Is it Useful? Does it Bring You Joy?


Back in October, HM forwarded this article to me. It describes author and expert organizer Marie Kondo’s philosophy of closet cleaning and organization: Discard everything that fails to “spark joy.” At first I resisted this idea, mostly because I have experienced the antithesis of buyer’s remorse: Donator’s remorse. I know what it’s like to get rid of something in a whirl of organizational frenzy, only to find myself longing for it months afterward. I also believe that the maxim of, “If you haven’t worn it in six months/one year, get rid of it,” can be a little too harsh in some situations. Some items have limited use, but should still stick around for those infrequent but important occasions.

And yet, as the weeks rolled by and I continued on my own style journey, I found that phrase echoing in my brain. Spark joy, spark joy … it sounded extreme initially, but since I was now actively on the road to minimizing and honing my wardrobe, it began to resonate. I love style and dressing and consider it to be a creative outlet, so why shouldn’t everything in my wardrobe spark joy? There followed some merciless purging. Lots of it.

And I never missed any of the items I donated or sold, or regretted jettisoning them. Eventually, though, I hit a wall. I have several solid-colored tee shirts that don’t actively spark joy, some really simple black flats that don’t excite me in the least, charcoal gray tights that I’ve worn frequently but don’t adore. Did these things need to get chucked out with the rest of the non-joy-sparking stuff? They were layering pieces, practical and comfortable items. And I couldn’t envision replacing them with more elegant or exciting versions that actually would spark joy.

So I focused on another pillar of wardrobe curation: Utility. I may not love those black flats, and it’s possible that I may find a more exciting, special pair some day to replace them, but for now they are useful to me. The ultimate goal may be to only own clothing, shoes, and accessories that spark joy – from socks and underwear to snowboots and pajamas – but in the meantime, keeping some pieces that are more useful than exciting will make dressing on a daily basis a whole lot easier. (I will admit that I haven’t yet read Kondo’s book, so perhaps she makes some allowances for utility. But the articles I’ve read about her methods make me think the joy-spark is supposed to apply universally.)

Anyone else been pondering the joy-sparking method of organization and curation? Do you feel like you could enforce it wardrobe-wide, or would you rather make room for practical if unexciting pieces?

Originally posted 2015-04-21 06:12:21.

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24 Responses to “Is it Useful? Does it Bring You Joy?”

  1. mogs

    I am totally with you on this! I have quite a few items that don’t “spark joy” on their own, but their practicality does spark joy… so i totally think that counts.

    • Elaine Halsey Drew

      I agree! Sometimes clothing becomes more joyful in the company of other items it goes well with or that plain pair of flats aren’t super exciting but are the first comfy pair you’ve found after much searching (I resemble this example ;). Also, as the owner of a smaller vintage home, with vintage-sized closets, having a just bit of unused space anywhere in my home, brings me joy 🙂

  2. EvaNadine

    ive been trying to only purchase new pieces that “spark joy” — but in the meantime, im hanging onto those utilitarian pieces. you’ve gotta wear SOMETHING, right? but i do try to incorporate something that “sparks joy” into each outfit.

  3. Roselyne

    I think a perfectly soft black v-neck that fits perfectly can “spark joy” in a satisfying way. Not like the perfect silk scarf or colourful skirt, but you need good basics to put with those pieces.

    I actually use the “does this spark joy” question for most of my household goods (as I pack… Moving is a great purging mechanism), and I do think you need more leeway for practical items than she lets on. My broom, vacuum cleaner, printer, cat carrier, etc do not spark joy, but I still require a clean house, printed tax papers, and a way to schlep the cats to the vet.

  4. belanus5

    I have read Kondo’s book and applied her principles, doing a massive purge. When I approached basic items (white tank, navy tights, etc.), I thought about their use in an outfit. Did the outfit spark joy? Made it easier to find the joy in the basics. But if that basic item didn’t add joy to an outfit, out it went!

    And remember one of her other tenets is to thank every item that you release for what it taught you (I don’t look good in gathered skirts, I look better in more subdued colors). That was the real gift of her method. Freeing items sparked lots of joy and gratitude. I highly recommend her book. It really does contain Life Changing Magic.

