Lorelai Gilmore: Mom, what is going on here?

Emily Gilmore: I’m decluttering my life. I was starting to feel claustrophobic. I’d wake up in the night feeling like the house is closing in on me. One of the ladies in my garden club bought this book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” She said it made everything better. People swear by her. She tells you to take everything you own and put it in piles on the ground. Then you pick up each possession and you hold it. If it brings you joy, you keep it, and if it doesn’t, out it goes. [Picks up a dress.] No joy.

Lorelai: Mom, he’s taking the dining room chairs.

Emily: They don’t bring me joy. —“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”



Art imitated life in 2016 when “Gilmore Girls” family matriarch Emily Gilmore hopped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon in the “Winter” episode of the four-show “Gilmore Girls” reprise on Netflix.

At the time, I was peripherally aware of Japanese organizational expert Kondo and her 2010 New York Times best-seller, the ultimate how-to-heave-ho that takes tidying to a whole new level, promising if you properly simplify and organize your home once using her KonMari method, you’ll never have to do it again.

In watching Emily Gilmore declutter her life on the small screen with her embrace of Kondo’s KonMari “spark joy” method of purging possessions, I found “spark joy” it has to go — I found a kindred spirit. 

With the prospect of my wife and I soon being empty-nesters, we had downsized to the smallest house in our 36-year marriage. My neighbor, “Chicken,” calls it “a doll house.” With the house built on a slab, the attached two-car garage became a functional basement for the doll house. 

Like Emily Gilmore, I was feeling the walls were closing in. They certainly were closing in for my wife, who has been plagued by my wide-ranging collection of tchotchke under the “or worse” clause in our marriage vows since 1986.

The scene with Emily and daughter Lorelai, hilarious as it played out in the rapid-fire repartee for which “Gilmore Girls” was famed, piqued my growing interest in decluttering my own life, so I checked out Kondo’s book from the Boulder Junction Public Library and voraciously read it in a day. I kept checking it out, so much so that the book became a near-permanent talisman on the end table. My wife, bless her heart, bought me my own copy of Kondo’s book for Christmas.

Kondo’s premise is pretty simple — we all have too much stuff, dulling our senses and making our lives infinitely more complicated. Overloaded with stuff, we need to cut down on our belongings, and the way to do it is deceptively simple, all the decluttering books and online simplification hacks notwithstanding — take every item you own, pick it up, give it a tap to “wake” it up, and then ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it “sparks joy” you put in on the hopefully short stack of keepers and find it a suitable place in all the newly freed-up space. If it doesn’t, you put it on the hopefully large stack destined for donation or disposal.

Over the ensuing years, I’ve turned into an Emily Gilmore wannabe as I methodically, if slowly, make a KonMari purge through 56 years of accumulating stuff, no small feat for a self-confessed pack rat and antiques devotee with a fondness for binge-watching “American Pickers.” 

Last year’s “flatten the curve” COVID lockdowns accelerated the process for a time, but then six months living in Racine and practicing my wordsmithing craft at the daily Journal Times ground progress to a halt. Back in the North Woods since January, the process of putting a lifetime of accumulation through its “spark joy” paces continues in fits and starts around a busy schedule of work, family, church and the fire department.

With lots of idle time on my hands last weekend, my wife visiting her folks down in Rockford, Ill. for an extended Friday-Wednesday stay, it was an opportune time to rekindle the “spark joy” decluttering process. I made a dent, but much work remains to be done. The Los Angeles Times reporting there are some 300,000 items in the average American home frames the scope of the daunting task at hand.

It would be nice to finally use our attached garage to park our cars one day, even in the best of circumstances no small feat living in a “doll house” built on a slab with no basement. Misery, as they say, loves company. My wife and I are numbered in the 25% of U.S. residents with two-car garages that don’t have room to park their cars inside them. 

Although Kondo’s concept — keep what sparks joy and discard the rest — is extremely simple, it’s also deceptively hard, operating on a more complicated, deeper level as you begin to take a long, hard and honest look at yourself and your life. 

Defining that joyful “spark” is, admittedly hard to define. 

My utilitarian stainless steel Farberware cookware doesn’t necessarily “spark joy,” but it gets used nearly every evening to cook dinner. 

On the other hand, a 96.7 FM-tuned replica 1954 RCA 77-DX poly-directional ribbon mic that once served as a promotional listener giveaway, serves no purpose in my home other than to “spark joy” recalling my time pulling afternoon drive barking behind the mic at WLUV AM-FM in Rockford for my longtime boss, mentor and friend Angelo Giuseppi “Papa Joe” Salvi, at the time of his 2020 death at age 99 the oldest morning drive man in America.

You can see the conundrum. It’s hard to cook dinner with a faux microphone. The Farberware cookware doesn’t conjure up memories of Papa Joe and the adventures — and comic misadventures — working with the cast of characters at WLUV, Rockford’s country music spin on “WKRP in Cincinnati.” 

Needless to say, both stay. But, like Emily Gilmore, I find my old dining room chairs aren’t sparking any joy.