How Do I Know What Will Spark Joy?

We’ve all heard the phrase by now, right? Spark Joy! Ever since the Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” what has become a common phrase for KonMari practitioners has become a new verb- and punchline. We’ve all seen the cartoons, the memes, and the viral videos with admittedly funny messages of people left with empty rooms because nothing they had sparked joy- and the lament that the bathroom scale doesn’t  spark joy so out it goes…

We aren’t used to a concept or phrase like spark joy- but if we dig a little deeper, we can see how Marie Kondo’s unique catchphrase is something we can all relate to. As Marie states in her touchstone book, Tidying Up, she explains that she chose the Spark Joy standard for a reason- she asks- “What is the point in tidying? If it’s not so that our space and the things in it can bring us happiness, there is no point at all.”

Many clients have giggled nervously at the start of a tidying session when I use the “spark joy” expression. “What if I don’t know what sparks joy?” some have asked. I suggest the client start by going to his or her closet and reaching for something that they love. People instinctively know right where to go. As Marie explains, it’s like a flutter in the heart. When that item is taken and held, their face lights up. It might be something hard to quantify, but it’s real. And the point of handling every item of clothing when you are tidying your closet, is to further hone your “spark joy” meter. And it is a meter…we can talk ourselves into keeping that outfit that cost a small fortune (but we can’t stand), or the sale items that never fit or flattered us, or the gift that was not something we liked or didn’t flatter us but came from someone we care about…but when you ask if it sparks joy, the answer becomes clear.

Spark joy goes beyond logic and analytical cost-benefit ratios and goes straight to the heart. And I can’t tell you how many times I have seen clients light up, smile, and beatifically beam when hug something they own that sparks joy…and how the body droops and the energy declines when a non-joyful item is held. As you try the Method yourself, you will start using the Spark Joy phrase yourself…and if you are like me you will develop a new framework for what you want to keep in your life.

This summer I went for a rare clothes shopping excursion. I needed to refresh a few items in my wardrobe and wanted some new summer items. I reflected on how much I had changed in the four years since I began using the KonMari Method. I used to shop indiscriminately and looked for good buys. If it fit and was reasonably attractive, it was a likely buy. Now I spend more time selecting and trying on items, and being very careful about what I bring in to my closet. Everything has to Spark Joy! My standards have gone up, and that’s a good thing. And since it has become intuitive, it’s a natural and valuable skill to continue to develop. I had to snap a couple of selfies when I was shopping that day- the blouse I thought would be perfect (on the left) made me feel dragged down and sad- and the white eyelet blouse (on the right) made me light up and feel fabulous. I’m sure you can guess which one went back on the shelf- and which one I bought and have happily worn several times already!

So, as laughable as the concept may seem, inanimate objects can and do transmit energy to or away from us. Take a few moments and try to do your own Spark Joy tests- and I guarantee you will learn a lot about yourself and what you love!



KonMari Tidying Is A Radical Act


KonMari Tidying is not simply organizing your things. The process is a deep evaluation of what you like, who you are, and what you want to surround yourself with. Tidying  helps you evaluate what “sparks joy” and what does not. As your joy-meter develops, you become more discerning about who and what you want to invite into your life- from clothing, to housewares, to food, new purchases…and even people!

I have noticed with myself, and many other Konmari enthusiasts, that we begin to discard (with gratitude) people, places, objects, and situations that do not spark joy. By facing what you own and surround yourself with you begin to see the many personas and identities you have “tried on” in life. Through this process you gain a greater perspective of what makes you tick, what your goals are, and how you want to spend your time and resources.

I went shopping this week at my favorite store on earth, a specific TJ Maxx inLos Angeles near Beverly Hills. I love bargains. I love fashion. And this store has it all, at great prices. Haute couture, designer handbags, shoes, and housewares. I absolutely enjoyed myself, immersing myself in beautiful displays, fashion, fabrics, and gleaming jewelry. I tried on shoes, evaluated purses, and considered a new swimming suit. In the end, I bought two pairs of shoes that I loved and were both stylish, comfortable, and great buys. $70.00 was spent. I put several more things in my cart but re-considered. I didn’t “need” the items, and one pair of shoes, while  stylish, and incredibly adorable, felt a bit funny when I walked. I don’t buy anything now, even if it is a good buy if it isn’t perfect for me. I don’t invite “ok” or so-so items into my life or closet anymore. I left the store happy with my purchases. I could afford them, they were comfortable, and I knew I could fit the new shoes in my closet. They sparked joy.  I discarded my battered black ballet flats with gratitude in the mall courtyard garbage can and slipped on my new Sam Edelman flats.

KonMari tidying does not end with your closet and drawers. It is a heart and soul exercise, a life changing process of listening to YOU. Throughout our lives, we are trained to bow to authorities in every aspect of our lives- how to look, what to wear, how to think, where to go to school, what steps to take to have a successful life. KonMari gives us radical freedom to choose what works for YOU and you alone. It is a life-affirming and independence building practice. It can free us from debt from over-shopping, dependence on the capitalistic system of affirmation through spending, and in its quiet ethos, I believe that practicing  KonMari is a radical, life-transforming act.

Tidying: It Really Is Life-Changing!

IMG_7375This picture is a treasure, showcasing a hard-working crew of movers who helped my parents move this fall. The story behind the move is a combination of a few films: suspense, horror, and miraculous supernatural thriller. We’re starting to have “normal” days after our life-changing moves, but we are so grateful to have made the big changes our family needed before a crisis forced a much different outcome. The very day I moved to my new hometown and a new apartment, beginning law school orientation, my parents sold their house. The Kon-Mari Method was a key catalyst in helping our family navigate a challenging year with huge changes in location and lifestyle, and allowed me to keep my sanity as I moved into a 900- square foot apartment and started graduate school.

