Mario’s Room

Marie Kondo might be onto something. Her method inspires millions to unclutter homes and lives. She divides belongings into five categories: clothes, books, papers, miscellanea, and mementos. (So much the worse for artisans and musicians.) After having gathered each item from one category, we ought to ask ourselves: does it spark joy? If not, let it go.

Marie’s incantation turned into a meme:

What could explain its success? Prima facie, the playful call to action and the sparks.

First, we’re being asked to reduce our material burden instead of the dry sum of our preconceptions. In contrast to the well-known meditation, at the end of the process we keep what we truly love. So no real tabula rasa.

Second, emotions dictate how we pass Marie’s loving test:

Spinoza regards joy and sadness as the two basic emotions, and he suggests that all other emotional states are variations of these, combined with ideas of particular objects that cause them. For example, love is a feeling of joy – and hatred a feeling of sadness – joined with an idea of its cause. Spinoza emphasises that such feelings may well have more to do with the imagination than with reality: the person I love may in fact weaken my essence – especially if this love is anxious or obsessive – even though I mistakenly believe that he or she enhances my life.

[Clare Carlisle]

While Freedom Fighters usually celebrate the rationalism of the Enlightenment, I pity the fool who’d forget philosophers want to have fun. (Even Kant enjoyed his wild years.) This observation then applies to humans in general. Or does it?

Picture Mario, Mary’s bro. In contrast to Mary, who’s color-blind, Mario suffers from a radical form of anhedonia. He can’t experience pleasure. Yet his playroom overflows with video games. How can Mario sort himself out using Marie’s trick?

(One could argue that if Mario truly wants to clean up his room he has little choice than to turn to the Son of Lobster. One could counter that a lobster world runs on serotonin. Mario being unable to enjoy a fight, he certainly does not play ClimateBall.)

Before you toy with the gedankenexperiment in the comments, some caveats. I concede that intuitions are not immune to revision. I recognize the association between tidying up and women’s invisible labor. Lastly, Marie’s framework offers no panacea. Tough to sort stuff her way when mourning. Sometimes letting go of games we like to play is the best move. Whether they spark joy or not, we may need fossil fuels for a while.

Nevertheless, Marie’s meme sparks joy.

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23 Responses to Mario’s Room

  1. Fossil fuels will always have a place in the political button and lapel pin trade.
    Even after 200 years, jet is the gold standard of mourning jewelry.

  2. Steven Mosher says:

    “After having gathered each item from one category, we ought to ask ourselves: does it spark joy? If not, let it go.”

    This actually works. I haven’t read her before thanks willard. Dec 2017 I went through all my stuff.
    Books, all gone save 1
    Clothes and shoes: all gone save 1 suitcases worth.
    Papers and memorabilia: 2 boxes worth. stored.

    houses cars etc.. gone. dont let your things own you.

  3. Ignorant Guy says:

    I just worked through one of the categories: My clothes.
    I have some clothes. I wear them. But until today I never thought about if the spark any joy.
    And I must say that exactly none of my clothes spark any joy in me. And it’s not because they are the wrong clothes. It will not help a bit if I try to get some new clothes. Clothes just don’t do that for me. So now I will have to throw away all my clothes and go naked. Until I get arrested.

  4. Willard says:

    > Until I get arrested.

    What if I told you it would spark joy?

    Nice counterexample.

  5. Steven Mosher says:

    “And I must say that exactly none of my clothes spark any joy in me. And it’s not because they are the wrong clothes.”

    shoes man, you need the right shoes

    if these dont spark joy you need more serotonin any garden variety SNRI will boost you

    or buy shoes, known to inhibit reuptake

  6. JCH says:

    Wow. On my mantle, 6, mirror images in pairs, Takeuchi Chubei vases. Two were my Grandfather’s. I’ve collected the others. Also, five Ming dynasty bronze jars/bowls. Stunning porcelain topped (song birds), carved stand: 18th century. My Grandmother’s Chinese ginger jars. Several other pieces of carved Chinese furniture. My Grandmother’s medieval tapestry. A dozen or so collectible acoustic instruments. A large collection of photographs taken by Marines during training for Iwo Jima and during the battle: also, a collection of letters written by them during the same timeframe. Large stash of tone woods. Lots more, oh well, I think I’ve flunked.

  7. Steven Mosher says:

    no JCH you passed.

  8. Dave_Geologist says:

    Beware the Shoe Event Horizon.

