February’s “From the Pastor”: Sparking Joy and Our Relationship to Stuff

Some of you may be familiar with Marie Kondo and the KonMari method for tidying up your home. (Some of you may also be sick of hearing about it by now!) Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing and tidying consultant who has written books on her method of tidying and travels around lecturing and working with clients. She has a new TV program on Netflix that debuted January 1st, which is why you might be seeing or hearing about her more lately.

The whole center of her method is focused on finding what “sparks joy” for you. The method includes holding each thing you own and asking yourself whether it sparks joy. If yes, keep it; if not, it goes, and if it goes, you thank the item for what it has done for you. There is a greater structure to it as well, but that’s the central concept, and her method is designed to connect you to it.

Marie Kondo has plenty of fans as well as plenty of critics, and both camps came out in full force again when the show began. (When she said that she had only about thirty books in her home, book-lovers everywhere reacted viscerally!) Count me in as an initial skeptic—although I will admit, I am enjoying the show, perhaps because I can vicariously feel like a neat and tidy person by watching it.

But I started thinking about it differently when I read an article about her spiritual background. The KonMari method is based on principles of Shintoism, a religion and philosophy native to Japan that believes that every inanimate object actually has a spirit, a kami. This is the basis of Marie Kondo’s reverence for and respect for all objects, even including the house or apartment itself. Kondo served as an assistant at a Shinto shrine for five years before becoming the household name she is today.

I’ve seen some Christians use this as a reason to reject the KonMari method. After all, we don’t really believe that mysterious spirits live in our books and need to be woken up by patting them (Kondo does this often). We know that our salvation is not dependent on having your clothing neatly folded and standing on end. While there are certainly ways to substitute Christian principles for the Shinto ones, we shouldn’t pretend they are one and the same.

At the same time, this religious critique of her methods bothered me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on how or why at first, but I knew it did. Because after all, Christian do have a theology of stuff! It’s called incarnation. We believe that Jesus is God in human flesh, and we believe that Jesus promised to be with us through stuff, through bread and wine and water. That means that we believe objects do matter, even if we don’t believe they have literal spirits inhabiting them.

Things are not gods. But they and their accumulation and their positioning do have some kind of power with us, because we are physical beings as well as intellectual and spiritual. Having mountains of possessions is not only a physical problem, it is a spiritual one as well, because it prevents us from stewarding any of them wisely or appreciating the gifts we have been given. In fact, our theology of stewardship should flow from our theology of incarnation. God asks us to care for the world, not only because he made it, but because he is present in it.

And it’s both appropriate and honest to say that things can spark joy for us. Being grateful for our possessions should never be just about the possessions themselves; it should always be about what life they allow us to live. Is it a joyful life? A purposeful life? An appreciation for God-given beauty or fine craftsmanship? A life that enables you to serve others? That sense of deeper meaning and greater gratitude is something we can learn from Marie Kondo, even if the driving force is something different.

I don’t know that I’ll be KonMari-ing my spaces anytime soon, but I do think Christians can learn something important from the process that helps us reflect on our own unique tradition and its theology of “stuff.” I’d love to hear what you think about this, whether you’ve tried the KonMari method or decided it’s definitely not for you. Or if, like me, you enjoy the Netflix show but do most of your tidying in your mind!

Together in Christ,

Pastor Katie Yahns

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