A Christian View of Tidying Up?

For one year, my husband and I lived out of our suitcases in a new-monastic community. We had a small room with an ensuite and were given 50 pounds a month spending money. That’s the closest to minimalism I have gotten. Traditionally, monks and nuns take a vow of poverty, share all possessions and really have no choice in being minimalists. Their lives are about prayer and service. I have heard people say that monks and nuns are unrelatable, that being cooped up in a monastery all day is very different from the day-to-day struggles of a stay-at-home mum or a boss-lady. A helpful analogy (I can’t remember who said it) is to think of traditional monks and nuns as a feature cartoon. Aspects of their faith are exaggerated (simplicity, prayer, a rhythm of life, silence etc.) and we can learn from the dramatic effect it has on their lives.

On Christmas Day this year, I noticed Marie Kondo’s two books on my relative’s coffee table: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. I managed to sneak in a couple of chapters of the former and I was hooked. I continued listening to the book on audible, before the launch of Marie Kondo’s TV show on Netflix grabbed my attention. If you haven’t been introduced to the craze, basically, you remove all you stuff section by section, pick up each item and only keep what sparks joy. Her method, she calls the KonMari method, means you do one epic cull and organise which means all subsequent daily tidying is just putting the stuff you’ve used back in its home.

I will begin with a disclaimer. This is not going to be one of those Christian articles on “secular culture craze” where the writer dishes up a compliment sandwich.
  •  Writer discovers {insert book, movie, new-found craze here} and is immediately smitten, describing their wonder.
Tone change
  • Writer realises that what they’ve discovered is lacking something and that is the Gospel and describes how this thing they initially loved is insufficient in light of scripture.
  • Writer concludes that while there’s some good to be found, ultimately it does not compare {cue awkward segway} to the Gospel.

So from the beginning, let me say, I don’t believe true joy can be found in tidying or having the perfect home. I have read the entire book and watched the entire show, and there’s some weird (some if it spiritual-ish) stuff in there but I’m more interested in gleaning what’s good. I like to think of Marie Kondo as a feature cartoon, living the tidy life as an exaggeration. Here are five short reflections…

Image from The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up

The Beauty of Things
In a recent interview, I chatted to Kara Martin about beauty. In her book Workship, she says “God makes things that aren’t just inherently good, useful or, functional. They are also beautiful. … Our work should have an aesthetic dimension also.” One of the reasons I’m impressed with Marie Kondo is her ability to notice the beauty in things. It might be a shirt, a table or an artwork – but someone used their creative spark to design or make it. I’m learning to stop and appreciate that. The KonMari method of holding each item and asking “Does this spark joy?” makes the eye of the beholder in tune to seeing beauty.

Ritual into Liturgy
After introducing herself to the homeowners ready for their decluttering journey, Marie Kondo kneels down and introduces herself to the house. The music suddenly switches to soothing piano resembling that of an altar call. While it seems a bit odd, Christians have their own strange liturgy called a House Blessing. I participated in my first one a few weeks ago and we proceeded through the house with set-prayers for each room.”

For example, the antiphonal prayer for the Guest Bedroom was as follows:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
The stranger that dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you,
and you shall love them as yourselves.

For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Yes, Marie Kondo has some strange rituals. She greets the house when arriving home and thanks her clothes when she puts them away (or discards them). But it got me thinking about two books – Every Moment Holy and Liturgy of the Ordinary, which both demonstrate how to incorporate prayer into our daily humdrum moments. I mean, many of us would thank God for our food as a daily ritual so it’s not too much of a stretch to thank God for our house as we walk into it.

Attentive and Thankful
My friend Amanda commented: “One thing I’ve loved about how Marie Kondo does things so far is the idea that you can have a practice of folding clothes with enjoyment, and gratitude. I had never thought of that possibility before! To me, folding is an almost-fruitless chore, and almost-fruitless chores need to be done as quickly as possible or avoided (hello, clothes-draping chair). So, her way of folding transforms the practice from resentment (“why do I have to live in a society where wrinkled shirts aren’t appropriate?”) to contentment and thankfulness, for the clothes, for the life lived in them and for the time to take care of them. I do want to take that on.” Yes, a little bit of “in all things give thanks” combined with “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord”. These scriptures aren’t just reserved for adorning pretty coffee mugs, but for living out. And yes, it’s not easy!

Seeking Perfection
This is where I find the tension. My penchant for perfectionism began in my last year of high school after hearing a sermon on excellence at a Christian conference. I went from the messiest student (not an overstatement, ask my parents) to suddenly having an obsession with stationary, timetables, and helping organise my friends’ lockers. 12 years later, one side of me reads books like “Present over Perfect” and “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” while following people on Instagram who are #reallife. The other side of me listens to Slow Living podcasts and follows #seekthesimplicity on Instagram. (Yes, you can follow hashtags now, it’s very cool.) I’m realising that I need both. It’s totally ok that I’m wired for organising and wanting to create aesthetically beautiful spaces – but every now and then I need to reign it in and be ok with a bit of chaos.

Attach or Detach?
As a Christian, I’ve been prone to thinking that the best way to overcome consumerism is to detach myself from stuff. I saw the issue as attachment and the solution as detachment. A few weeks ago I read an award-winning article ‘Holy Clutter‘ in which my mindset began to change. The article quotes William Cavanaugh who suggests that “what really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things.” For Cavanaugh, our problem is not that we cling too tightly to things—it is rather that we are perpetually dissatisfied with them and detached from them.’ Insert mindblown emoji here! It seems counterintuitive but the solution to consumerism is to love our things more, not less. This is where Marie Kondo comes in. She teaches us to treat our possessions with love and respect. It’s unfortunate that this lesson begins with discarding unneccesary possessions (which needs to be done thoughtfully) but in reality, it’s the best way to be confronted with our relationship to stuff.

Rachael is Currently…

Watching the Australian Open as my child actually sleeps (this in itself is a miracle) and I’m hoping Andy Murray winning is the second miracle for the night.
Highly recommend the Renovare article Purpose over Preference, about differing styles of worship. It is so so good.
Looking forward to starting a writing course with Malcolm Gladwell through MasterClass.

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