Spark of joy equals…

I received the following question from Nicole V in Monday’s comments…

Hi, Colleen. I have not read Marie Kondo’s book but have seen the ‘sparking joy’ catchphrase all over the place. What does she say about mundane items that might not necessarily ‘spark joy’, but are needed in a home? Does she ‘re-Kondonize’ them under a separate category?

Well Nicole and your fellow 365ers, I am going to give you my take on what I believe to be that “spark of joy”. I have written about a similar thing some time back here at 365 Less Things. There are so many blog posts in my archives that I couldn’t find the ones I was looking for but I did find the following one which came to mind when I read your comment. Day 258 Five items I won’t declutter. Read it now.

Peg BagFlour SieveGrill panCan openerLaptop

If you just read the post I linked to, you will now recognise the items above. And I imagine you would agree that they are all mundane everyday items. All of which still elicit a spark of joy when I see the photos. Everyone of these items served me well and that most certainly gives me a spark of joy. So indeed an item doesn’t have to be beautiful or hold fond memories etc. to emit that spark. However at this present time I still possess only one of those items. Can you guess which one?

The peg bag wore out some time ago so was a victim of natural progression decluttering. I did use its remains as a pattern to make a similar one for my daughter.

The flour sieve was something that I decided I no longer needed as I don’t bake much these days. When I do bake I just beat air into the flour using a whisk that also serves other purposes.

My daughter now owns the skillet. It also served me well and is now doing the same for her.

The laptop needed upgrading about three years ago. It became slow and unreliable as electronic equipment is prone to do. I am still grateful for the years of service it afforded me. It wasn’t classed as a declutter as it was replaced.

So the can opener is the item I still own. It may be utilitarian but it never fails to perform the task it was designed for, and that of course gives me joy. I don’t need a fancier or electric model as this one will do for me just fine. *

So the answer to your question ~ “Does she ‘re-Kondonize’ them under a separate category?”… is no . You just have to understand the meaning of “spark of joy”. Joy comes in all shapes and sizes, including gratefulness for a job well done.  It can also be a joy to look at, a joyful memory, comfortable… That is my interpretation anyway.

However, I guess this post brings to the fore the point that a spark of joy doesn’t necessarily mean you should keep the item. All these items brought me that spark of joy right up to the point where I decluttered them anyway because they were no long required.

Perhaps that is why, quite close to the end of the book, there is this sentence~ “Selecting and discarding one’s possessions is a continuous process of making decisions based 0n one’s own values.” (Written out of context here.)

Here is another example. I have a coffee machine. I am happy with the coffee it makes me and that brings joy every morning. The same coffee machine also has some really annoying design faults and I can’t say that gives me any joy. However I won’t be decluttering it any time soon unless it breaks down and has to be replaced, as I am not a wasteful person. I guess the good outweighs the bad in this case.

I am not sure if this post has been helpful or just confused the issue even further but my intention was to point out the joy comes in all forms and you just have to work that out for yourself when it comes to your stuff. Perhaps you will just have to read the book to understand this more.

 *You can read a more comprehensive post about the decluttering of these items here.

Today’s Mini Mission

Have a quick look at the contents of your bookcase. I am sure you could find at least three books that don’t spark enough joy to warrant the space they take up.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Hi Colleen, love your answer to this. I agree that that spark of ‘joy’ can take many forms. With your example of the can opener: just its sheer practicality can be a source of joy,(if for example you imagine your life without one).
    Many of the clients I work with (as a declutterer) would be very likely to have 2 or 3 can openers of course, so that’s where choosing the one that gives you joy can come down to the design/colour/association of who gave I to you or where you bought it/ or the one that works best!
    Even the ‘mundane necessities’ we need to run a home, all have these same potential connections.
    And I get if it is a necessity, it doesn’t quality as clutter, although it still would be included in you actively choosing what you keep rather than what you get rid of.

