Spark Joy

21 Jan

Unless you’ve been buried under a pile of old clothes, you’ll have seen the media frenzy surrounding Spark Joy by Marie Kondo – described as the Zen of tidying. Now, despite not having read it (although I did listen to an interview with Kondo on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour), it does rather make my blood run a little cold.

I’m not going to slag a fellow writer about money and old rope – really, do we need to be told how to fold our clothes? But I am going to make a case for clutter.

Marie Kondo says if an item doesn’t give you joy when you look at it, you’ve to chuck it. Okay, so let’s say you’ve got a love letter from the first person who broke your heart, that might not spark joy, but that doesn’t stop you from pulling it out every now and again and re-reading and feeling – well, any number of emotions. Maybe there is some joy in the memories, or more likely anger, or hurt, but not enough that the letter is ripped up and thrown out. So it is kept, an item which does not spark joy, but which causes pain, but that’s okay because we’re grown-ups and we don’t have to be happy all of the time.


What about that bundle of newspapers you’ve let accumulate under the coffee table, or in a pile in the kitchen? They aren’t about to spark anything, unless you’re using them to light a fire, but wait, don’t throw them out, just yet. You’re a writer aren’t you, or a thinking person, or someone who has to act in the world? Maybe another flick through on a different day will lead you to notice an article you missed the first time around. Maybe there will be a phrase which will suddenly resonate. Maybe a photograph that will sow the seed of a new short story.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re selling your house, you might not want your 200 penguins displayed – as the woman on Phil Spencer Secret Agent did (oh yes, I’ve been procrastinating/wasting time big style). You don’t want rotting food or dirty clothes lying about, but a bit of clutter, a bit of mess, that’s what makes us who we are, that’s what signals to our visitors where our priorities lie (writing poetry or picking up Lego?), it’s what tells those around us what we like, and what we don’t really care about.

I know that mess can become chronic, and I don’t want to turn up on The Hoarder Next Door, but if everything has a place, and everything is in it, where’s the chance encounter with a postcard you bought at the Art Gallery that has been lying in your inbox for a year, or the key that has no lock, and where’s the fun in that?


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