When Marie Kondo released “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, it introduced the concept of whether an item “sparks joy”. Which led to some pretty funny Facebook posts with people suggesting that everything from healthy fruits & vegetables to their pets didn’t “spark joy”, so they were considering ditching them.

The thing is, “does it spark joy?” is still a very useful question – once we get on the same page about what “joy” means.

“Joy” in this case isn’t the Americanized “happy”, but rather a deeper sense of fulfillment or purpose.

For example, you probably have your tax paperwork from the past six years or so. You’d probably never open that drawer, pull out your tax paperwork, and find yourself overwhelmed with happiness (although if you do, hey – no judgement). But that paperwork serves a useful purpose in your life. They’re necessary records, and if you have any problems in future years you can always refer back to them. That’s not “happy”, but the sense of having things in order you get from them gives you peace of mind – which is a form of “joy” for our purposes.

On the other hand, take a toaster that never works correctly. Maybe you got it as a gift a dozen Christmases ago, and it’s only good for one thing – burning toast. You feel guilty about throwing it away, because it was a Christmas gift, and you feel guilty about buying another one since you have a “perfectly working” toaster. That toaster is not “sparking joy”, because (a) you never use it, and (b) you can’t bring yourself to remedy the situation. You’ve basically just given up on having toasted bread.

In a situation like that, Marie Kondo suggests that you “thank the item, and let it go.”

This sounds hokey to our American minds, but hear me out. The reason you can’t use the toaster is because it doesn’t work. The reason you can’t replace it is because it was a gift from Aunt Ethel a dozen Christmases ago. You have unresolved emotion associated with this thing, so the solution is to resolve that emotion.

Take the toaster out of the cupboard. Thank it for getting you through your college years, even if you had to learn the split-second timing to prevent bread going from “nicely toasted” to “charcoal”. Thank Aunt Ethel for thinking of you at that time, and wanting you to be able to eat something other than fast food. And then realize that while this toaster was useful back then, it’s not useful now. Discard it, and move on.

You may not be able to do that for every item in your life that’s not “sparking joy”. Remember that this isn’t a race, and the only person you’re competing against is yourself. 

But if you treat this as another tool in your decluttering toolbox, you may find situations where it helps. Who knows? Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and wind up with a pile of stuff big enough that you have to call a local junk removal company!

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