The One Question You Must Ask in 2015

I lured you in with that gripping title, didn’t I? But before we get to that essential question, let’s take a moment to reflect on how dreadfully busy we’ve been these last four weeks. Ah December–a tossing, turning, swirling, churning head clutter of a month if ever there was one. On an up note, it gives me the chance to re-post this brilliant guest illustration from blogger Darlene Campbell. It’s so on.

Chatter in the Head by Darlene Campbell
Chatter in the Head by Darlene Campbell

Darlene gets it, and so does the always honest Anne Lamott. She wrote of the December onslaught of swirling busyness  in a recent Facebook post:

…. I had woken up early with a number of Excellent Ideas, which had me convinced, before coffee, that I needed to break off contact with a couple of people, correct the misperceptions of another, buy a new car, and either do the Paleo diet, or go on a horrific bender at IHOP. And–the tiny tiny tip-off that I was cuckoo in the cabeza–that they were things that all needed to be as soon as possible.

You’ll have to read the whole thing for her brilliant writing, but here’s the short version: Lamott returns to bed, prays and meditates, and gets her head in a place that decides to do loving things all day. Then she puts the coffee on and “did the sacrament of putter while it brewed.”  She banished the internal noise in favor of grace.  As for bestowing a little more reverence on the act of puttering? I’m in.

So there’s managing the clutter in one’s head; what about the clutter in one’s home? If Anne Lamott speaks to the former, than Marie Kondo, organizer extraordinaire, is perfect for the latter. A celebrity in her native Japan, Ms. Kondo is spreading her decluttering message across the world. Penelope Green details the essence of it in this New York Times piece:

Ms. Kondo’s decluttering theories are unique, and can be reduced to two basic tenets: Discard everything that does not “spark joy,” after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service; and do not buy organizing equipment — your home already has all the storage you need. Obsessive, gently self-mocking and tender toward the life cycle of, say, a pair of socks, Ms. Kondo delivers her tidy manifesto like a kind of Zen nanny…

Ok, she’s not good news for the Container Store (with which I have a love/hate relationship, as it almost always fails to deliver the perfection that’s promised). But a Zen nanny? She’s like Mary Poppins for 2015!  Which brings us to the essential question of 2015:

Do your socks spark joy?

It’s a bit tricky that one. One does not initially consider one’s socks as joyful items. But Ms. Kondo would ask you to carefully consider the sock. And you’ll find yourself considering which socks do their jobs and keep you warm and happy, and which socks are, sadly, past their prime, including all those singletons. Thank them for their service, then off they go. Of course, once one has had the joy conversation with one’s socks, there’s the logical follow-up question: what else sparks joy?

That one’s even more fun to answer. Coffee sparks joy. And my lovely people when they’re not arguing. Writing. Musicals. Novels. Mountains and oceans and woods. Anthropologie and its flowy tunics. And travel and friends and more coffee again the next day.

As for those things that do not bring us joy–perhaps they will bring joy to another. Think furniture that goes unused or unloved; towels and sheets that aren’t used to their potential. We have a wonderful charity in Maryland that works to make sure everyone in our community has a bed to sleep in, furniture for their homes. In a recent email, A Wider Circle’s founder Mark Bergel shared the words of a client named Maseray:

A lot of things can happen when you have a home and everything that turns an empty space into a home. There’s a lot of love in my home now. But this isn’t just about a bed and a dresser or even a table and chairs… This is a movement to end poverty.

The donors gifts that furnished 4,000 homes last year are not just tables, dressers–they’re sparks in a powerful movement.

So there’s the third variation of our essential question: If this thing does not spark joy for me, how might it spark joy for another?

Here’s to a peaceful and loving 2015. May we all encounter sparks of joy in our sock drawers and closets, in our work and our people, in our charitable outreach and everyday encounters. And may we find reverence in the still moments while we wait, our minds sleepy and uncluttered, for that perfect first cup of coffee.

Happy New Year.

I heart you, coffee
Here’s to first cups and sparks of joy.

Author: Kristin O'Keefe

Kristin O’Keefe has bartended in Scotland, written speeches for college presidents, and led communications & marketing for an economic development organization. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney's, Barrelhouse, Your Teen, Grown and Flown, and Scary Mommy. Find her on Twitter @_KristinOKeefe and Facebook at Kristin O'Keefe, writer.

