There’s more to deciding what’s clutter in your life than whether it sparks joy or not. And is the superficial joy of owning material possessions of any real value anyway?
‘Dad was a packrat,’ writes blogger John P. Weiss. ‘The garage was filled to the gills, and the rest of the house was equally loaded with a lifetime of possessions. If Dad had met Marie Kondo, he’d have told her that all his stuff brings him joy.’
This is a problem I find again and again in my work with people who have clutter. They can be very attached to their things and many claim that it all brings them joy.
So how did it ever become fashionable for joy to be the criterion for keeping stuff or letting it go? Well, it all started with Marie Kondo’s first book. Or more precisely, the English translation of her first book.
According to my Japanese friends, in the original version of her book, published in Japan in 2011, she invites people to ask themselves, ni tokimekuka? when deciding whether to keep something or let it go. The verb tokimeku means to throb or pulsate, and ni tokimekuka? translates into English as “does it charge you up?” or “does it give you a thrill?”. It’s very similar to “does it lift your energy?” from the Clutter Test in my Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui book, which was published in the UK in 1998 and in Japan in 2002, where it immediately became a national bestseller.
However, when Kondo’s book was translated into English in 2014, ni tokimekuka? was changed by the translator to the much catchier phrase of “does it spark joy?” And that’s where the problems began.
Material things are not a true source of joy
We are not born with any material possessions and we can’t take any of them with us when we die. Even our body is only on loan from the planet and will disintegrate after death. So believing that we own things is an illusion. We can only ever be temporary custodians. And expecting them to bring us joy is not a recipe for a happy or meaningful life.
Each of us is here on earth for a purpose and the possessions we keep around us during the time we are here can either help us or hinder us in our journey. We need to have enough to be able to do what we’re here to do but not so much that they hold us back, as a cluttered home can certainly do.
I explain more about this in Chapter 6 of my book: ‘The desire to possess things comes from a lower, grasping part of you that strives to own and control things. Your Spirit already knows you own nothing. It is a matter of realizing that your happiness does not depend on your ownership of things. They can help you in your journey but they are not the journey itself.’
This is why I say that using joy as a barometer is not a reliable method for whether to keep something or let it go. By all means surround yourself with things that uplift your energy. But it’s taking it too far to suggest that material things can truly be a source of joy.
The nature of joy
True joy is what is known as a soul force quality and it can be actively cultivated, as can be seen from the spiritual radiance of the Dalai Lama. He’s joy incarnate. You can see it in the twinkle in his eyes, his serenity, laughter, gestures and speech.
‘Everyone seeks happiness, joyfulness, but from outside — from money, power, from [a] big car, [a] big house,’ he is quoted in The Book of Joy as saying. ‘Most people never pay much attention to the ultimate source of a happy life, which is inside, not outside.’
‘Joy is much bigger than happiness,’ explains Archbishop Desmond Tutu elsewhere in the book. ‘While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.’
So seeking joy from material possessions is a spiritual dead-end. You’ll get to the end of your life and have no idea why you were born or what it was all about.
Why there’s more to clutter than whether it sparks joy
In my book, I explain there are four categories of clutter:
- Things you do not use or love
- Things that are untidy or disorganized
- Too many things in too small a space
- Anything unfinished
The problem with using “does it spark joy?” to decide whether to keep something or let it go is that it only addresses the first category. I’ve met people who love everything they own but their home is a chaotic mess, it’s so stuffed full of things there are rooms they can no longer use, or their list of unfinished tasks and propensity for procrastination is a never-ending source of anguish.
So the method I recommend goes much deeper. It’s called The Clutter Test and it consists of three questions to ask yourself about any item you own:
- Does it lift my energy when I think about it or look at it?
- Do I absolutely love it?
- Is it genuinely useful?
If you get a yes to all three questions, then move to the next level of questioning:
Do I absolutely love it?
If so, does it really inspire me, or is it just “nice”?
Do I already have enough of this type of item for my needs?
In spite of how much I love it, does it also have sad associations in my life?
Is it genuinely useful?
If so, when did I actually last use it?
When, realistically, am I likely to use it again?
The Clutter Test is a tried and tested method that I’ve been teaching people all over the world for over 20 years with superb results. It’s part of a system that helps people not just to clear their clutter but to understand why they accumulated it in the first place.
I can see the quick-fix appeal of using “does it spark joy?” to sort through your things. But for most people, it’s just not that simple. Clutter is always a symptom of an underlying issue and unless you get to the bottom of why you felt the need to acquire things, it will all just pile up again.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2019
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