If you’re decluttering, you’re probably familiar with the question, “Does this spark joy?” as made famous by Marie Kondo. But what do you do when everything sparks joy? Listen to this episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show to find out.
In This Episode:
- the pros and cons of using “Does this spark joy?” in your decluttering
- a follow-up question that will help you make better decisions
- my surprising relationships with fashion and why I choose to embrace a minimalist wardrobe
Featured In This Episode:
- Get your free Mindful Decluttering guide: simplyfiercely.com/freeguide
- Read the blog: simplyfiercely.com/blog
- Connect on Instagram: @simplyfiercely
- Clear Your Clutter opens in Jan 2024–get on the waitlist: simplyfiercely.com/clearyourclutter
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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.
The Problem with ‘Does It Spark Joy’
Hey, everybody, it’s Jen here, welcome to the Simply and Fiercely Show. On today’s episode, I want to chat with you about a mistake that I see a lot of people making when they’re decluttering.
I bring this up because it’s something I see quite often with my clients, I see it in comments that people leave on my blog or on social media, and of course, it’s something that I have struggled with myself over the years.
I’m going to talk about why the concept of sparking joy can sometimes be a problem when you’re decluttering and how it can keep you stuck and hold you back from getting the results that you want.
The concept of ‘Does it bring joy?’ from Marie Kondo
Before we dive in, I want to point out that obviously, the whole concept of sparking joy comes from Marie Kondo and this episode isn’t a critique of her work.
If you are familiar with the Konmari method, then you’ll know that it is much more than just ‘does this spark joy?’ She wouldn’t have written a whole book if it was literally just one line. I think we can all see that.
Marie Kondo has a lot of credit for bringing decluttering and minimalism to the mainstream and it has led to a lot of people thinking that if something ‘sparks joy’, if it makes you happy, then you should keep it.
Before we go any further, I want to acknowledge that to some extent, this is true. If you’re familiar with my work or if you’ve read anything that I’ve done in the past, you’ll know that I believe that the whole concept of minimalism is not about living with as few things as possible. Instead, it is about alignment.
It’s about thinking about your values, your priorities, and your goals. The things that you own, the things that you do, and the things that you spend your money on should be in alignment with that.
It’s about aligning your activities, your stuff, etc, with this greater vision for your life. So sometimes that means that you keep things other people might consider clutter because to you it’s important.
The problem with decluttering only things that do not spark joy
To be the devil’s advocate, or to point out the other side of the conversation, if you are someone who loves stuff, and surprise, surprise, that’s actually me, even though I’m a minimalist. You’re going to end up in a situation where, okay, I’ve decluttered all the things that don’t bring me joy, but I still have way too much stuff. I have all these things that I love, but overall, I know that it’s too much. So what do I do now?
If you have relied too heavily on this concept of ‘does this bring joy’, then you’re going to get stuck once you have everything that’s left to bring joy. That’s what we’re going to talk about.
Another quick side note. Those who know me well know that I’m the queen of sidenotes. It’s something that’s worth a whole conversation, I could record probably five episodes about it.
But I just want to point out that sometimes, we don’t actually love things when we think that we do. There are a million reasons why we might feel attached to our clutter and a lot of those are uncomfortable.
For example, speaking from my own personal experience, I can remember this pair of shoes that I had spent a ridiculous amount of money on. They were designer shoes but I wasn’t someone who could really afford designer items. I felt a lot of shame about buying these shoes that had six-inch heels and I was never going to wear them.
If you had asked me about them, for years I would have told you, ‘I love those shoes. I just don’t wear them.’
But the truth is, I didn’t love them. It was just more comfortable to make that excuse than to admit that I didn’t love them because I was ashamed that I wasted so much money on them.
Now coming back to this episode, let’s assume that you really do love something. You love it and you’re trying to decide whether you should keep it or not. The ‘does it spark joy?’ line makes you think, yes, I should keep it.
But you’re also feeling overwhelmed and you have too much stuff. What do you do?
The follow-up question that you should ask yourself after, ‘Does it spark joy?’
If you can relate, there is a very important follow-up question to ‘Does this spark joy’.
So yes, this item does spark joy, but what do I love more?
I’m going to break this down again using myself as an example. As a minimalist, people assume that I’m not really into fashion. If you follow me on the blog or the podcast, you’ll know that I dress with a minimalist wardrobe. It’s quite small and I don’t have a ton of outfits.
But the truth is, even though that’s how I live and that’s what I choose for myself right now, I actually love everything to do with fashion. I love the act of getting dressed. I really enjoy being creative and trying to find new ways to wear things. I love, I love big, bright, beautiful colors. I love experimenting with trends. I still find that fun and it ‘sparks joy’ for me.
So why do I dress mostly in neutrals? I wear a dress as a personal uniform and I wear mostly the same kind of stuff all the time.
Does it spark joy versus the trade offs you’re getting when you declutter. (…Examples of some trade offs based on Jen’s experiences?)
You might be wondering if fashion brings me joy, why am I doing this? Am I making myself suffer in the name of minimalism? No, I’m not.
If you go back to the question, ‘what do I love more?’ What I love more than the fun of fashion, than the creativity, than playing around with clothes is the freedom and the space that comes from having a minimalist wardrobe. It’s about the trade offs in life.
Sure I love that, but there’s something else that I want more. I love having the physical space in my home.
