Does it Spark Joy? (a post-divorce primer)

Home organizer Marie Kondo sparked a little controversy last week when she was quoted in a New York Times article saying that people should clear out their closets by looking at each item and discarding it if it does not “spark joy.”

The article has created a little sensation – and some outrage. But I get Ms. Kondo. In fact, I will take it further. There are a lot of things that we can discard in our lives if they don’t spark joy. I don’t mean a job, or a house, or the bills, or exercise. I’m talking about the little things in life that drain your spirits and drag you down.

My high-conflict divorce bulldozed through my existing life, creating intense havoc and chaos. My old normal is gone. I am no longer a stay-at-home-mom. I have no hopes of joining the famous country club where friends spend their days beating each other up on the tennis courts. (Okay, this is a blessing in disguise.) My children will need to leave their sweet, wonderful school. My children have no college funds; my retirement money was long ago passed over to divorce attorneys.

Most of us lose a lot. But at the same time, I’ve learned that something has to move in to replace the loss – at least if we want to move ahead and rebuild a better life. Things must be discarded; new things must take their place.

So I like Ms. Condo’s philosophy: Does it spark joy?

In fact, I’ve been following her philosophy unwittingly, dropping the things that I really hate in my life, and also the little things that cause me stress or a very distinctive lack of joy.

So here’s my Spark of Joy Manifesto – a work in progress.

  • I will no longer buy ugly wrapping paper from the PTA. It is cheap and it rips, and I resent the shakedown and all the emails I receive about it. I will use the money towards my annual contribution to the school instead.
  • I will no longer fill every awkward pause in a conversation with babble, just to make someone else feel less uncomfortable. I have been doing this since childhood, and I’m done.
  • I will take my children out of town on an occasional weekend – even if my nine-year-old has to miss a soccer game. (I know, I know, the horrors!)
  • I will no longer listen to gossip about people that I haven’t even met. I will no longer listen to tirades against people, period. And I will go out of my way to stand up for every single working mom and divorced mom when someone starts dishing on them.
  • I will say no. No, I can’t give 20 percent more to the school fund than last year. No, I can’t leave early from work to drive your child home from soccer. No, I cannot find 20 bottles of authentic Japanese soda for Japan Day for a bunch of seven-year-olds.
  • I will be more honest with friends. “Yes, I’m still going through a bit of a difficult time in terms of finding enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do,” would be a good start. “Yes, I do need help.” And, “Yes, thank you for the offer of help.”
  • I will no longer attend any parties or social events unless I want to. And I will leave when I want to leave, even if I’m the first one out the door.
  • I will no longer be the first person to volunteer to bring all the food to every school and sporting event because of working mom guilt.
  • I will not even consider doing a joint parent-teacher conference with my ex. Ever.
  • I will start taking an hour of lunch at work every day – for a run, for a yoga class, for a lunch with friends, or even just a drive.
  • I will do everything I can in life for my children, but I will also start taking better care of myself. And that might mean that I miss a game or two. It might mean that I can’t stay at an event if their crazy father is there. And it might mean that we need more babysitter help around here so I can go for a run after work or take a writing class one night a week.

And here is the biggie: I will stop the guilt. I did the best I could. I am deeply and truly sorry that I married this man in my twenties and had children with him. I did not understand. I was fooled. He fooled me. I did not see through him until it was too late.

But I did not cause the problems in the marriage. I did not cause his issues with addiction or mental illness or serial infidelity. I did not cause the divorce. I will do whatever I can do for my children to make this the best possible life for them. But I will no longer live in shame and a constant state of feeling like I can never do enough for my sweet children because I failed them by getting a divorce.

I am working overtime at discarding most everything in my own secret closet, which consists of layers and layers of shame and guilt – if only Ms. Kondo could find a way to show us divorced moms how to do that. But for now, I’m sticking with her philosophy. If it’s not necessary and if it does not spark any joy, it’s going out with the trash.


Kissing Your Socks Goodbye, New York Times



5 thoughts on “Does it Spark Joy? (a post-divorce primer)

  1. I wish I had divorced years ago. Beginning again at an age when my friends are looking at early retirement, enjoying grandkids and second homes, I’m relegated to a very low paying job and wondering if I will have a place to live come March.

    • It’s so hard. I don’t know what the right answer is. I actually wish I divorced him immediately after my daughter was born – years ago. I have faith that you’re going to be okay, but I know too that it’s very hard. I’m sorry.

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