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Downsizing Can Be Fun! Lessons from Joyful Decluttering

By Michele Meier Vosberg January 05, 2018 Lifestyle

Do you live in a beautiful clutter-free space? Many of us aspire to live in a stress-free, orderly home. We seriously undertake an occasional decluttering marathon.

For most of us though, decluttering is not a one-time event. It requires constant maintenance to keep the gradual drift of items coming into our homes from undermining our efforts to keep our homes clutter-free.

Decluttering is not high on my list of favorite tasks. A few years ago, I read Marie Kondo’s blockbuster book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Kondo outlines a system of strategic and methodical tidying, starting with clothes, then books, then random objects she calls komono, followed lastly by sentimental items such as photos.

In her method, Kondo challenges us to keep in our lives only things that spark joy. She suggests holding up an item and asking yourself, “Does this item bring me joy?” If not, get rid of it. She is ruthless about getting rid of things.

Though I liked the idea of categorically sorting and cleansing, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the ‘sparks joy’ concept. What about all of the everyday, utilitarian things?

Does my blender spark joy? No, but I use it every day for my smoothies. What about my toothbrush? Again, not a joyful object, but a necessary one.

The book was helpful in getting me to do a thorough decluttering, but I dismissed much of the advice.

Recently, I noticed Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I was at the library, and so I picked up the book, knowing that it wouldn’t permanently add more clutter to my home.

This book has everything I was missing from the first one. Though it includes detailed instructions for how to go about the tidying process, what’s more important is that it explains why.

Here are some lessons I learned about joyful decluttering:

Downsizing? Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle

The process of joyful decluttering is not about what you want to discard, but what you want to have in your life. What kind of home do you want? How do you want to live?

When you imagine yourself in your ideal environment, it is easy to reject things that are not compatible with that vision. This idea alone made decluttering easier for me, especially for clothing. I do not imagine myself wearing stretched out shirts or faded sweaters.

Expand Your Definition of Joy

We think of joy as being expressed in something that gives us happiness, excitement or delight. Buy joy is found also in function and usefulness.

I realized that my blender isn’t ‘joyful’ but it’s function and usefulness bring pleasure to my days. This new idea also made it easier to discard items that were utilitarian but that didn’t work as they should.

If You Can’t Bear to Depart with Something, Keep It Without Any Guilt

We also get a license to hang onto things that we want but can’t readily explain why. You don’t have to get rid of anything. If you choose to keep something, however, you need to take care of it. If you don’t want to take care of it, out it goes.

Get Rid of Books That You Won’t Read Again

It seems obvious, but still I have many books on my shelves I would not want to read again. I have a tendency to hoard books. If I love a book, and if owning it makes me happy, it stays.

Books are often my joyous possessions. But I discovered that many of my books don’t spark joy, including ratty paperbacks and books I haven’t gotten around to reading in years. Those go.

You Should Enjoy the Things You Use Every Day

Dishes and glasses fall into this category. So do cosmetics and bed linens. I had coffee mugs that were too small, and it irritated me to use them. My cosmetics drawer held brand new lipsticks that were the wrong color.

My drawers held sheets that didn’t feel good on my skin. All of these things fit the ‘perfectly good’ category, so I hung on to them, but I didn’t use them. It felt good to let them go.

There Is a Reason Sentimental Items Are Decluttered Last

Photos have been the downfall of many an otherwise uncluttered person. How can you throw away your past? It turns out that it is easier than I thought.

I put this task off for years, and I am not yet finished, but I have made great strides. First, I threw away all my old negatives. Then the out of focus prints. Then the little school pictures of people I don’t even remember and years’ worth of photo greeting cards.

Once you understand that photos and other sentimental items should add something positive to your life, it is easier to see the ones that don’t. It is better to have a couple of great photos from an event than dozens of okay ones.

The best gift my mother ever gave me was a carefully curated photo book with pictures that started with my ancestors and captured my life. She chose the best and most flattering shots, the happiest moments and the photos that most represented my story. It is perfect and I look at it often.

This, I realize, is the goal. Your things should hold positive memories. I will never get joy from boxes of photos and other memorabilia sealed up in the basement.

There Really Is Joy in Surrounding Yourself with Things You Love

I feel happy every time I open my kitchen cupboard and see dishes that I love. My linen closet contains bathroom towels that are plush and color coordinated.

My underwear drawer now contains perfectly folded pairs and it is easy to see the colors and styles. The ones that ride up and the ones with fraying elastic are gone. How could that help but make me feel better about myself?

Our clutter is far more than just stuff. It is a collection of things that tell us who we are and where we have been. If our things inspire guilt, or make us feel uncomfortable or unhappy, they are only weighing us down. Life is too short to drink from a chipped cup.

There is often shame and regret in living in a clutter-filled home. The true purpose of decluttering is to find and display things you really love so that you are surrounded by things that make you happy.

Joyful decluttering teaches you to pay attention to the things with which you surround yourself. You learn to be selective, to choose beauty, quality and exceptional function.

You get to decide what you want in your life. Why would you choose to keep things that have negative associations, that make you miserable, or that don’t contribute to your life in any positive way?

We undertake the decluttering process with the goal of decluttering our homes. But in the end, it isn’t really about decluttering. It is about creating a more joyful life, a life that is open to the possibilities and promise of our ideal life.

Have you decluttered joyfully? Has more joy come into your life with fewer possessions? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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The Author

Michele Meier Vosberg, Ph.D. is a writer and freelance educator. She left her career of over thirty years in order to create the life of her dreams. She is passionate about helping others understand their unique personality and gifts and design their best lives. Michele is married, has two grown daughters and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Connect with Michele at

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