Marie Kondo made a splash a year or so ago when she brought her style of de-cluttering spaces into the mainstream with her book (and website and Instagram and … and….)
Kondo’s services command a waiting list a mile long in Japan, but for the rest of us, her book breaks down her radical, two-pronged approach to tidying. First, put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. Only then, Kondo says, will you have reached the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.
Of course, almost as soon as Kondo’s method went mainstream, so did the critiques: does this woman really expect us to talk to our spaces and objects? And isn’t it the height of privilege to spend a month or a year lovingly handling every item you own, giving it a lovely goodbye, and moving a mass of materials to Goodwill or friends down the line?
But I think Marie Kondo is on to something I’d like to get behind as well: Modern life dulls our senses. We own SO MUCH CRAP that we can’t even remember what we own. The drive to earn so that we may buy is a nasty form of idol-worship, often excused when the items we buy are good things in themselves.
For example, I love books. We have hundreds of books. I’ve never counted all the books I’ve read in my life, but it’s probably a thousand or more. Bookstores fill me with glee. Books smell good, feel good, make my brain happy.
But do we need two rooms of our house devoted to them? Increasingly, we’re both starting to answer that question with No. Modern living is wearing all of us down to nubs, shells of empty people with shouty social media friendships lacking meaningful relationships. Piled higher and deeper with stuff but all of it will burn.
Kondo, who is Japanese, raises eyebrows among Westerners in the way she enters a home of one of her clients for a deep cleanse. She seats herself on the floor to meditate, and asks the permission of the home or space to be part of it for her mission to pare down the owner’s objects to the core.
Sounds weird, right? Sounds “Eastern” …. I can still recall the disdain the devout people who raised me threw toward anything mystical or Eastern or “New Age.” (Anybody else remember how Christians were terrified of the New Age in the 1980s? Is the New Age here yet? lol)
Seems to me that there’s wisdom in Kondo’s respect for a space and its arrangement. Like we Westerners would consume less if we were more aware of what’s already here. I don’t think Lewis or Tolkien or James KA Smith would rail against Marie Kondo’s recognition that spaces themselves can have meaning beyond their physical structures. Is there a “spirit” in my house I need to placate? Nah. But that doesn’t mean my home isn’t more than the sum of the nails and boards that hold it together.
In the Kondo method, you go through your belongings by category (clothes or shoes or kitchen dishes or books) and handle each one. Your goal is to determine whether that object still brings you joy. If no, then give it away or get rid of it. If you’re not sure, then consider whether the item has outlived its usefulness to you. Thank the item for serving you well, and let it go.
Let it go.
What’s left will be more precious, more valuable because it’s not drowning in the flotsam of our consumer culture, with our “planned obsolescence” and throwaway junk. I’ve walked ruins built by Romans two millennia ago, or the Etruscans centuries before them. They laughed in the face of obsolescence. We’re still paying good money to walk through the foundations of their houses.
I’ve decided to embark on a lot of Kondo-ing in 2018 –for more than just my possessions, though I hope to pare down what we own significantly by the end of the year. But I’ve realized that I can Kondo a lot of things: my ambitions, my to-do list, my time spent on Facebook, my relationships that I spend emotional energy trying to maintain but that no longer bring me joy.
I don’t think I’m in danger of turning into an ascetic monk living in a cell, but my 40s have become a decade of heightened clarity and awareness of a deep drive for meaning across the entire spectrum of my life.
There are some friendships I’ve realized have run their course. Like Marie Kondo’s method of thanking and releasing a beloved souvenir that needs to go, I’m taking time to think through the people in the more distant edges of my life. I tend to feel guilty about not keeping up with so many folks who have fallen out of my regular orbit because our lives no longer cross paths. And I’m realizing it’s ok to examine those relationships, thank them for making my life richer at the time, and let those people go. (For clarity, let me note that I’m not calling people up and saying, “Bye, Felicia!” None of these folks have interacted with me in years, and if they were to pop back into my life, I’d be happy to reinvest.)
We don’t realize the weight of all of this clutter… until it’s gone. A messy desk IS a sign of genius and a place for creativity, but there’s a difference between productivity and living an undisciplined life.
I realize it’s going to take more than a year’s resolution toward dejunking the corners and weeding my Facebook friends list to provide me the clarity I’m searching for. But I can tell the journey itself IS the blessing. Forcing myself to confront the way I seek to use objects for fulfillment makes me recognize what really does bring me deep satisfaction.
It’s time to let go: of dreams deferred but no longer as tempting; of reference books we bought in a former life when we thought we would be in full-time ministry; of people who are good folks but there’s only so much emotional energy in my life. I want to make room to enjoy the the friendships and books and art and games and food and spaces that remain.
Needing is one thing, and getting — getting’s another.
PS. We’re selling some great theological books on eBay, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ve cleared out most of the minor and major prophets; working my way backwards from Psalms to Genesis right now, and I’ll start posting New Testament commentaries in a week or two. We’re hopeful our lovingly curated collection will go forth to help many others who need it more than we do.