Why Keeping Only the Clothes that "Spark Joy" Is Magical

Why Keeping Only the Clothes that "Spark Joy" Is Magical

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Shifrah Combiths
Feb 22, 2015
(Image credit: Shifrah Combiths)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has revolutionized my thinking about decluttering and spurred me to action in a way that, for once, doesn't feel like I'm spinning my wheels. Marie Kondo tells us to ask one question when deciding what to keep: "Does it spark joy?" and I've been asking this while going through my entire wardrobe. Here's why I think it's the best decluttering question ever.

You'll be surrounded only by what you love.

It seems obvious, but take a moment to let this sink in: When you get rid of everything that doesn't spark joy, all your things spark joy. You're left with only clothes that fit well, that you look good in, that you feel great in. You're no longer reaching for the okay jeans in order to "save" the expensive pair because you only have the nice ones! It's awesome, and it's a fantastic way to really enjoy what you have. Note that this also allows you to keep things that are important to you; if your ten-year-old, ragged college sweatshirt sparks joy, by all means, keep it!

You'll find yourself.

Keeping only what sparks joy helps you realize who you are right now. As you're saying no to certain clothes that don't spark joy, you're also often shedding what and who you were — or who you thought you wanted to be. You get a stronger sense of and appreciation for who you are. It's a healthy exercise in self-reflection and a gentle but powerful letting go of the past.

You won't keep things out of guilt, and it will feel so good.

Keeping only the clothes that give me a spark of joy has allowed me to relinquish items that I've been keeping out of one kind of guilt or another —that I bought something and never really wore it, because someone else gave it to me, or because it's wasteful to get rid of something that's perfectly "good."

There certainly seems to be a Shinto influence in Ms. Kondo's work. She encourages her readers to talk to their items at several points in the book, for instance. And while I don't personally subscribe to animism, speaking to my clothes — symbolically — has been strangely powerful. I told some languishing sweatpants that belonged to my beloved aunt who died a few years ago, "Thank you for helping me feel close to her for a little longer" as I put them in the donate pile. The experience was pleasant rather than hard.

Realizing that maybe the "purpose" of some things is to bring us joy in simply buying them or that they enabled someone to express their love toward us through a gift is also a refreshing and freeing way to look at our items. This perspective helps sever the tie that makes us hold on to so many things for reasons other than their giving us joy in the present.

You know right away.

Probably the most incredible thing about the "Does this spark joy?" decluttering question is that the answer comes instantly and instinctively. Once you get into the groove of sorting based on this parameter, you'll be hooked. It's fast, it's decisive, it's honest, and it's incredibly personal.

It cuts through all the other questions.

You'll never have to hem and haw about whether something will be useful later, whether you should keep it because it's a "good shirt" or was expensive or any of that! Note that "sparking joy" applies perfectly well to items that aren't exactly thrilling but that serve us well. For instance, the cotton camisole that doesn't rise up and is just the right length — that sure sparks joy for me! Socks without holes spark a lot more joy than socks with holes. You get the picture.

It shows you what you really need.

Once you weed out all the has-beens from your wardrobe (with thank-yous, of course), you'll have a clear picture of what you need, of gaps that you may need to fill in. On the other hand, you'll also be happy to find out how little you actually need. So many of those things you're sending off to better homes were just space-fillers! And you'll breathe much better with them gone.

Next on the docket are my husband's clothes. I told him less-than-half-jokingly that we would soon be saying goodbye to the clothes of his that don't give me a spark of joy [insert laughing-with-tears emoticon]. He's fine with it. He's ready for some life-changing magic.

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