    • Thanks Doodle, that was a easy one for me because much of the clutter I had was stuff I had was everyday stuff, usually bought to may performing everyday tasks easier. I have learned the lesson that gadgets don’t help enough to warrant the wasted space unless they are for tasks you perform multiple times a day. Having said that, I do still own 3 pair of kitchen tongs. Quite often all 3 end up in the dishwasher at once so I am happy to keep them.

      • A few years ago I got rid of all of my kitchen whisks (4 of various sizes) and I’ve never missed them: a fork does just as well for me. But for others, perhaps who take more pleasure in cooking, 4 whisks would be much used and loved. It’s such an individual thing isn’t it.

  2. I haven’t read the book but read your original post and today’s comment from Nicole and your reply. I agree, de-cluttering is a continuous process – just as acquiring is continuous, old things (computers, TVs, clothes etc) taking the place of out worn ones. But you have to get rid of the old ones as they are replaced! Also, I think de-cluttering is like peeling the layers off an onion. First time around we get rid of the obvious outside layer, next round some of the things we put back last time, third round some more of the things we have put back twice and realise we really never use/wear/read/listen to. Until eventually like your five items we end up with one. I’m still doing the rounds!

    • Hi Linda, you make a very good point here. It would be a very small minority of people who would be ruthless enough to declutter thoroughly in one attempt. It is my experience that most people become more ruthless as time wears on and they get more realistic with what they really need and want.

    • deanna ar USA

      Linda, I like your example of peeling off the layers. That’s exactly what it’s like for me right now. I decluttered my office closet recently. Then a few days later I went back just to admire it…and ended up pulling out a few more items. When I was decluttering some Tupperware recently, I had 2 sets of stack cookers which I pretty much never used. I passed along one set to a relative. Funny thing…I began using the set I kept. I think it’s because it is now so easy to get to, and I’ve enjoyed using it. I find it much easier to enjoy what I have when I don’t have so many choices.

      • Hi Deanna ar USA, I love what you had to say about the stack cookers. It is yet another example of what I have been talking about here for years. Spoiled for choice is just that sometimes ~ having so much to choose from spoils the joy of things.

  3. Colleen,
    I must be psychic, as I guessed the can opener immediately. In addition to reading your blog, I have also been doing some searching relative to “Use it up challenge” I was concentrating my efforts over the weekend in regards to makeup and toiletries. I had 3 concealers and decidided to use the oldest first. I then realized that they only have a shelf life of 6-12 months. By the time I would get through the oldest, the one I liked better would also expire (besides, I don’t really bother with concealer except on rare occasion _ I’m learning to love my hyperpigmentation. I then tossed the old. I also had about 6 tubes of lipstick and thought to use up one of the older before moving on. At the rate I can get through a tube, all the others would also expire. I started to rethink and will use whatever I want and when they expire, I will toss. This should keep me aware of where my money is going. The truth is, we sometimes don’t like a product so we replace it but don’t throw out the offender – kind of like a hoarders mindset.

    I bought the Kondo book when first available. As far as these types of books go, it was not one of my favorites but does contain “some” new and interesting facts. I refolded and orgainized my tops and socks (also my husbands) then gave up on it. Just this past week, I decided it is actually a much better way of storing clothes, as it is the only method that will allow you to see everything at once. The towels I just reverted back to my old ways. Good enough!

    Along the lines of comments being made. Anthony Robbins said it best. Everything we do is either to bring us happiness or avoid pain. Pretty much sums it up. When the clutter makes us unhappy, we will do something about it.

    The following is a link that came up on a google search. I found it to be an easy read, funny; yet somewhat the bitter truth.

    • Hi Anna, good idea researching the used by dates in your toiletries and make-up. I have written about this and linked to information on it several times before. I agree with your decision on use up the ones you like because it is best the throw away the ones you like least instead of allowing your favourite to spoil. And sharing used makeup isn’t very hygienic so throwing it away is pretty much your only option. And I like that you are going to embrace your hyper-pigmentation. Why should we have to paint ourselves up to meet other peoples expectations on how we ought to look. I use very little makeup and if people don’t like me the way I am then bad luck for them.

