April 6, 2015

The Joy of Stuff (Re-thinking the Cult of Tidying Up)

I finally have a dream home. Oh, it’s the same house; it’s just been tidied. In preparation for selling up and moving out, I spent last week banishing clutter to the Rescue Mission donation center and furniture to the Storage Max unit.

Candles? Gone. Cookbooks? Gone. Chairs? Gone.

My house is now a gleaming paradise of open space. A beautiful temple to downsized, intentional, edited, minimal living.

De-cluttering has never been more trendy, of course. Following a decade of economic down-turning and down-sizing, this is the year of Marie Kondo’s global bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her radical clean-sweep method is so popular it has become a verb, as in “I Kondoed my closet," and Kondo's central tenant is evaluating each possession with the simple question: “Does it spark joy?”

My dented crock pot with its melted lid-knob (from the time I mistakenly stuck it in the oven) does not “spark joy.” It takes up a perfectly good kitchen shelf, and, when I get it out, it hogs an entire expanse of spotless countertop.

My cups and glasses don’t really “spark joy” either. If you open my cabinets, you are likely to be hit on the head by a tumbling plastic tumbler—bearing a faded slogan for Dickey’s BBQ or Broad Street Bakery. Toddler sippy cups perch next to a leaning tower of plastic polka-dot plates. Nope. No joy here.

In the bathroom closets, the extra sets of towels and sheets are hopelessly joyless. The stock of travel-sized toiletries, ditto. Stacks of napkins, piles of tablecloths, bread baskets, serving platters, two sets of flatware, three sets of dishes. Kondo, help me!

But now, in preparation for the  HGTV-trained eyes of potential buyers, my house has officially been Kondoed.

In some ways, I love it.

There’s a certain Pharisaic appeal to tidying up. Anyone who comes to my house can immediately see how virtuous I am. No hint of hoarding here. No extra possessions purchased on a whim and a debit card. No disorganization or lack of control in this home. Obviously, I have got this life thing figured out. Why doesn’t everyone?

(Storage unit, you say? What storage unit?)

And there’s also a certain selfishness. (Kondo reports that one of her clients jettisoned her husband because he didn’t meet the joy-sparking criteria.) Sans chairs and cookbooks and candles and crock-pot, sans towels and toiletries and tablecloths, my home is perfect for exactly one person: me.

But my house is not a show-place, nor is it a personal retreat. It an arena for God’s glory and a factory for his kingdom. My house is a place of dirty-work, of washing the dusty feet of weary pilgrims. It's a refuge for grace-redeemed sinners, who sometimes melt the crock-pot lids. It's a place to welcome little ones, Lego bricks and plastic cups and all. And it’s a storehouse for hospitality (Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 4:9), where impoverished souls can find the riches of Christ.

So if that means I need a few more chairs cluttering the corners, and a few more towels filling the closets--if that means I own some more stuff in order to welcome the least of these--well, maybe those things do spark joy after all.


  1. Thanks for sharing this perspective. Something to think about as this homemaker goes about her day tidying

    1. Glad it gave you something to ponder while you work.

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  3. Absolutely lovely... A home that is ready to serve is immensely more joyful than a "Kondoed home". :-)

    1. Very nice Megan! One of the biggest grace-gifts given to me was the idea of having a "ministry" of a cluttered/messy home. If we all wait for perfect homes, none of will be hostesses! I enjoy your writing.

    2. Thanks, Pam. My week of tidying up revealed to me how much time it takes to keep things perfect--time that could be spent on people instead!

  4. I actually liked the book that you mentioned (minus, of course, the Eastern religious references). Balance is one key to reading it as well as defining joy from a Biblical perspective instead of the author's perspective. A dented slow cooker can bring joy if you are using it to show love to someone. But overall, I thought there were some good things to be taken from the book as well as things to discard. Traveling lightly through this life isn't really a bad thing as long as you don't cultivate the pride that so easily comes when you believe you're doing it better than everyone else. Thanks for the good thoughts!

  5. Guess what, I'm reading Marie Kondo's second book these days. ;-) And guess what... I'm not going to apply all of what she says (I don't really like this about treating mere things like "persons", for instance - and well, I'm not sure some of her suggestions fit with my Christian belief), but her approach is really helpful for me. I have a hard time of getting rid of things, and Marie Kondo showed me a way of letting go without having heart palpitations and without going into panic mode. For me, this works, and I'm glad I found her books. My house will never look like a Japanese temple of serenity, but I'm not aiming for that. :-)
    Some love Marie Kondo, some hate her or ridicule her. Some love FlyLady, some hate her or ridicule her. Some... --- we are all different. And the right teacher might yet come for those of us who need it. Might even be your next-door neighbor, or the coast guard wife in church.
    I do feel, however, that the books by Marie Kondo are a bit misrepresented in this article. She does NOT promote divorce (getting rid of husbands if they don't bring joy), and she DOES caution against getting rid of other people's stuff or doing a one-woman thing (selfish), ignoring the needs and wants of family members. She is not a Christian, of course, but she does show that getting rid of clutter and baggage may well free you to follow your calling. Good enough for me.


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