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Published: August 29th 2015

by: Caitlin Jackson



Find HappinessThrough Tidying

How one question helped me organize my home.

If we spend time on things that serve our past or future, how can we focus on the present?

'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up'

Recently, I wrote an article about the organizational strategy, KonMari, developed by Japanese tidying expert, Marie Kondo. She claims that being tidy is a way to live and not a life long endeavor. This runs contrary to everything I’ve ever been told about organizing. Expert advice led me astray into thinking that I just need to do a little at a time. Someday, I might actually finish. But storage solutions are not solutions at all. To live tidy we must discard. During this process, we will discover what we truly value.

In the last two weeks, I have gone through every drawer, cabinet and shelve in my house following the KonMari strategy. This undertaking has been revelational, more than I would have expected. For everything I chose to discard, I was forced to question why I had it to begin with. The answers were eye-opening and have led me to consider more about what I want instead of settling for what is.


Marie Kondo says to ask the question, ‘does this spark joy?’, when sorting through your things. What does it matter if you have something that doesn’t spark joy? Well, it may be clouding your happiness. I never considered such a criteria before. Mostly, functionality was key. But the tidying process made me realize how much stuff I hold onto for either guilt or fear.

You may have guilt in letting go if someone has given you a memento that is more important to them than it is to you. Maybe you hardly use something that has cost you a lot of money. Holding onto these things is just a reminder of the guilt you have for not wanting it anymore.

Marie Kondo explains that sometimes we keep things to hold onto the past or for fears of the future. Investments in past projects, projects that once inspired you but no longer bring you joy, compel you to hang on to past dreams. Also, items that you really don’t need now but you fear of not being able to get it in the future. If it doesn’t serve you in the present, donate it to someone who can really use it.

The most common item that I discarded were functional and useful items, but didn’t spark joy. Often, these were hand me downs that I took to use until I bought my own. Only I never did replace them because they were still functional. I didn’t allow myself to seek my own joy. I burdened myself to take care of other people’s past joy. Where I could do without a useful, yet joyless item, I let it go.

The effect of these things is that we just don’t want to take care of them. They are a burden. They tend to pile up or stock away making our space cluttered and blocking the things that truly make us happy.


I’ve made a total of 15 trips to goodwill (with a full minivan) and 2 trips to the library for donations. A trip to the local dump and recycling center are in my future, too. Clearly, I had many things that didn’t spark joy. You might think that my house looked like something off of hoarders, but most things came out of closets and cabinets. Out of everyday sight. Surprisingly, with it gone, I actually know everything that I have and where to find it all; everything that is left is important to me.

Every item in your house requires a decision. Does this spark joy? No matter the answer, action is required. You either let it go or you put it where it goes. If you don’t go through this questioning process, you’re not asking yourself what’s important to you. If you’re like me, you often just put these questionable random things in a ‘junk drawer’ or the appropriate room, but they don’t have a designated place. Probably because you don’t want them to.

This has a surprising effect. You begin to know what joy feels like. Conversely, you know what joylessness feel like, too. There is a correlation between our ability to discern what is important with our stuff and what is important in our lives. Our stuff is an extension of our desires. Whether it’s cooking tools to make our food, clothes to express our style or furniture to enjoy our leisure, all of these things represent an idea of the life we want to live. If we can’t make decisions about what we want from these things, how can we be sure about the life we want to live?

Before, I might have walked past a piece of junk sitting on my counter. But now I see that it is an opportunity to place value. To quickly make a decision about it’s importance in my life and do something about it. If I don’t, then these questionable things pile up and distract me from what matters.

Uncluttering doesn’t have to go on forever. Do it once and have it done. We shouldn’t have to accept the mess or get to it later. Once it’s all done, sorting through the things that pass through our lives can be dealt with by asking one simple question, “Does this spark joy?”

Buy the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and learn the complete strategy. You will never look at organization the same way again!


Experience the life changing magic for yourself.

  • Change your perspective with one question.
  • Clear out your past, live in the present.