      I agree with one comment on the article you linked to from the person who was cringing while reading it. It was however also amusing in places. Decluttering is something I think most people can only do once they are ready to take the plunge. Otherwise they will make all sort of excuses to avoid it. One thing I have found is that you can’t help someone who isn’t ready to be helped or are happy just they way they are.

    • Hi Anna, these are some great points, especially as I am trying to use up my toiletries as well. I also thought to use the oldest first. But your comment got me thinking. Firstly I need to go check if anything has expired already. Then I think I will follow your lead and use whichever I like. I think we are already taking the lesson of overbuying/hoarding on board. To me it seems like putting ourselves through additional and unnecessary guilt and punishment to then feel like we have to use the oldest, likely least-liked, option first before we can get joy from the use of the newer items. And as you said, by the time we get to those they would likely have expired, thus cancelling any joy we could have gotten from them anyway.

      (PS I guessed the can opener too – had a ‘Yay!’ moment when that was the right one, lol)

  4. Well said Linda. I also work on the layers. I was feeling motivated last week and looked in a storage cabinet. Pulled out some new design bed pillows that I did not find all that comfortable. They just sat in my spare bedroom, as I was not ready to let go. Last night I decided, enough and placed in a bag for donation. I also took out scarves a few weeks ago and then decided to put them back in my closet. After some soul searching, I decided I just don’t need or use them and they also got donated along with some other miscellaneous items. They all got dropped off this afternoon.

    Thanks so much Colleen for your generous time and inspiration.

  5. In the area of “things” I think I am a realist. If it is useful to me on an ongoing basis it is worth keeping. If not, out it goes. I have always been this way. So “joy” is not exactly the word I would use. Like some of you have said, the joy comes from its usefulness. People bring me joy. Having too many things to take care of and too many mundane “jobs” to do takes me away from the people who give me joy. I have decided that’s why I would rather have fewer things.

  6. I was just thinking about how some things are utilitarian rather than joyful this morning. I am a SAHM and spend most of my days at home with my 3 year old twins; suffice it to say my wardrobe does not always ‘spark joy’ right now. And that is ok. To me, ‘joy’ is a spectrum – from joy on the good side down to toxic on the bad side, I got rid of the things that were on the ‘bad’ side of the spectrum, kept the things from the utilitarian middle up to joy.

    • Hi Penguinlady, my wardrobe isn’t sparking a lot of joy for me either but like you that is OK with me for now. I will be experiencing two winters this year so will address any issues with it the next time around when I am overseas and might actually be able to find something worth buying. I can manage what I have for now and I have looked around the shops and haven’t seem much there that sparks any more joy than the stuff I already have. When it comes to clothes in general I usually persevere until I stumble upon something that I actually like. I rarely go out of my way to search for clothes since that is something that certainly doesn’t spark joy for me.

  7. Its a little off topic but today I feel like have decluttered two for the price of one, so to speak. A friend’s daughter is going overseas for a one year student exchange and as I have a surplus of suitcases offered her one of our large ones, which they gratefully accepted. The first one we pulled out of the attic, we noticed the handle didn’t work, it must have been damaged last trip. Yay, in the bin it goes! The next one is off to America and I have told her that if it gets broken or she decides to travel back light and leaves it with her host family, no drama from me. My friend is delighted as she was going to have no suitcases for a year and I’m happy because two more suitcases gone!

  8. Colleen – just a thought on communal potential clutter – I’m still working on my inventory – but I did realise recently re: upstairs storage room – that there’s items that are ‘ours’ and their are items which are ‘his’ and ‘mine’ ie and I’ve realised that there is very little which is ‘mine’. Hmmmm.

  9. I tend to think that if you are asking the question ” does it spark joy ?”on an item , that item is already marked for disposal and the question is the final judgement.

    Perhaps if we focus on surrounding ourselves with joyful items then we have succeeded in eliminating clutter. I will give you an example from my house. Over the years plastic clothes baskets were necessary for sorting and carrying clothes for washing , hanging out and storing until ironed or folded and put away. They were made of cheap plastic and usually lost handles or split down the side . I would have about six basket and it was always the best feeling when they were empty , which wasn’t very often. I recently replaced the last of the washing baskets with a plastic version of a galvanised tub. I love it. It looks good and doesn’t scream ‘ I’m a washing basket’ it blends into rather than stand out in our house. Now that item sparks joy in my mind.

