I didn’t seek out Marie Kondo
, but I can’t seem to escape her.
My news feeds, my Netflix previews, even at my women’s ministry meeting at church, there she is. It’s as if everyone is announcing that she has been raised up for such a time as this. Her mission? The decluttering of our households.
Kondo launched a new documentary based upon her organization process, popularized by her international best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Her method, however, is not merely about finding new tricks for storage, or encouragement towards a yearly Goodwill donation. Instead, her call is for people to move through their possessions item by item, asking a simple question: Does this spark joy in you? If yes, it stays. If no, it leaves. What could be simpler than that?
The Gospel of Kondo
My interaction with Kondo’s method has been somewhat indirect. I’ve encountered her ideas through book reviews and her documentary, but especially through the reactions of my friends and acquaintances who are seeking to implement her tactics. Whether writing on social media or discussing their process in person, the tone of conversations sound not like watercooler chatter about a hot reality show. Instead, it reminds me of the focus and effort of serious amateur runners comparing our training schedules and personal bests.
“Kondo has led many of us to declutter our homes and hearts, but it’s what we find underneath that matters most.”
The immensity of the response proves she’s on to something. Americans
are glutted with stuff, spilling over with things. We all just came out of Christmas, which for many of us means trying to figure out where to stash our new items when we were already bursting with the old.
We all know that advertising lies to us, that it sells us products we don’t need with promises they can’t keep. That knowledge isn’t power. Though our loneliness and dissatisfaction remain, we continue to try to plug these emotional holes with toys. We believe our stuff should make us happy, even though all the evidence points away from this. What a strange walking by faith we Americans live.
Yet we sense that our relationship with things is disordered. Kondo is not the first or the only person interacting with our intuition here — see the growth in the tiny-house movement and minimalism more generally. But there is something in her approach that seems to scratch our itch.
Has Kondo Uncovered Something?
She doesn’t rip through like a bulldozer, condemning our hoarder tendencies or shaming us for what we’ve gathered. Instead, Kondo asks us to engage our emotions towards our things — to unlock our gratitude for them. Perhaps their service to us is complete, but we can still recognize what they gave to us and be thankful for that. Shame is replaced by joy. Doesn’t this have a gospel ring? By going through this process, we’re encouraged to be less dependent on our stuff — less owned by it. Kondo wants to reinstate our agency in our relationship to what we possess, instead of being owned by our possessions.
How freeing this is! It is clear that many of those who are working through the Kondo method are reaping true benefit. Materialism is one of the deadliest plagues of American life, and this method feels like a sturdy sword placed in the hand just in the nick of time.
“Earthly possessions don’t just enter our lives quietly. They take up space, demand upkeep, and tether our hearts.”
But while Kondo may have solved one massive problem, the movement seems to have uncovered an even bigger one. One headline screams, “Marie Kondo’s deceptively simple ‘Tidying Up’ tips are spreading the gospel of joy when Americans need it most” (NBC). Doesn’t that seem to be just what we need? Doesn’t it seem to line up with what we believe?
Kondo has led many of us to declutter our homes, minds, and hearts, but it’s what we find underneath, where all our things once were, that matters most. The problem is that Kondo is still asking for our stuff to be what sparks our joy. Just a smaller portion of stuff.
Yes, she militates against our hoarding, which is good. Yes, she encourages us to be people of gratitude. Amen! But when we ask each thing whether it brings us the right amount of joy, we’re still thinking of things as the locus of contentment.
Perhaps more significantly, this method of decluttering could incite us to think of human beings transactionally as well. I’m not implying this is Kondo’s intention, but it’s not hard to apply the mindset in this direction. Counselors and clinicians rightly warn of allowing narcissists and other toxic people to abuse us. But if we spring-load our minds to keep only what brings us a specific amount of joy, we’re liable to let that mechanism bleed into our relationships, too. Is life truly about how each thing, or person, makes us feel?
What then is a proper response for a Christian? Kondo is meeting a real need, a true problem some of us (though certainly not all) have. Perhaps we can see past the magnetic Marie towards a gospel solution. One that has been hiding in plain sight in the shadow of an often-misused Scripture: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
The Secret to Abundance
It’s not unusual to see this verse commandeered for tasks it was not designed for, like promising athletic prowess or career success. Like all statements, though, it must be understood in its context. In the verse just before, the apostle Paul writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:12).
Secret. Isn’t this exactly what Kondo is tapping in to? We Americans do not precisely know how to abound. Not in the sense that we aren’t stacked with plenty — clearly we are. No, in the sense that right in the middle of abundance, we’ve lost our way. We don’t know how to thrive in abundance. It drowns us instead of lifting our boats. There just has to be a secret to mastering this, instead of letting it master us, right? How can we be the richest and yet unhappiest people of all time?
“We Americans do not precisely know how to abound. How can we be the richest and yet unhappiest people of all time?”