“Does this item spark joy?” I asked myself for the hundredth time, holding an old but well-loved T-shirt in my hands. Like many people around the country, I have been swept up by the “KonMari” method, Marie Kondo’s process of decluttering your home that started a worldwide trend first with her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and now with her Netflix show, “Tidying Up.”
But as I dutifully followed her advice by getting rid of things that didn’t “spark joy” (which, according to Ms. Kondo is akin to the feeling you get when holding a puppy), I started to ask myself, “What am I getting out of this besides bare kitchen counters and neatly folded socks?” Joy has to be more than the contentment of a tidy house. How could I simplify my life and my habits to spark joy in my faith? Once I reconsidered the question, the process became more valuable, and I realized the ethos of this diminutive Japanese woman whose folding methods have made headlines nationwide, actually has a great deal of relevance to our Christian beliefs.
One of the major problems that Ms. Kondo helps people tackle is letting go of all the stuff in their life. Whether due to perceived or sentimental value, we cling to belongings thinking they will add to our lives, only to be dragged down by their emotional weight. While the show focuses on physical items, the idea of letting go of the intangible is equally important. As I got rid of the stuff in front of me, I started thinking about the stuff within:
- Are there grudges or preconceived notions I am holding against someone that prevent me from being a good neighbor?
- Are there negative thoughts from the latest news cycle taking up room in my head?
- Are there sins I am holding onto because of pride or stubbornness that are getting in the way of my spiritual life?
The idea of letting go made me realize not only the benefits of a daily Examen but our regular need for confession.
If you have watched even one episode of “Tidying Up,” you notice that every person is instructed to say “thank you” to each item with which they choose to part. While I admit I didn’t do this every time, this idea of gratitude resonates. Being grateful is the antidote to so many destructive feelings: jealousy, hatred, selfishness, egotism, greed. Yet it is easy to lose it in this age of lifestyle bloggers and Instagram. By showing gratitude for all my stuff, I was able to reexamine other ways I could practice gratitude.
- Am I waking up each morning with a grateful heart and prayer of thanks to God?
- Am I expressing my gratitude through words and deeds to my fellow humans?
- Am I modeling gratitude with my children by regularly expressing our thanks together?
The culmination of each show ends not only with a tidier home but trash bags—dozens and dozens of trash bags filled with items that will be donated and hopefully find use in another home. In our quest to discover what sparks joy, we encounter things we no longer want or need. This reflection of wants vs. needs is not only beneficial to us but to our neighbors and allows us to examine if we are practicing generosity.
- Are there items in my life that could better be used by someone else?
- Am I being a good earthly steward by being a responsible, careful consumer?
- Am I researching and selecting charities that align with my beliefs?
Many will realize that the true beauty of minimizing and simplifying your life, whether you wholeheartedly dive into the KonMari method or not, is not the result of a tidy home. Rather, it is the time and space you receive in return for getting rid of the tangible and emotional clutter in your life. By tackling this decluttering challenge, I was able to also reflect how I was spending my time.
- Am I making enough time for the important people in my life?
- Are there unnecessary obligations that take my time away?
- Am I spending my time wisely or wasting it on mindless entertainment?
- Am I taking time to rest and pause throughout the day?
While I love dressing up my children weekly for Mass, going through this assessment made me realize this practice did not spark joy in my children’s sweatshirt-loving hearts. Instead, the getting-ready routine caused us stress and anxiety on what should be a peaceful day. So, we got rid of the fancy clothes and mutually agreed upon one “church outfit,” which they now wear every week without argument. There are adorable kids’ clothes that my own children will never wear, and we won’t likely ever show up beaming on Instagram with #Sundaybest, but we have a bit of our peaceful Sunday back and that’s all that matters.
By letting go of what I wanted and looking at the bigger picture of what is important for my faith and family, I was able to find that joy everyone is talking about.
My house will never be completely tidy. It will be littered with fingerprints, lone socks, hardened Play-Doh, and errant Legos for years to come. But by minimizing and simplifying my home with a focus on what is important to our family’s spiritual life, I hope to create a space where our faith can flourish.
(Originally published February 6, 2019)