I Marie Kondo-ed my life, but how do I know what sparks joy?

'I hoarded old letters, photos of people I am not friends with anymore and even my membership card for the official Justin Bieber fan club'

When I close my eyes, I can still see her face. That cheery smile with upturned eyes is ingrained into my mind as a constant reminder that my life is a mess and must be fixed. 

“Discard everything that does not spark joy,” she whispers to me with a voice so sweet it drips like honey and gives me a toothache. 

But here’s the thing — after following her advice and trying to implement every detail into my life, I still cannot discern what does or does not spark joy. 

This past summer, I read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” because I wanted to experience the hype of the Japanese organizing consultant and understand why everyone was talking about her. 

After fully immersing myself in the KonMari method for my two week read time, I’ll admit, Kondo is onto something. But it's harder than it seems.

Her method breaks down in five steps —  

1. Tidy all at once

2. Visualize the destination

3. Determine if the item “sparks joy”

4. Tidy by category, not location

5. Tidy in order 

I believe I am a tidy, orderly person. I clean my room at least three times a week — each process almost fumigation-like. But after reading, I realized I am nowhere near the pristine standards Kondo desires of me. 

Her folding method is fairly simple, and I can get behind the idea of dedicating a day to deep clean, but other steps are easier said than done. 

When decluttering, you’re supposed to pick up an item, touch it and see if it “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, throw it away. You’re not supposed to think rationally here, but rather use your emotions to determine whether you need the thing or not. 

Here’s my dilemma — I’m too emotional, yet somehow insanely rational at the same time. I cannot find balance in Kondo’s strategy, which makes me a major disappointment.  

On the outside, I come across as cold and devoid of feelings, which is partially true. But on the inside, I am a gooey mess ready to burst into tears at the mention of something sentimental. 

I often use items as place holders for memories — to remember the good ol’ days. As a result, almost everything sparked joy. I hoarded old letters, photos of people I am not friends with anymore and even my membership card for the official Justin Bieber fan club.

The items are not special, but I held onto them still. They did the bare minimum of reminding me where I was, and who I was at that point in my life. And who knows, maybe that membership card could be worth a lot of money one day.

But it’s almost impossible to throw rationality out the window. If I were to keep everything that sparked joy, guess who would be starring in the latest episode of “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” (Hint: it’s me.)

On the flip side, I got rid of all of my soccer memorabilia even though I spent fourteen out of my nineteen years playing the sport. Despite those good times, the trophies and medals meant nothing. They took up space, collected dust and definitely did not match the aesthetic of my room.

I do not need them to fondly recall the long hours spent driving to tournaments with my dad or even eating at Applebee’s with my teammates after nearly every game — I remember on my own. 

Some items may be more sentimental than others. You don't always need something tangible to look back on certain memories. Your own brain could spark joy before the object does. 

When you declutter, you’re reflecting on everything you kept for years. There's a lot of pressure in deciding what is important to you in that single moment. If I can’t remember what I did last weekend, how am I expected to remember what an old movie stub symbolizes?

The process of deciding what “sparks joy” should not be stress-inducing. Nor should you feel like it is an obstacle on your path to minimalistic enlightenment.

Everyone thinks differently. What works for you may be different than Kondo’s methods.

I cannot truly discern what sparks joy, but this doesn't mean my life is in shambles — I think it just makes me normal. 

Reach the reporter at omunson@asu.edu and follow @munson_olivia on Twitter. 

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