Is “Sparking Joy” Always the Answer?

978-1-60774-730-7First of all, full disclosure: I have not read either of Marie Kondo’s books from cover to cover. But I have read a lot about them, and this week–because people so often ask me what I think about her method, when I am talking about downsizing in connection with our book–I thought it was time to find out more about what she has to say about “the life-changing magic” of tidying up.

I must confess to have approached my exploration of these books with something of a prejudice from the get-go. I am first of all quite skeptical of anything that claims to be either “life-changing” or “magic.” And yet, I have heard some people happily and enthusiastically declare that Kondo’s book has changed their lives; and far be it from me to wish ill on, or disbelieve, anyone with such a claim.

So I believe the first thing to say is that for some people this book is apparently, if not magic, at least life-transforming, in a positive way. And that of course is a good thing.

The second thing to say is that, somewhat to my surprise, though I find the basic premise of the book (“if you properly simplify and organize your home once you’ll never have to do it again…”) probably at least a little bit inflated, there are many practical and useful suggestions offered, and the books are organized in such a way that it is easy to find guidance and tips for the specific categories of items you may be struggling to organize (or get rid of).

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In addition, unlike some decluttering gurus–whose methods and attitudes toward what my coauthor and I have called the “keepers” of this world sometimes border on the contemptuous, even brutally dismissive–Kondo does have sensitive, useful advice for how to get rid of those items that you know you really should get rid of, but which are difficult to discard because of the sentimental value, and the important memories, connected with them. In Spark Joy she tells the story of how she got rid of a dearly beloved stuffed animal (“Koro-chan”) from her childhood, to which she was very attached, but which had become a dusty allergen that had to go. She describes the process in which she came to terms with this decision; thanked Koro-chan for having been so important to her in her childhood; and then, along with her father, gave him a tender ceremonial farewell. She concludes the anecdote by saying, “I always thank my things when I discard them, but I treat things like stuffed animals that seem to have a soul with extra respect, as if conducting a memorial service.”

The notion of thanking objects, and giving special objects a ritualistic goodbye is not unlike the advice we give in our book, to find ways to capture, honor, and safeguard the memories evoked by the objects we’re letting go of–summarized in our motto of Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff. 

I think it’s fair to say, however, that these books are not going to be life-changing for everyone, a fact that Kondo herself freely admits: “You won’t die if your house isn’t tidy and there are many people in the world who don’t really care if they can’t put their house in order. Such people, however, would never pick up this book…” (Present company excepted! 🙂 )

Those of you who aren’t ready or willing, for whatever reasons, to commit yourselves to the Kondo method, to a minimalist lifestyle generally, or to taking the time to fold your underwear in ways that are unarguably very tidy, but also much more time-consuming than just throwing them into a drawer, may find the kind of help you need in our book instead. Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home is focused on how to deal with a massive and often overwhelming task, as well as how to make it less overwhelming by starting early and proactively working ahead of the clock. We even claim that, approached the right way, it can be fun!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

 

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