Spark Joy (2016)
(Both books are by Marie Kondo, or "KonMarie," her nickname and how I think of her.)
I’ve done it. Close to a year of KonMarie, of decluttering and organizing. The last bits were this morning, and I am taking a few hours to celebrate.
The essence: surround yourself with things that spark joy. That means keeping some things, and disposing of a great many things – for me, somewhere between half and two-thirds of my possessions. Junk. Old files. Several hundred blank 3-1/2” floppies. CDs and cassettes that have been a part of my life, but no longer spark joy. Books. Lots of books.
I did it by the book, or rather books: I read the first one (frugally, from a library copy), then the second (likewise, a library e-book in this case – twice, once when I began and again in the last fortnight to gather courage for the Final Steps).
Here is a summary from her website:
Rule 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.
Rule 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
Rule 3: Finish discarding first.
Rule 4: Tidy by category, not by location.
Rule 5: Follow the right order.
Rule 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
Three of the categories:
Clothing, because it is easiest. For me especially, this was a no-brainer. I don’t have a lot of clothing and wear most of it regularly, so the whole process took less than an hour.
Books. This was scary. As per instructions, I took down all of my books. Every one of them. I piled them in the middle of the floor; this pretty much filled two rooms at home, and my office plus two tables in the choir room when I repeated the process at church. My wife was about ready to pull the plug on the whole enterprise, for she doubtless had visions of walking around piles of books for weeks and months, if not forever. But she has been after me for years to “get rid of some books,” as I reminded her.
Pick up a book. Hold it in both hands. Sense whether it sparks joy; if so, it goes in one pile. If not, the other pile. Sheep and goats at the last judgement. Like many people, I had trouble grasping the concept of “spark joy,” so (as per instructions) I started with something for which there was no doubt: my Ballentine paperback edition of “The Lord of the Rings,” which I have read maybe a dozen times. Joy flooded my soul as I held these little volumes, along with “The Hobbit,” given to me by my sister.
The Road goes ever on and on;I got the idea.
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone
And I must follow, if I can…
From there it went quickly, more or less: two ten-hour days at home, one at my church office. Plus the physical labor of boxing up the discards and hauling them to the conveniently-timed Shelter House Booksale, three trips with my little Prius C filled to capacity.
The biggest challenge, once I got started, was avoiding the temptation to sit down and read. No matter how tempting, put it down and pick up the next book. Otherwise my wife and I would still be walking around piles of books on the floor.
And on it goes: Papers, with multiple trips to the recycling center. “Komono” (Japanese for “Other Stuff”) – a day when I almost filled the apartment complex’s dumpster all by myself.
Last of all: Sentimental Items. Personal letters, keepsakes, photos. It was for this that I re-read “Spark Joy,” for I have lived long and gathered many such things over the years. KonMarie suggests that this step is last because it is the most difficult, and one must hone one’s discernment before attempting it.
She is right.
But she is also right about the benefit: working through such things is a way of coming to terms with one’s past, and it is powerful. The recital program from my musical debut: a piece called “Off to Camp” in my first year at the piano. Working my way down the page of the annual programs from little pieces with the beginners to Beethoven sonatas as the finales of the group recitals my last two years of high school, and the senior recital with three of my friends. An official-looking paper from the county Board of Education, certifying me as a Third Class Musician (this in the eighth grade; there are many who would still give me that label). More recitals at college, in churches, at graduate school. Academic things that dangerously sparked pride, such as a National Merit Scholarship and later a perfect score on the GREs, which doubtless helped my admission prospects at the Choir College – as I wrote elsewhere, the dean who interviewed me was extremely dubious as to my prospects, since I was self-taught as an organist. He said so in my letter of acceptance, which I kept. Notes from choristers young and old. Going-away memorials when I moved from one place to another. The one that brought tears to my eyes most of all was a sheet of paper I had quite forgotten from the little Baptist church I served after undergraduate school, where I began as a pianist and left as an organist, and discovered Choral Conducting. I will quote part of it:
The following people send you $451.00 worth of good wishes as you move further in your music career. We have a few requests:I mused on the fact that $451.00 was a lot of money for those people in that time and place, and how much they loved me.
- That you never forget us
- That you send someone in the church your new address.
- That you will come back sometime. Remember the latch string will always be outside.
It was then signed by about sixty persons and groups (such as “The Choir” and several of the Sunday School classes), which was pretty much the whole congregation.
If that doesn’t spark joy, nothing will.
KonMarie tells us that we must thank our possessions before discarding any of them. That helped, especially with the books. I thanked each of them individually for what they had taught me, what they had meant to me. We should thank the things we keep as well, such as thanking our clothes as we hang them up at the end of the day or put them in the laundry. We should take care of the things we have, and always put them back into their proper place.
I get a little nervous about the theology of thanking the spirit(s) that reside in created things, and would prefer to thank the Maker, but I think of it in the way one considers the Holy Icons – in this sense, every created thing is a window into the divine and deserves an appropriate degree of respect. I have started greeting my little Prius with a bow every morning before I begin my commute and thanking it at the end of the day.
[The cellarer of the monastery] will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected. He should not be prone to greed, nor be wasteful or extravagant with the goods of the monastery, but should do everything with moderation… (Rule of St. Benedict 31:10-12)I believe that KonMarie would be in full agreement with this. One final quote:
If you are uncertain whether to keep it, ask your heart.--------------
If you don’t where to put it, ask your home.
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (St. Matthew 6:21)Be not overly attached to the things that "spark joy" in your heart. Respect them, use them well and with care, even love them. Above all, be thankful for them. But do not set your heart on them. That is not the path of life.