  9. Steven Mosher says:

    most excellent choice of links

  10. dikranmarsupial says:

    Unfortunately, you can only keep the memory of a crisply timed cover-drive.

  11. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    The thing is, the very premise of ‘throwing it away / letting it go / tossing it’ begs the question.

    Unless you’re Elon Musk getting rid of a convertible Telsa Roadster, you can’t really toss anything,

    You can only move it around, and maybe make it someone else’s problem..

    An environmentalist is just someone who accepts that whatever one does, buys, borrows, or steals, is an investment in something.

  12. Willard says:

    Good point, Rev. I can imagine two cases where the problem you underline gets accentuated. Let’s call it the Laplacian environment problem to sound fancy.

    The first would be a very rich person who gets hooked on Marie’s method to the point zie buys stuff just to get rid of it. The thrill of buying and the thrill of cleansing. A bipolar paradise.

    The second would be a very poor person who buys the most affordable stuff. This tends to be junk, produced with the cheapest energy sources, wrapped in the junkiest materials. The junk gets clunky fast, the joy of having it subsides, and the junk gets thrown into a landfill or an ocean.

    These cases make me surmise that inequality increases the Laplacian environment problem.

  13. Willard says:

  14. It’s not “a bygone age” if you just move it somewhere else.

    China 2016
    The photo at the top of that story shows that the Hartlepool of 1963 still exists, it just has a new name.

  15. Willard says:

    Indeed, JeffN. As Sir Williams says in a follow-up tweet, McMullin’s photos of Hartlepool in 1963 are a grim reminder that nostalgia is a seductive liar. Another commenter recalled that other senses were sparked by this kind of view IRL, like smell.

    As someone who lived in Montréal-Est when younger, I can attest. Edward Burtynsky photographed its refineries. His projects are worth a look:

  16. Susan Anderson says:

    The problem with tossing things is that in the end all too often people go out and get more stuff. The joy of the moment is overrun by time and “shopping”. Personally, I love libraries. I like books I can fill the flags/markers/etc. and find for reference. There is no such thing as too many books!

  17. Willard says:

    > There is no such thing as too many books!

    I understand the sentiment, Susan, but I can assure you that there is:

    If book buying addiction wasn’t a real thing, articles like this and this wouldn’t exist, and searching for “book clutter” on Google wouldn’t turn up 20 million results. Most of the articles are about a book lover, searching for obstructed light switches and tripping over wobbly stacks, finally saying “enough” and resolving to trim the fat, the fat here being, more often than not, the library’s duplicates and never-will-reads or already-read-and-didn’t-really-likes.

    I still have more than my fair share of books. Most are in the basement, waiting to be given to their proper future owners. Meanwhile, they improve sonority and looks.

    I could sell some. That takes time. Does selling books spark joy? Not within me.

  18. Susan Anderson says:

    Ah … but if I remember correctly Marie Kondo suggests a maximum of 30 books. I still go to my shelves and dig out materials that interested me decades ago. Sadly, physical libraries are also succumbing to digitization. What happens in a power outage? What if the digital format is no longer readable in a few decades (remember floppy disks?).

    Meanwhile, interestingly, books are observable in the hands of people who depend on public transit. I love being able to choose and mark and resume without having to use a computer!

    But that’s just me. Getting a bit old …

  19. It’s not just you. I was stunned by the new high school in our area. My daughter is a freshman there. The “library” has only three or four shelves in a small corner. The rest of the library is study cubes, computer stations and student lounge areas.
    Both my daughters like paper books though. I think they have more than the high school.
    None of my kids can bring text books home- the relevant info it on their school-supplied chromebook – and the high school doesn’t have assigned lockers anymore. No books, no need. If you have to drop off stuff you can use whatever locker you want and enter a temporary code to make it yours for however long you want.

  20. Willard says:

  21. “Those who fail to spark joy in others are the plebians, the mass, the endless train of humanity in general. Those who fail to spark joy in themselves are the elect, the nobility; and how strange it is that those who don’t fail to spark joy in themselves usually fail to spark joy in others, while those who do fail to spark joy in themselves spark joy in others. The people who do not fail to spark joy themselves are generally those who are busy in the world in one way or another, but that is just why they are the most incapable of sparking joy, the most insufferable, of all.”

    [Marie Kierkegaard?]

  22. Pingback: Jonathan’s Carrot and Stick | …and Then There's Physics

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