  5. Suzanne Carillo

    I wrote last week about how tossing items that haven’t been worn in a year is impractical. Often times I don’t wear my bathing suit until that next big vacation comes. I don’t throw it out. Or the special occasion dresses that cost an arm and a leg. I like to think I can go into my closet and find something that will work for any occasion.

    I do find that I probably should buy more utility pieces as 90% of the pieces in my closet spark joy but they are often statement pieces.


    • Ginger

      I feel like the mark of a managed wardrobe is that you can be ready to participate in life without needing a trip to the mall. If a swimming or formal occasion is something that you encounter in life, even if it’s just now and then, it makes sense to be prepared.

  6. Monica H

    I would slightly tweak your “is it useful?” to “do I use it?” It is perhaps a fine distinction, but one that is important to me. There are many things that could be considered “useful” that don’t work for me, and thinking like this has had me hold on to too many things. This is one of the wardrobe traps I fell into at times before coming across your blog. Black flats are useful! So says every magazine everywhere! They go with everything! Black is my color! And yet, I don’t actually ever wear them because they just don’t work for me. They may be “useful,” but *I* don’t use them. This lets me get rid of a lot of things I ‘should’ want/like/use, but actually don’t.

    I’d also say that it’s perfectly fine to keep items that may not spark joy, but are just, meh. However, if something in your wardrobe brings up bad feelings, no matter how useful it is, chuck it!

    • mslanei

      Ha! KonMari-ing my shoes yesterday I, too, got rid of my black ballet flats. I laughed so much when I saw your comment!

  7. Stacy

    I agree with the “spark joy” theory, and I also apply the “feels like the best version of me” principle. If I feel like a joyful version of myself, then I’ve hit the sweet spot. (I’ve bought some items that make me really happy to look at, but I don’t quite feel myself when I wear them. So I don’t reach for them often.)

  8. mendotawaves

    As someone on a lower budget. the double question serves me well. Getting rid of something because it hasn’t been worn in a year is wasteful too me–unless I know it is something I will never wear. Dressy occasion clothes are good keepers, I seldom need them but… I am due to get a summer dress (that will be fun to buy!) as I did finally discard the last one. It’s a good question when buying too. I have passed up many gorgeous thrift shop items that I know I would only wear once or never.

  9. loubeelou

    I have been using this method (at least superficially…I haven’t read her book either) over the past week or so doing my spring cleaning, after reading about it on another MN-based lifestyle blog. It was a helpful filter (particularly for books), but not the only one. Honestly, I get the image of Maria from the Sound of Music, flitting around that mansion finding all the wonderfulness in everyday objects. And that is so not me. A lot of days, I am just seeking neutrality…joy ain’t sparking. Reminds me of the “body love” concept. I don’t need to have enthusiastically positive feelings about my body parts at all times…ambivalence is just fine.

  10. Amy

    I absolutely love the combination of “Spark Joy” and “very useful”. Either on its own is too limiting but together – perfect. After a few very sad donor remorse incidents, I instituted a purgatory box. If an item is borderline, it goes in the box in the basement for a while. I don’t just donate the box without looking after 6 months as some people recommend, but it does give me a chance to get it out of rotation, really let it go but still avoid donor’s remorse. Since it’s totally out of the way I don’t give myself a time limit. A few times I’ve ended up keeping something – usually I don’t – but’s it’s a nice safety net.

  11. Jennifer

    I’ve been on a journey this year to jettison about half of my wardrobe. I’m not aiming to be minimalist, but would like better cohesion and to only own the things that I truly love. (Also to have more space in my room and my closet.) Except for special items like a cocktail dress or the red plaid heels I only wear at Christmas, I do think that a year is a valid marker for clothing, at least for me. As I’ve gone through my dresses, getting from about 75 to 50, I have not missed a one of what I’ve sold/discarded because I wasn’t wearing it. It wasn’t my style anymore or didn’t fit or had some stain that made me self-conscious. And because I’ve sold to local people on Facebook, I’ve gotten to see or hear how they love the items that I wasn’t wearing. It kind of “sparks joy” for me to get rid of them! (I realize that’s only a third of my dresses, but it’s a work in progress.)
    I do keep lots of basics like tees, jeans, tights, socks, etc. but I’ve found that if they are in a color or shape that suits me, it does spark joy. Now, my gym shoes sometimes spark loathing if I don’t feel like working out, but even they are in bright colors that make me happy, mostly. I think we do endue emotions to clothing~I was shocked that I kept a polo from a job I hated for 5 years, buried in the back of my closet. Buh-bye! I’ve kept a few items that I’m looking for replacements for as they are wearing out, but they are closet staples that I’m using until a good replacement is found.

