Unpacking Marie KondoUnpacking Marie Kondo

Unpacking Marie Kondo

Convivium contributor Darcie Dow notes that if we attend to the Netflix “Tidying Up” star’s message of respect for all creation, we can toss out the fear that too often clutters up our faith.

Darcie Dow
4 minute read
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A couple of years ago I walked into my bedroom to find all of my husband’s clothes piled up on our bed. Such was my introduction to Marie Kondo and her KonMari method of tidying up. Although initially overwhelming it has been a positive experience for Keith and I, this purging, remembering, and optimizing. It’s also why I’ve enjoyed watching her new show and all of the buzz surrounding it.

Marie, although a well-known author, has been making headlines since the day “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” was released on Netflix on January 1st.  She is charming and utterly unflappable when she is confronted with Western clutter. She seems to reserve all judgement when it comes to the items people choose to keep - a reservation that has not been seen in her critics.  The number of memes, articles, and posts simply on the number of books one should keep is remarkable.  

A recent article by Japanese-American Margaret Diloway in the Huffington Post shed some light on the strange-to-us practices of greeting a home, waking up books, and thanking clothing articles. Practices which, to Christians, may leave the impression of open-idolatry. However, Diloway explains that the Shinto mindset of the Japanese endow all objects with value and significance; acknowledging the craftsmanship and resources involved in their creation. These practices aren’t as much about worshiping items as about cherishing their value. This stands in stark contrast to our disposable “fast fashion” mentality in the West. 

When approaching a lesson or attribute from a different culture, we can be quick to judge the “rightness” or “wrongness” of it. We base the judgements on our experiences and traditions and, too often, our fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. Suddenly, the whimsical tapping of books to “wake them up” takes on a far more sinister form. But is this necessary?

Many ancient practices from Eastern cultures have made their way into mainstream Western culture. The health benefits of mindfulness and meditation are well documented in medical literature and are often recommended as effective strategies to improving focus and mood. Yoga is another practice which has been welcomed into the fold of acceptability in general society. 

However, in the Christian community, many skeptics remain. Can one practice yoga and not participate in the underlying religious traditions? Is thanking your clothing akin to idolatry? For me, when learning about other faiths and religions, I try to “look for the clues. Take the best and leave the rest,” to loosely paraphrase my pastor. In my church, we talk about how God has left clues pointing to Jesus in other religions. So, we try to look for the clues - the altars to the Unknown God - in other faiths. As the Apostle Paul exemplified, these make excellent starting points for conversation. This posture also leaves room for us to learn something from others.   

In the ancient parable turned to poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe, seven blind men each come across an elephant for the first time. The first encounters only the tusk and thinks an elephant is like a spear. The second encounters only the leg and thinks an elephant is like a tree trunk. The third encounters the trunk and thinks an elephant is like a snake, and so on. In the end, they are all partially right and mostly wrong. What the men fail to do is communicate their own experience and recognize their limits. If they had each shared their knowledge, they would have had a much more accurate impression of an elephant.

Knowing the God is the author and perfecter of our faith, learning from and appreciating aspects of other religions can give us a fuller image of who God is. The Shinto religion misses a lot when it comes to Jesus, but we can learn from their intentional cultivation of gratitude in their lives. Learning to practice thankfulness for what you have, and being content with your belongings to use them to serve God well is not idolatry. While we do not unquestioningly adopt these unfamiliar practices into our home, they can be a window into a more gratitude-filled life – knowing that we aren’t thanking the T-shirt from college but the Creator of the world.

There are aspects of Eastern religions that serve as meaningful counter-points to the frenetic pace of our daily lives. Historically, the Christian Church has also emphasized and practiced its our own versions of mindfulness and gratitude through contemplative prayer, the Daily Examen, and even in giving thanks before meals. Some of these are still widely practiced today, although for many of us, they are not. If watching “Tidying Up” reminds us to be more intentional about giving God thanks for our possessions, then we should do so with a free conscience. 

Personally, the process of tidying our home has made me more content with, and more mindful of, our possessions. Like many of the people on the show, we never want to declutter the entire house again. However, the process challenged us to think about whether our identity is in Christ or in our “things.” We experienced many of the same struggles as those on the show; shock, frustration, humility, guilt. At the end, the feeling was one of accomplishment and ownership. We have chosen to care for the items in our home, and practicing gratitude reminds us that we don’t constantly need “more stuff” to be enough. I pray that others are inspired in the same way.

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Darcie Dow

Darcie Dow lives with her husband and three children in Spencerville, Ontario. She is a homeschool teacher, Girl Guides leader, and member of the Steering Committee for Safe Families Ottawa.

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