Minimalism: Why Sparking Joy Doesn’t Really Work

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never read Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy.  I have, however, been to a minimalist seminar that was based on her concept of decluttering.  And I saw that one episode of Gilmore Girls where Mrs. Gilmore removes all of her furniture after reading Kondo’s book because none it sparked any joy.  Some of the ideas were useful. The basic premise, I have to say, is not.

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Here’s the basic premise: As you seek to declutter your belongings, look at every item you possess.  If it doesn’t “spark joy”, get rid of it.  If it does, keep and organize it.  Obviously, she unpacks that in her book.  However, as I’ve gone through my personal items over the last two years (yes, it’s taken over two years) I will tell you there were PLENTY of items that “sparked joy” that I needed to get rid of anyway.

The concept of an item “sparking joy” is pretty squishy to me.  What might have sparked joy yesterday might not today, but that doesn’t negate the usefulness of an item.  There are also plenty of items in my possession that absolutely DO NOT spark any ounce of joy in me, but have I kept them?  YES: because I need them and they are useful (Marie Kondo might advocate that because I need them that is a form of sparking joy, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.  Hence why sparking joy feels way too hard to pin down, especially for someone starting out their decluttering journey).

My husband and I are staying with my parents before we move to Florida.  Like many Millennials, I have been using my old closet in my parent’s house as a hiding place for old sentimental items that I haven’t been able to face getting rid of: until today.  There is a chest that has been in my possession since early childhood that has been filled with nik naks that at some point in my life I decided to keep because they sparked joy.  At some point in my life these were sentimental items I couldn’t bear to part with (I was a very sentimental child with severe hoarding tendencies).

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We often keep sentimental items because we fear parting with the person or memory associated with them.  As if we are being disloyal to them by parting with the item or we are being disrespectful or ungrateful.  Today, as I sat crouched down picking through things, I wondered “WHY in the world did I keep ANY of this?!”  At some point in my past, these items sparked joy.  Today they were a burden.  At some point these items reminded me of a memory of a time in my life when I was little and happy.  Today, I had no idea where these items even came from or what memory they were supposed to remind me of.  They, through of fog of time, had lost meaning.  They, as all things will eventually, had become junk.

On the flip side to this, I have kept several things in my life that in no way spark joy.  My important paper file folder does not spark joy, but if I decide that these joyless things were worthless because they are joyless then my husband and I will find ourselves in a world of hurt come tax time. I once heard a blogger say her breast pump in no way sparks joy in her, but she keeps it to help her feed her infant.

If you are embarking on the path of minimalism, you have to be willing to embrace a certain level of utilitarianism.

This might sound dreary to some of you.  But it will keep you from getting rid of things you actually need, and will keep you from holding onto things that are dragging you down.

The following concept, if we are going with short ditties to guide how we declutter, is one I find to be far more useful.

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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris

The reason I like this so much more than simply “does it spark joy?” is that it leaves room for the acceptance of the ordinary and mundane to be just that: ordinary and mundane.  There are things in my life that become utterly ridiculous if I try to add emotional tinsel to them, but there are also things in my life that are simply beautiful, and I own them because they are such.  They DO spark joy.

Either way, whether you keep an item because it “sparks joy” or because you “know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful”, minimalism forces you to be intentional about what you own and why you own it.  Take the haphazard out of life, and replace chaos with calm!

2 Replies to “Minimalism: Why Sparking Joy Doesn’t Really Work”

  1. I both agree with you and disagree with you!
    I’m not a big fan of KonMari, but the book is definitely worth a read. I found “spark joy” useful in that it acknowledges that our perspective on our stuff isn’t purely rational. I’d tried other rules, but they were too black and white and didn’t count for the emotional side.
    On the other hand, I’ve seen so many people toss perfectly good, functional stuff because it doesn’t spark joy, just to go out and replace it with other stuff.
    I’ve done a quick summary of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and my thoughts on it here – https://moretimethanmoney.co.nz/2015/09/05/the-stuff-of-magic-a-review-of-the-the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up/

    Like

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