Okay, have you heard of Marie Kondo?
She’s been all over the internet this 2019 and on Netflix with her new show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I mean, she’s pretty successful and has sold millions of copies of her books Spark Joy (2012) and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2016), and more. Those titles alone pretty much sum up what Marie Kondo is about: sparking joy through tidying up all your stuff.
If you don’t know much about this new pop culture icon, here are the basics:
Marie Kondo’s method of tidying involves her brand called Kon Mari. It sorts through your belongings by category (not room), starting with clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous items (kitchen, garage etc), and then sentimental items. The #KonMariMethod has six basic rules:
- Commit yourself to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
- Finish discarding first
- Tidy by category, not location
- Follow the right order
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
While the show has been wildly popular, and has seemingly boosted the business of thrift stores all over North America as people purge their belongings, I often wonder if it could apply to student life, too. Do her philosophies and tips translate to high school, college, or university living? Can we take her principles of tidying and apply them to a biblical context?
Well that depends. But yes, I think they sorta do. And yes, I think we can!
I had a chance to deconstruct her spirituality and methods and I have some insights to share.
A recent article with the Huffington Post shares insight into Kondo’s spiritual background and Shinto roots, which is reflected in the show. Those who follow the Shinto religion (which translates to “the way of the gods”) believe in gods (or spirits) called Kami that are present everywhere— in humans, nature, and inanimate objects. That’s why Kondo begins her tidying with a ritual to welcome herself to the house, and even “wakes up” books that are “sleeping”. Thanking objects points to gratitude for the Kami inside of them.
The author of the article, Margaret Dilloway (who has a Japanese Shinto mother) explains,
“Japanese culture, like any, is not monolithic, but the expectation to respect where you live and work… is ingrained into many Japanese households that practice Shinto traditions. Treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object, are all essentially Shinto ways of living. Even if you don’t have the space for shelves of books or can’t afford a dresser with enough drawers, make what you have work for you, instead of being unhappy that you don’t have more.”
While Kondo’s practices on the show are intriguing and perhaps unusual, it’s important to understand how her actions reflect Shinto beliefs.
Though some principles may be harmless on their own, for those who follow Jesus, we need to be careful that we don’t adopt a Shinto mindset and philosophy when we tidy up our own spaces.
In the book of Romans, Paul writes to the church in Rome, and reflects on those who don’t follow God and who have turned away from his truth. These people didn’t
“honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever!”Romans 1:21-25, ESV
The Bible clearly distinguishes God as three persons, God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells inside the hearts of all who follow Jesus, pointing us to truth, and helping to make us new—to become more like Christ as we grow and are sanctified (1 Cor 6:11).
There are other spiritual forces on earth, like angels who do the work of God, and Satan and his demons, whom although they exercise power, are still ultimately under God’s control and authority (Job 1:6-12). As Christians, we believe that there are no Kami living within humans, nature, and inanimate objects. Believing that objects have spirits or soulsinside of them is part of animism, which is strictly warned against in the bible as idolatry. As Paul warned, we are not to worship created objects, but are to worship our Creator who is God the Father.
Shintoism aside, Kondo’s tidying tips and principles can provide excellent structure and a helpful starting point for those who need help reining in their material belongings. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater with this Netflix show, but we do need to be discerning and apply it with a biblical framework.
1. Instead of thanking our home or objects for serving us, thank God for his provision and walk in faith that he will continue to provide for all your needs.
God knows all of our needs. He knows we need food, clothes, a home, and even community to thrive. He generously offers himself, knowing that without him, we would be completely lost. Personally, I find Matthew 6 comforting, knowing how easy is it to feel anxious when I feel in lack.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matt 6:26-32, ESV
When we tidy, purge, and organize, we can thank God, who generously gives us all things. He meets our needs, often beyond the bare minimum. When we let go of objects, by way of donation, gifting, or even discarding, we can thank God for all he has given. We can walk in faith that in the future he will provide again. There’s no need to hoard and store up countless objects that weigh us down, in fear that God won’t give again.
Jesus also invites us to come to him each moment, to abide, so that we won’t feel paralyzed by how much we may have. In some cases with excessive consumption, we may feel rightfully guilty because we have failed to place God first and trust in him. But he invites us to trust him again each morning and rely on him for all our needs. The guilt can paralyze us, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can set it aside, be washed in forgiveness, and walk forward in freedom.
