Robin Isaf 1

 There’s good news for all of you spring cleaners out there. Cleaning has been elevated to “life-changing magic.”

This new status is due to a little manual by Marie Kondo that has climbed its way to the top of the New York Times bestseller list with the seductive title, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”

Life-changing is a tall order. When I think “life-changing” a few things spring to mind—my new dishwasher and whole ground flaxseed meal, for instance (and then when I stop to reflect I hastily add “husband and kids,” as if someone is actually checking my mental list of life-changers, but in fact, spouse and children are so life-changing they should have their own special category).

At any rate, I had heard of the book due to its stint on The List, but I didn’t actually buy it because I don’t have room for another thing in my cluttered home. Instead, I got the CliffsNotes version from a friend (thank you, Cathy) who explained to me that the gist of the process–the litmus test, if you will, for discarding or keeping an item—is not if you might wear it again one day, or if it was given to you by your old roommate, or if your child made the thing in summer camp when he was 10 years old, or if you think you might be able to grow basil in it….no. The fundamental question you must ask yourself about a particular item is: Does it give you joy?

That’s not only a tantalizing question, but a liberating approach to cleaning out a closet. And to add a bit of Japanese-art authenticity, along with some primeval excitement, to the entire expunging process, you are to hold said item to your heart and wait until you feel the joy actually “spark.”

Bear in mind, please, that I have not read the book and am not offering a review or even instructions; I am merely intrigued by the method and was interested in testing the joy-sparking potential of my own wardrobe. I decided that I’d clean first and then read the book to see if I did it right.

Besides, if tidying up could change my life half as much as a new appliance, I was willing to give it a go.

I went directly to my own closet, and it was initially a bit tricky, but then I applied the joy-inducing standard with increasingly giddy abandon and, I must say, it was indeed liberating.

At first I tried holding a particular item to my chest, and sometimes a pair of jeans did spark a flicker of joy (but only because they reminded me of how they used to fit before I had kids) and then the joyful spark flickered into something like defeat, and then I flung the jeans into the discard pile, which sparked the flicker of joy once again. And so it went, through the row of clothes hanging in my closet, until I felt myself becoming lighthearted and ready—nay, eager— to move onto shoes.

By now I was so adept at the technique that I didn’t even need to take the time to hold any shoes to my heart. All that was needed was to eyeball a pair of 20-year-old 9 West black patent leather pumps with 4” heels, and my feet veritably swelled in pain at the memory of the way they felt after standing in them for fifteen minutes at a cocktail party. Out they went—and another six pairs of old, deteriorating shoes along with them. By this time, I was practically levitating with joy.

Because as I surveyed my freshly purged closet, I thought to myself, “It’s time to go shopping!”

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see