CSO Book Club: Spark Joy

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up By Marie Kondo

Jumping on the Marie Kondo Bandwagon

You’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo or her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that explains the KonMari method of organizing. If you haven’t, you can read my post about it here. If you are one of the thousands of people who has been determined to tidy up since reading her last book, then you’ll love her second installation, Spark Joy. Kondo’s basic criteria for owning any possession is that it must spark joy when you see it or when you touch it. If something doesn’t bring joy to your life, then what is the point of paying for it, storing it, and maintaining it?

I brought this book with me on a trip to Florida last week, and devoured its contents on the beach and on the plane ride home. When I returned to Colorado, although my life and possessions are already pretty streamlined, I felt a renewed zest for ridding. As soon as I got home, I took out a trash bag and began to fill it. I tossed in a mixing bowl with a chip in it, a flannel shirt that was looking a little rough around the edges, and a mug that I notice always feels too small for my morning tea, among other items that simply don’t spark joy for me in my home or in my wardrobe. Beyond just donating bags full of items to Goodwill, tidying is a philosophy and a mindset about creating a more fulfilling lifestyle. I believe that our lives are more enriched and purposeful when we create space for the things that matter in our lives and eliminate the ones that don’t. Below is Marie Kondo’s tidying process to follow:

Enjoying Marie Kondo's Spark Joy on the beach

Six Basic Rules of Tidying

  1. Commit Yourself to Tidying Up
    • For any real change to happen, you have to want it. The same goes for organizing. You have to be ready to put in the work and want to lead an organized life for it to stick.
  2. Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle
    • Find an image in a book or a magazine that reminds you of how you want your space to look. Keep that image in a place where you regularly see it to keep you inspired through this process.
  3. Finish Discarding First
    • How can you know where and how to store things if you don’t know what you’re keeping? Before you dive into organizing, eliminate anything from your home that no longer serves you. Then find a place for the items you have consciously chosen to keep.
  4. Tidy by Category, Not by Location
    • If you just organize your clothes in your bedroom, but you also keep a closet full of your clothes in the guest bedroom, you aren’t getting the whole picture of what you own. All items in the same category need to be in the same place so you can know the quantity, even if you store them in various places.
  5. Follow the Right Order
    • Marie Kondo feels strongly that you should tidy items in this order:
      • Clothes
      • Books
      • Papers
      • Komono (Miscellany)
      • Sentimental Items
  6. Ask yourself the question: Does this spark joy?
    • Marie Kondo’s famous question will help you determine whether or not to keep something. Keep it only if it brings you physical joy when you touch it. Does the fabric feel good against your skin? Does the color make you glow? Do you love having champagne flutes for when you want to celebrate? Consider texture, color, shape, emotional and aesthetic reactions to each item. Even a never-fail perfect stapler can bring joy.

Eliminate the Un-Joy

As you begin or continue your tidying process, hopefully you will habitually reduce excess in your home. Numerous clients have told me that once we worked from the framework of Kondo’s elimination process, their buying habits have been affected positively – they think twice before they purchase another black sweater quite similar to one they own, or 5 pairs of panties just because they are on sale when they really only need 2. Some things are easier to part with than others. A broken appliance, a worn out pair of shoes, or a college textbook collecting dust on your shelf are all easy to identify as items not adding value to your life. It is harder to get rid of things that still have a perceived high worth. For example, it is hard to get rid of clothes that you spent a lot of money on. I have heard this many time with my clients, that they can’t get rid of an item they never wear or maybe don’t even like because it was expensive. Marie Kondo says this “is precisely the time to apply the joy check even more seriously. If it doesn’t spark joy when you hold it, yet you can’t bring yourself to discard it, try it on. Stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Do I want to wear this out somewhere?’ Think about it dispassionately,” (97). It isn’t adding to your life if you don’t enjoy it, no matter how much it cost you originally. And when I remind clients that there is someone else who could use it or find joy in it—they find it easier to let go of the item.