12 thoughts on “The One Question You Must Ask in 2015

  1. Darlene Campbell says:

    I found myself shouting out loud “Way to go – Hooray Kristin!” while I was reading this post. Thrilled to see my drawing highlighted…thank you for that! I adore Anne Lamott and want to look into Ms. Kondo and Mark Bergel. Appreciate the intro to them. I love closing a new year and starting a new one. Refreshes me. I’ve been decluttering for several years. Sometimes it takes “stages of time” to really see, identify then conquer. I want simple, loving and joyful and too much clutter can zap all of that. I only choose things to stay that are functional and beautiful to me. And I think twice before I “Store” something. There is nothing in my basement (and it is quite large) and I’m working on clearing the attic. Stuff above and below us drain our energy. Well, I am starting to rattle on…just wanted to let you know that you are one of my favorite writers…right up there with Anne Lamott, Wade Rouse, David Sedaris (no need to list them all) ha ha Hugs to you Kristin!

  2. Kristin O'Keefe says:

    Thank You, Darlene, and I’m right there with you, including the David Sedaris love. I’m going to shop less this year and just look for joy sparkers at home (and on the internet, like your blog). Keep making that lovely and funny art, can’t wait to see what 2015 brings! Love that 2014 brought a new blogging community of friends. The best. XO

  3. Dorothy says:

    Great post, Kristin! I too have read about Ms. Kondo’s book/philosophy, and it definitely sounds interesting. Seeking joy in all things – even our socks – is a great way to live. Thanks for the reminder! P.S. You and our wonderful group of college girlfriends are high on my list of things (people) that spark joy in me! I’m already looking forward to us all being together again in the fall. Happy New Year!

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      Happy New Year to you too, Dorothy! Can’t wait to reunite with everyone in fall, though don’t rule out a DC spring road trip. Our cherry blossoms spark serious joy. And thank you for reading, it means a lot.XO

  4. Susan Gottschalk says:

    Kristin, I’m still following & enjoying your posts. This one really hits home! I want to declutter & simplify, but letting go is hard to do. It is one of my goals for 2015, so your gentle nudge is just what I needed for motivation! Happy New Year.

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      Susan, you will laugh but my daughter has gone on a decluttering binge/room makeover and it is exhausting! I am finding that decluttering one’s mind and decluttering one’s home are not necessarily the most compatible acts…:-) Easy does it on all things. XO, Kristin

  5. T.O. Weller says:

    Kristin, I don’t know where to start! There’s so much to love about what you say. 🙂

    First, Anne Lamott … isn’t she awesome! The sacrament of putter. While our coffee brews, my husband and I often putter, and then we continue to putter. We look forward to our puttering mornings, as few as they are and, yes, they should be viewed with more reverence.

    2015 will be a significant year for us. It’s moving time, away from the noise and the dirt of a metropolitan area and to a cleaner, more peaceful place in the near north. It will be time to declutter in a very significant way. Quite frankly, I’ve been dreading it even as I anticipate the feeling I’ll have when our material burdens have lightened.

    Your suggestion to consider the spark of joy has helped to shift my thinking. Now it won’t just be the end result that will make me feel lighter, but also the process itself as I distribute sparks of joy. 🙂

    Thank you and Happy New Year!

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      Such great feedback, thanks T.O! For me, the hardest part of the physical decluttering is throwing things away, Recycling and giving things away, on the other hand, that’s a beautiful act, right? I hope the process works for you–do read the New York Times piece on Marie Kondo if you didn’t; she thanks her objects for their service, it’s all very lovely and speaks to the affection with which we treat our things (or should). Here’s to sparking lots of joy in 2015 for you and family. And good luck with moving–keep the destination in mind, right? Kristin

  6. Marico says:

    Reading this post was a great way to start my year, thank you! I wasn’t sure what my 2015 resolution was going to be and now I know it will be to actively search for sparks of joy in my everyday encounters. Its a great way to start looking at the things that take up space in our lives and in our homes.

    Coincidentally, a previous resolution was to only buy pretty or fun socks. I was getting tired of my white tube socks from Costco and decided to start investing in fun and pretty socks (some were even cashmere!). It was a relatively inexpensive way to pamper myself and it made me happy whenever I looked down at my feet. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to reading many more of your posts in 2015!

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      Thank you Marico, your response makes me want to go sock shopping. And better yet, visit you in California. I hope to hear more about your work as a newly elected official! Are you blogging? Kristin

  7. mom says:

    We just got home from Charlottesville where we had a wonderful time. Fran pulled up your blog and we read it there. Fran had on the most wonderful socks, one was black with multicolored spots, the other was black with the same multicolors in stripes. I enjoyed them immensely–they were so–I want to say impetuous, but there was no violence, just freedom and joy. Anyway our delight in them is why she brought up your blog.

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      I’m glad Fran wore the appropriate socks for the reading!


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