kids’ stuff” or specific as in “stuffed shirt.”
The stuff the Kondo books are helping me deal with is clothes, books, papers, sentimental objects, knickknacks, art and furniture, along with piles and heaps of general stuff.
What I like about the Marie Kondo books is their charm. She urges us not only to acknowledge our stuff, but to talk to it as we consider discarding it — every item of clothing, every book, every do-dad. Everything we acquire has a purpose to us, she writes, but just as “not every person you meet will become a close friend or lover,” it is the same with objects.
Start with clothes that have completed their roles in your life. Say, “Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,” then discard it. Or, with something we never wore, “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me.” This is far more positive than the things I usually say to myself about my closet.
The tough part about sparking joy is her technique. Do not attempt to declutter room by room or bit by bit, she advises, but category by category and all at one time. This means piling every item of clothing in a mountain in the middle of a room, then touching each item one by one. Same with books. Then keepsakes, sentimental items, photographs, etc.
Confession: I failed this part. I can do category by category, but not all in one pile like Mount Fuji.
Keep discarding and decluttering, she says, until something clicks. We will know when we have just enough to be happy. We will have chosen only the things that give us joy and we will cherish only what is precious to us. Then, we will have space for new joy to come into our lives.
Caution. One woman reported that after deep, deep decluttering she still was not happy. What was left to do away with? She looked at her husband and asked herself, “Does he spark joy for me?” Out he went.
We will assume that she lived happily and tidily ever after.