Spark Joy or a Spar with the Joneses

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KonMari revisited: Questions we should ask instead of “Does it spark joy?”

Spark Joy – musically pleasant to the ears, whisper it on your tongue all your problems seem to disappear, but is joy only there when your room is clear?

“Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order,” said Marie Kondo, hailed as the world’s tidiest person. Author of four books, her best-seller The Life-Changing Method of Tidying Up has been published in more than 30 countries and she even has her own 8-episode show on Netflix. She needs no more introduction, as many would be familiar with her “KonMari” method of discarding items by choosing to keep only what “sparks joy”. The KonMari Method is her philosophy of tidying up the spaces in your life all in one go. Marie Kondo has her own tidying consulting business and has been organising since childhood.

Growing up in a typical disciplined household with a perfectionist mother, I have been taught that anything we haven’t used in the past six months is rendered “useless”. Don’t get my mom wrong – there are “useful” items we haven’t used much that we keep like winter wear, dishware and just-in-case items stored neatly. Mom also taught us that making a better life starts from making our beds; no excuses, no days off. Cleaning is my family’s routine. I was not taught to be emotionally attached to anything. Love letters from my teenage years are still kept as sentiments but if I really had to throw them away, I’d be fine.

That’s the truth: joy does not emit from motionless objects. Joy comes from our thinking about what it means to us. Marie Kondo’s method of cleaning up is more emotional than logical; some might describe it as spiritual, thanking items for having served their purpose before discarding them. It gives a moment of reflection to be grateful to our belongings and hopefully we are more aware of its other uses or how it is going to kindly degrade into the environment.

However, is it really sustainable to be emotional or dependent on moods while cleaning? I might throw away everything when I “feel like it”. Looking at the KonMari method superficially, it is liberating to be “thankful” and to “let go” of the past, feeling luminous and enlightened having thrown away the emotional baggage. On a deeper level, I would be more interested in the question, “Why do I give power to inanimate objects to make me feel things for more than a moment?” I believe this question addresses our consumerism habits, the urge to buy items we do not need merely because it sparks a temporary feeling in ourselves. Items which cause clutter!

When we decide an item does not spark joy, are we truly letting go or are we burying our feelings? We might clear up our collection of lipsticks, thanking it for the joy it brought, and then go back shopping for new colours, and repeat the cycle in six months’ time. Marie Kondo’s tidying up methods is great short-term, but we have a bigger problem to address: do we really need the item or are we just trying to keep up with the Joneses? Until we solve our consumerism habits at its core, joy is going to seem to come from the outside.

If only we knew Joy is from within.