Did you know there could be a child prodigy of tidying?
As a young girl in Japan, Marie Kondo’s favorite thing to do was to clean and organize the physical spaces around her. Her canvas was her room, her family’s home (often to their consternation), and her classroom. As an adult, Kondo has transformed this mania to a successful consulting and personal coaching business in which she helps people declutter and organize their homes. At last count, her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, has sold six million copies.
I’d never heard of KonMari, the name of her method and business, two weeks ago, but when one of my sisters learned of my interest, she sent me Marie Kondo’s book, which I read quickly.
Then, last week I rented a 20-yard dumpster and filled it to the brim with unused possessions our family has been holding on to for years. As my sister said after applying KonMari principles to her own home (which I would have said was already much cleaner and better organized than my own), “It is so freeing.” It is. It makes you happier.
I don’t know if Kondo would have been able to make a living helping people declutter and organize their homes before the modern age. I don’t know if KonMari makes much sense in impoverished third world countries. But it certainly comes in handy in prosperous and material-rich places like Japan and the United States.
My own family is certainly not rich, but in raising seven children and living in our current home for the same number of years, we accumulated an amazing amount of clothes no longer worn; books gathering dust on shelves and in piles; worn out, repaired, and worn-out furniture; piles and boxes and filing cabinet drawers of papers; broken and abandoned toys; and mementos galore.
The KonMari method is essentially two steps. The first is discard. The second is to find the right place for everything you want to keep. The second step is only undertaken after the first is completed. Discarding is done according to a distinct process. Rather than going from room to room, Marie advocates going from category to category. First, deal with clothing. When clothing is done, then books. When books are done, then papers, and so on.
This is prudent.
It is much easier to discard an item of clothing than the pig ashtray you child gave you back when people still smoked. So, Kondo says, to begin, gather every item of clothing you own and dump them on the floor of one room. Get them from every room, including any clothing in storage, wherever that might be. Then you pick up each item and ask yourself if it gives you joy. The answer should be intuitive, not analytical. If it is something that makes you happy, keep it. If not, it goes.
Only after you have assessed every possession, have decided what to keep, and have bagged up and discarded everything you want to say goodbye to—only then do you begin assigning a place for the stuff you want to keep. Marie Kondo has good suggestions for how to find the right place for each of your items. We have a plastic, blinking-lights Christmas wreath on the wall next to our front door. We do want to keep it, but I don’t think that’s where it should be in July!
One thing that will seem weird and off-putting to Catholics is, I think, due to Marie being a pagan. I mean pagan in the best possible way. Marie Kondo seems to be an animist. Not only does she think there are many gods, everything seems to be alive to her. She advocates saying thank you to the things you discard for their service to you. She says you should greet your house when you come home. She says you should try to make your material goods comfortable.
In Culture KonMari
However, we can apply the Catholic principle of inculturation to KonMari so that we can use it confidently and fruitfully. What is inculturation? When the Faith comes to a new land, it is the missionary’s job to help this new culture and to be helped by it. The missionary does this by recognizing what is already good, rejecting what is downright evil, and correcting anything correctable.
We can apply this to the KonMari method. The virtues of orderliness and gratitude that Marie Kondo teaches are certainly goods. The KonMari method fosters those two virtues in a way that can help us all.
On the other hand, while it does not make sense for us to talk to our things—since they are, in fact, inanimate objects—we can express gratitude to God that we have them and that they have been of use to us.
We can also express gratitude to God for the other persons who made it possible for us to have them. We can ask God to bless those persons.
Other people made your once beautiful useful couch and chairs that gave you so much use. You were able to buy them because you were part of a worldwide community of persons engaged in mutually beneficial commerce. You can ask God’s blessings on all those people. In a sense, the prayer the priest says during the Offertory at Mass applies to all our material goods: “Which earth has given and human hands have made.”
Marie Kondo claims that decluttering your home and then organizing your things will transform your life.
I think she is right. Certainly in the short term, reducing the number of things you own is conducive to happiness. I also have found over the years that simplicity and physical order help me think more clearly and make me calmer. Also, if in your home and personal workspace you only have things around you that you love and give your joy, you will see more clearly what really makes you happy and so you can pursue that happiness as best you can. Certainly, gratitude to God is a key to happiness.
I can easily see many objections to KonMari, especially from parents with young and large families. All some kids do is take things out and break them! But I think we can apply our creative minds to these challenges and do better.
We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have complete simplicity in our homes. Yet more simplicity is better than less, and more simplicity is possible. We don’t have to have a perfect physical order in our homes either, but more order is better than less, and more is possible.