2. Don’t lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven and eternal investments.
Jesus warns earlier in Matthew 6:19 to not “lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” The reality is, our stuff is just stuff. It’s breakable, destroy-able, and steal-able. It has limits and it’s not eternal.
When Jesus returns and he defeats Satan once and for all, there will be a new earth that we get to live on forever—a perfect earth. Will there be IKEA bookshelves? Or Netflix, or iPhones? I have no idea, but I do know that the things we cling to most tightly now won’t matter in light of eternity. We can still enjoy them and use them wisely, because God is glorified when we enjoy his good gifts. But if those gifts become ultimate in our lives, and take the place of God, we have lost eternal perspective.
Jesus instructs us to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:20), things of true eternal value. Where our treasure is, our heart is there also. On earth, there are only three things that are truly eternal: God, the bible, and the souls of men and women. We are called to first press into knowing God more deeply, in reading and treasuring the bible, and investing in the eternal lives of people around us. Then we are able to enjoy the material objects and gifts with a healthy perspective.
3. Be content with what you have, your limits, and your space. Start there.
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells us to ask God for our “daily bread” (Matt 6:11). God gives us just what we need for that day, week, or even season of life. He invites us to be content in every situation. That includes our limits and boundaries on our space. Ok, so your closet or bedroom is small. How can you make that work in this season, instead of longing for something bigger or more? It may look like downsizing and being content with less, for a time.
Any yet, often, less ends up being more. Personally, I experience this bizarre relationship between my stuff and my emotional state. With fewer belongings there seems to be more space for rest, clear thinking, and peace. I first need to go to God to find all those things, but in a chaotic environment, my heart and mind almost feel more cluttered.
Watching Kondo’s show can feel overwhelming. How can one person have so many clothes? It may even provoke feelings of bitterness. Why do some people have so much when I may have so little? It can feel painful watching others’ excess when we feel in such great lack, but could it be that God is placing boundaries in our lives, preventing us from chasing a worldly ideal that may kill us with consumption? The gospel invites us to trust God each moment, trusting that God sees and knows what we need. And to celebrate with thankfulness, when he does provide, even in ways we don’t at first expect.
Paul writes to Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim 6:6-7, ESV). In Proverbs 14:20 we see that, “a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Let’s not chase after more or bigger, they’re not better, and envy will rot us from the inside out.
4. Grow in #adulting by being responsible for your belongings.
God created Adam and Eve and gave them dominion over all the earth and instructed them to subdue it and steward it (Gen 1:28). In our lives today, men and women still have that innate calling in each of us. It is a calling to not allow our belongings and created objects to rule over us, but to steward our earth and take care of what we create.
Our belongings shouldn’t have emotional control over us, holding us hostage. When we realize that we are serving our stuff, instead of allowing our stuff to serve us, it points to a deeper idolatry of our possessions. We can identify with where we have wrongly placed our worship and agree with God about our sin. We can choose to trust the truth of the gospel: that Jesus came to earth to live, die on the cross, and be raised again, to give us spiritual freedom from what holds us in bondage. We have already been made free, clean, and new.
We can walk in faith, redirecting our worship to Jesus, and taking our emotional concerns and needs to him. They won’t be met or satisfied in our belongings. Inanimate objects don’t have spirits inside of them. They have nothing of eternal value to offer us.
In fact, growing as an adult, and growing in spiritual maturity, looks like taking responsibility for our belongings and redirecting our worship back to Jesus, daily, moment by moment. As we trust him alone to satisfy us, we have new freedom to let go of things that we actually don’t like, don’t serve our current needs and lifestyle, and generously give to others to help meet their needs.
So does all of this mean our rooms need to be perfect and never a little messy? That’s not always realistic. But, there’s a greater God-ordained opportunity to be mindful of what we own, and steward things well with proper eternal perspective.
To be honest, as a student, developing healthy practices like tidying can be wise. All truth is God’s truth, and there is plenty of good, helpful truth in things that aren’t explicitly “Christian,” like Netflix shows about clutter. As long as you are able to biblically contextualize the books, movies, and Netflix shows you consume, you will be able to find great value in things like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and be more equipped to better take care of your life, your home, and our world.