    I loved the link Anna.

    • Hi Wendy, I think Ms Kondo may have said as much in the book about not having to ask the question.

      I used to have a plastic laundry baskets too. In my last house the laundry room was small so I bought a shopping cart bag that could be folded up when not in use. I only use it to take the clothes out to the airer where I hang them. And the bag is rolled up and put away in the laundry once the clothes are hung. I then bring them in and fold them immediately because there isn’t a convenient place to store them other than in the drawers.

  10. Thanks, Colleen. I suppose her “Does this item spark joy?” is my “Do I like this (enough to keep it)?”, “Am I using it?” and “Do/Will I need this?” all rolled into one … tomahto, tomayto, as they say. 🙂

    I agree about sometimes even decluttering what sparks joy and have done so several times, for various reasons.

  11. Wasn’t it William Morris who said, “Have nothing in your home that is neither useful or beautiful”?
    Useful, like Colleen’s can opener, or something Beautiful (to you, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder).

    • Hi, Kimberley. Like beauty, clutter is also in the eye of the beholder. 🙂

      • Absolutely Nicole V. I was discussing the William Morris quote with my brother once. He took a quick glance around his house, and said ‘Oh, I think we do that already’. He was quite proud of himself. Only… every horizontal surface is piled with stuff, and they’re in the trap of buying multiples of things (eg kitchen utensils, scissors) because they can’t find the originals… Ah well, we’re all on our own journey, moving at our own pace!

      • So very true. I don’t think clutter was a problem for most people when William Morris said what he said. I think back to the way I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Very minimalist by today’s standards, but back then it was considered normal.

  12. I enjoyed the link Anna included in her comment. I was interested that AARP has a clutter counselor. What a good idea!

    Once upon a time, my husband made a similar comment about The Minimalists – he said they had an advantage not having wives and children and what they were living was what was called ‘batchelor living’ when he was a single bloke. Based on memories of his and his friend’s batchelor flats, they really weren’t worried about decor, kitchenware was almost non-existant and his wardrobe had work gear and his good jeans and a few t-shirts.

    • Yep, it’s like college days. Plastic milk crates for furniture and clothing storage. Good times.

  13. Great post and great comments, everyone!

    For me, clutter sparks anxiety. Getting rid of things is what sparks joy. Or at least a sense of calm. I try very hard to be unemotional when it comes to “things,” so the idea of attaching “joy” (or any emotion) to an item in order to determine whether or not to keep it seems odd.

    So, I think Colleen’s post was really good. We all have to decide what “sparks joy” means to us. Personally, I think the less you tie any emotion to an item, the better.

    • Hi Melanie. I was thinking along these same lines. Rather than Joy I seem to think in terms of Appreciation. The things I appreciate: a sharp knife, a good pair of scissors, comfortable shoes, a pillow that helps me sleep. They all fall into the “Colleen’s Can Opener” category — the stuff that makes our lives run smoothly. As Deb J pointed out earlier, joy comes from people and activities.

    • Hi, Melanie and Wendy B. As Colleen neatly summed it up – “Joy comes in all shapes and sizes, including gratefulness for a job well done.”

      ‘Spark of joy’ can be translated, interpreted and applied to different backgrounds, circumstances and mindsets. For some, it could mean looking at what makes something worth owning and whether the item is worth the space it takes up in the home, and deciding based on that. Basically, take a look at everything you own and adapt the criterion in a way that works for you.

      When the spotlight falls on keeping the most-loved/liked/appreciated items, rather than what is being given the boot, it might be easier to let go … just keep the things that you need to do whatever is important and meaningful to you.

      • Hi Nicole! Agree 100%. The key to a successful de-clutter (whether one item per day or an all-at-once purge) is to set your own criteria and stick with it.

