What's This Spark-Joy Thing?

One of the cornerstones of Marie Kondo’s decluttering method is, “Does it spark joy?” Which seems so simple. Pick something up. Do I feel joy? Yes, keep it. No, discard. But most of us have come to find out, it’s not all that simple.

If you've found yourself holding something you own and feeling nothing, then panicking you're going to end up living in a foggy monastery somewhere with no possessions at the end of all this, you're not alone.

Maybe I'm a Zombie

For awhile I was (metaphorically speaking). But, even in my zombie days, I still knew there were certain things I’d probably throw down over if someone tried to take them. For instance, my stacks of unpublished writing, a painting I did in college, a blue peacoat with a two-headed deer on the back...yes, really.

We all have those things. The cream of the crop. You look at them, you feel good.

You can probably scan the room right now and pick those things out. It might be just a couple things, but you feel something for those things. Marie is adamant you pick things up, but I say, even before that, what do you feel when you look at it? Is it joy?

Should I Date This Jacket?

Have you ever gone on a date (or heard about the phenomenon)? Afterward people pester one or both daters if there were any sparks. If you’re anything like me your response is usually something like, “I don’t know - dating’s weird!” I feel all this pressure to know what I feel, but more importantly, to admit how I feel (even to myself).

He was nice enough, he looked humanoid, didn’t throw up on me. What's not to like?!

To me, everyone has some inherent value, just as a human being, which makes it difficult in the dating world to admit that I just didn't feel anything. Which means possibly hurting someone's feelings.

Here's the good news. Stuff? It doesn't have feelings.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Sometimes we rationalize our feelings and get bungled up for reasons we may be unaware of. We could psychoanalyze these situations, as we do in the dating world, or any area where humans are involved, but the reality is, regardless of what those reasons are, YOU’RE JUST NOT THAT INTO ___________ (insert whatever it is here).

Admitting it is the first step.

Also, there's a reason we start with things like clothes and kitchen utensils before "Sentimental." Consider these first categories your training ground for that El Capitan. Some of us have been hanging off this big nose for too long and need to get moving (not me...definitely not me). 

Calibrate your Flying-Spark-O-Meter

In order to know what things “spark joy” you’ve got to know what those fireworks feel like.

Here’s what helped me:

  1. Find that thing you already know you love.

  2. Notice how you feel just by looking at it. Is it a piece of clothing you love to wear? You don’t have to put it on to know how good it makes you feel.

  3. Pick it up and notice what happens. Do you feel lighter inside? Uplifted?

Now, do the opposite:

  1. Pick up something you know doesn’t make you feel good.

  2. Notice how your mind and body respond. Do you feel heavier?

This is a good way to calibrate yourself as you go through this process. When you’re unsure, go back to those things that uplift you. Then go back to that thing you’re deciding on. Do you feel just as good?

You'll get faster and faster if you keep this up.

Pick It Up!

As she says, you must pick it up.

Pick up each thing individually.

One at a time.

See if you feel that spark!

Some Tips I’ve Picked Up (Get It?)

  1. If you can’t put in the effort to even pick something up, it’s time to let it go.

  2. If you can already tell you don’t want to pick something up, it’s time to let it go.

  3. If you’d rather pick something else up, it’s time to let it go. Probably.

Even Two-Headed Deer Find New Homes

As you go, you will find that some things bring you more joy than others. Just because one thing inspires you more than something else doesn’t necessarily mean that other thing needs to go.

You’ll start to recognize your own level of “Joy Division” (not the band). Which can be tied to just how minimal an existence you want to lead. You’ll always have things that fill you up more than others. That thing that brings you the most joy today will eventually cycle into a different sphere.

Remember my blue peacoat with the two-headed deer on the back? That was the love of my life (in the Coat World) for several years, until one year I noticed I wasn’t wearing it as much. While I still love it, I also knew it was time to pass it on to someone else to love.

Give Yourself A Break (or Many)

I know Marie talks about going quickly through this process, but I’m definitely not able to maintain the level of focus and emotional energy that’s required. This is emotional, and it’s a brain drain.

So, be sure to take breaks and when you’re at that point where you can’t tell what sparks more joy, a kitchen spoon or your kid, and you’re convinced that must mean just one thing, then it’s time to take a break.

Live to fight another day!


How have you applied this whole “spark joy” thing? What was the most challenging?

Photo credit: Danielle Klenak/Tulip Festival at Mt. Vernon, WA