Within the confines of my cozy New York City apartment, I’m in a constant battle against clutter. At least once a quarter I get entirely fed up with the routine of storing, shifting and lifting to find whatever I need at the back of my closet.
So naturally, Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, piqued my interest. Unlike standard questions of practicality, frequency of use and sentimental value often used to assess what is and isn’t worth keeping, her KonMari Method distills the process of decluttering down to one central question: Does it spark joy?
That is, does the item in question—be it an old Halloween costume, an unopened waffle iron or a worn-out sofa bed—contribute to your life in a way that brings you joy?
Kondo encourages readers to approach the task of tidying up through an emotional lens rather than a purely practical one—the result of which is life-changing, as both the title of her book and my own experience suggest. No more trading precious space to hold onto something just because it was a gift or because it cost a lot of money or because it might come in handy someday. It’s surprisingly liberating.
Even though Kondo doesn’t specifically address finances in her book, it struck me how well the KonMari method could be applied to money.
What if the barometer for what makes a worthwhile purchase or investment wasn’t, Will I use this? But, Will this bring me joy that lasts beyond the moment of transaction?
Although necessities like rent, utilities and health insurance might not feel particularly joyful, the effect of such purchases—safety, shelter, warmth and the safeguard of good health care—certainly do. Similarly, financial to-do’s like paying off debt and saving for retirement might not seem inherently joyful, but consider what satisfying those financial to-do’s can afford you: the extra money to take a dream trip or the funds you need to finally launch your own business. Defining your financial goals through the framework of the joy they can afford you will help you find the motivation you need to achieve them.
If we shift our focus to affording more of the things we love, as Kondo suggests, rather than cutting back, perhaps managing our money can also become a process driven by joy rather than sacrifice. Through this lens, saving money is no longer about what you have to give up. It’s about what you stand to gain.
“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of,” Kondo writes.
Start by identifying what you love in life and what you want to enjoy in the future—a home, the flexibility to travel, more time to enjoy with friends and family. Then identify the financial goals needed to support these pursuits.
Review your expenditures and notice where your spending isn’t aligned with your stated priorities.
Use the spark-joy approach to redirect your financial habits toward supporting your long-term happiness. Keep these big goals and spending priorities top of mind by staying focused on the joy of having and achieving them rather than focusing on where you can cut back and what you might have done wrong with your finances in the past.