A couple years ago, I read the uber-popular organizational book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. At the time I was intrigued by the author’s all or nothing approach of aggressively hitting the whole house in one go and purging items that don’t “spark joy.” Kondo’s organizational system consists of holding each item in your hand and gauging your emotional response before determining its ultimate fate (keep or discard).
One of her other major strategies is approaching items by category, so it means pulling out ALL of your clothes in the middle of the room and holding each item one by one. You will proceed through all of the categories and you will do this all at once, until the job is finished, discarding hundreds and hundreds of items which do not “spark joy” in your life.
Right about then, I needed some magic.
At this time, my twins were about eight years old, my son was two, we were homeschooling, I worked part time and our beagle was always, always barking.
Like almost every mom I know, I was overwhelmed and defeated with the daily tasks that come with parenting and I knew I needed some kind of major help! I was tired of feeling like a failure, tired of constantly struggling to organize. I would find new systems to combat the clutter and they would inevitably fail when faced with real life wear and tear from a family of five.
At that time, I felt that NONE of my possessions brought me joy, and overall the burden of ownership was destroying any joy I might find along the way. I was ready to stage an intervention … with myself.
Why it Never Really Worked for Me
I dove in, with the “spark of joy” guiding me and at first it did seem like it could work. Some categories, such as clothing, seemed particularly suited to the feelings litmus-test, but others just couldn’t be sorted based on joy-factor.
If I discarded everything that didn’t spark joy to me, I realized that our home would start to fall apart pretty quickly and I would also no longer own a vacuum or toilet brush. I became somewhat disenchanted with the method, but still aspects of the book spoke truth to me. For example, I couldn’t imagine thanking my handbag each day for its faithful service.
However, so many of Kondo’s principles were incredibly inspiring, like living each day fully in the now instead of obsessing with the past or the future. I was uncomfortable not only with the animistic tendencies, but with the intense value placed on objects whether they are kept or “set free.” I already felt wrapped up in my possessions and I realized that the emphasis on things, rather than people was what I ultimately desperately needed to conquer.
Where Was My Joy?
In retrospect, my possessions already had much too great of a hold on me. I was spending far too much time and energy focusing on stuff (whether purchasing new, cleaning up the old or complaining about the broken).
In some ways I had elevated things above people and that was completely contrary to the very values that I hold most dear! In fact, I believe that people are precious and should be valued so much more highly than any thing, place, emotion or position! “Thanking” my items before discarding them would have been giving those items even more power in my life, which would have taken me in the opposite direction that I needed to go.
And worse, if my possessions don’t spark joy will I find myself seeking joy in shopping for things that do?
Maybe Joy Isn’t Enough?
I realized I had to stop seeking joy in STUFF, period. I had been sucked into a daily dance with possessions stealing away precious moments of my time with my family. I was constantly seeking fulfillment in ownership, looking for the next great thing, or juggling the maintenance of the past mistaken purchases. My day to day reality was categorically not matching up to my principles, yet I had refused to admit it for years.
Marie Kondo herself said it perfectly, “visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.” For me, my priorities were completely askew and my whole family was feeling the dissonance.
A New Freedom
So I began shedding objects and possessions with lightning speed. I didn’t second guess myself, I didn’t consult my feelings, I didn’t hold each object or even look at each object. I tossed, donated, recycled, shredded. Box after box, bag after bag.
I began a new phase of minimalism, I put my life on a “diet” and quit living as a chronic consumer. I stopped shopping for pleasure. The difference was like night and day. After a few months of this major change, I feel much more at peace with my priorities, my lifestyle and even my own attitude.
I still have more work to do in editing my life, but we have grown by leaps and bounds. I have re-claimed my home, which is now for my family. These four walls do not exist as a museum celebrating the past, not as a facade to the world, and not even as a place that sparks joy. Instead our home is a place to rest and recharge. A place to celebrate each other and our lives together, not the possessions in our midst.
De-owning has released me from the stuff-prison and this new freedom is sparking much joy.