The Journey to Inner Joy

A friend of mine gifted me Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last week. On my plane ride home, I opened the cover, reluctantly at first, thinking, “Oh great, another thing to add to my to-do list.” I read the first few pages, and then another few. A lot of the anecdotal information was pretty redundant, making me want to put the book down at times, but I was intrigued, so I kept on. All along, I was storing the key points to her organizational philosophy in my mind. By the time the pilot announced our arrival, I was nearly halfway through the book, and had already pictured the things I would purge when I walked through my front door.

Kondo’s philosophy is simple: Organize category-by-category, by placing all like items (if clothing, all tops first) on the floor around you. Touch them, feel them, see what inspires you. Ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” If not, donate or discard it. She insists that if done correctly, this organization will need to be done just once—because when finished, you will have surrounded yourself with only things that speak to you and bring you joy.

Isn’t that a beautiful philosophy? Life would be much simpler, much more joyful if the only things around us sparked a smile, a memory—made us feel something.

I was exhausted when I got home from the airport, so I didn’t unpack the suitcases until the following morning. As I put my things away, I came across a shirt that had been in my closet for a few years, unworn. “Does this bring me joy?” I asked. The answer was a clear no. So I moved it to the donate pile, and did as instructed: I “thanked” the shirt for its time in my life, and let it go. “Hmmm, I thought. Not so bad.” I started walking out of the closet, pushing the organizational job off for another day, but spotted another shirt out of the corner of my eye. So I grabbed it off the hanger and tossed it into the pile. Once it was there, I didn’t look back. Soon the third and fourth shirt made the pile, and before I knew it, I had a mountain of joyless clothing staring back at me.

Oh how freeing it was! I threw my arms in the air and started singing Let It Go! at the top of my lungs, searching for other things to free from the shackles of my closet. Hearing her favorite song, my 6-year-old meandered into my closet, wondering what her crazy mother was up to. After I explained what I was doing, she quickly disappeared. About 10 minutes later, she reappeared with an ear-to-ear grin, pushing a large basket full of clothes toward me. She simply said, “These do not bring me joy.” And she had chosen well. While some pieces of clothing were fairly new, she gave up many things she had had for a long time, things that didn’t necessarily fit her that well anymore. It was one of my proudest moments as a mother.

Right then and there I had come up with my New Year’s Resolution—to live simply, to live in the moment, and to surround myself with what brings me joy.

When I first started reading, I thought Kondo’s philosophy was superficial at first; why are we looking for joy in things? Things are just that—things. We should be looking for joy within ourselves. I soon realized that we’re being compared to an onion. We are the strong center—the core. Everything around us is the thin layers—the paper-thin skin at first, and then the thicker layers that we need to peel away to get to that center. Organizing is not simply putting things in order; it is taking away those layers, peeling them off, so we are left with a truer representation of our inner selves.

It did cross my mind that I might not have any clothing left when finished, that creating a new shopping trip for myself to replace the old was not the best solution. But when I had finished shedding the old, joyless clothing from my closet, I was left with an organized, clean closet, and a few spare hangers—and only the things that brought me joy. I was able to finally purge the shirts my sister had given me that just never fit right, and the things I had been holding onto for much too long. Ah!! I hadn’t realized the emotions that I had tied to “things.” What a release, and a great way to ring in the new year.

So, back to that resolution. After seeing my organized closet, my desk and kitchen don’t seem so organized anymore. I will—one day—organize those spaces as well. And maybe then I’ll get my son and husband inspired to join my daughter and I on this journey of finding joy and paring down to that inner onion—the truer version of each one of us. Because the philosophy is simple: to remove the excess so that we can find joy in what is already around—and within—us.