Sparking Joy (on a smaller scale): Adapting the Kondo Method to Your Own Needs


I love Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I bought it a couple years ago without knowing any of the burgeoning hype, tore through it, then spent the next couple weeks spending every spare moment over the course of two weeks applying her advice to our little basement apartment.

Basically, Kondo’s method boils down to getting rid of things before doing any kind of organizing. While disposal is essential to a lot of cleaning/organization plans, Kondo has a couple points that sets it apart.

The first is the whole concept of your belongings “sparking joy”. It’s an emotional reaction that under the surface is actually pretty practical. You physically handle everything you own and decide whether or not it sparks joy in you as you hold it. If yes, you keep it. If no, away it goes.

The second is disposal by category, not by location. She categorizes everything you might have in your house and apartment and sets a certain order in which you should do your disposing. You start with your clothes, which are easier to part with than your mementos, then move on from there. So rather than deciding you’ll clean your whole kitchen and then move on to your bedroom, you clear through everything you own in a certain category, then move on to the next.

So you gather all of your clothes from all over the house into a big pile. If you do a full sweep of the house and forget something that’s hanging on the back of a door, it’s gone. It clearly isn’t important enough and is just taking up space.

Then you handle each piece of clothing individually and decide whether it sparks joy. After you’ve gone through everything, put the joy sparkers away and dispose of the rest. Then you move on to the next category and repeat the process.

Like I said, I followed Kondo’s method almost line for line a couple years ago and it worked amazingly well. Over the course of two weeks I ruthlessly cleared our apartment. Dozens of trips to the recycling room in our building to get rid of years old paperwork that had just been pushed aside. Several runs to Goodwill to drop off clothes that had been really stylish in 2009. And after everything was complete, our apartment looked and felt amazing.

But that was two years, a different apartment, and a baby ago. And now the clutter has returned and my copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is watching me from the overpacked bookshelf. A few months ago I tried to dive in the way I did the first time around and found I didn’t have the time to do it correctly while also keeping my apartment some semblance of clean, my child alive, and my schoolwork done. I recently started cleaning out the apartment again and I’ve found that even just incorporating parts of the Kondo method into my cleaning has really helped.

I feel it judging my messy living room.
I feel it judging my messy living room.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the clutter in your apartment, but don’t have the time to devote to one massive cleaning project, try adding these adaptations of the Kondo method to your clearing out.

Take the idea of “Sparking Joy” seriously

Yes, it’s goofy. And Kondo’s descriptions of allowing socks to breathe and thanking your handbag and clothes don’t help. But it seriously works. If you only have a little while, focus on a small section of whatever you want to clean out and see what sparks joy. Not “what you feel obligated to keep” or “what might come in useful someday” but what makes you feel good when you hold it. What feels like it belongs. You’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to let go of things.


Downsize the categories

I know a major part of the Kondo method is not going room by room. And for the best results you should follow that direction. But sometimes you don’t have time to do a whole category at once and dumping all your clothes on the floor will just stress you out more. So take an individual room, but go by category in that room. If you’re in your kitchen, don’t sort the cabinets, then the pantry, then the shelves. Sort out cookware, then food, then other things. Keeping your cleaning contained to one room makes the process take longer, but it also keeps it contained to one area of the house.

The end result of my downsizing to Kitchen -> Food
The end result of my downsizing to Kitchen -> Food

Don’t just chuck everything

My only big issue with the Kondo method as it’s presented in the book is that she says to just throw everything away. That struck me as extremely wasteful, so even in my first application of it I adjusted this part. Recycle your recyclables and donate or sell things that are still perfectly good. This won’t necessarily save you time, but it eases some of the guilt that can make you hesitant about getting rid of things.


So basically, stay within the spirit of Kondo’s method. But adapt it to your own situation and you’ll see some great results.

Have you tried cleaning using the Kondo method? What did you think? Let me know!

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