Joy is Not Black or White

Quick! Before you do your summer closet declutter!

Let me just get a word in edgewise. I know that summer is the perfect time to do that big big big closet overhaul. But before you do, I want plant an idea or two in your thoughts for consideration.

This article will contain lots of links to other articles on the blog, in which I have waxed either poetic or philosophical about clothes, closets or decluttering. I have thought about this a lot. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have. I also want you to reserve a little potential joy for yourself!

The Method you are most likely to use

The KonMari Method of decluttering has its cornerstone in the idea that we should only surround ourselves with what sparks joy. In our lengthy past discussions about our closets, we have seen how our clothing can be far more than that with which we cover our bodies, especially when the clothing is heavy with memories, (good, bad or neutral) and hopes that have an impact on how we feel about ourselves (size, work situation, mental health.)

I have begun to disagree with Marie Kondo and her method. (This feels sacrilegious to admit.) I just don’t think that joy is binary, as in: this item “sparks joy” and that one “doesn’t spark joy.” This may be true in the moment. But in our desire to just get a handle on the amount of stuff we have, we might be unintentionally setting ourselves up for later failure.

Regrets of a Minimalist

In my life, I have done enough closet purges to dress a small nation. I have done it based on a million different criteria: joy/no joy, icky memories/good or neutral memories, fit/don’t fit.

Usually, the desire to purge my closet comes as a result of seeing the abundance of stuff and feeling sickened by the wastefulness of it all. This problem, the abundance of stuff issue will be momentarily resolved by whatever binary criteria I choose for that purge.

However, the problem is not the stuff. The problem was the fact that I was accumulating stuff I didn’t need in the first place. No closet purge is going to solve that problem. The first step to not having too much stuff in your closet should always be to STOP SHOPPING. (I am so passionate about this that I wrote a whole six part series about it.)

It’s simply that the self-control required to stop shopping is much harder to develop and infinitely harder to maintain than it is to spend one day deciding if our stuff sparks joy or not.

In the end, I have regretted countless purged items. Regretted that, while it didn’t spark joy in that moment when I was doing my purge, I later, quite suddenly, realized that the item had the potential to spark joy.

Yes, decluttering is an important step. But stopping the accumulation has more long-term potential for joy.

Deep Weeds Closet Theory

Remember a long time ago I told you that I have theory on everything? Yes, well, you are about to be hit with one of those, so put your seatbelt on.

Remember, I love Marie Kondo’s idea that we only keep around us items that spark joy. I totally adhere to this. I strongly believe that we need to purge every single thing in our possession that works to the detriment of joy. Anything we actively hate, anything that stirs up bad memories or makes us feel like crap about ourselves, our lives and our decisions, must absolutely get out of our lives forever.

What about the other stuff? The stuff that gave us inordinate joy to acquire, but right now is just kinda meh? The KonMari Method would tell us to thank it and discard it. (I am going to caveat my criticism: if you absolutely must find a way to reduce your clutter [downsizing, adding a new person to your environment and need to make room] this remains solid advice.)

However, if you don’t have storage issues and can get that meh stuff out of sight, then I want you to consider this: does the item of clothing in question have potential to spark joy? If, when that item was purchased, it did make you happy, was there a reason why it lost its luster? Did it fit funny? Someone else showed up at the party wearing the same thing? It’s outdated now?

If the reason is something that does not elicit a negative emotional reaction, then maybe, just maybe, you need to put that item in storage for a while. Get yourself a big old bin that you can put in the attic, or in your basement storage unit (that was my solution) and leave it there for a bit. Maybe a year. Maybe more.

The idea is that getting the extra stuff out of sight AND stopping the accumulation of more stuff can leave you with your own personal “thrift store” to go pull treasures out of from time to time.

The Stash

Photo by Toa Heftiba u015einca on

All of my refashioning projects over the last six months have come from my stash. My stash, my personal thrift store, the bin of items that didn’t necessarily “spark joy” but that I also feared regretting should I declutter them.

Should you ever sit down and calculate the sum of money you have spent on clothing in your life, you would be embarrassed. I am, and I have bought a good part of my clothes second hand. Should you ever do a KonMari-style decluttering and mentally do a calculation of the amount of money being discarded because it doesn’t spark joy, you would likewise be embarrassed. I know I was.

This is why the idea of the stash can be useful as we undertake to stop shopping. I know first hand what it feels like to take a load of clothes to a donation station and feel like I was acting out of a place of such privilege…

Donating is great, don’t get me wrong. But I have read too many articles about how much of what is donated ends up in landfills anyway. I mean, I shop in thrift stores. I see the overflow of the bins. Not everything that goes in them makes it to the shop floor.

What would be even better would be to give the item to someone you know who will wear it, or to turn it into something you will wear. But we must stop accumulating first!!!


Although I stopped shopping, and have bought no clothes since December 2020, the human desire for “something new” did not necessarily cease. It was tickled again this week when I went to the mall to pick up some end-of-year gifts for my scalawags’ teachers and wandered aimlessly through the various shops. I touched so many things that struck my fancy.

Somehow, I made it out with my resolution still intact, remembering that the most sustainable garment is the one that is already in my closet (or my basement bin!) The clothes I love the most are the ones that I have sweat equity in creating.

Therefore, refashioning is an environmental win, and a closet satisfaction win.


This summer, if you are doing a closet purge (which is a totally valid and important thing to do!!!), try going beyond the binary choices of joy/not joy. Add in that little third option of “potential for joy….if I can make it work…”

Fix it in your mind that you want to try a few little refashions this summer. Doing this is going to be far more satisfying and provide longer lasting joy than anything you will pick up at a shop or receive from the delivery driver!!

In case you would like to go deeper on any of these closet related themes, here are a few links:

Make Magic with Mise en Place, a whole series about learning to love what we already have in our closet using the simple process of putting out what we are going to wear the next day.

You Should Really Stop Shopping, a series dedicated to the theory, practice, challenges and objections to the idea that shopping is actually making us all miserable.

If you are into refashioning or altering, here are few ideas to whet your appetite:

I am sure that there are plenty more, but this is just to get you started.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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