I can now say the tools I learned from Marie Kondo and her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up”, changed not only my life for the better when I used the method to tidy my possessions, but my parents’ lives as well. We have always been a close family with diverse and creative interests- art, home maintenance, sports, reading, gardening, and cooking, to name a few. Each of these passions and interests led to items accumulating, some which we never used or just gathered dust as interests and times changed. Add to the fact that my Dad was an archivist and I am an amateur historian, everything from our dog’s baby teeth to orange crates full of family photos spanning 100 years were things we simply lived with. My childhood home had become chockablock full of stuff. We also inherited a large amount of items from my grandmother, from furniture to china to newspaper clippings and mementos. We couldn’t bear to part with anything, but we had so much we could often not even access or enjoy what we wanted to use. I dreaded opening doors or closets, knowing the stuff that would tumble out. We weren’t hoarders per se (everything looked neat on the surface!) but we had so much room and so many things, that it became overwhelming.

I was a huge offender, storing lots of items right in my childhood bedroom until Marie’s book called me out on my misdeeds! Three generations worth of things- furniture, collectibles, toys, music, sports equipment, books, clothing, household goods- you name it, we had it. We had as a family made efforts at reducing the items in the house over the years but what we lacked was the clear impetus and initiative to truly clear out the sheer mass of items. It had become a heavy weight on our spirits, and I think we felt trapped. My mother had been a minimalist before the name existed- but my Dad and I were partners in crime with our towers of stuff and stuffed drawers and closets.

Unfortunately, the impetus came from a critical situation with my mother’s health. After she suffered a particularly serious health crisis this spring, it became clear that keeping the family home- a 60 year-old, 2,500 square foot, three-story house in snow country, without a master bedroom on the ground floor- was impractical and bordering on dangerous. The impetus was there- but the efforts to get the house ready for sale, move 150 miles away, and pare the home goods to a lean collection of necessities- proved to be the most challenging KonMari tidying project I have ever embarked on. In the end we applied the KonMari principles and five categories to every nook and cranny of the house, day after day, relentlessly. For months. That meant 25 or so trips to the county dump by my Dad, two 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck pickups, and three dumpsters parked in front of the house over the summer. The expenses to arrange for pickup of junk was close to $3,000.00, with my Dad and a couple of his graduate students providing 90% of the muscle for the remainder of the disposal process.

My Dad provided the muscle, and Marie Kondo provided the framework. The terrifying truth was that the amount of stuff we had was holding up a necessary move. It became a barrier to freedom of choice and flexibility. The things which we were attached to were providing a nearly insurmountable obstacle to a critical new chapter in my parents’ life. It would not be an understatement to say all that stuff was life-threatening.

That magical question: “Does this spark joy?” became the way out of our maze of morass. It was on our lips every day, and when we could see the piles of stuff growing that we could thank and say good-bye to, I think our hearts lifted daily. My mother, as ill as she is, even got involved. My favorite moment was helping her with bedroom drawers, which were filled with her things  I pulled out a recorder, a handcrafted Austrian wooden musical instrument she had painstakingly learned to play decades before, with skill and precision but also a great deal of frustration. I asked Marie Kondo’s magical question aloud: “Does this spark joy for you, Mom?” The look on her face said it all. “I never want to see that again.” Bingo. You know the answer if you ask the question.

The Kon-Mari method came into our family’s lives at a critical juncture full of changes. I’m not certain if we would be in our current situations- my mom enjoying every day in a sunny and warm climate with nary a snowflake in sight, my Dad re-energizing his life by moving back to his hometown, and me pursuing my long-held goal of attending law school- without the Japanese organizer Marie Kondo. She truly “Sparks Joy” for our family!


Why Tidying?

It has been almost two years since I ordered my copy of Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It’s been eleven months since I completed the Kon-Mari Consultant Seminar in San Francisco, CA. I read about the book that transformed my life from a weekly e-mail newsletter I subscribe to, which I sometimes glance at and sometimes don’t. Thankfully I clicked on it that fateful day, and my life changed. Written by Chana Weisberg, the editorial wrote about how Marie Kondo’s home organizing book  was taking the publishing world by storm and how it also called to mind spiritual values of what we surround ourselves with and how we choose what we own. Surely such a small book couldn’t change my life!

Oh, but it did, and in wondrous ways. I became entranced from turning the first page when the small brown box from Amazon arrived in the mail. Marie Kondo’s book “The Life -Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was the missing puzzle piece to why I would have spurts of organizing and cleaning but could never maintain my lofty goals of a clutter-free life. It addressed the relationship we have with our “stuff” and how it can be a fraught experience knowing what to let go of or keep…but when we focus on what “sparks joy” the answers become clear.

Instead of being ordered to throw out everything, or shamed for my collections, I was asked two powerful but straightforward questions by reading the book. How did I visualize my ideal life, and what sparked joy? This positive foundation for tidying allowed me to finally address the mountains of clothing, memorabilia and sentimental items I kept for years, moving them across four states over thirty years. Thanking items allowed me to discard them without guilt, and focusing on what sparked joy gave me the ability to choose, use, and celebrate the things I kept.

Tidying using the KonMari Method allowed me to finally discard or donate items that were holding me back, and to start building my ideal life, step by step.  This method of organizing becomes a way of life, bringing clarity and gratitude.  I look forward to sharing details and photos of my tidying journey on this blog and my experiences as a Kon-Mari Consultant in-training.