What Does It Mean to "Spark Joy"?

At this point, Marie Kondo is practically a household name.  Most of us have at least skimmed her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and a lot of us have watched her Netflix TV show.  And we've probably heard the all-important question we're supposed to ask about each of our possessions:  Does it spark joy?

socks that spark joy

Investigating the pile

But before we ask the question, we're supposed to put our hands on everything we own.  For example, a while ago I got every piece of clothing I owned from my closet, the dresser, the coat closet, the closet in the back bedroom, the storage boxes under the bed... wherever I had managed to stash clothing.

I had a big pile of clothing on my bed, far more than I expected (even though I aspire to minimalism).  One of the most eye-opening results of Kondo's method is that you can't fail to realize exactly how much stuff you have.  Most of us have plenty.

Now's the time to ask the question about joy.  Does this shirt or nightgown or pair of socks "spark joy"?

What????  How does a nightgown or a pair of socks spark joy?  

Well, maybe those just-right jeans make me feel confident.  Maybe I love the color of that top.  Maybe those shoes are the most comfortable I've ever owned, and they're cute too.

Does that mean they're sparking joy?

I found that by being carefully selective about what I returned to my closet and dresser drawers, I was able to create a small wardrobe that I was happy with.  I don't own a lot of clothing, yet I never feel like I have nothing to wear.  It's easy to get dressed when I have just a few options, yet I know I'll like what I put on.

I think I get the joy thing.  

To me it means:

1.  I want to purchase two or three of the exact same item.

This brand, this cut, this color fits me perfectly.  I don't need a variety of jeans when I'm perfectly happy with a particular pair.  I like a shirt so well I want it in two or three colors.  When these shoes wear out, I'm going to want to purchase the same brand and style (or something remarkably similar) again.  The nightgown is actually comfortable to sleep in, so I return to the store and buy another one.

2.  I plan to take good care of this piece of clothing.

If it gets stained, I'm going to treat it promptly and properly.  If it needs repair, I'm going to take the time to do it.  I'm going to wash it gently in cold water and hang it to dry, if that's what's required.  I like the clothing so well it's worth my effort.

3.  I enjoy wearing this clothing.

It's pretty.  It isn't itchy, tight, baggy, or uncomfortable.  I don't have to keep adjusting it all day.  It's not just a stopgap purchase because I needed something to wear with another piece and this is the best I could find.  I would be happy to wear it every day.

4.  I can do what I need and want to do when I'm wearing this clothing.

If the clothing only performs well when I stand up straight in front of a mirror, what good is it?  I want to bend over and pick something off the floor without flashing any cleavage, or reach over my head without flashing my torso.  I want to walk, sit, or get in and out of the car comfortably.  My clothing is appropriate for the places I go and the things I do.

There's a bonus benefit to applying these concepts.  

An old prom dress or your 90's baggy jeans aren't going to make the cut.  It's easier to bypass all the nostalgia surrounding these outfits if you imagine yourself actually wearing them today, or passing them on to anyone for anything other than a theater costume.

I also think these principles can apply not just to clothing, but to most kitchen items, linens, and furniture.  Even to hobbies.  You could ask:

  • Does this hobby make me want to take care and do my best?  
  • Is this activity relaxing or frustrating?  
  • Is it worth the effort to get out all the tools and clean them up afterwards?  
  • Would I enjoy doing this every day if I could?

It belongs in your life... or it doesn't.

"Does it spark joy?" is the way to know that an item deserves your time and attention and a place in your home.  Otherwise, why is it taking up your space and your energy?

Updated May 2023


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