Marie Kondo has helped people declutter their possessions.How can we apply her tactics to our spiritual lives?
As anyone who has ever tried to tame the chaos in the garage or sort through last season’s clothing knows, imposing order on our lives is no easy task. And evidently, it’s not one we do well.
A quick Google search for “home organization” suggests a disturbing conclusion—that people across the globe suffer from an epidemic of disorder and are awash in endless clutter. The roughly 3.5 billion results include everything from quick and easy tidying tips for the home and self-storage rental facilities to bins, baskets, shelving, and professional organization services.
Clearly, our interest in decluttering has become more than just a passing fancy during our spring-cleaning routines. It’s become a revolutionary way of life. And much of this is thanks to Marie Kondo. Organizing consultant, author, and one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2015, Marie Kondo has become to the organizing industry what the Beatles are to music. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was an instant best seller, she has her own TV series on Netflix, and her method of organization is now named for her: “KonMari.”
But why this obsession with tidying up? I believe the real reason the KonMari Method has resonated with so many people is that underneath all the modern tips for clutter combat is the ancient wisdom that people of faith have celebrated for millennia. A closer look at Kondo’s advice can be a great reminder of several essential spiritual truths.
Remember Your Purpose
The now-famous question Kondo says we should ask ourselves about every item we own is, “Does it spark joy?” At first glance, it can seem silly to question whether a pair of socks or a baseball cap or a can opener brings me joy, but there is a hidden genius to it. It’s another way of asking ourselves, “Why?” Why do I have three can openers, one of which doesn’t even work?
Are the two I don’t use fulfilling their intended purpose by sitting idly in the drawer? Remembering our purpose is exactly what Catholics do every time we go to Mass. Celebrating the Eucharist reminds us of our purpose as members of the body of Christ. And reminders are important. It’s easy to get caught up in believing our purpose in life is a function of the things we do: earning a living, raising a family, pursuing an interest.
While our real purpose may involve those things, there’s something deeper at the heart of it all. Jesus was crystal clear about “remembering our purpose” when asked about the greatest commandment “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37‚Äì39).
Let it Go
If any item we own doesn’t bring us joy, then Kondo believes we need to give it to someone who can find joy in its use or throw it away. We should not keep things simply because they used to fulfill their purpose or might do so one day in the future.
And those of us who have ever donated a big load of used clothing to charity or pitched tons of useless items out on junk day know that it feels so good. Any time we get rid of things that no longer serve their purpose, we feel freer and lighter in a nearly physical sense. Catholics have a beautiful way of getting rid of spiritual clutter: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We don’t need to tell our sins to a priest to be forgiven or for God to love us again. God never stopped loving us, and divine forgiveness is always available. We do it because it helps us let go of the internal junk that weighs us down—otherwise known as sin.
By “throwing away” our selfishness and lack of compassion, we create space for love. In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus draws a powerful image of how we can “let it go” through God’s forgiveness: Remember your purpose. Let it go.“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Mt 22:37‚ 39). “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20).
Deal with It
Kondo says that the typical way we tidy up the house— room by room—is all wrong. Instead, she believes that it’s best to tackle the task by category. If I start by organizing all the books in my study, then I need to keep working on the books in the rest of my house: the cookbooks in the kitchen, my nighttime reading in the bedroom, the joke books in the bathroom. Why? When we clean by room, it’s too easy to push things we find there into another room that’s not yet organized.
The books from my study that really should be given away end up on an untidy shelf in the living room. The same tendency is true in our spiritual lives. The easiest way to deal with the parts of ourselves that aren’t strong and beautiful is to avoid dealing with them at all. It’s easy to push them into some other corner of my soul or psyche where I don’t have to acknowledge them.
But like other untreated wounds, they can become infected and cause greater damage down the road. Jesus advised his disciples to “deal with it ” when it comes to our sins and suffering: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23‚ 24).
Make it Right
Before Marie Kondo, most of us had never thought about what inanimate objects might “feel.” After all, it seems strange to wonder how my sweater feels about being balled up in the corner of my closet. Frustrated? Hurt? Or how my photo albums feel about being covered in dust. Neglected? Depressed? But Kondo believes that we should consider such things because in a very real sense we have a relationship with each item that we own.
In fact, he frustrated many of the religious leaders of the time because he didn’t care much about the inflexible rituals and restrictive purity codes that were so important to them. Instead, he preached a Gospel of love and compassion.
When the Pharisees criticized him because his disciples were eating without engaging in the usual cleanliness rituals, he mocked them about their inability to “make it right”: “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!” (Mk 7:9).
Give it Space
Perhaps the most quoted line from Kondo’s work next to her question about “joy” is her advice to “fold, don’t hang.” She says that folding clothes and placing them front to back in drawers is far superior to hanging them in a closet. It makes it easier to see each item when selecting what to wear, and it gives our clothing space to breathe. After all, the whole purpose of tidying up is to create space.
Folding rather than hanging our clothes is a lot like praying rather than worrying about our lives. Worrying crowds our minds with endless, fretful chatter and our hearts with resentment and anxiety. But prayer creates space. It makes room for our hearts to grow in love and compassion. Taking time apart from our daily routines to simply be in God’s presence helps us to see ourselves, others, and our life circumstances in a clearer light. It’s no coincidence that Jesus had to “give it space” just before he made his critical choice of the Twelve Apostles: “He departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Lk 6:12).