Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Sparking Joy

Active members and lurkers in the minimalist community alike usually have a common gripe about the current movement. It’s extremely divisive and petty at times, far from the simplicity that it should invoke. R/minimalism is generally a nice place to hang out for new insight, but a lot of comments (mostly from trolls, I like to think) can be counterproductive, making the community seem intimidating and vitriolic to new users. Minimalism has pre-dated us by thousands of years and it seems only now when it’s been made an online trend that people seem to latch on to certain aspects of a larger philosophy and defend that one small part as the only true path.

Need I remind you? Only a Sith deals in absolutes!

The beauty of minimalism is that there are so many ways you can welcome it into your life. Some people try to embrace all of these aspects equally while others focus on one area of their lives at a time. Where there are Baptists and Episcopalians there are minimalists who try to be as frugal as possible and minimalists who spend on quality, longer lasting gear. Everyone’s got something different that works for them, and that’s how it should be. Today I want to talk about what best works for me. 

The Kondo Method

Boom. Some of you already know. For the uninitiated, Marie Kondo  is a Japanese organizing consultant that has taken the minimalist community by storm in the last couple of years. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is quickly becoming a sort of minimalist Bible, and its gospel of decluttering has influenced both minimalists and people who have never heard of the term. 

Decluttering your life is a huge part of minimalism, and it’s usually the first thing people take on when they’re making the change. The most tangible change creates momentum towards changing other habits. When I first started to get rid of my pile of unnecessary stuff, I had a criteria in my mind that I couldn’t really express in words. Kondo has captured it perfectly. If an object doesn’t spark joy when you hold it in your hands, then its period of usefulness has passed.

Using your Joy-O-Meter™

I think this is a basically perfect metric of how to determine what material goods you want to hold onto, mostly due to the seemingly esoteric concept of “sparking joy”. It’s an umbrella that can cover things we keep for practical purposes as well as sentimental items. I have an old penknife that my grandpa gave me when I was a kid. It’s dull, it’s rusty, it’s nowhere near as effective as my Opinel No. 8 Carbone, but when I hold it I have one of the clearest memories of my grandpa. Needless to say, it’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Nor should it, if it makes me happy. 

Sparking joy is also a living, dynamic measure to use when decluttering. Some items are going to score higher on your Joy-O-Meter™ today than they are a year/a month/a week from now. A lot of us impulse-buy to artificially create this feeling of joy, so measuring that feeling over time and noting how quickly or slowly it dissipates can also make you more mindful of your consuming habits. That is going to help you become more minimalist in the long term than trying to stick to some rigid, unrealistic goal like the 100 Things Challenge. 

Climb your ladder

Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I lament on how annoying the minimalist community can be sometimes, but as long as I notice it, I have to keep writing about it. There’s always going to be new people trying it for the first time and I want them to know there’s online feedback out there beyond “that’s not minimalist, you suck”. Minimalism is an endless ladder where self-improvement and greater happiness can be found at each rung. Only you can determine how far apart they are and the time that it takes to climb on to the next. Sparking joy is a concept that acknowledges this. 

When Elton John said that Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, he should’ve been talking about the universe as a whole. It’s a cold, merciless place, and the fact that you’re even walking around with the gift of sentience is winning a statistical lottery that makes the Powerball look like Clark Griswold playing Pick a Number in Vegas Vacation. So if holding your childhood Gameboy with Pokemon Blue in your hands brings you happiness, fuck anyone else for telling you that you should be letting go of it in the name of “true” minimalism. You'll get further up your own ladder by listening to yourself. 

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