Konmari and Cribbage: What it really means to ‘spark joy’

Like millions of Americans, I’ve read and reread Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As you might expect, I found that some of her ideas were useful for my life and some were not. For example, her method of folding is fantastic, and I have indeed been able to salvage storage items from things already lying around in my house, instead of buying storage containers—but I’m not as prone to personify my possessions as Kondo is, and I don’t empty my handbag every night. Etc.

I wonder how I would have felt about her advice if I had read her book at the beginning of my minimalist journey, rather than a year into it. I can imagine that the program is indeed life-changing for people who have never stopped to consider exactly how important each of their belongings is in their life (and I’d love to hear about your experience, if you’ve read it!). Because I had already decluttered so much, I truly didn’t have that much to do. Mostly I took action whenever something she wrote made me feel a little guilty—ha!

Side note: Marie Kondo is not a minimalist. It’s not in her nature to hoard things, but she did say that she keeps seasonal linens and nineteen sets of delightful chopstick rests. Her book isn’t a minimalist manifesto, but a guide to choosing and living with what you love.

Indeed, if there’s one lesson in the whole book, it’s to surround yourself with things that spark joy. And I must admit that I had a hard time defining what brings me ‘joy’ out of my possessions. For one thing, despite my high levels of goofiness, I’m a pragmatist at heart. I can point out the items I gravitate toward and use all the time, but does that necessarily bring me joy? Would I be happier if I only wore comfortable plaid button-downs like my favorite shirt, or would that kill the fun of it? Like many critics of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I recognize a need to keep some things that don’t bring me joy…at least until I can replace them, responsibly and mindfully, with items that do.

But once I read Kondo’s recently released second book, aptly titled Spark Joy, I learned a better, less skeptical lesson. In the book, Kondo talked about the people who look at their pile of clothes (the first category you sort through, in her program) and have no idea whether the item they pick up sparks joy or not. In response, she asks them to pick out the three items that bring that person the most joy—which everyone is able to do. They’re the things that you want to spend time with, the things you admire, the things that bring you total satisfaction.

And I realized, thunderstruck, that I do have such an item: Our cribbage board.


This cribbage board was handmade by a craftsman in Seattle, my hometown. The first time I brought my husband—then boyfriend—to Seattle, we went to Pike Place Market and discovered these boards, each unique but equally beautiful. We really liked them, but ultimately decided that the price was too high for us. We decided that next time we saw the craftsman, if we still wanted the board, we’d buy it.

We didn’t find him again for two years. Nearly once a week, it seemed, we’d bring up the cribbage board and express regret at not jumping on it. Whenever I went home to Seattle, I went to the Market and searched. And finally, when I went home for my bachelorette party last September, I found him. I lost no time in choosing the perfect board, and was jumping for joy for days afterward. I planned to give it to my husband on our honeymoon, but was too excited to wait and gave it to him as soon as I got back to Kansas City. Whenever we play cribbage, I take it out of its velvet bag and just admire it. I stroke the glossy front, heft its smooth shape and weight in my hand, marvel at the perfect seams of the wood, and feel truly joyful to have it in my life. Maybe it’s a funny thing to get so much satisfaction out of, but it’s certainly taught me a lesson about how I want to feel about everything I own.

So what sparks joy for you? What do you think contributes to that joy? Is there a story to it, or did you put a lot of work into it, or is it just one of those funny things that happens sometimes?


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