Spark Joy; A Christian Response to Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up

img-1422Part 1: It’s Always Been About the Heart; God Said it First
How I Came to Get Rid of 50 Trash bags of Stuff Three Years Ago
When Marie Kondo’s show recently came out on Netflix I was excited, having been a fan of her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, when it came out in 2014. Watching the show wasn’t so much a binge as it was a continual gourmet dinner of feasting. It’s irresistible.
The shots of Marie Kondo in perfect pastel designer wardrobe in front of a perfectly made bed coordinated in the same palette with three other things in the room- What’s not to love? Her hair, so silky, and perfectly in place– fresh flawless face- can you imagine? And that sweet voice and accent. No noise or chaos around her. In fact, no kids or husband or any friends or any life is to be seen in the peaceful shots when Marie is debriefing on her own in the show– the only life is maybe a bamboo shoot sticking out of a vase. It may not even be a live bamboo.
Don’t you wish you could see Marie around her actual family in her actual home, like be a fly on the wall in her real life?
The Story of My Stuff Purge
Rewind four years ago when I had just had a major transition in my life after giving birth to my daughter. I took up reading The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up and other texts (when I could have been spending ten minutes here or there actually cleaning or organizing) and was inspired at the prospect of cleanliness and living in simplicity. My life was not simple, or organized, or decluttered. I had a what- I- now- know was a colicy and ultra-demanding baby (and still have not slept through the night in 4 years… but I digress). I became drawn in to the delight of the author, Marie Kondo’s, reasonable answers to all of the home’s messes and loved the idea that clarity of clearing and cleaning the home would translate to clarity of the mind and peace.
I began doing, as is common for women in particular to do when upheaval happens– to get to work. I started getting rid of my stuff, a process which happened gradually over the next two years. I got rid of porcelain and ceramic teapots thinking, When will I ever use these again? I have an infant that nurses every 20 minutes and screams off and on every hour! What is tea? Who am I? Why did I ever think these tea sets were a good idea? All I want is coffee! I can’t even walk to the bathroom. Tea?
I had an entire collection of ‘60s business skirt suits, dresses, faux fur coats, and holiday dresses in a downstairs closet- my “for special occasion clothing.” Again, flabby with post-baby foreign-bodyness and contemplating the meaning of life and the next generation, these things seemed laughable to me. “A cocktail dress?” I was still, at that time, in the early stages of postpartum and did not realize that, after giving birth, you can in fact wear clothing you once wore, later. I bought the line about yoga pants for life. All evening outing clothing- gone.
Anybody that had ever given me things that I was momentarily annoyed with, all gone. Admittedly, there was a certain satisfaction that came in the clearing, in seeing empty space, and perhaps the gratification of seeing the result of my labor immediately. Was this another strange form of instant gratification?
With each trip to the thrift store, loaded down with all of my now useless to me stuff, when handed a donation slip, I felt a sense of strange pride. I am so noble. So accomplished. So beyond the status quo. I am someone who is contributing to these good causes at the thrift store from the earnings of my useless, previously valuable, stuff. After all, they donate blankets to NICU babies!
I don’t really miss my green polyester long sleeved ruffle blouse with little cute ‘60s flowers on it. That much. I did go looking for my silk leather leopard blouse with shoulder pads the other day and realized it got axed along with with my matching brown blazer with black polka dots that I wore together. I miss that. It’s sparking joy now that I think about it years later. I hope someone in Brooklyn is enjoying it now, having purchased it perhaps on Ebay for $24 after someone bought it from the thrift store and resold it. That was a great shirt.
After two years of this, I had gotten rid of 50, yes 5-0 trash bags of stuff and I was not even previously a hoarder! It was incredible. And my house pretty much looked the same besides the closets were a little more organized and my attire, a little less funky.
Was I all around a little more clear headed? Maybe momentailty. Probably not. This would not be the end all be all to my life and happiness. Because the truth is, it’s never been about our stuff– that’s the point, right? It’s always been about the clutter and focus of the heart.
I am reminded of the great words I recently read from author Ruth Chou Simmons who says in her book Gracelaced, “Any notion I have of finding comfort and satisfaction in the perfection of my surroundings has simply shown itself for what it is: an idol of the heart that can neither sustain nor deliver.” So true.
Not acquiring so much stuff was God’s idea, not Marie Kondo’s, whose prayers and personification of inanimate objects of home are rooted in 8th century Shinto beliefs. God also said it before the minimalist movement. And before the recent tiny-housers and nomads. (Though I realize none of these people or groups are claiming exclusivity to their ideas per se.) We must remember, though, that all truth is, firstly, God’s truth.
  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
(Message: Your heart is more valuable than anything, so don’t align your heart with mere treasures–put your heart toward something that actually matters.)
  • “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” Matthew 5:40
(Message: Don’t get too attached to your stuff and don’t become fearful of losing your things–give it willingly, which is freeing.)
  • “Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
‘Nothing,’ they answered.
He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’” Luke 22:35-36
(Message: The less things you take with you the better. Also, God gives us the resources we need and the ability to provide for ourselves.)
  • “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until your return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19
(Message: This life is very temporary and we will all return to dust–the adage about not taking things with you– so do not lose sight of that. Thus, the Christian emphasis of eternity starting now and the brevity of life. Losing focus of this makes us easily focus on externals rather than matters of the heart, and takes our worship off of God and onto self, possessions, image management, etc.)
  • In the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) when God says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are reminded that everything we have for each day, and our very sustenance for life, comes from God. In trusting in our things we can get into the wrong thinking that we did it all and can sustain it all. This is a lie. It’s God who made us, God who gifts us, God who sustains our every breath and provides for all of our needs, and who always has, and always will.
It is, Has Always Been, And Always Will Be, About the Heart
It is a temptation of mine to focus too much on the home and the externals. I love all things home and design and I am learning to reconcile this love in healthy doses appreciation and detachment. Because all of it– the organizing, the desire for Better Homes and Gardens now– can become a sick form of idol worship–of self, of perfectionism, of home, of idealism. And more than that, can distract from what is most important–loving, living– being here and now with God and loved ones.
What I do like about this movement (of less is more, minimalism, Marie Kondo’s contribution) is what my friend Pam said about it which is that “It is waking people up to the excess, particularly in the American lifestyle.” I agree. I would add that it is waking people up to issues of the heart, which God said long ago, and what we already know but so soon and often forget–that our stuff won’t save us or deliver us from a sick and messy heart. And if ever my house happens to be clean, I will still be sitting there in my state of icky-heartness needing a savior.  And probably some bee will have gotten in and will be buzzing around my perfectly clean future home. Only reliance upon and trust in God for salvation, for wisdom, for discernment, and in dwelling in Christ through spending time with Him in prayer and in the Word is inner peace found. Our stuff is for our use in this temporary time–to enjoy. I fully do believe God wants us to have and enjoy our things, but he doesn’t want them to have and own us or our hearts.
The fact is that to “dust we are and to dust we will return” but we are so much more than dust. We are people whose hearts, aligned with Jesus, will dwell forever with Him from now to eternity, which is why God has reminded us that it’s all ultimately, though sometimes glittery and full of feel-goods, stuff, and therefore, dust.
  1. What are your thoughts on the recent minimalist movement?
  2. What does it mean to you to dwell in the Lord as opposed to the idea of dwelling in our earthly houses?
Bible Verse:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
God, allow us to dwell in your sustaining and good presence. Our peace is only found in you and may we always find our rest there. Teach us what it means to abide in you and let us live there. Amen.

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