open kitchen shelves

Sparking joy

13 March 2015

I haven’t gotten around to the real meat of Marie Kondo‘s improbable bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (the tidying part, that is). But the real magic of the book is Kondo’s simple perspective: hold on to the things you love, or as is translated in the book, things that spark joy. And get rid of the rest.

So tidying is not about old or new, things you use or things you don’t. It’s about identifying sources of joy in your environment and, by default, recognizing the distraction of other things you are better off without. It’s making space in our lives for what we value by getting rid of the clutter.

It’s a beautifully lucid way to think about cleaning your house, and an even better way to think about prioritizing your life.

I didn’t see it this way at the time, but building a house and moving was kind of a fresh start for me, from a Kondo point of view. I have the soul of a minimalist, but my daily reality is jammed with four kids and all that goes with them. In our move, I kind of Kondoed the household by only unpacking the things that we really needed. Having had a few months of uncharacteristic peace, I have a more skeptical eye for whatever remains in our unpacked boxes.

Who knows why and what objects bring joy? Kondo suggests people hold each item to make the judgment, because our physical reactions are instinctively honest. It’s true. I may decry materialism, yet I can’t deny the little bubble of joy that I get from my favorite kitchen geekery.

There’s no more logical explanation for a human-inanimate object connection than there is for why two people genuinely connect. Years ago my husband’s grandmother was nearing 90, and when asked what she wanted for her birthday, she smiled wistfully and said, “Honey, I wish there was something that I did want.” The joy of objects was gone for her, and the feeling of connection.

So on this frivolous Friday, I thought it might be fun to share some things that spark joy for me in my house. It’s an eclectic collection. But I put my faith in Kondo and let my camera trigger finger be the judge.

I had no idea what I was going to put on the open shelves flanking my range hood when I designed the kitchen. I don’t own much that is strictly decorative, and it seemed silly not to use such convenient landing space for items of real utility. So I lined up olive oil, my salt pig, a small garlic dish, Maldon salt, a pepper grinder, a sugar pourer and a tin of my favorite Mariage Freres tea – and it’s been a joy to have them all within arm’s reach.

This photo is like a Where’s Waldo of my best friends in the kitchen: my electric kettle and thermal french press for tea, my awesome Sonos speaker for playing music over wifi from my phone. And of course a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.

open kitchen shelves

Mason jars are eternally useful for storing everything from dry goods in the pantry to food in the fridge. When my old glass utensil crock broke in the move, I decided just to use a quart-sized mason jar instead. It doesn’t hold as much as my old container, but it holds enough of my most oft-used tools.

mason jars

This capped olive oil pour spout brings me outsized joy. In Ohio I have pourers without the cap, and I gave up when fruit flies kept flying into my vinegar carafe. The hinged flap is the genius touch here, and of course it’s great to dispense olive oil at a controlled rate. These spouts are also good for bartending, as fruit flies love alcohol as much as vinegar.

capped olive oil pourer

My mother-in-law turned me on to black kitchen towels, which never look grungy. Between my cache of black towels and my assorted clean kitchen rags, I’ve eliminated paper towels for everything but absorbing grease from bacon.

I really appreciate these smart, practical, coated metal trays from Ikea. I love that they have handles and are large, rimmed, lightweight, indestructible and inexpensive. And they stack so sensibly.

black kitchen towels ikea trays

These cute galvanized metal bins hold paper napkins in my kitchen (getting rid of paper towels was much easier than converting the family to cloth napkins), as well as toothpaste and toothbrushes in bathrooms.

galvanized mini bin

galvanized tin bin

Slim velvet hangers have transformed my closet. I used to think buying hangers was a silly expense, but now I wonder why I waited so long. I can fit so much more on the hanger rod, nothing slips off, and hooks don’t get tangled. And there’s much less private cursing in the mornings.

slim velvet hangers

It seemed ridiculously overboard at the time, but I’m glad now that I exhaustively researched every purchase for the house. I’m obsessive enough when I need a new spatula, let alone when it comes to expensive and permanent home finishes. Now I’m relieved and rewarded that my house itself bring me daily joy.

