Alexandra Chesters

Thesis title: The Joy of Possessions and Decluttering in Japan and the West

Start year: 2020


Supervisor(s): Dr Jason Danely, Professor Jeremy MacClancy

Research topic

‘Does it Spark Joy?’: A question put forward by the Japanese Tidying Up expert Marie Kondo that attracted great attention within Western media in 2019. My research delves into this idea of ‘Sparking Joy’ by focusing on the role of joy in people’s relationships with their possessions. I am comparatively investigating different attitudes to obtaining joy through buying possessions, organising possessions, and discarding possessions in both Japanese and Western culture.

With a key focus on Marie Kondo and her ‘Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ method, I am researching the link between joy and objects as a part of the model ‘good’ Japanese life, and the spiritual ideas surrounding objects in Japanese culture. Kondo promotes treating your possessions as if they had personalities by encouraging you to talk to your possessions, thank them for their service to you, and ensure you give them the care and praise they deserve. Along with this, she instructs her followers on the correct way to fold clothes to maximise joy for both you and your wardrobe. I am researching the historical influences within Japanese culture on her methods, and how successfully and joyfully they are put into practise in everyday life now. My fieldwork here in the UK aims to understand how Kondo’s methods and philosophy of possessions and joy are being adopted amongst her Western followers, and what ‘Spark Joy’ means to them. The Japanese influences on this cultural phenomenon in relation to aesthetics, minimalism, and joy will be explored as I interview a range of dedicated to casual fans of Kondo, delving into their experiences of Kondo's practises and the effects on their own joy. To understand more about the human relationship with objects, I am consulting with museum curators about the role of possessions in our personal lives and the societies we live in. I am investigating how attitudes to materials objects have changed over time, as well as how design, aesthetics and the joy of objects differ from culture to culture.

Questions I am addressing in my Research are:

  • How and why can objects bring us joy?
  • Why does decluttering possessions seem to strike a chord in both Japanese and Western culture?
  • What has made The KonMari method become so popular across Japan, the UK and the USA at this particular time?
  • How does following The KonMari method alter people’s approaches and emotions towards their possessions?


Anthropology, Joy, Japan, Social Sciences, Possessions, Consumerism, Decluttering, Marie Kondo

General research interests

Japanese culture, Social Anthropology, Consumerism, Popular Culture Trends, Joy

Centres and institutes

Europe Japan Research Centre

Academic school / department

School of Law and Social Sciences


Work in progress

  • Current Research Masters Thesis: ‘The Joy of Possessions and Decluttering in Japan and the West’.

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • BSc Hons Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University 2017–2020. Dissertation title: How Christians create a sense of community across cultures

Scholarships and prizes