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.