If something doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. Marie Kondo on the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.
Ahh, the pervasiveness of modern Orientalism. As if the Japanese don’t love clutter just as much as the rest of humanity.
The trend for people to label things as “The Japanese Art of X” is such a stupid cliché, not least of all because it’s a lazy way to sell your preferred values in a package that requires no thought on the part of you or your audience - to say nothing of its complete lack of truth.
Anything and everything has a Japanese counterpart. They’re ordinary humans, just like us - they do human things. But for some reason that doesn’t stop people from romanticizing simple, everyday concepts as carried out by the Japanese, simply for being Japanese.
If you like being a tidy, minimalist, highly organized person, that’s great! More power to ya! Whatever makes you happy, floats your boat, and turns you on!
But the Japanese have no special claim on tidiness and organization. For every tidy Japanese person who espouses a love or order and simplicity, there is a messy Japanese person who espouses a love of chaos and complexity.
The Japanese fetishize everything - including entirely opposite sets of values. Being tidy is no more quintessentially Japanese than being messy is, and a philosophy embracing either extreme is no more compelling or meaningful merely for being Japanese.
You can find a “Japanese Art” for anything - no matter how mundane. That doesn’t mean it’s any different or better than how anyone else does it. No one espouses the great “Canadian Art of Mowing The Lawn”, or the venerable “Russian Art of Doing The Dishes”, but we aggrandize the “Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”? Gimme a break!
Somebody should write “The Japanese Art of Mess”. Would be way more useful than those tidy-up howtos that never get applied.
take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.
Well, my toilet plunger doesn’t really spark much joy in me when I look at it, but it sure comes in handy once in a while nevertheless…
If you wait until the water level is rising in your toilet, at that moment when you grab it up you’ll definitely feel the joy.
Put another way, having a toilet plunger prevents misery.
If I’m going to clean up my clutter Japanese style, I want to do it this way:
Yet another way, having a toilet with the cross-section high enough to not get clogged (common in at least major parts of Europe) prevents this sort of misery even better than having a plunger.
I came here to say the same thing. I would say cluttered Japanese homes probably exist in some capacity as a cultural rejection of the historical austerity that dominated the cultural narrative for hundreds of years. Hence, Buddhist monks are often the punchline of jokes.
You still have a toilet? Mine just wasn’t sparking any joy, so I Tidied it Up.
It’s a fine concept in theory, but describes an ideal that you can only really achieve if you are financially capable of outsourcing most chores, or spending exorbitant amounts of money on custom goods.
Most household tools (the plunger mentioned by User100, brooms, mops, etc.) generally don’t bring people joy, except through their fleeting new-ness. I found joy in using a Dyson vacuum for the first time, but after a month or so, I had become accustomed to it, and vacuuming had become a chore again. You can buy whimsical tools, like a pizza cutter that looks like the Enterprise, or a toilet brush that looks like a giant flower, and while those items might spark more joy that their purely utilitarian counterparts, they are often less effective or reliable, being more about form than function.
I really don’t see how it’s possible to pare one’s life down to just these joyful things without first eliminating all of the activities that don’t bring you joy. And that’s just not practical or possible for most of us.
Most of my limited knowledge comes from anime - but a few of them show school kids learning the Japanese Art of Calligraphy. I guess they’re pretty true to life, because the kids suck at it - except that one kid who is Destined for Greatness. The takeaway for me is that most Japanese folks are pretty ordinary - but they do have a nice aesthetic of making beauty in modest ways.
This also raises the idea of how “joy” intersects with our physical habitat differently in different psychological or spiritual states. There have been times when I just loved life in a very visceral way, and that joie de vivre percolated in my relation to my things, my space, my clutter, all of which had grown organically out of this rich interior life I was living. And we’re talking here about, say, my jar of baking flour or my chair or box of shoelaces. I invested joy in those things because I had an abundance of it. There was an interior reason why it just didn’t feel like clutter. Certainly at other times and in other states it’s more like what Marie describes as her earlier phase. Like, That shit’s in my way, get rid of it.
Cramped? Clutter? O yes.
I hear you about how entirely opposing sets of values somehow getting obsessed over, fetishized. I feel that dynamic in these episodes of “Before and After” on Japanese TV.
You’re either overthinking it or the article was insufficiently detailed. (I suspect that the full book addresses this somewhere.) I think that particular razor–only keep things that spark joy–is meant to be applied to the sort of things that most people obsess over whether or not to keep. Things that have a clear and essential utility should of course be exempt.
But I do think you can stretch the joy criterion pretty far. I’m looking at a box, a bit over one foot square, that is full of carefully organized cables and adapters. It slots neatly into a cubby on my shelf, and takes up no extraneous space. I could go through every item in that box and not find one that sparks joy in itself, but knowing that I always have the right tool for every situation absolutely sparks joy every time I need it. The box passes.
I just want to know where I can get that juicer. That is a thing of beauty.
She lost me when she talked about throwing away 20 garbage bags of perfectly fine stuff. A compulsive kid doing this I could maybe understand. But an adult should know better, she doesn’t have a St. Vinny’s, domestic violence shelter, or Craigslist free section in her town?
What she said was “I threw out thirty bags of garbage in one month.” My first thought was, “I throw away thirty bags of garbage every month!” But I have a large family, and that’s real garbage. Other stuff goes to the church closet, recycling center, or compost.
Can we talk about the life-changing magic of not tidying up now?