Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up hit shelves in 2014 and became a New York Times bestseller. Fast forward to 2019 and the KonMari Method continues to sweep the world through Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I read the book. I got rid of a few trash bags full of clothing, loose papers, extra pots and pans, and more. And I sat down a few nights ago and watched the first episode of Tidying Up.
The episode followed a couple with two small children as they sought to clear the clutter from their homes. There were tears, a slip and fall over a literal pile of too much stuff, a spat between the couple about the reason why they have too much laundry, and lots of touching and feeling to attain joy.
If you’re not familiar, the KonMari Method is the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Kondo encourages a full-on marathon of clearing clutter and then organizing what is left behind, which should only be things that “spark joy.” Her method works by category (clothing, loose papers, miscellaneous, etc.) and not by location—touching each item and asking one question: “Does it spark joy?”
In the first episode of Tidying Up, I was struck by the emotional weight that the couple carried when faced with the clutter. They had been living in it for quite some time but actually dealing with it evoked an emotional response.
I am convinced that the clutter around us reflects the clutter within us.
Our society is inundated with consumerism, giving more weight to goods and less to the Good. There is a general lack of care for one’s soul and an ignorance surrounding the effects of our environment on our interiority. Kondo uses a great illustration, unintentionally driving home this point: when you’re sitting down to tackle a project, you cannot focus if surrounded by disarray— like sitting down to write at a desk covered in unfiled papers. It can be next to impossible. But, once the area is cleared, you can work.
I think this can also be applied to the spiritual life. Spiritual growth can be impeded by clutter within and without. It likens to the “habit” of some religious orders and the simplicity that life and holiness should entail. We have three areas in our home that tend to collect clutter: the kitchen counter, the pantry (which is a glorified storage closet), and my desk. When I tackle any of these areas, clear the clutter and organize what’s left, I’m always left with a great feeling of accomplishment. Dare I say it? I’m left with peace.
In Jean-Charles Nault’s The Noonday Devil, he gives a definition of acedia using the teaching of Evagrius: a relaxation of the soul or a lack of spiritual energy. Later, it can be defined as a disregard for God. When I think of the clutter in those three places in my home, I know that it piled up because I allowed it to happen. There is a litany of excuses for this clutter: “I’ll file this later”; “I don’t have time to put this up”; “I’ll need this tomorrow.” Upon examination, my excuses for clutter are based on a general failure to prioritize appropriately.
Is it not the same for our spiritual life?
We disregard our venial sins until we become numb to the weight of sin itself. We feel the tug of our heart for prayer and decide that we have a different task that needs our attention. Small annoyances build up until we explode in anger. Spiritual clutter accumulates unless we care for our souls.
Oddly enough, The Noonday Devil and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up end with a similar message: conquering acedia and implementing the KonMari method provide “freedom.” The Noonday Devil concludes that the “chief remedy for acedia is found in the joy of the gift,” and Marie Kondo concludes that tidying up will help the person “find the mission that speaks” to their hearts or to discover the gift that lies behind all the clutter.
Pragmatically, after all the tidying of our homes and our souls, what is left? We are left with what we need to keep. We are left with passion and joy, and a renewed sense of sharing what we have found with the world. Kondo finds immense purpose and joy in showing people how to declutter and organize. If you watch her series on Netflix, you could be swept into her method solely based on her jovial and light demeanor. She radiates such joy that others are not only inspired by her but want to join her company, her team.
The Christian that inspires others carries a similar joy, one which lasts well past a binge-watching session of Tidying Up. The new evangelization begins after an encounter with God, and joy propels the mission to spread the Good News.
The truth is in order to orient one’s self toward encounter, we must also be prepared to deal with our own clutter and the need to let go of those things, those people, those habits that fill our hearts with anything but God. Why are we afraid of letting go? I always hear the vices beckoning after St. Augustine, “Are you going to dismiss us?…From this moment you will never be allowed to do this thing; or that, forevermore…”
My friends, it is clutter. The only lasting joy is in Christ. Let it go. Be free. Prioritize time to identify where the clutter remains and cut it loose. Kondo’s book ends with this beautiful line: “Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.” And spiritually speaking, life begins when we let go of self and let God reign. For as Pope Benedict XVI joyfully proclaimed, “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”
The person that is free of clutter from within and from without discovers that their mission is nothing more than sharing this love, this freedom with the world. In Scripture, after an encounter with Christ, the healed, the set free are always tasked with one mission: “Go.” Going out of self requires an opening up to the Other and abandonment to God. Abandonment cannot happen amidst the clutter that we sometimes allow in our lives. Vanquish acedia with the love of God. Reduce the clutter. Be free. Go.