Do your possessions spark joy? That is the central question of a tidying manual that has become something of a cult phenomenon.
Japanese author Marie Kondo’s slim volume The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014) has sold more than two million copies around the world and her methods of decluttering the home have captured the imaginations of fans on social media, who call themselves Konverts, posting photos of their domestic purging online.
That Kondo’s book has tapped into the zeitgeist makes sense. As the world considers the environmental and social impacts of having too much stuff, we’ve seen a trend toward downsizing.
The mindfulness movement, the act of paying attention to our moods and surroundings, causes us to question the modern methods of finding happiness: continuous acquisition, upgrades and expansion.
Photographer Nicholas Vreeland, the grandson of famed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, did just this when he rejected a life of opulence in the social stratosphere of New York City to become a Buddhist monk.
In a documentary made about his life, Monk With a Camera, he says of his decision, “I had belief there was something outside material satisfaction.” Vreeland started taking photographs again almost a decade after deciding to become a monk. He did so, he says in the film, because a friend reminded him that photography brought him happiness.
His images have since paid for improvements to his monastery. Vreeland’s possessions, his camera and his pair of shoes that he continues to shine, give him, as Kondo would say, joy.
When Kondo works with clients to declutter their homes she doesn’t ask them to throw out everything they own, only the things that do not “spark joy”.
As she writes, “human beings can only truly cherish a limited number of things at one time”. If we live with only these items, Kondo believes, we will restore balance to our homes and ourselves.
1. Sort by category, not location. To truly see what you have, you must gather every single item in a particular category in one place, then consider them all side by side, Kondo argues.
2. Pick up each item and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” The second step is to actually hold each item in your hands and consider it anew. If it brings you joy or a thrill as you hold it, keep it. If it doesn’t, then throw it away.
3. Don’t downgrade clothes to loungewear. If you have clothes you know you’ll never wear outside, don’t let them pile up as loungewear. We’re looking at you yoga pants and old baggy jeans!
4. For unread books, “sometime” means “never.” According to Kondo there is a small window of time to read a book after you purchase it, once that window closes the chances of reading said book are slim to none
5. Recycle those piles of papers. The rule of thumb for papers is “discard everything.” According to Kondo, papers will never inspire joy. Old lecture materials, credit card statements, send them to the shredder.
6. Don’t keep gifts out of guilt. Admit it: we’ve all received gifts we don’t like. You should be able to donate the gift without guilt, Kondo says so!
7. Recycle electronics packaging. As soon as you get your new cell phone or iPod out of its packaging, recycle both the box and the manual. You can always get answers to any questions online.
8. Rid yourself of komono. This is the Japanese word for “miscellaneous items.” Spare buttons, unidentified cords, free novelty goods…clear them out and make space for the things you truly love.
9. Declutter photos and mementos. Take a deep breath and read. You don’t need to keep all those old birthday cards and blurry photos from yoru trips. Kondo promises that if you take out each photo from your album and ask yourself if it inspires joy, you’ll end up with only about 5 photos per day of every trip. They will the ones that bring back the joy of that time. Let the rest go. Ditto with old birthday cards and love letters. Repeat Kondo’s mantra: “Cherish who you are now.”
10. Storage experts are hoarders. Think decluttering means an excuse to go shopping for clever storage solutions. Think again! Many storage experts focus on stuffing as many things as they can into your closet, without stopping to examine whether they bring joy. Don’t make that fatal mistake.