There was a time 15 years ago when I used a guest bedroom as my closet and I needed it because I had so much stuff. And I’ll be honest with you, if I imagine in my mind going back to that closet, I loved it. It was a wonderful space.
I had over 100 pairs of shoes at the time and I had these custom display racks where it looked like I was in a shoe shop. It was beautiful. It was a fun space and I was like a kid in there dressing up.
But if I think about the trade off side, what do I love more?
Right now I live in a 660 square foot home with my two kids and my husband. It’s a two bedroom apartment so it’s quite small. But I happily gave up my closet and the space that I had because I love my neighborhood. I love living closer to the city. I love having a walkable lifestyle.
Some of you may have listened to this episode about three months ago when I talked about how we sold our car and we get by purely by walking, taking public transport, and riding a bike. It’s not for everyone but I love the freedom that comes from that lifestyle. It just brings me so much joy.
I happily gave up my walk in closet even though I loved it. I’m happy to exchange it for a lifestyle that I want more. Not just physical space but mental space as well.
As I said, back when I had lots of clothes I found a lot of joy in creating outfits and playing around with trends. But now I enjoy creating that mental space and using that creativity for other things.
As you know, I’ve got a blog, I’ve got a podcast, and I maintain social media accounts. I write emails and some of you might think, oh my God, that sounds like a nightmare. But for me, that is joyful. I love, love, love, love sharing ideas.
The reason I started a blog about 8 years ago was because I love sharing ideas and the creativity that went into this process. I would never have had time for all that writing, all that exploring of ideas if I was spending all that mental space on fashion.
So again, I’m not saying that fashion is bad, I’m just saying that for me, based on my priorities and values, I would rather give up the fashion that I loved because now I have mental space for my creativity.
The fun thing is that little seed that I planted when I made this decision all those years ago. At the time, I was just writing for this blog because it was fun to share ideas but by creating that space in my life, that mental space, financial space, and by embracing minimalism, I was able to experiment. And now the Simply and Fiercely brand is my full time job. This business now supports me and my family, which just blows my mind.
I didn’t realize it at the time but that small trade off created space and what I did in that space was create my dream career.
Prioritizing values and priorities over fashion
I want to be clear because I know so many times people can listen to things and think that people are talking in absolutes.
I’m not saying that you can’t run a successful business or that you can’t be creative with writing, or whatever it is you want to be creative with and also love fashion. Of course, there are people that can do that.
But for me, when I reflect back on my life and how I was spending my time, my mental energy, and my money, I know that the fashion that I did love, that did bring me joy was consuming too much space.
It was about making that trade off. What do I love more? Do I love the fashion? Do I love the clothes? Or do I love this mental freedom in my life? And also, as I said, physical freedom of having more space in my home, etc.
To sum that up, yes, I love fashion, and yes I love the creativity that goes with it.
It’s funny, people assume that I have really boring tastes when it comes to clothes but I actually love the maximalist style. I love when people indulge in really over the top fashion.
But it’s just not for me because it doesn’t align with my values and priorities. Just know there’s no judgment on other people.
I’ll give you one more example before I bring this episode to an end.
If any of you are writers, obviously I write for my work but I also write fiction as a personal hobby, which I will never share with anyone. It’s just a thing that I do for myself.
There is a saying in writing, I don’t know who brought it up so I apologize, but it’s about this idea of killing your darling, which sounds really horrible. But if you’ve ever done any writing, you’ll know that sometimes you write a paragraph or even a sentence and you love it.
You think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. It’s so beautiful. You love the words and you’re patting yourself on the back because it’s so lovely. But when you try to work it into the piece it just doesn’t work.
This happens to me all the time. I’ll have one paragraph that I love but it just doesn’t work with the flow of the piece. I’ll rewrite everything over and over again trying to make it work, wasting so much time.
After getting really frustrated and wanting to give up I sometimes have to realize that, for the greater good, right, in order to make this article work, in order to make this chapter work, in order to make the whole story flow, I have to take out this paragraph, even though I think it’s like the greatest thing I’ve ever written.
That’s the concept of killing your darlings when it comes to writing but that’s also sometimes the same concept that applies to decluttering.
You were building yourself a big, beautiful life and the things that you own, the things that you do, the things that you spend money on, these are all like building bricks.
They’re all bricks that are helping you build the life of your dreams. And sometimes you have to ask yourself, is this brick taking me closer to the life I want or not?
Sometimes we have things that we love that we have to leave behind, even relationships. Maybe you dated someone when you were in your early 20s. You loved them and they were a great person, but they weren’t the right person for you.
All of these are just tons of examples of how ‘does this spark joy’ is not the be all, end all. You have to look at the big picture and just say, What do I love most? What is the end goal? And is this helping me get there?
Hopefully, this helps you think about your decluttering and all your life choices in a new way. You can love something, you can think it’s wonderful, it can spark so much joy in you and yet not belong in your life.
On the flip side, sometimes you can keep tons of stuff that make no sense to anyone else and that’s okay if that is what really matters to you.
For example, I have some clients I work with who made the decision upfront that they’re not going to declutter any books and that’s fine. That’s what works for them.
The heart of decluttering is about self awareness and really getting deep down what are your goals? What are you trying to create? Then using decluttering as a tool, you’re working backwards to create that life for yourself.