Joy

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By Nick Mattos

1) The neighborhood coffeehouse is packed this sunny afternoon. “Get Together,” that ‘60s chestnut from the Youngbloods, plays through the speakers; the espresso machine hisses along in harmony. I smile broadly at the barista as she slides me my coffee, my computer bag sliding on my shoulder as I lean forward to grab it.

2) A few months back, a fellow yoga teacher friend of mine recommended I read a slim, charming little book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Written by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizational expert who was born the same year as I, the book proved to be perhaps the only thing—save the frantic last-minute realization that a date was about to arrive—that has ever motivated me, a former contender for the title of America’s Next Top Slovenly Hoarder, to actually tidy up my house.

3) After reading it, I followed the book’s KonMari method, holding each and every object I owned in my hands and asking whether it sparked joy in me, then finding an exact home for it in my apartment. Judging only on the level of interior design, the process was a complete success: I happily let go of two-thirds of my physical possessions, and ended up with an apartment that was cleaner and lovelier than I could have possibly dreamed a filthy gent like myself could ever live in.

4) I spent a huge amount of my life extremely susceptible to the nasty critics of the peanut gallery, regardless of whether those critics were located inside or outside of my head. These critics are adamant that I not think too much of myself, that I not ask for too much, that I am now and forever a poor, messy, mercurial, egotistical, melancholic guy who has every reason to feel like an alien in the world of normal people. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with there being these critics—as they say, haters gonna hate. The problem, though, was that I held onto what they said.

5) The real benefit of applying the KonMari method to my tidying up was vastly larger than just having a cute apartment full of things I love. In a very real and tangible way, the method is a means of teaching oneself how to live a life of authentic joy. The point isn’t just to declutter, or to have a super-cute house—those are just collateral benefits of learning what sparks joy in you, and the value of prioritizing that joy. “Tidying is just a tool,” explains Kondo, “not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.”

6) I find a free table near the back of the coffeehouse and take my seat. Across from me, a woman looks over the shoulder of her tablemate and her eyes catch mine, pushing a lock of jet-black hair behind her ear. She is so beautiful that I realize my mouth has dropped open in shock. I look away quickly, scanning over the crowd of people—some are working away at their Macbooks, others talking quietly to one another beside a wall of vintage motorcycle helmets. I am struck that every single one of them is absolutely beautiful, an entire coffeehouse full of “10”s of every description. I look down to my bag to get my own Macbook out of my bag, and see my reflection in the glass of a framed show poster beside me, the reflection of the room of people behind me. I am shocked again—I’m beautiful too, with my own work to tend to, my own coffee to sip and my own eyes to catch. I feel right at home.

7) I was shocked that I could say that, to think highly enough of myself to feel beautiful and at home, even when there are ample critics inside and outside of my head who’d take great umbrage at my saying so. I was shocked that I could hear the criticism internally and graciously let it go enough to feel beautiful anyway. The lifestyle of plainly observing one’s own life—holding every single thing you own in your hands, seeing your own reflection, hearing the peanut gallery’s critique—and letting go of the things that don’t spark joy is a profound act of benevolence toward yourself and others. It’s exactly zero percent about “not caring about what people think,” a state which if truly achieved makes one a sociopath, and 100 percent about caring deeply enough about oneself and others to show up to your life with joy in a way that encourages them to show up to their lives with joy, too. So, come on, people, now—smile on your brother. Everybody, get together and try to love one another, including yourself. Feel beautiful and admit it with joy. Feel at home, because in this moment, in this life, we are home.

8) I sit at the coffeehouse full of “10”s, full of soft afternoon light and the smell of coffee and bread and fresh newsprint. I log into my email, see messages from coworkers and clients I love in a browser window above a desktop image of my beloved cat. The air is warm against my skin, the neighborhood is lively, my life is warm and beautiful, and I feel it—the quiet physical bolt of joy that moves through me, the sense that being alive in the home of my skin and in this life I’ve been given, sparks joy in me. I smile broadly to myself, and get to work.

Nick Mattos is a writer and yoga teacher in NE Portland.