  12. Ginger

    I think it’s unrealistic to expect every item in your life to “spark joy.” There are things in life that enable joy without sparking it. Those white undies, supportive bras, black t-shirts, sensible shoes…… may not spark joy, but if they add to your feeling of completeness and keep you from thinking about your aching feet or sweaty boobs all day I say give’em some love and a place in your closet.

    • Diana

      As someone who read the book, what Marie Kondo does is encourage us to think about these “useful” items in a more positive light. She uses a toothbrush as an example of something that we must use and states that our toothbrush should spark joy because it is doing its job as well as it can. In your example, if your shoes give you maximal support and protect your feet, they should spark joy because they have done their job well. She also encourages us to be more positive about items we want to transition into something better (like a manual toothbrush vs an electric toothbrush) because even if they are not what we ultimately want, they are doing the best job they can and should spark joy for that alone.

  13. Stephanie Ganger

    I recently read the book in question and the KonMari method and to be honest I completely understand this in a way that almost every other way I have tried before lacks. I did a huge closet purge over the last several years but after reading this book over the last month I just purged my closet again a week and a half ago. I have two huge bags that need to head to donation next time I go.

    The biggest change this time around is subtle but incredible. I now think not necessarily does this spark joy but does it make me happy to wear it? For me fit, color, and usefulness are all things that can make me happy or joyful when wearing an item. The permission to thank something and let go of things that didn’t work for me was huge. There are a few items that I returned or got rid of as no matter how many times I tried it on or wore something similar I just didn’t like how it fit. I was honestly surprised to see what I kept but I have enjoyed getting dressed over the last week more than ever before.

  14. Andrea

    I love the “spark joy” concept (and the follow-up of “do I use it”), though it does make me aware of how often it’s the *newness* of an item that sparks joy… I suppose that’s the subject of another book altogether — maintaining that spark over the long term.

  15. Rb

    I did read the book and did some purging but not a lot. The Kondo method of folding is something I am using every day now – nothing gets lost under a stack of clothing in the drawer.

    But I found a lot of what she recommended impractical. I’m supposed to completely empty my bag every day when I come home, thank it for its service, store it and then start fresh in the morning. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    She also speaks about her childhood a lot, how tidy she kept her room and how we should do the same. I’m a grown woman with a whole house to keep organized. That didn’t do much for me.

    However, I get the main points. A small wardrobe of items you love and actually use is better than a vast wardrobe everything gets lost in. We’ve heard this advice from many gurus for many years.

    One thing I did after reading the book was to clean my bookshelves a little. I hundreds of books and I’m not getting rid of any first edition hardcovers (and I have space for them anyway) but there were a handful of books I’m absolutely certain i will never read again nor loan to a friend. I put them in a box on the curb and they were gone by morning.

    • mogs

      That emptying the bag thing induced serious eye rolls over here. Puhleeze!

      But the folding? GAME CHANGER!

  16. Nada Manley BeautyMommy

    I am stylist too and recently had a client approach me at a lunch gushing about this life changing method, and since then I’ve heard about it a few places and I will definitely be reading it, both for my clients and myself. I have many of the same concerns, and also don’t hold fast to the 6-months-or-its-out rule. I love approaching your closet from the perspective of joy. Some of the more utilitarian pieces in my closet don’t make me gush but I do find them useful, but for the rest, and for my clients, the joy approach is so useful. There are so many clothes that we hang on to for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, we get bored of what we have and need a change, so even if something fits and flatters, it may be time to move on.

  17. the simple quiet

    What an interesting and thought provoking approach…. As I sit, pondering my wardrobe, I realize, I DON’T wear the joy-sparking items in my closet. There’s a dress hanging there right now, and I LOVE it (the dress ~ not that it’s hanging there, unsung and unworn). I look fab in it, it’s comfortable…. why am I neglecting it? Because, it’s a dress, that’s why, and I’m a girl who sits on the floor tailor-fashion… not exactly dress appropriate. I have several dresses/skirts that fall into the joy/elation department that I NEVER wear for that very reason…. hmmmm… it gives one pause, does it not?