How to Avoid the Trap of Sparking Joy

By now you have probably heard of Marie Kondo and her method of tidying up a messy house. Kondo promotes the idea of dealing with possessions by determining which ones spark joy. Those that do, you keep; those that do not, you get rid of. It is a pretty basic philosophy that has made Kondo a household name around the world.

Unfortunately, there is an inherent trap in the sparking joy philosophy. That trap is found in how you define the word ‘joy’. In Kondo’s world, something that sparks joy goes beyond merely making you happy. It gives you a thrill for reasons which may or may not be emotionally positive. We will explain that more in a minute.

In the U.S., we tend to think of joy as giddy happiness. That is all well and good, but not everything we need in our homes to maintain a civilized lifestyle makes us giddily happy. Furthermore, we tend to associate joy with warm and fuzzy feelings. Yet it is probably a safe bet that none of us experience those feelings when working with a toilet brush.

‘Why’ is as Important as ‘If’

In a 2016 Los Angeles Times interview, Kondo explained the main premise of her organizational method. She explained that any possession that is not sparking joy is distracting from it. However, she acknowledged that there are some very necessary things to have on hand that do not necessarily provide an immediate thrill. Therein is the key.

Should you choose to employ the sparking joy method for tidying up your own life, you have to give as much consideration to the ‘why’ question as you do the ‘if’ question. The toilet brush offers a particularly good example.

You might not necessarily feel all warm and fuzzy about the toilet brush. But if you stop and think about it in the midst of cleaning the toilet, you are bound to appreciate the fact that you’re not using your hands to clean. Suddenly that toilet brush evokes positive thoughts and emotions. You now understand the ‘why’ behind owning the brush. It is no longer a question of whether or not it makes you feel good.

The Trap of American Joy

The trap of the sparking joy philosophy is coincidental with the trap of how Americans define joy. To us, joy is a feeling more than anything else. We associate joy with happiness. If we define things that spark joy this way, it can lead to one of two very big problems.

The first problem is a mindset that focuses on stuff as a means of finding happiness. Put another way, it leads to excessive consumerism. A person may go through her entire house removing everything that doesn’t spark joy. She feels good about herself for a little while, but then decides her life is missing something. So what does she do? She goes shopping.

This sort of mindset can create a vicious cycle of shopping, collecting, and purging. If not corrected, a lot of time and money is spent on finding happiness that remains inexplicably elusive.

The second problem relates to hoarding. Ask anyone who has struggled with hoarding and they will likely tell you of strong emotional attachments to nearly every item in their homes. We have dealt with hoarding situations, and we can tell you that people have emotional attachments to strange things. That’s why they are hoarders. They cannot let anything go because the emotional attachments are too strong.

The sparking joy method of organization and tidying is hot right now. It can work, but only with the right kind of mindset. If you think it is the right way to tidy up your life, just remember how Marie Kondo defines joy. Do not fall into the American trap of making joy something it is not.

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