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Going Kondo in Claremont

by Mellissa Martinez

A new Netflix show has inspired people all over the country to give their homes a thorough spring clean. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is based on the assumption that personal happiness comes from maintaining a home that is tidy, uncluttered and free of all unnecessary bric-a-brac. In order to achieve this goal, Kondo encourages each of us to hold household items in our hands and ask ourselves, “does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, the object may remain; if there is no spark, item begone.

Kondo has had massive success in the US. In recent months, she has been referenced in everything from a New Yorker cartoon depicting a robber mid-heist holding onto a radio asking himself “does this spark joy?” to a comedian who quipped, “after following Kondo’s advice, I only had three things left in my kitchen.”

To those who are skeptical about her cutthroat method, Kondo would respond that the idea of sparking joy can be interpreted in many ways. For example, a corkscrew in hand may not give you a tingle, but the knowledge that the corkscrew will lead to a deserved glass of wine at the end of the day is where the spark comes in.

Ironically, interpretation can be taken a step further in this case. As it turns out, we Americans may not be asking the exact right question. The original Japanese expression from Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is the Japanese Tokimeku.

According to Japanese-English dictionaries, there are two definitions of this word: 1. Enjoy great prosperity; thrive; have one’s day; be powerful and 2. Throb, pulsate, palpate, pulse, beat fast. Moreover, the word also has the idiomatic meaning of “your heart beats,” describing the feeling of anticipation or puppy love.

It makes sense that ‘spark’ stems from the second definition—throb or pulsate—while ‘joy’ comes from the first—prosperity or power. But, either way, this opens up an entirely new set of methods for us to interpret our feelings.

We could be asking ourselves if our favorite pair of shoes from 15 years ago throbs power through our body, or if the five-finger hand turkey crafted by our five-year-old pulsates prosperity into our hearts. I suggest that following this linguistic criteria might lead to an entirely different type of happy home.

When considering that the ‘spark-joy’ question stemmed from the choice of a translator, I thought of a recent meeting I had with a student. She had the advantage of being a native Chinese speaker in a Chinese poetry course. Unlike the monolingual English speakers, she was able to interpret the Chinese characters from her own perspective. In one case she couldn’t get over why the translator had interpreted one character as ‘lust,’ when according to her, it should have been more like ‘crazy love.’

We talked for a long time about why the translator chose that word and the distinction between the terms in English. I explained that translators are not simply people who speak two languages. They diligently study the art of choosing the exact right word for the exact right context and their choices often have consequences. Of course, the best example of this is the Bible. Arguments over the use, misrepresentation or omission of particular words or themes have led to major disagreements, even divergent faiths.

In Kondo’s case, the translator explained that she spent considerable time determining the right way to interpret Tokimeku. She stated that she struggled with the exact phrasing, first considering “does it speak to your heart?” or “does it give you pleasure?” In the end, she settled on “does it spark joy?” and a new household expression was born!

That’s not the only expression we have to thank Kondo (or her translator) for. Sparked-up cleaners everywhere are so happy that they’re creating new ways to share the love. Over the last month, I have heard people say, ‘Kondo-mania,’ ‘Kondo craze,’ ‘go Kondo on something,’ and ‘I’ve got the Kondo bug.’

In all seriousness, I predict that one iteration of these Kondo’s coinages will be deemed the word or expression of the year in 2019. Stay tuned.

There is one more byproduct of the Kondo craze that merits discussion. According to The Wall Street Journal, donation centers around the country have seen a drastic rise in items that nobody really wants. That’s right, the non-joy sparkers are looking for a home and even Goodwill doesn’t want them.

As a collector of eclectic objects, I found this news disheartening. I would like to believe that the snow globe, which no longer excites me, might light up the eyes of a four-year-old, or even that my old crocheted 1970s bikini might come back into style and look ravishing on a Millennial.

Although Kondo would certainly disapprove, I’m inclined to show a little support for all discarded doodads. So, don’t be surprised if you see me sleuthing local thrift stores to see what you Kondo-crazed Claremonters are parting ways with. Who knows? I may find the perfect treasure that sparks a bit of joy in my heart.