I’ve always had a tendency to anthropomorphize. Once, as a child, my parents took me to a pumpkin patch to pick out a prospective jack-o’-lantern, and I cried because I didn’t want the other pumpkins to feel rejected. The animist empathies of Pixar movies haven’t helped much, and now I’m a 30-year-old man who has a hard time disposing of ratty dish towels because I wouldn’t want to break up their (literally) ragtag crew of terry-cloth buddies. It’s a problem.
But I’m not the only acquisitive American who has trouble with goodbyes. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—a professional, personal, and philosophical guide to decluttering—has achieved the status of a megasuccess since its 2014 release by helping millions of people such as myself to learn how to say farewell to the accumulated detritus of modern life. Her approach draws equally from Japanese notions of transience and minimalism and a self-help seminar’s focus on personal transformation. But Kondo now seems to have taken her publisher’s advice over her own, following on the heels of her success with a second book. She describes Spark Joy as an “illustrated guide” to the methods she’s previously laid out, but it’s mainly a rehash. The title comes from her criterion for discarding an item: Hold it to your heart, and if it sparks joy, keep it; if not, chuck it with the dutiful indifference of a prison executioner. The parts of the book that are new are more often than not simple descriptions of her favored methods of folding laundry and organizing drawers, not exactly life-changing material.
There’s likely something to be gained from her philosophy about reducing one’s stuff. While Kondo’s adamancy can be inadvertently funny—as when she unironically recounts how a hammer’s inability to ignite love and wonder in her heart led her to pound nails for months with a frying pan—it’s also more than a little infectious. Case in point: Those dish towels are currently topping a fetid peak in a municipal dump somewhere. Of course, I still worry whether they’re feeling lonely. And if I’m being as brutally honest with my belongings as Kondo advises me to be, this superfluous follow-up of hers might soon be keeping them company. C
OPENING LINES “Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order. That’s why I’ve devoted most of my life to the study of tidying.”