Book Review, Home, Non Fiction, Personal

Less is Joy


Last month, I confessed to everyone that I am a shopaholic.

And I told you that part of my New Year’s Resolution was to resist the temptation to purchase any article of clothing for the entire month of January.

I am happy to report, I succeeded. In fact, I have done the opposite of buy clothes. I spent the past few days going through every closet and drawer and donated or threw away the clothes, accessories, and shoes that I don’t wear.

Four 30 gallon plastic bags stuffed to their fullest left my home.

My initial resolution was primarily the result of student debt guilt and the realization that I need to save more money.

This new cutthroat adventure of discarding most of my closet’s contents was inspired by something much more encompassing (and also because the thought of moving all of my stuff made me want to vomit, but that is neither here nor there).

After years of hearing about Marie Kondo’s book, I finally read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It is so thrilling, I finished it in 48 hours.

A quick internet search can tell you Kondo’s overarching tidying principles; and the KonMari method is so popular, I bet you have heard of her techniques without even realizing it.

The idea to get rid of anything in your home that doesn’t bring you joy? That’s Marie Kondo.

But the best part about her book isn’t her tidying tips and tricks. Marie Kondo’s exploration into the psychology of our possessions is where the reader can truly benefit.

(Let me warn you now, some of her ideas may sound strange to the Western mind. Perhaps because I live in a place surrounded by East Asian influences, or perhaps because I anthropomorphize everything anyway, I was not bothered by it. Just try to keep an open mind.)

Kondo does more than encourage you to handle each item in your home and search for joy. She explains that, as you go through your home, you are not looking for things to throw away. You are looking for things to keep.

By just twisting the question ever so slightly, so much more value is placed on the items you choose to keep. Rather than, “Eh, I won’t throw you away,” your choice becomes, “I want to keep you because you bring me joy.”

It’s not hard to let your possessions talk to you – within seconds, you know whether something you’re holding makes you happy. Listen to it, and listen to yourself.

When you can’t say an object brings you joy, you throw or give it away. It’s that easy.

Admittedly, it is hard to muster up any kind of joy when one is handling Lysol spray or beige granny panties. Much preferred would be Chanel No. 5 and something significantly pinker with significantly less fabric… But joy comes not only from the immediate, emotional impressions, but also in the utter usefulness of an item. I wouldn’t want to spray down a smelly trash can with Chanel No. 5, and I wouldn’t want to wear something hot pink under white pants. Pink may bring joy, but ultimately, so does the perfect undergarment for a specific situation.

Joy comes from your favorite things and from the best suited things. You can justify keeping both a t-shirt that has FEYONCE spelled out in pink glitter across the chest (Kyle gave it to me when we got engaged) and also a pair of perfectly fitting, all-occassion black pants.

But what are we to do with things we know don’t bring us joy, but for some reason we can’t get rid of either?

Kondo suggests you thank it for the joy it brought you at some time (or for the usefulness it provided, or for the lesson that such a style doesn’t suit you). For example, if you are holding a shirt that you bought because it was on sale, but you’ve only worn it twice because it doesn’t look that great on, thank the shirt for the thrill of the sale and for the lesson that this shape is unflattering on your body. And then give it away.

It sounds silly at first, but it really works. There is freedom in embracing the need to discard an item without “disrespecting” it. By acknowledging the joy you once may have had, letting it go becomes easier.

The next psychological revelation is this: if you find yourself having difficulty discarding items that do not bring you joy, and you have already thanked it and reasoned through their joy or usefulness at another time, ask yourself whether it is because they attach you to something in the past or because you are preparing for “just in case” in the future.

Your answer can reveal much more about yourself than merely reflecting your potential to be a hoarder.

If you need to keep an item in order to stay connected to the past (and I am not talking about true keepsakes like wedding albums or grandma’s pearls), perhaps you struggle with letting things go and moving on with your life. If you have a house full of what-ifs and just in cases, perhaps you worry too much and need to learn how to live in the now.

I am a worrywart. Half of my household possessions are for “just in case.” But ironically, being constantly reminded of every situation I am prepared for “just in case” makes the anxiety worse. Why would I want to be reminded of everything that could go wrong? I am allowing my worry to steal my joy.

I had never thought of it this way, and it took a book on tidying for me to realize this sad habit.

Finally, Kondo reminds us that our homes are our sanctuaries, not our storage units. How we live at home is the start of how we live in the world. If our homes are cluttered, disorganized, and dirty, we become cluttered, disorganized, and dirty.

Don’t let your bathroom become a dumping ground for your half-used lotion bottles, nor your entryway a maze of shoes. Give yourself peace by placing each of these items in its place – give them a home inside of your home.

Many may read this and be inconvenienced by her strict methods or think she is seriously over-doing it. But I strongly recommend even just considering what she has to say.

There is so much craziness in the world, and it could help us all a little bit if we feel more in control and at peace. We need to create for ourselves the world we want to live in, and that begins at home.

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