Sparking Joy

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Have you read The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo? Everywhere I poke around, from the New York Times to my most read bloggers have written about the book. I gleaned two ideas from what I read: the things you keep in your life should spark joy, and you should store things vertically in drawers, in one layer and rolled like a sushi roll, so you can see everything.

This immediately brought to mind my sock/stocking/underwear drawer. I consider myself a pretty organized person, but never in my entire life have I been able to keep this drawer under control. No matter where I have lived, or what kind of storage I used, within a few cycles of putting away things, it was a disorganized mess. For example, I just organized it late this fall, and by the time winter break started it already looked like a mass of black spaghetti (all those black opaque tights, you know). I didn’t have anything to lose, certainly, by taking everything out of the drawer, rolling it like sushi, and seeing if it stayed neat.

Here I am to tell you — it has! I can see all of my stockings and socks and stuff at a glance. When I take a pair of stockings in its nice little roll out, a space opens up. After I do laundry, I roll everything back up and put each thing in a free spot. My drawer has stayed perfectly organized for the longest time ever!

This lifechanging and magical happening of course made me want to read the book. I will freely admit that I went into it with a chip on my shoulder, poo-pooing this whole “sparking joy” business. I told myself, “My things are useful! I am not going to hold a bowl in my hands and feel a spark of joy! Plus, there are things I need, and spark of joy or no, it’s not like I’m going to throw things away and buy new things and waste a lot of money and resources!”

But, I was wrong. Once you read the book, you realize “joy” is not about the perfect and “sparking” is not akin to a shopper’s high. It’s about being yourself, and surrounding yourself with things that speak to your heart. It’s about what you keep close, not about what you give away. This I can get behind! I realized that Kondo’s philosophy was very much in the spirit of the Vibrant Materialist and New Materialist philosophies I already subscribe to (she even talks about how she can’t imagine that socks like to have their cuffs folded back together — you know, I always felt that but couldn’t quite articulate it! I stopped doing that years ago. I mean, really. How uncomfortable for the socks.).

I went through my house, held everything that was mine in my hands, and asked myself if the item sparked joy. For the most part, I was able to say yes — these items speak to my heart. The shelf of reused jars that I soaked the labels off have been having a conversation with ye olde ticker for years. Knowing that I enjoyed their contents, and now they live on to store future beans and rice and spices makes me smile. My shoes speak to my heart not because they are the epitome of trendiness but because they get me where I’m going comfortably and effortlessly (and yes, I think they look cute doing it!). In short, most of my outsides were reflecting my insides.

What did I not keep close? Some plastic containers that made me feel icky went to work in case anyone needs to take home food. The non-natural fiber yarn that made its way into my stash went to the local thrift shop — I tried it, and I don’t like the way it feels or the way it wears. I bet someone else will appreciate it because it can be washed in a machine — I have found that I don’t mind hand washing at all. There was this one dress that has impeccable free trade credentials but makes me feel like Henrietta the Hippo from the New Zoo Review.

No joy — it went too. So did all of my mother’s costume jewelry. I was hanging on to it because she entrusted me with it when she was alive, and would ask me about it. She’s now gone and other glittery souls can purchase it from the thrift shop and use it. I’m more of a pearl person.

I didn’t get rid of much — two small brown paper grocery bags in all. More importantly, it didn’t cause me to add anything. I already have the things that make my heart happy — these were just extras gumming up the works.

I’m glad to have another item in my toolbox for discerning what counts. I actually want to read the book again, because I know I missed certain subtle abstract things because I was so eager to take all of my possessions, put them in the middle of the room, hold them, and see if they sparked joy 😉 I know many of you are on this same journey, and it may be interesting to ask yourself if your material goods (your friends, your job, your life) spark joy, and speak to your heart. No hair shirts, no minimalist or maximalist or haven’t used it in a year, 10 item, one size fits all solution, but rather a process as individual as each of us are. While I like having an organized sock drawer, I like even more knowing that I’m in touch with the things that make my heart sing, and that they are reflected inside and out. That, my friend, sparks joy.

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6 comments

  1. How funny that you wrote about this. I also recently heard about Marie Kondo and her folding techniques. I am not naturally tidy but boy… has this made a difference! Suddenly I have a lots more space. I didn’t really get any ‘sparks of joy’ when tidying my smalls, stockings… but organising my drawers properly helped me realise how many pairs of opaque tights I had and that I could quite easily let go of the overly laddered/chafing ones.

    I’ve not read the book – I think I would have been too cynical to pick it up without this review – but it’s good that there are alternative approaches to minimalism out there. I have never seen the virtue of minimalism per se. I understand where it comes from, an extreme reaction to abundance, but too me it is akin to diets that advocate cutting out whole food groups or fasting for a day or two. Moderation (like that achieved through rationing) that accommodates inclination, preferences, yes, and pleasure, is much easier to integrate into our personal narrative and therefore to be sustainable. And it tends to be more aesthetically interesting too 😉

    1. If you read the book and enter into Kondo’s mindset, you will be thanking your undies for their service each time you roll them and put them away 🙂 I’m only half joking! Put it in academicspeak, and it reminds me so much of Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter.

      I couldn’t follow all of her advice — for example she has something like 40 books and keeps them in a closet. I have a jillion books and converted the dining room into a library. I love being surrounded by books and I do not consider them clutter to tidy up in the least. She also throws things away (vs re-homing) and I can’t get behind that either.

      Yes — that is *exactly* why rationing works so well for me 🙂

  2. Jackie, reading your posts makes me happy–just because you’re so happy when you write! You do a great job of sharing your thoughts with joy and enthusiasm, without sounding goofy!

  3. I, too, was really struck by the Marie Kondo / New Materialist / Jane Bennett connection! I’m trying to tie some of their ideas together for my masters thesis in art education, and when I googled “Marie Kondo Jane Bennett,” your blog was the only relevant link that came up. I feel like there are a lot of really exciting comparisons to be drawn, and it’s fun to find out I’m not the only one who feels that way!

    1. You can be the first to bring Marie Kondo to academia 🙂 That’s really neat that you noticed it too. I would love to hear more about your work — I’ll follow your blog. I did some grad work with new materialist theory too — I explored the Rose Valley Utopian community through a new materialist lens.

      Thing power!

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