When Clutter Sparks Joy

The current lifestyle trend says minimalism is in and clutter is out, but what if you happen to like all your chaos? From the May/June 2019 issue.

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Messy people around the country have been purging their belongings and tidying their homes after watching the hit Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Using her KonMari method, the Japanese organizing consultant guides everyday people through home makeovers à la Hoarders or Clean House as she urges them to keep only their possessions that “spark joy” when held closely.

Like many style gurus who reap enormous book deals from telling people how to pare down their wardrobes and put their knick-knacks in boxes, Kondo proclaims, in her most recent book, Spark Joy, that “Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order.”

What a crock of perfectionist pablum! Life goes on and your success happens or it doesn’t, and your relationships thrive or they don’t, largely irrespective of how starkly minimalist you keep your home. In fact, I’ve found that embracing the clutter that naturally collects around you is the key to happiness.

The more we believe our cluttered houses are the root cause of our problems, the more disappointed we’ll be when tidying up doesn’t make us happier.

A large part of the KonMari method is the personification of material possessions. Kondo encourages her clients to “thank” their old T-shirts and spatulas for serving them well before chucking them aside, and she gently scolds people if they handle their things harshly. Well, I am hosting a daily party for my possessions, and they’re all invited, from my roommate’s Instant Pot to my stack of unread New Yorkers. I don’t only thank them; I top off their drinks and tell them to make themselves at home wherever they please. And they do.

Look, I could spend time organizing the books on my bookshelf, or I could use that time reading them. As for my tiny, overflowing kitchen, it isn’t about laziness so much as my desire to own both a colander and a stock pot without getting a bigger place.

It’s not as though I’m on great terms with everything in my house. I have a semi-aquatic turtle named Frank who is 17 years old. He doesn’t spark joy. He hisses at me when I pick him up. But when I was 10 years old, I lacked the foresight to know that he would eventually require a pond enclosure that takes up a giant corner of my bedroom. Setting him loose in the wild would spark guilt, I think.

I do clean, and I do get rid of any garment with more than 10 holes in it. But I’m not kidding myself into thinking my home needs to be organized in order for me to live my life. Watching Kondo’s show, you would think she saved a couple’s marriage by throwing away half of their Pyrex and teaching them to fold their clothes smaller. Of course, we could all use a more mindful relationship with our possessions, but the more we believe our cluttered houses are the root cause of our problems, the more disappointed we’ll be when tidying up doesn’t make us happier.

I’ve learned to love my bungalow of perpetual disarray. It might not be immaculate — or even presentable at times — but it sparks joy, creativity, intimacy, curiosity, and comfort because it’s filled with things that have meaning to me. Besides, my house is far too interesting and cozy to be tidy.

This article is featured in the May/June 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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