Thursday, February 11, 2016

Marie Kondo's "Spark Joy" treats all items as worthy of gratitude and respect

Marie Kondo's new book, Spark Joy, is meant as a companion guide to her best-selling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up with practical advice on folding clothing, filing papers, organizing hobby goods and storing kitchen gear. To this end, the book is full of hand drawn how-to illustrations. Kondo also infuses the book with philosophy and approaches these mess magnets while valuing aesthetics and emotion as well as utility.

Let me get all my reservations out of the way and end the post on the plentiful positive notes contained in Spark Joy.

I think the most striking thing to me throughout this book, besides the lovely title, is Kondo's religious or spiritual approach to non-living things. While the book is not overtly religious, an animist worldview saturates the popular Japanese tidying guru's KonMari way. Christians should be aware of this before investing themselves in the nitty gritty of Kondo's method.

For example, when discarding an item that is no longer needed or no longer "sparks joy" as it's held close to the heart, Kondo offers a moment of gratitude to the object itself and thanks it for its service. One anecdote recalls Kondo and her father bowing to a plush dog during their impromptu memorial service for the once adored but eventually allergenic stuffed animal. It sounds like the stuff of sitcoms, but Kondo relates this story sincerely.

As I get older, the lines between physical and spiritual have blurred and bled. But I draw a bright line at attributing a spirit to non-living things.

My second critique is with the practicality of the author's tightly held convictions about how to best organize. Kondo loves to store everything in compartments, folded compactly and preferably standing upright. I actually do this with my undergarments, so I'm not saying it never makes sense. But to meticulously fold up plastic grocery bags or to stand tightly folded pants upright just seems like an unnecessary gimmick to me. This could be because I only have four pairs of jeans and stacking them flat works just fine. For her tight-pack technique to shine, Kondo seems to assume (wrongly) that most people's storage drawers and cabinets are wide and shallow rather than deep.

Now for some useful, joy-sparking finds: Kondo excels in seeing the second life of objects that are loved yet not necessarily practical: a piece of used wrapping paper with a winsome pattern, an old necklace that you'd never wear but love nonetheless, postcards you can't bear to part with. Many decluttering experts would urge clients to be ruthless with items that are not needed. Kondo's focus is not minimalism for its own sake. Instead she reorients homemakers to consider whether an item brings joy. To determine this, she suggests holding the object and just paying attention to the feelings it sparks.

If you love it, Kondo says, display it proudly. The necklace can adorn a bedroom curtain rod. The cute wrapping paper can line a drawer. Postcards can decorate the inner wall of an otherwise drab closet. And that brings me to my next gleaning.

I really like Kondo's emphasis on making even hidden spaces attractive and useful in their tidiness. This goes for the place you store your extra rolls of toilet paper and feminine products as much as your underwear drawer. One suggestion I liked was that one of Kondo's clients displayed some favorite wedding memorabilia in a drawer only she opened. She'd feel too silly to have it out in public spaces of the home, but experienced a surge of joy and happy memories each time she opened the drawer. Others decorated their closets in a way that lifted their moods.

My good friend, a missionary in the Middle East, recently showed me her roof-top prayer room tucked away in an attic storage area. It's decorated to be cozy, but also personalized with a prayer wall of names, verses and memories. When she lived state-side, she had turned one of her kids' walk-in closets into a prayer room with pillows and twinkle lights.

Other tips fall into the category of getting the most joy bang for your buck. For example, she notes that as people spend a lot of time in front the the bathroom mirror, whatever is reflected from the wall opposite the mirror should be beautiful. I realized I had instinctively done this already by splurging on a nice shower curtain with a watercolor raindrop pattern that really calms and delights me. A beautiful bedspread, tablecloth or area rug would have the same magnified effect.

In conclusion, I do not feel obligated to become a convert to the KonMari Method or Kondo's brand of spirituality, but I definitely have mined the book for ideas to spark more joy in my home. For others looking for a similar treasure, the book offers plenty of material.

Just so you know, I received Spark Joy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

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