      • Hi Nicole, I wish blog comments had a like botton. It would save me a lot of time. I do like your comment.

  14. As I mentioned before,the Kondo book was not one of my favorites; however I revisited the last few chapters that I failed to read. I still have a few more pages to go. I think what I failed to read before commenting are a very strong inspiration for me. It speaks more to the spirit, not just my home’s, but my own. With this, I was able to let go of more things that I previously decided to hang onto “just in case”. I took a dress from my closet (at least 8 years old – but more on the dressy side) and am finally able to let it go. When I placed it on a hook of my bedroom door I still thought it is a pretty dress and maybe I should not donate it. I then realized some of the reasons why it is not the best (fit and color). It is time for this dress to make someone else happy. It served me well and I am able to let go, as it no longer sparks the same joy for me. I also got rid of old dusting powder that although smells good, I do not use and I know it has been hanging around too long. Another item was a 5 times magnification mirror that does not make me happy (as in absence of joy). In fact, this mirror was the reason why I knocked over a glass bottle of very nice body lotion that I did like and that shattered all over my bathroom floor. Enough already! I am on a mission.

    I really need to revisit this book. In fact, I now have it sitting on my coffee table, as the cover looks so tranquil and goes very nice with my scant decor. I was even able to cover over the red sticker (stating sold over 2 million copies) with a tiny round trinket box that also sparks joy.

    • It sounds like you are on a roll, Anna! I loved the part about covering up the stupid sticker with a “sparks joy” item! Good job!

    • Hi Anna, although I don’t happen to agree with everything about this book I would however recommend it. It has a very positive outlook on getting rid of clutter.

  15. Just going off topic here – where do we all stand on wine charms? Those little wire hoops with a cute charm on it to make identifying whose glass of wine is whose.

    • Moni, I think the wine charms are cute, IF you use them. If not, get rid of them or re-gift along with a bottle of wine for a friend’s birthday. Personally, I never put my wine glass down long enough to lose it or get it mixed up with someone else’s. LOL. 🙂

    • Hi, Moni. I know for a fact that some people can forget which wine charm (and thus, glass) is theirs. I’ve also seen people use a Sharpie or rewritable-erasable coasters instead.

    • Hi Moni, I understand the idea of wine charms, especially if one is entertaining a crowd of people. It gets confusing enough when just my family come to visit and we break out a bottle or two. However I have never bothered with the charms. I did see on Pinterest once where they painted the bottom of the class with chalk paint where you could then write your guests’ names. Looked cute but I dare say the paint would begin to come off in the wash after a while. A cheap and multipurpose idea is to get some of those tiny coloured rubber bands that the kids make jewellery with and put them on the glass. You can then use the bands for all sorts of other things as well. They are something I could easily get my hands on as they come into my thrift shop all the time and my granddaughter has them also.

    • deanna ar USA

      We have wine charms. Funny…we use stemless glasses now, for quite a number of years. No place to put the charms. Hmmm…who knew?

    • For the majority of my life through endless parties and gatherings, wine charms did not exist. I am living proof that one can survive without them, haha!

  16. The Other Christine

    I read that Marie Kondo talked about practical items and sparking joy in an interview. For practical items she suggested picturing not having the item. If that would cause you frustration or make it impossible to do something you needed or wanted to do then the item indirectly sparks joy. My broom may not spark joy, and even sweeping doesn’t, but I like clean floors.

  17. On occasions when I had a number of people over for dinner I made place cards for the table. Before dinner, if anyone wanted to put their glass down to help cook or leave the living room they would put their drink down on the dinner table at their designated spot. I also laid out a mis-matched array of glasses so people could pick one they liked. We do the same when there’s a gang for coffee.

    • Wendy B – I’ve had a thought, what if I had my trusty label maker available and using clear tape and reverse print, I make a label with a name on it and stick it on the bottom of glass, the stand part so the name show thru. I always have a clear tape cassette and I wouldnt have to own anything else, I’d thought about about one of those glass chalk pens, but that would be trading my wine charms for another seldom used item. I shall round up some friends and test run the idea.