Those folks over at Netflix are quiet clever. I’m not talking about how they keep recommending programs to me that I simply want to watch (so that “my list” is never ending) or how for such a low price they provide commercial free shows (and training me to abhor commercial programs in the process—sorry, network TV) or how they simply roll one episode into another seconds later keeping me from getting up off the couch. All of that (and much more) is obviously quite clever.

No, what I’m talking about is their launching the recent show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” right after New Year’s Day. Many of us probably had “clean up clutter” on our resolutions list….and wa lah, there they go presenting a program to help us and offering it to us in our recommendations. Clever, indeed.

It showed up as something we might like, engaged our curiosity and my wife and I launched into watching several episodes immediately. Although I had not read Kondo’s books, one easily picks up on her methods after an episode or 2. Seems pretty simply at first blush, go through your stuff in certain categories (clothes, books, etc.) and hold each item and ask “does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, thank it for serving you and release it. Beyond that are a few recommendations on how to store things so that you can see them readily (and experience the joy they induce).

Strangely, though the methods seem simple, Mary and I have come back and viewed more episodes even though on the surface they seem repetitive. Since then, I have noticed that a lot of folks are talking about the show. Could something more be going on here than simply “joystick” measurements of decluttering?

A few observations:

There can be a tendency to criticize Kondo’s joy based method as not always being applicable. I mean, I immediately thought about some items of mine that I keep not because they “spark joy” but because I need them for the day to day events of life….or think I may need them for some imagined possible life event. Think cleaning supplies or certain clothing items that are “needed” in certain situations.

Such dissing of her method, however, says more about us than the method. If we think that we cannot find joy in having a bottle of disinfectant, a bar of soap or the infrequently worn heavy coat, then maybe we have come to define joy and experience it in a more limited fashion than is possible? Maybe it’s time to expand our consciousness around when and where we can experience joy?

One spiritual teacher who has impacted Mary and I likes to say that everything we do and experience is about the quality of our lives and encourages us to “enjoy our journey” through life. He doesn’t say that these things over here are “things that are necessary” to living life and those things over there “are for you to experience joy”. Nope, no exceptions. Everything is about the quality of life and our joy.

Another teacher of ours, Roger Teel, published his first book a few years ago. The title and message? This Life is Joy In his book, he points out that yes, much of human life can appear to be about things that are less than joyful…..struggle, violence, impoverishment, and expressions of heartlessness in all of its forms. Yet, he goes on to point out how so many mystics and spiritual teachers who are very familiar with the human condition have declared that the real truth of our lives is about claiming and experiencing joy.

Teel writes, “To have lost track of the Joy of Spirit is a great tragedy, though a repairable one.” He adds, “So many people have lost track of inner joy and are resigned to settling for and maximizing the pleasures of human experience, and this is a significant challenge. Pleasures are fleeting; they come and go as the by-product of desirable experiences. If there is no taproot into Joy, then people become addicted to their pleasure sources and seek to maintain them, sometimes at any cost.”

One category of things that we can become addicted to is our possessions. If one beautiful shirt, one DVD, one book, one car, one whatever brought us a moment of pleasure….then what might happen when we get another? and another? Before you know it, we can surround ourselves with items which were supposed to bring us happiness….but the happiness of “attaining the item” is short lived driving us to attaining more and more.

Maybe we need to break the cycle and addiction of consuming the world for short term pleasure and change our way of looking at things? Instead of seeking to buy our way to happiness with more and more possessions, maybe we need to shift into possessing fewer things while slowing down to experience more joy from what we have?

A part of me can be attracted to a “minimalist” lifestyle. I love watching programs about tiny houses and imagine downsizing. I love looking at these Japanese Zen style dwellings with very few possessions in them and fantasizing about creating my own Zen like home. I think my interest is a reaction to the obviously out of balance modern life that fills our spaces with too much stuff.

What I know is true is that neither extreme will truly fill my life with joy. To really “enjoy my journey” through material life is to find the right balance between minimalism and hoarding. That healthy balance can be different for each of us….after all, we are unique individual expressions of the One.

So how do we break the addition to over consuming? How do we find the right balance between possessing too much or little? How do we surround ourselves with those things that will allow us to experience the highest quality of the gift of this life we are moving through?

Maybe Marie Kondo’s question is not too simple after all. Maybe the answer really is to question our thinking, our choices and our lives by asking “does this spark joy?” If the answer is “no”, then let it go.

The result is to create an environment….and a life…..that is Joy. Enjoy your journey.

Mark Gilbert