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Reblogged:Is This a Value?

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Image by RISE, via Wikipedia, license.
Over at Reason Magazine is a thought-provoking piece on home organization guru Marie Kondo. I have to admit that I have not paid much attention to Kondo, despite having heard of her something like a year ago. This is in part because her question about things sparking joy sounded corny to me. Coupled with the nonessential of how, exactly, to fold socks, her enormous popularity screamed "Fad! Waste of time!" to my contrarian disposition.

But one's snap judgements need not be etched in stone, and I am grateful to reader Steve D for bringing the piece to my attention. Aside from the remarkable similarities (and shallowness) of the thoughts of Tucker Carlson and Bernie Sanders regarding the accumulated junk so many Americans are mired in -- and more important -- is that one can see that Kondo is trying to get people more in touch with what they value when she asks her question:
Kondo's life's work is to help people sort their belongings, toss a bunch of them, and put the rest away neatly. She calls it The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She asks her clients to hold each object they possess one at a time to decide if it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, one thanks the object and discards it. Sound anti-consumerist? It's not: The insight that undergirds her entire system is that stuff can, in fact, make you happy.
I disagree that stuff -- any more than money -- can make you happy. But, yes, as the saying about money goes, it sure helps. (Or it can, anyway.) The piece gets to that later:
At the core of Kondo's project is an idea more revolutionary than and in opposition to the prevailing anti-materialist moral consensus. By asking you to pay attention to how you feel about things, she hopes to help you become more sensitive to stuff-induced euphoria. Kondo taps into the strong feelings people have about their belongings rather than asking them to minimize those impulses, as the practitioners of both left- and right-wing variants of anti-consumerist austerity demand.


When Sanders scoffs at a wide deodorant selection and Carlson sneers at cheap iPhones, both men exhibit astonishing failures of imagination. Of course an affordable iPhone brings joy, by enabling better communication with the people we love, if nothing else. And for some hard-working, sweaty people, a good deodorant arsenal is absolutely crucial to day-to-day well-being. [bold added]
Kondo's approach reminds me of the following insight Ayn Rand had about the nature of emotions:
Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is an automatic indicator of his body's welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death -- so the emotional mechanism of man's consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering. Emotions are the automatic results of man's value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man's values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him -- lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss. [bold added]
This shows that Kondo's question is a very good one, at least for providing a lead to figuring out what one needs. Elsewhere, Rand helps us see the limits of what our emotions can tell us -- and thus the potential as well as how to get there:
An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection -- to the conceptual identification of your inner states -- you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception...

In the field of introspection, the two guiding questions are: "What do I feel?" and "Why do I feel it?"
Knowing this, someone, say, unhappy working as a programmer, would thus not chuck his computer -- at least not yet -- knowing he needs it to survive. But the question could still help him make bigger changes that would enable him to eventually do so (or keep it, but only for uses he does enjoy).

So I see Kondo's question in a new light. Far from trite, it can be very useful for cleaning up house, and in more than just the literal sense.

-- CAV

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