The phrase “spark joy” has now become a part of the vernacular thanks to Marie Kondo and her very popular series of books and programs about organizing one’s life through a kind of minimalism of joy. If a thing does not “spark joy” then why keep it around? The logic and the process is a good one for anyone who has too much stuff and they need to come up with a mechanism for deciding what to keep. My favorite celebrity chef, Alton Brown, had a similar approach to kitchen tools and gadgets (which we all know can multiply seemingly out of nowhere.) He suggested taking every gadget and tool and putting them on a special shelf for a year. If you used X gadget during that year, you could keep it. But by the end of the year, anything unused got garage-sold. (He joked that he made fresh pasta at least once a year just to justify not getting rid of his pasta roller.)
After a year and a half indoors, this kind of de-cluttering feels important. I know I can amass too many of certain things that always benefit from getting assessed and removed from life. And what’s funny is that there’s a momentum to it. Once you start feeling the release of getting rid of useless stuff, it can become even easier to keep going. After a little while, your shelves are in order and you have garbage bags full of donations or trash, depending on the stuff. It can be a good feeling.
I was thinking about this process and how nice it would be if we could do something similar in our mental and emotional lives. Wouldn’t it be great to cull some bad experiences or some frustrating moments, because they don’t spark joy in us? Wouldn’t it feel good to have a mental space that was organized and linear and well dusted? There are some ways in which that is exactly what we need to do, especially after traumatic experiences where the keenness of the memory and the sharpness of the pain are doing us no good. But I also realized that living only in our best memories, being shaped only by our most affirming experiences, and having minds full of that which “sparks joy”––that is not a way to grow and mature as a human person.
Just as we may have clutter in our minds and hearts these days, sometimes it is precisely those ideas or experiences that don’t “spark joy” with us that we need to wrestle with and understand. Maybe there’ve been ideas that make us uncomfortable –– and that’s good, because we SHOULD be uncomfortable and because difficult, new ideas entail discomfort and even stress to assimilate. It turns out that “sparking joy” is a great way to deal with clutter, but the opposite instinct for evolving as a person. So, perhaps there is a different mental and emotional inventory to take. “Does this idea or issue feel like a stone in my shoe?” That might be the idea that you should spend time on, to dwell on, to really consider. “Does this expression make me feel uncomfortable?” That expression might be the thing to really take seriously and draw your attention.
As we all transition back into a more normal version of the world, there may never be a better time to do some internal inventory and to evolve alongside an evolving world.
Allan T. Georgia
M.Div., M.T.S., PhD
Director of Religious Education (Lifespan Faith Development)
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland