There is a current wave of interest and popularity, thanks in part to both Netflix and social media, in the philosophy of Marie Kondo, an “organising consultant and author”. This demure 34-year-old Japanese lady has her own Netflix TV series where she physically goes into the homes and lives of real people and teaches them how to get their homes organised and tidy.
Speaking no English or very little, she enters the cluttered and often chaotic homes of her clients, and carries out her “Kondo method” or “KonMari” as she calls it, where she gets the occupants of the disorganised home to settle into their own space, inviting them to still themselves first.
She then gets them to empty their wardrobes of all their contents, and place them in a pile in the middle of the room. Facing this pile, she gets the occupants of the home to take each item of clothing and – here is where it gets a bit strange – she tells them to hold each item in a very careful manner (almost like carrying an infant), and hold it to their heart, and the most important part comes next – to detect if the item sparks joy in the owner.
If it doesn’t, the owner is then to say “thank you” to the item before putting it into a pile that is destined for either the trash bin or to be given away. One only keeps those things or items that “spark joy” when held close to the heart. Then, from the bedroom, she does the same to the other parts of the house as well.
The rest of the KonMari method is a practical exercise of systematic folding and sorting and storing, which I must say is very useful for anyone who has little or no idea of how one should be storing things in a way that economises space in the home. I have tried out her folding method myself (for my T-shirts), and I must say that I am rather pleased with the way my clothes drawers are now looking.
Why in the world am I writing a blog post about de-cluttering and re-organising when the nature of this blog is to help people grow closer to God and mature spiritually, you may ask. It’s a valid question. It has to do with the importance of activating our filters in life, especially when a philosophy in life is being sold and taught. Taking anything in life lock, stock and very cluttered barrel, can sometimes lead us away from spiritual maturity, our goal in life.
I am not at all averse to being organised and tidy but I do have great concerns when this philosophy of “sparking joy” is applied blindly to everything that we face in life. How so?
In His teachings and life instruction, Jesus has in various ways told His disciples and the crowd that there is a necessity in life to take up our cross and follow Him.
What does this cross look like? It comes in many forms, but if the cross that Jesus carried to Calvary was something that was ignominious, difficult, challenging and something that required great effort, then these same qualities would be what defines many of our crosses in life. One thing that carrying our crosses do not immediately do is to “spark joy” in our hearts – at least not in the worldly sense. Only when we are casting our eyes towards heaven and towards our sainthood, will we see the joy that lies behind carrying our crosses. This is the ability to trust that (given by God’s grace, of course) these challenges are really our means to join with Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, and to thereby contribute to the salvation of the world.
If we take the KonMari method and apply it to everything in life, and more dangerously, to all our challenges and hardships that we have in life, we can easily end up not carrying our crosses, but dumping them, like the way Marie tells her “clients” to dump or give away those items in their homes that do not spark joy. But if what Marie is teaching through her method is to inculcate a spirit of detachment in life, especially to material things, I have no qualms about that at all.
Let us never forget that in all likelihood, Jesus didn’t feel happy on the Cross on Mount Calvary. He would be a masochist if He told the soldiers who scourged him to strike harder, enjoying each lash. No, I truly believe Jesus wasn’t particularly happy or joyful on that Cross. But without a doubt, He knew that what He was doing was something that was necessary, salvific, that was deep, meaningful and that contributed to life – your life and mine.
There are many things that do not spark joy but that we continue to do and keep in our lives for the greater good. I applaud Marie Kondo for teaching us that life needs to be simple and uncluttered. But do be mindful and try not to carry the “it needs to spark joy” to things that are not in our wardrobes. You may be discarding the very thing that is our stepping stone to holiness and sanctity.
Father Luke Fong is Assistant Priest at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is a condensed version of his article which first appeared in his blog, frlukefong.blogspot.com.