I adore hooks – here for towels, near the door for jackets, hats and backpacks, and in the closet for pajamas and maybe-wear-again items of clothing.

bathroom hooks

I have an unaccountable passion for great light fixtures. The glass on this tiered chandelier makes me think of water droplets – so perfect for a bathroom. It gives good light too (don’t even get me started on big decorative fixtures with one dim lousy bulb).

glass drop chandelier

These clear pendant lights over the island never block anyone’s view, and I find their resemblance to old glass milk bottles fitting and whimsical.

milk jug island lights

I love my kitchen stools – lightweight, comfortable, easy to clean – and the fact that we made room for two backless ones on each end, so that my husband and I don’t always have to stand when the kids are parked at the counter.

open kitchen

Joy comes from the humblest belongings as well. I was excited to find this wood crate to hold toilet paper in the powder room.

wood crate

And my old stick blender and chopper combo, about the same age as my teenager, is still a great friend in the kitchen. For years I gave one to all my friends when they got married or had a baby.

stick blender chopper

I know what Marie Kondo means when she says to thank our old belongings for their service. I’ve been wearing these shoes nearly every day since I got them, and even though they are near the end of their useful lives, they still spark as much joy as when they were new – maybe even more for the miles we’ve traveled together.

beat up chuck taylors

What sparks joy for you? I’d love to know.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

mich 13 March 2015 at 6:25 pm

The radiator that sits in the entryway of my 100+ year old semi in downtown Toronto. Took off the outdated wood covering and had my painter painstakingly restore to its original carved glory. It provides incredible heat and looks beautiful, like a piece of art. Wish I knew how to post a picture of it.


cg 25 March 2015 at 12:05 pm

ooh mich, that sounds gorgeous! i wish we still built things to last.


Kathleen 14 March 2015 at 8:55 am

A friend recently shared the expression, “You spend the first 50 years of life collecting stuff and the second 50 getting rid of it all!”

I love the idea of using a “joy filter” to edit all the stuff of life! Thanks for sharing this insight. 🙂


cg 25 March 2015 at 12:06 pm

kathleen, you are my organization idol! i’m going to try to be you when i get to the back 50. =P


Joy 17 March 2015 at 4:54 pm

Thanks for sharing CG!


cg 25 March 2015 at 12:07 pm



Brooke 29 March 2015 at 8:11 pm

Such a great post CG! I love seeing your new home and the things that spark joy for you. One thing in my closet that sparks joy is my “FashionABLE” cotton scarf that I bought after your suggestion on this blog. One item in my kitchen that sparks joy is my Kyocera ceramic knife that I use for nearly everything that involves chopping. Love it! I need to go buy some new black kitchen towels and hangers. xo


penny begale 13 April 2015 at 3:59 pm

My joy is the 2 very large pots for stew or bread dough plus the large old spoons and forks for cooking that were my grandmother’s, especially the one she used for measuring coffee into the pot. I miss her still after all these years but handling these objects brings her close as with using my late mom’s gardening tools brings her close.


cg 20 April 2015 at 11:49 am

penny – i love this…the inheritance of useful tools and the memories that go with them. thank you so much for sharing!


penny begale 13 April 2015 at 4:03 pm

Just one question, how do you wash the black kitchen towels without them “fading”? I wear black t-shirts in the summer, and had to replace them as they appeared faded, not true black anymore, after a few washings. And you can’t use bleach to sanitize, so what do you do?

Got the book by Kondo. Cannot wait to read it. My home NEEDS to be de-cluttered.


cg 20 April 2015 at 11:54 am

hi penny – good question. so far my black kitchen towels have held up well. it’s been less than a year, but i do wash them frequently. i don’t use bleach to sanitize, but i do use white vinegar in the wash when anything seems stinky, and that works well.


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