Can’t Figure Out What ‘Sparks Joy’? Try Asking Yourself This Instead

By now, chances are you’ve heard of Marie Kondo’s KonMari organizing method—you may have even tried paring back your belongings by keeping only items that, in her words, “spark joy” (a worthy goal, to be sure).

But what happens when your feelings about an item are…complicated?

When you find yourself getting stuck, it’s time to try a different tack. And the question I find most helpful when the decluttering process slows to a standstill is this: “Would you secretly be relieved if this item were lost in a fire?”

A yes or no answer is just the beginning—read on to learn how to use your answer to sift through the complex feelings at the root of your home’s clutter.

Farmhouse Bedroom by Danielle Sykes
PHOTO: DANIELLE SYKES

Ask the question. The first step is to pose the question to yourself. This is best done when while you are at home alone—it’s easier to be completely honest and open when it’s just you. Simply look at or hold the item in question, and ask yourself, “Would I secretly be relieved if this item were lost in a fire?”

This question is powerful because it frees you from the weight of responsibility: as terrible as it is to imagine (even assuming no people or creatures were harmed), a disaster such as a house fire is not something you choose; it just happens.

Asking this question lifts the heavy weight of decision-making from your shoulders. It asks you, if this item was already gone, through no fault of your own, how would you feel?

Farmhouse Dining Room by Danielle Sykes
PHOTO: DANIELLE SYKES

If you were starting over, what would you choose? A haiku by 17th-century Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide reads, “Barn’s burnt down—now I can see the moon.”

If you’re still having trouble figuring out what “sparks joy” for you, imagine for a moment that every non-living thing in your home is gone. If you had the opportunity to start fresh, what would you choose to bring into your home?

Farmhouse Family Room by Kimberley Bryan
PHOTO: KIMBERLEY BRYAN

What would allowing some open space feel like? Finally, imagine what having more breathing space in your home might look and feel like. Instead of immediately filling up your space again with new items, how would it feel to simply let it be?

This story originally appeared on Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish. You can find it here.

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