The Art of Tidying and Sparking Joy


marie kondo‘A joy filled home is like your own personal art museum.’

Marie Kondo

Human beings can only truly cherish a limited number of things at one time’

Marie Kondo

Alison Writes:

I have recently read Marie Kondo’s book “Spark Joy” and wanted to share with you my reflections. She is the founder of the “KonMari” tidying method that is discussed quite widely in the media. A number of my friends have read it and have asked me what I thought.

Kondo begins by defining “tidying” quite precisely:

‘Tidying is the act of confronting yourself; cleaning is the act of confronting nature… The words tidying and cleaning are often used synonymously but they are two completely different things. Tidying deals with objects; cleaning deals with dirt.’

For me her analysis is true for many of us. For example when I say, “I tidied up” she claims that what I meant was that I did some preparation for cleaning. She describes, “wiping surfaces as they emerge from beneath piles of stuff … and randomly discarding items” as surface tidying. I think I may go one step further than this by tidying one drawer at a time but I am not sure I have ever truly embarked on what she calls a “tidying marathon” which is defined as

“… completing the process of discarding thoroughly and quickly and deciding where to store everything you’ve chosen to keep”

 So how exactly do you do a “tidying marathon”? Kondo has some ground rules to guide the process.

Six Basic Rules of Tidying

  • Commit yourself to tidying up

We must recognise that the marathon requires time and lots of effort.

  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle

Kondo points out that we must clarify why we want to tidy and choosing a single photo to represent our ideal lifestyle will help us visualize the goal.

  • Finish discarding first.

Don’t try and put things away before you’ve finished discarding. (I certainly don’t do this due to time constraints. I have to discard in batches and put things away so we can carry on life as normal.)

  • Tidy by category not location

This is to stop us simply shuffling stuff from room to room!

  • Follow the right order
  1. Clothes, 2. Books, 3. Paper, 4. Komono (miscellany), 5. Sentimental Items
  • Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
    We are not choosing what to discard but rather what to keep.

The Right Order

Kondo suggests starting with clothes, as these are ideal for practicing.   We start by asking ourselves “Does it spark joy when you touch it?” and pick up two or three tops. Sentimental items on the other hand are the most difficult. She says, “Truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard the objects associated with them”.

Joy, she observes, can be seen at different levels; “innate attraction/acquired attraction/experiential value”

“For essential items that don’t bring you joy, look at what they do for you”   “A high degree of functionality that makes life simpler…. The recognition that a possession is useful in our daily lives – these, too, indicate joy”

4 Principles of Storage

“Fold it, stand it upright, store in one spot and divide your storage space into square compartments.” Kondo has some fun diagrams on how to fold even the trickiest things. She suggests that to add spark to your storage “use sentimental things to decorate your storage, hangers or boxes”; this makes our storage as attractive as possible.

Common Phenomenon

Some of the examples in the book really made me laugh – I can see that while I fall into many bad habits there is comfort in the fact that I am not the only one!   One of the “common phenomenon” she describes is the handbag phenomenon.       “Are you still hanging onto handbags that you once used every day but have since replaced?” Sigh, yes, that’s me. They seem so much a part of me after daily use- how could I throw them out?

And what about those skincare products – do you have a pile of free samples that are now out of date?   What about expired warranties and manuals of items I don’t own anymore?   The KonMari rule is that you discard all papers. My husband is very good at that but I have a tendency to keep everything just in case!

Then there are the mystery cords and power chargers; or clear plastic folders and half blank notebooks that sit waiting for a new project. No point in keeping these: out they must go!

What Sparks Joy?

The book has convinced me that it is actually possible to get rid of all the clutter. It has given me some good questions to ask and principles to follow when I am struggling to decide whether to keep something or not. As a busy working mum, however, I think it is impractical for me to conduct a full “tidying marathon” in one stretch and I shall have to content myself with simplifying more gradually.

In conclusion, I am also convinced that even my most precious objects do not spark enough joy to leave me feeling contented and at peace for long. It is a good reminder for us all as Christmas approaches that lasting joy isn’t to be found in material objects or in a perfectly decluttered home. Our inmost needs, which are spiritual, can’t be met with anything we buy from shops or that we keep when tidying. What really sparks joy in a home is the reciprocity of love experienced with other people or God; something an object can never provide.