Perhaps the most first worldly of first-world problems is having too much stuff and not knowing what to do with it. That’s why the only thing that rivals our passion for accumulating is our obsession with decluttering.
There are shelves of books devoted to the fine art of letting go, but none in recent memory has made as much of an impact as Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo’s runaway hit, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” which has sold more than three million copies and spent 54 weeks atop bestseller lists.
The KonMari Method, as it’s called, can be distilled down to one essential question that Kondo wields like a blade through overstuffed drawers and closets, piles of paperwork, tchotchkes, and whatever else is taking up more than its share of space in your home: Does it spark joy?
That’s it. That’s how you separate wheat from chaff in your own cache of clutter. Not, as others gurus suggest, whether you’ve used (or worn) something in the past year or if it’s practical, but whether it contributes to your life in a way that makes you happy.
While Kondo doesn’t address finances in the book, productivity pro and author of “Listful Thinking” Paula Rizzo suggests it’s easy to apply this method to money, too—specifically your spending decisions. In fact, she’s done so herself.
“I tend to be an over-thinker on figuring out what to buy,” Rizzo says. “What I do now is think about whether a purchase or investment will spark a joy that lasts beyond the moment of transaction. The KonMari mindset has helped me be more decisive.”
These four strategies, culled from the KonMari method, can help you assess just how much joy is present in your money life—and find ways to spark more of it.
Focus on what you want, not what you don’t.
Initially, Kondo was all about the discard: She became obsessed with tossing anything she could, at one point getting rid of 30 garbage bags in one month. But it didn’t make her happy; on the contrary, her vigilance made her irritable and stressed. Finally, she lost it one day.
That’s what triggered her genius moment: “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of,” she writes.
A tidying plan that has tunnel vision about tossing is no different than the weight loss plan that obsesses over every last calorie or the financial plan that hinges on how many lattes you eliminate. It’s not the best way to clear clutter, lose weight, or grow your money because it creates a negative basis that you’re always out to fix or correct. That is, by definition, joyless.
When it comes to your finances, think about the meaningful line items within your budget that you want to continue to spend on and the big goals you’ll keep saving for—and make it a point to stay focused on the joy-promoting aspect of the things you love and anticipate, more than what you think you’ve done wrong.
Raise your (spending) standards.
The KonMari method gives you a failsafe measure for discarding, and makes you a better decision-maker on the front end. So if you don’t keep something that sparks joy, why would you buy something that doesn’t? Having used the KonMari method to clear out half my wardrobe, I’m also a lot wiser now about what I bring in. I have a higher standard.
Rizzo says she’s applied the same litmus test to several purchases. Even getting her nails done at a salon sparked joy—until it didn’t. “I used to go all the time, but when the New York Times published a piece on how poorly salon workers are treated, I completely cut it out,” she says. “Now I’m happy to do my nails myself whenever I want in the comfort of my own home. It’s quicker, cheaper, and I don’t even miss the salon.”
Be wary of investing in a thing—say, an online course—just because you feel like you should, or an outfit someone says looks great on you, but you’re not crazy about. And remember it’s okay to change your mind. The better decisions you make today, the fewer you’ll have to make later.
Get as much as you give.
Giving to charitable organizations is a compelling way to use money to do good in the world—but that, too, should spark joy. I once got cornered by a guy with a clipboard in midtown Manhattan, and ended up handing over my debit card. I’d say it was one-third motivation, two-thirds guilt.
That was years ago, and even though my money helped support a worthy cause, that $25 monthly charge bugged me. I’ve since passive aggressively let my credit card expire, thinking that would end it without fanfare, but no chance.
Money is not just a possession, but a source of energy, and, if Kondo spoke English, she’d probably say to me, “Girlfriend, are you serious right now?” She would insist that I thank them for the work they do, and let them know I was taking my money elsewhere, to a (joy-inducing) cause of my own choosing.
Don’t let past purchases hold you hostage.
We’ve all spent more than a little money on something that goes unused, unworn, unloved. The guilt of acquiring it in this case is only rivaled by the guilt in letting it go. So you keep the guitar, ill-fitting boots or ugly painting because, well, it cost you. But the fact is, it’s still costing you—and continues to the longer you keep it because you’re essentially paying its rent. Rather than beat yourself up over it or chain yourself to an expensive item for life, break up with it.
Look at it and say, simply, thank you for your service. (No joke, that’s what Kondo says.) Whatever purpose that item had has been fulfilled, and it’s time to part ways. You learned the lesson; the money is gone. Forgive yourself, too, and send it back out into the world from whence it came—whether you toss, recycle, donate, or (my favorite) sell it on Craigslist. If that release from a previous decision doesn’t make you feel joyful, I don’t know what does.