Enjoying Marie Kondo's Spark Joy by the pool

Once you’ve eliminated clothes you don’t wear, you can move onto the other areas of your home, and Kondo suggests books next. I rarely reread a book, except for a few special titles that I will always keep with me. Kondo believes: “Once read, a book has already been ‘experienced.’ Even if you don’t remember the content completely, you have already internalized it,” (125). So I suggest that unless it is an absolute favorite that you treasure having in your home, pass on a book once you’ve read it. Give it to a friend who you think might enjoy it or sell it at a used bookstore for some extra cash or credit.

Next up in the tidying order is paper, which Kondo believes you can part with completely. I suggest instead sorting papers into items you need to keep long term vs. things you need on hand currently. Long term papers are items such as birth certificates, diplomas, legal documents, etc. that you need to keep inevitably, but rarely need to access. Those are best stored in a clearly labeled box in a safe place, but out of your daily reach. Then make an action box for current papers that come in, and deal with them weekly. Try to digitize everything else: bills, credit card statements, correspondence, etc. Just make sure you back up your computer regularly.

Organizing your miscellaneous items, what Kondo calls Komono, focuses on all the other details in your home such as decorative items, sports gear, hobby supplies, etc. As you go through this category, try to make your space generally more joyful by eliminating visual clutter as well as the clutter in your drawers and closets. Remove labels and text anywhere you can, only have a few favorite decorative items and pieces of art displayed, and keep your surfaces clear. This will help to make the tidying process go beyond your storage areas to make your whole home feel like a haven.

The final category is sentimental items, which are perhaps the hardest to part with. Warning: Do not get lured into watching home movies and laughing over photos for hours while you are supposed to be tidying. Keep your focus, and only keep items that you will enjoy looking at again and again. By the time you have gotten to this category, you have practiced making easier decisions, and you can use that skill you have been developing here on the harder decisions. Trust yourself that you know what is special to keep, and let yourself part with the things that you are holding onto for reasons such as guilt or obligation. Don’t keep something because it was a gift, unless you love it. Don’t keep something that belonged to a family member or friend unless it brings you joyful memories of them when you see it or use it.

Throughout your tidying process if you find yourself afraid of getting rid of too many things, that’s a normal feeling, but it is unlikely to happen. Also, as Kondo reminds us, we can always replace an item if we really need it: “Of course, if I need something badly, I will buy another, but having come this far, I can no longer buy something just to make do. Instead, I consider the design, the feel, the convenience, and every other factor important to me extremely carefully until I find one that I really love. And that means that the one I choose is the very best, something that I will cherish all my life” (20). For more information about being a cautious consumer, check out my blog post here.

Create Joy

Once you are left with only the items that spark joy for you, it’s time for the finishing touches that take this process into all of the areas of your life. Take this process deep into all the details. Fine-tune your wardrobe right down to your undergarments and accessories. Even your panties should make you feel good and you should enjoy wearing them. Kondo advises to remove the labels from the liquid laundry detergent and instead tie a ribbon around it, adding something lovely in an ordinary place, or try storing snack items in glass jars or containers instead of in their boxers. This looks nice and less cluttered, and also keeps them fresher. Additionally, buy flowers to add color and life; after you’ve eliminated your excess a vase of flowers will make your home feel alive and vibrant.

We all have some items that are special to us, but maybe not to the people we share our home with, as well as ones that don’t go with the rest of our style. Create what Kondo calls a “joy corner.” A little space just for you that makes you happy whenever you see it. It could be a few items on your desk, or a poster in your closet. Ultimately, we want items that are not only useful, but that remind us of good things. “Objects that bring us joy have even greater capacity to soak up our memories,” (268). Surrounding ourselves with things that are truly special help us remember a time they came form or a person, and we can genuinely enjoy them. So, as Marie Kondo closes her book I will also sign off with this hope: “…I urge you once again: finish putting your things in order as soon as you can, so that you can spend the rest of your life surrounded by the people and things that you love most ” (269).