Op-Ed: It’s hard to live like Marie Kondo when I hate the things that ‘spark joy’ in my spouse

What would Marie Kondo, the de-cluttering expert, do with random, hideous stuff that my husband loves?
What would Marie Kondo, the de-cluttering expert, do with random, hideous stuff that my husband loves?
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
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Marie Kondo and her theories of tidying up have introduced some conflict into my marriage. I can’t be the only one. Her idea is simple: First, pick a category, like clothes; next, put all of them into the middle of the room; finally, pick out and keep only the ones that “spark joy.”

Setting aside the fact that making time for such a project is enough to make me want to bury my head under one of my many unnecessary pillows, what I want to ask Marie is: What about all of my husband’s things that don’t spark joy? That instead spark intense, dark, brooding hatred? What to do with those?

My husband feels sentimental attachment for things he has no business being attached to. Case in point: My grandmother lived for 60 years in a house on our block, and when it was time to sell her house, I managed to avoid taking almost anything, even the silver, which had an “O” engraved on it. After her 10 children had a chance to choose items they wanted, what remained went to the dumpster.


Except for the things my husband insisted on keeping.

Like a globe from circa 1960. “It has the USSR on it!” he said.

Or the series of decorative tin plates from states my grandparents visited. “Under no circumstance are those plates coming into my home,” I said.

“I’ll bring them to school,” he said, his frequent rejoinder to my objection about keeping things.

Several great aunts have died in the last 15 years, leaving behind lives of accumulated stuff. Aunt Adelaide gifted us her gigantic ceramic Nativity set, which I swear I will give away this year, so help me Baby Jesus. Aunt Maureen left us a series of five drawings, framed in gold, with instructions that the collection remain together. Although they could be valuable, I don’t see an “Antiques Roadshow” trip in my future. Can’t I just put them on the curb?

Finally, there is Aunt Minnie. We bought Aunt Minnie’s house 14 years ago. Because we had little furniture, I agreed to keep the dining room set even though I detested it, until we got something else. Twelve years later, I managed to give the table and chairs to our neighbor’s daughter, but the hulking china cabinet remained until this year, taunting me.

But of all the hand-me-down objects, perhaps my least favorite was the bullfighter painting that hung in Aunt Minnie’s red wallpapered bedroom. My husband loved it. Why did my aunt have such a painting? She had no connection to Spain or to bullfighting that I knew about. And NEITHER DO WE. Yet it hung in my living room until last year, when I had a full-blown tantrum about it, and my husband, unable to part with it, moved it to the basement.

My recent discovery of Buy Nothing has helped us let go of things more easily. Buy Nothing is a website for hyper-local Facebook groups with the purpose of keeping things out of landfills and building community through meeting neighbors. Members post items they want to pass along, and people who want them respond, no money exchanged. Through Buy Nothing, I have gifted desks, bureaus, china, clothes, shoes, a rug, dog costumes. I have also received a bassinet, a crib, a baby swing and a baby wrap. It feels great to give people things they want and need, and to receive the same.


But I’m still confounded when it comes to deciding with a spouse what stays and what goes. It seems fair that each partner should have a few things they love displayed in the house, so maybe the trick is to look for the things you can agree on, and find hidden spaces for the rest. We may need a professional to referee. I wonder if Marie Kondo does consultations.

Julie Owsik Ackerman teaches writing in Narberth, Pa.