These are things that spark joy; they are what I’d save in a fire | Column

by | February 23, 2019 5:00 pm

Last Updated: February 20, 2019 at 10:05 am

Have you jumped on the “Spark Joy” bandwagon yet?

Unless you live in a hole, you’ve likely heard of Marie Kondo, who wrote “The Life-Changing Power of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy.” Both are best-sellers that teach people how to de-clutter and organize their homes, which leads to happier lives and abs of steel. (Just kidding. Abs of steel last only until middle-age. Tidy is forever.)

Kondo also has a TV show, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” in which she helps overwhelmed folks reclaim their bliss by clearing out the clutter. I’ve never watched it, but I’m all about purging and paring down. Visible clutter makes me visibly nuts; I agonize over vitamin bottles left on the kitchen counter. (Side-eyeing you, Widdle.)

It’s weird—unfolded clothes on a bed or unwashed dishes in the sink drive me crazy. But dust bunnies under the bed? Not so much. When it comes to clean, I’m totally superficial: If it looks good, it is good. Just don’t—you’ve been warned—lift the rug.

Back to “Spark Joy.” The premise of Ms. Kondo’s latest book—indeed, of her empire—is one question: Does an object make you happy, or is it just a relic of times gone by? If it’s a relic, you’re supposed to hold the object, thank it for being useful/pretty/comfortable, and toss it. (Or you could just thank the source: God.)

Anyway, “tossing it” doesn’t necessarily mean throwing it away: You can consign it, give it to a friend or take to a thrift store. Threadbare towels can be donated to an animal shelter; old phones can go to domestic violence programs; eyeglasses to the Lions Club.

“Spark Joy” has sparked a lot of joy from people who write testimonials like, “Once I whittled my wardrobe down to three pairs of pants, two blazers and four tees, I felt so much lighter and happier!” (Another perk: Your friends can always spot you in a crowd, because you’re basically wearing a uniform.)

My closet gets purged twice a year, and I’m ruthless: If I haven’t worn a garment in recent memory, it’s out. There are exceptions, of course: The coral body-con dress I wore the first time Widdle took me to Vegas (the second time, we got married); a sleeveless navy mini-dress I wore for 20 years but is now unseemly for my age; and a black jersey Ann Taylor dress I keep meaning to wear to funerals and never do.

With clothes, I’m tough. But books and mementoes? Nope.

Books are shelved and stacked in every room and nook in our home. In a filing cabinet are hundreds of cards, letters, notes, poems, clippings and written affirmations, sent by relatives, friends and readers.

On my dresser is a small, velvet-covered scrapbook from Nepal (not that I’ve ever been to Nepal), crammed with plane and concert tickets; receipts from museums, bars and restaurants; and grainy black-and-white photos. On my bedside table is a baby picture of my brother, T-Bob. These are things that spark joy; they are what I’d save in a fire.

Maybe we can begin purging from within: Purge the urge to judge, to demean, to gossip, to withhold, to be envious, to be dissatisfied. Purge people who make you feel “less than,” who bring out your worst side. Purge negative thoughts, and the impulse to shun what we don’t understand. Purge the voice that says you’re fat, ugly, old, stupid. Kick that noise to the curb.

Then sit down and eat some ice cream. That’s guaranteed to spark joy.

(Julie R. Smith, who sweeps a lot under the rug, can be reached at

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