On being … sparked

By Ingrid Sapona

I try to not leave the house with dirty dishes in the sink or an un-made bed. I learned these habits from my mother. Mind you, unlike mothers who tell kids the reason they should always put on clean underwear is in case they’re in an accident, Mom never gave us a reason for why we had to make sure things were neat before we left. But, as an adult, I’ve figured out why I still do this. It has to do with unsettling it is to come home to a place that’s messy. So, most of the time my place looks fairly neat.

But, if you scratch the surface – or open a few drawers – you’ll see some clutter. Like most people, in the kitchen I have a “junk drawer” where things like spare serving spoons, random cookie cutters, and a collection of rubber bands and twist ties end up. But, if you were to have a peak in any of my four kitchen drawers, you might have trouble pointing to just one as the junk drawer. All I can say in my defense is that space is at a premium and I do have a method for what goes in which drawer. As for my clothes drawers, I organize them by category – undies, t-shirts, workout clothes, etc. But, a corner of each drawer also contains random stuff I never found a proper place for.

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with friends and family about decluttering and getting rid of things. One of my sisters’ mantras is “set it free”. This definitely works for her – her house is by far the neatest in our family. My other sister seems to get more motivation from the idea that she’d doing a good deed by donating things. The idea that someone else might make use of things I no longer need is a great motivator for me.

This brings me to Marie Kondo. CP, a good friend of mine, mentioned Kondo a couple years ago after reading her books. CP was enthusiastic about Kondo’s method of going through your things and keeping only items that “spark joy”. Despite CP’s explanation, I didn’t really understand the whole “spark joy” concept. I was also put off by the fact that her method had become a “phenomenon”. So, I didn’t bother looking for her books.

Then recently, my sister and I came across Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. We looked at the descriptions of the episodes and saw that none were about people in our situation – singles living in modest-size condos. But, since retirement is in view for my sister, we chose an episode about a recently retired couple who wanted to declutter, now that they’ve retired. Turns out the woman had a huge collection of Christmas decorations and one room was filled floor-to-ceiling with boxes the husband’s baseball cards. I couldn’t relate to their home, but it was interesting to observe how they both changed through the decluttering process Marie led them through.

We decided to watch a couple more episodes. After a few shows you get the basics of Kondo’s method. She always starts with making the people put all their clothes in a pile – literally all of them. Then they have to pick up each one and decide if it’s something they want to keep. To my surprise, she was lighter on the “sparking joy” stuff than I expected. But, she was quite particular about how the clothes should be folded. To be honest, it seemed to be origami-inspired obsessiveness.

Another surprising thing was that she never talks about decluttering, nor does she tell anyone to get rid of stuff. Instead, she talks about tidying, which is very different. But, by heaping all your stuff – all your decorations, books, toys, or whatever – into one place, you confront how much you have. Then, by actually touching each item you really come to grips with whether you need it all. So, getting rid of at least some of the excess seems inevitable.

Sometimes she did encourage people to assess whether each item sparked joy. For folks who are really into clothes, I did get the sense that they got a special feeling of joy from certain items. (That wouldn’t be the case for me, but…) For others she suggested a different approach. With the retirees, for example, she asked them to decide what they wanted to take with them into their future. That is a decision I could relate to…

Finally, by the sixth episode or so, I understood the spark she’s talking about. For me it’s about creating a tranquil surrounding. It’s about making your home a place that makes you relaxed when you walk in. In other words, creating a place you feel “at home” which, I supposed, is just a long-winded way of saying a place that sparks joy.

If you’ve not checked out the show, I urge you to. It’s inspiring in ways I never imagined. I dare you to try her clothes folding technique too – doing so sparks joy AND I’m sure you’ll find that the clothes take up less space. Who knew?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


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