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Spark Joy


Over a year ago I was browsing in a bookshop and picked up Marie Kondo’s book “Spark Joy” to have a look at it.  I flicked through the pages on the neat tidying of clothes and ordered folding of things and put it back down again, certain that was all a bit too restrictive for my taste and determined that I was fine the way I was.  The way I was involved a t-shirt drawer that stuck every time I opened and closed it, jammed up by the overspilling contents, yet still surprisingly refusing to surrender something I really wanted to wear.  I lost clothes I’d loved down the back of the wardrobe as they fell off hangers, pushed aside by my latest purchase of a near identical jumper or shirt and I dreaded going anywhere near my admin pile or post drawer; even less the “what’s it for” drawer, filled with pens, old batteries and other assorted detritus.

But I didn’t need any help.  I was tidy.  I kept things reasonably neat and learned to stop looking at the ever increasing piles of chocolates, children’s drawings, bags of crisps, post and plastic boxes of toys stacked around my house.  I occasionally daydreamed about moving somewhere bigger so I could transfer the mess somewhere else and put it in cupboards so I couldn’t see it.

Besides I was setting up my own business so I should be beyond the concerns of my house and wasn’t it time to let that go anyway.  I had astutely refused to listen to the NCT lady who advised me to let my standards slip when I had a new baby, making sure the bed was made, I was showered, dressed and wearing make up every morning, yet here I was now, many years later, wandering around in yoga kit and ignoring the mess that was starting to suffocate us.

I went into another bookshop and picked up the book again.  It looks beautiful, calm and serene.  It attracted me and I flicked through it again.  This time I bought it.  I was interested.  Did I mention how gorgeous it looks?  I’m not sure if I thought the simple act of having it on my bookshelf would solve the problem but I had some inkling it might be a start.  And then I read it.  I didn’t want to enjoy it.  I didn’t want to find any solutions inside it but as I read my desire to try out this magic of tidying started to grow and take hold of me.  I was unsure how it would go down with the whole family given my husband’s unwillingness to let things go and my son’s desire to have a bed covered constantly in cuddly toys but I could start with myself, couldn’t I?

So I did.  I took her advice.  I didn’t judge except by what made me happy, ignited a spark of joy inside me.  I held each of my clothes in turn against me while standing in front of the mirror, my facial expression making it absolutely clear to me whether I loved this item or not.  I jettisoned those tops and jumpers I’d bought as a “bargain” in the sales but which had never fit right or suited me.  I removed the dress I had bought in excitement but when I’d worn it I didn’t like the way it moved when I raised my arms, it felt too much like a strait jacket.  I said thank you to my stained t-shirts and sent them off to a new life.

I found the top I’d worn at university and had hidden in a bag behind everything else, afraid that my sentimental attachment to something I didn’t wear now made me weak or silly in some way.  Marie had an answer for that.  If you love something, even if you’re not going to wear it, put it somewhere, give it space where you can see and enjoy it.  I see it every morning now when I open my wardrobe and it always makes me smile and wistfully takes me back to days where all I worried about were essay deadlines and who was going out dancing that night.  I remember the girl I used to be and see the woman she has become and I feel glad of my journey.

After clothes I attacked my collection of make up and I call it a collection because most of it deserved to be in a museum.  I used to have several boxes full of old eyeshadows and blushers unused for many years.  Now I have one bag containing the stuff I really love.  Then I did face my admin pile, shredding and recycling years of accumulated paper that I no longer needed.  I even let go of a few books that I either didn’t like or had duplicated, not an easy thing for a book lover like me.

At the end I looked at my possessions anew.  I could see my clothes, all of them, thanks to the particular way of folding suggested by Marie.  I could find the right underwear since those drawers were also immaculate and I also knew where I had gaps that needed filling. It made me happy, it sparked joy in me to see it all aligned, cared for and proudly displayed.

A little later my husband decided he wanted to go through this too, so we did the same for him.  Thanks to the advice to keep what makes you happy it no longer became a battle of me meanly trying to strip him of his beloved belongings but a chance for both of us to discover what he did genuinely like.

A year or so later and we are still folding the Marie way and have expanded it to our children as well as the rest of the house.  We didn’t move but we did extend and in doing that we committed to keeping what sparks joy in us and letting go of everything else.  That doesn’t mean never having anything useful because my favourite corkscrew makes me very happy, as does the fancy screwdriver with four choices of end, so they have house space too.  What it does mean is that we, or at least I, can find pretty much anything in the house and that we can take proper care of our things because we care about them.  When the joy is no longer there we can thank them and pack them up for their new life, recycling them rather than hanging on to them long past their moment of usefulness.

And what does this mean for my business?  For one thing I am less distracted by my house now as everything has its place and it sparks joy rather than shame in me.  For another it has helped me take the same philosophy into this part of my life.  I want to work and play with people who spark joy in me.  I want to do work that makes me happy and lets me spread that joy to others.  And I don’t need to explain to anyone what that might be.  I have loved doing e-learning for medical procedures, adored creating audiobooks and enjoyed matching my voice to corporate animations.  Recently I surprised myself with excitement at acting for video games and I look forward to discovering new pleasures as well as deepening existing ones.  Letting this small lovely book come onto my bookshelf has led to sparks of joy setting off all over my life like a firework display, leaving me free to devise the perfect accompanying music.

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