6 Questions to Ask Instead of "Does It Spark Joy"

Sometimes it feels like we declutter nonstop, but we’re never finished.  Piles of mail, delivery boxes, and store bags bulging with our latest finds keep coming through our doors.  Collections of foot-stabbing little toys and glitter-covered art projects multiply.

Marie Kondo’s world-famous book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold millions of copies, yet it seems many of us are as engulfed by clutter as ever.  We talk about decluttering, but how many are getting clutter-free and staying that way?

Kondo had a brilliant insight when she realized that if we declutter by category, rather than by location, we're able to grasp the overall volume of our belongings.  Once we make a pile of all of our clothes, all of our books, all of our kitchen items, or all of our hobby stuff, we're astounded by how much we own, which may make it far easier for us to declutter what is no longer useful or appropriate.  I agree with Kondo that recognizing what truly adds value to our lives is an essential perception.

photo by Rick Mason

Too bad Kondo's method has a flaw.

Asking "Does it spark joy?" may not help you solve your clutter problem.  That's because when we ask this question, we ignore a couple of truths:

1.  We're continuing to define our happiness in terms of possessions.  

We'd probably all agree that money can't buy happiness.  It can provide a certain level of security, but once our basic needs are met, more money can be a mixed blessing. 

The same is true of stuff.  A certain level of possessions allows for a comfortable life, but more possessions can lead to clutter, stress, and dissatisfaction.

2.  We're continuing to focus on consumerism.  

I can stand in the middle of certain stores and pick up plenty of cute items that "spark joy."  (Hello, Hobby Lobby!)  I'll bet you can too.  But looking for joy in in a store doesn't help us question our role as consumers.  

Being a consumer can be a sort of curse.  You keep buying more.  You always need the thrill of something new.  Contentment is short-lived, because the next desirable item beckons.  Then you need more space to store stuff, more time to take care of stuff, and more stuff to keep you interested once you've tired of the "old stuff."

We need to get to the root of our clutter problem, and "Does it spark joy?" can't help us do that.

6 better decluttering questions

1.  Why did I buy this item?

Why did you plunk your money down or whip out your credit card and bring the item home?  Was it purchased to:

  • fulfill a need?
  • because it helps complete a set?
  • because you responded to an impulse of the moment?
  • because someone you respect or envy already has it?
  • because you were bored or sad and decided to treat yourself?
  • because your child cried and begged for it?
  • because you couldn't locate the one you already own, so you bought a duplicate?

Pro tip:  If you want to break free of consumerism, you need to figure out your shopping triggers.

2.  Do I actually use this item?

Anything you own should be used at least once a year.  That might include Santa mugs, camping equipment, or Great-Grandma's ugly turkey platter.  Otherwise, why are you keeping it?

Pro tip:  Anything that qualifies as useful might "spark joy."  But if it isn't something that you use, go ahead and donate it.

3.  Why do I keep buying so much when I already have plenty?

Maybe you keep buying shoes because they're cute.  Or you buy new tech to keep up with trends.  Or kitchen gadgets because they might come in handy someday.  Maybe you keep buying cloth for your fabric stash, even though you haven't finished a quilt in three years.  I used to buy a lot of scrapbooking paper just because it was pretty.

Pro tip:  Anything that attracts you might "spark joy."  That doesn't mean it's something you need to own.

4.  Will I lose my memories if I don't keep this thing?

Memories live in your heart and your mind, not in your stuff.  Choosing and prominently displaying one special piece will actually stimulate good memories more often than a large and dusty collection or a bunch of things stuck in storage. 

Pro tip:  Anything that evokes even a moment of nostalgia might "spark joy."  That doesn't mean it needs to be a part of your life forever.

5.  How can I keep this clutter cycle from repeating itself?

We agreed that money can't buy happiness, but it seems like we're trying to do it anyway!  That isn't possible, so as each purchase fails to give us more than short-term pleasure, we go back out and try again.  It's an exercise in futility.

The actions we've taken in the past have created the clutter we're living with today.  If we want a different result, we have to do things differently.  We have to think differently.  We have to figure out what really makes us happy.  Only then can we effectively create the life we want, including a more peaceful, uncluttered home.

Pro tip:  Maybe your "collecting bug" isn't so benign.  Consider a shopping ban, and start thinking of other ways to counteract boredom or stress than buying something new.

6.  Is it really the stuff I own that brings me joy?

Here is something we know even though we don't usually act like we know it:

Joy doesn't come from things.

Sometimes a delicious latte, the perfect paint for the bedroom wall, or a pair of jeans that actually fit will meet a need and make us happy.  Seeing that favorite photo on the wall or using Grandma's china for Sunday suppers might do the same.  We need to pay attention enough to notice, "Hey, this is just what I wanted!" so that we can truly enjoy those things.

But real joy comes from the people we love, the experiences we've relished, the exercise of our talents and creativity, and all the many details that are worth our attention.  I'm thinking of my grandson's giggle, a wonderful concert my husband and I attended, the process of writing a blog post, and the clean-washed blue sky after a day of rain.  

What brings you joy?

Ready to deal with those foot-stabbers?   Here's How to Conquer Toy Clutter.

Want even more focus and peace?  My book, Uncluttered,* is a creative, encouraging, multi-faceted guide to help you learn the best ways to clear clutter and how to make decluttering decisions.
In Uncluttered, you'll discover how to escape the consumer rat race and overcome bad habits while practicing better ones.  Learn how to highlight your favorite belongings and memories while uncovering a cleaner, more spacious home that welcomes and supports you.

You can be happier with less, and Uncluttered will show you how.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

Updated July 2022


  1. I have to say it is really hard to use the Joy method because I love so many pretty things!! I’m really trying to love the joy in clear, clean and bright spaces just as much. It’s easier in Springtime when the light is gorgeous and everything feels fresh!

    1. I know what you mean about loving pretty things, because I certainly do too. But over time I've learned that I can enjoy pretty things without owning them. It's a new mindset for me, and one I need to keep practicing. Enjoy spring!

      Best wishes,


  2. I browsed a shop full of antiques, furniture and soft furnishings today, almost all of which was completely my personal taste in decor. I had the conscious thought as I was leaving how nice it was to get pleasure from looking at aesthetically beautiful things but not feel any desire to take any of it home with me. I turned to a simpler, more minimalist lifestyle four years ago and it has definitely brought me more contentment and happiness in my home.

  3. I call it "the Souvenir Effect", meaning that many things I want just to help me remember the moment, past or present. I can remember experiences without a gadget or thingy, and just a picture or a friend can help. But if I forget; what's the difference? There's always something new around the corner!
    These are great questions. Sometimes I remember to ask myself, "What else could I do with the money that is the price of this item? Do I want to be caring for this thing or experiencing something new?"

    1. Excellent question to ask! Thanks so much for the comment.


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