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Earlier this week, I wrote that Marie 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. I wrote that, generally speaking, we'd be astounded by how much we own, a realization that would make it far easier for us to declutter what is no longer useful or appropriate. I agreed with her that recognizing what truly adds value to our lives is an essential perception.
But I think that Kondo's method has a flaw.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sold millions of copies, yet it seems many people are just as engulfed by clutter as ever. People are still buying tons of stuff they don't need, and lots of "storage solutions" to try and organize all of it. People talk about decluttering, but how many are getting decluttered and staying that way?
Maybe the problem is the question she suggests you ask of each possession.
Asking "Does it spark joy?" may not help you solve your clutter problem.
When we ask this question, we ignore three truths:
- We're continuing to define our happiness in terms of possessions. Is it really the stuff we own that brings us joy? 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.
- We're continuing to focus on consumerism. I can stand in the middle of certain stores and pick up plenty of items that might "spark joy." I'll bet you can too. Looking for joy in our belongings does little to help us question our role as consumers. But being a consumer can be a 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 don't get to the root of the problem. When we only ask "Does it spark joy?" we fail to ask a few other important questions:
- What caused this clutter in the first place?
- Why do I keep buying clothes, or furniture, or sports equipment, or cloth for my fabric stash (when I haven't finished a quilt in three years)?
- How can I keep this clutter cycle from repeating itself?
If you want a different result, you're going to have to do things differently.
The things you did yesterday and all the days before have created the life you have today. If you want things to be different, you have to act differently. You have to think differently. You have to start paying attention to what really makes you happy.
If we pay enough attention to notice "Hey, this is just what I wanted," whether it's a delicious latte, the right pair of jeans, a job well done, or a sunny morning, then we are happy. Attention is the key. It's what allows us to see all of the great things that are already part of our lives.
Joy doesn't come from things.
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 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 comes to your mind?
P.S. I recommend Joshua Becker's decluttering method detailed in The Minimalist Home. Request it from your library.