Putting our house in order

April 1, 2019 - 12:00am -- Living City

Putting our house in order
The popular Netflix series with Marie Kondo brings us back to the essential. Our spiritual lives could use some tidying up, too

By Susanne Janssen

“Does it spark joy?” This question stuck with me after I recently watched an episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

I thought to myself: wait — what about that plaid jacket that is a bit itchy? (People always compliment me, but I don’t wear it often.) Should I give it to someone else? And what about the cardigan I only wear once a year? It then occurred to me that it’s not about having more, but having things that benefit you.

Time to declutter

Decluttering frees your energy, and this resonates with the motto “Less is more” that a lot of people are discovering for themselves. No more energy wasted on just possessing things, but rather on making memories and living your life.

It is a very timely message, especially in the U.S. and Canada, where overflowing garages leave no room for a car, and rental space is required for all that extra stuff. Cramped, crowded houses give witness to the necessity of Kondo’s message.

Watching this energetic petite woman jumping through messy living rooms, dirty kitchens and crowded garages made me immediately feel guilty. The episodes show a variety of struggles to keep drawers organized, and I could clearly identify with the difficulties of the people portrayed, trying to let go of “sentimental objects.”

I looked at my closet, and the question “Does it spark joy?” came back to me. I decided to share a sweater that hadn’t sparked much joy, so that someone else could enjoy it. Kondo suggests thanking every object for its service.

I thought, “Wow, this is the communion of goods that I want to live.’” Like the first Christians, I need to take only what I need and give away what I don’t need. If I accumulate too much, I might not even see how much I have!

This is good for us

As she first connects with the house in which the family lives, she makes a humble gesture thanking the house for providing shelter. This is a fundamentally different message than all the “fixer upper” shows that aim at remodeling the whole house.

Instead, this production tells you: no, you don’t need to paint the walls and buy new furniture and decorations. It is enough to get rid of the extra stuff and organize everything better. And — remarkable for a TV production — she is refreshingly polite, respectful and doesn’t admonish her clients for the mistakes and messy corners in their houses.

The amazing result that some of the couples share is that the new tidiness also affects their relationship: less fighting, more time together, less distraction.

She has a method: She goes ahead step by step through clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items in the kitchen, bathroom and storage, and finally — last and most difficult — sentimental items. She respects the feelings of the people she’s dealing with, and as she talks about her method in her books, she does so by supporting people, not telling them, “You did everything wrong,” which could seem more entertaining for some viewers.

There is already talk about the “Kondo effect” on charitable contributions. In January 2019 charities received 15–25% more donations than usual.

Even beyond putting our goods to someone else’s use, the principle is very much in tune with “imitating the plants” that take out of the soil only the nourishment they need. As human beings we do not need to accumulate stuff in order to be happier.

But should we discard people?

A second thought came to my mind: What does the spark of joy tell me about my relationships? Do they all spark joy in me, like dear family members and friends, or people whom I feel very close to on my journey in faith? The question gets way more complicated. Actually, I need those people who spark joy, because they sustain me and help me when I go through a difficult moment.

But what about those people who challenge me — those who criticize me, don’t like me or make my life more difficult? More than one popular meme on social media tells you to get rid of negative people in your life.

Well, that might be both a bit egotistic and eventually near-sighted. Looking back, a lot of people who might fit in this category have helped me to be more patient, accept a painful truth about myself or become more aware of my true strengths, and thus become more resilient. Those people challenged me to grow and to mature.

It reminded me of what Giosi Guella, one of Focolare’s pioneers, used to say: “Every conflict with a neighbor is an opportunity to enlarge our soul. Every time I clash with the other, I have the possibility to enlarge my narrow mind and to learn to love more.”

A rude boss taught me to work more precisely and showed me the friendship of my coworkers. A colleague’s insensitive comments made me aware of my impulsive way of answering. A friend who always took the unknown road shook my habits and perspectives.

Marie Kondo helps people to put things in order, to get rid of unnecessary things and to have time for what is essential. I put my spiritual life in order, so I’m able to see what is necessary and why. This enlarges my soul and sparks joy in me.

It goes way deeper than happy memories or crises lived together. A person sparks joy when the relationship is authentic. It’s not a superficially happy feeling.

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