Let’s face it, wandering through the desert for 40 years was probably about as much fun as it sounds. So you may not be surprised to learn that given what our people have endured, we sometimes needed a little bit of a boost to find ways in which to “increase in joy.”
As we enter the Hebrew month of Adar; still in the frigid clutches of the brutal Wisconsin winter weather, we may find ourselves running on the diminishing fumes in our tanks of happiness. Sure, Adar hosts the dazzlingly fun holiday of Purim, but once the Hamantaschen are eaten, the groggers and costumes retired for next year, maintaining a jubilant mood can require some serious effort.
Luckily, the popular book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” by Marie Kondo, can offer us a much needed helping hand. According to Kondo, increasing one’s joy is based on the simple and effective concept that you should purge anything that does not “spark joy” in your life, in order to make room to bring in the things that do bring one happiness. While this method was probably intended to apply to the abundance of material possessions that you have accumulated, it is equally potent when used to sort through, and declutter your Neshama (soul), and give it a much needed mid-winter clean out.
By using the steps below, you can fearlessly wade into the onslaught of existential clutter in your life, and figure out what truly ignites joy deep down in your kishkes (gut) so that you can get rid of what doesn’t. Examine those things in your life that consume your time, energy and resources, and ask yourself the question “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, discard, delete or delegate.
There are five basic rules to tidying up that must be followed in order.
- Commit yourself to tidying up
The mess is not your fault.
The accumulation of soul clutter is an existential inevitability, and expending too much emotional and spiritual bandwidth on things that do not bring us joy, is as ubiquitous as breathing. But in order to open up space, we must take a hard look at the clutter, and commit ourselves to the process of tidying up.
Like many of our post New Year and annual doctor’s check-up resolutions to get rid of bad habits and embark on new, better ones, committing to decluttering our souls may take a few tries before we are able to fully dive in and do the work. But because adding joy to your life can be utterly transformative, it is worthwhile to keep at it until it sticks.
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
Who doesn’t daydream about their ideal life? Those daydreams are what sell lottery tickets and sustain our optimism throughout difficult times. But this step is not about imagining your life as a one- percenter, or dreaming of living in a world in which there is a zero crime rate (as nice as either of those things might be!). It is about asking yourself which authentic elements of your life truly bring you happiness and meaning?
Does your ideal lifestyle include time for volunteering at the homeless shelter, adopting a bevy of stray pets, drinking wine and skipping stones at the lake with the people you love, getting a degree in Surf Science and Technology, or cooking a gourmet Shabbat dinner for family once a month?
Have a clear vision of what happiness looks like to you.
- Finish discarding first
Are there ancient grudges and grievances still weighing heavily on your heart? Release them.
Will a cuddle with your pooch bring you more joy than washing the dirty dishes in the sink? Leave the dishes for the morning.
Our brains are hardwired trying to distract us from questioning why we spend the time and energy on the things that don’t merit the devotion we invest in them. Don’t be disheartened by the piles of clutter in the dank, dimly lit recesses of your soul. As humans, we tend to operate on autopilot, oblivious to energy leaks and negative habits, but in order to add the things you love, you must first make a space for them to occupy.
Say no to anything that might stand in the way of being able to insert the things that spark a little thrill of joy.
- Tidy by category
You will likely have more than one compartment in your soul that could use decluttering, but it is important to focus on each area individually. Get your metaphorical black sharpie out, and identify and categorize the compartments, then tackle them one by one.
Starting with your emotional clutter? Smile and decline to engage with the stranger in the Starbucks line, venting about the state of the world. Stop zombie-scrolling through your phone and clicking on disturbing reads. The cleared out space will allow you to fill it with things that spark joy; taking your nephew to the park, or a cup of hot tea in front of the fireplace with your favorite childhood book.
Move onto tidying the other sections of your soul only after you have finished in one category.
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
An atmosphere of clutter prevents us from being mindful about choosing that which generates joy, and the fallout is too much time spent on the things which do not.
If the yeast dough recipe for Hamantaschen passed down by your well intentioned great grandmother requires an investment of time that you cannot painlessly spare, don’t feel bound to use it. Try a new recipe this year that requires a fraction of the work. Before letting go of something, give it respect by honoring it. Honoring your attachment to what you are letting go will help to ease the pain (or guilt). Acknowledge the connection that your grandmother’s hamantaschen recipe has brought you, then adapt to fit your lifestyle and needs.
Of course, as with most positive, life-transforming endeavors, decluttering and tidying up your soul is no easy feat. But there’s a lightness of the soul that comes from discarding unneeded things, and it is surrounding yourself with that which sparks joy, that will lead you to the all-important endgame: living your best life, one that is overflowing with happiness. Increasing your joy throughout Adar is only the beginning.
Just remember to make a little birdhouse in there when you are done tidying.
Beata Abraham is the director of congregational learning and programming at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, Glendale. Adar this year is Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2022.