Tidy Up, Dear Christians

For all the various takes on KonMari (Kondo Mariko is her Japanese name), I am left wondering about what we as Christians haven’t been taught well in our church buildings with multipurpose spaces, cafes, and bookstores that is coinciding with this cultural moment. Why do we have so much stuff? Why are we or people we know getting rid of garbage bags full of things from one room of my/their home I/they don’t need, I/they don’t fit into, and that don’t spark joy?

Lovers and haters note that Kondo has hit a nerve around our stuff and our preoccupation with stuff, the accumulation of it, and the purpose of the stuff we surround ourselves with. Christians are not immune from that preoccupation even though we say and have heard that we can’t take our stuff to heaven (or our church buildings, for that matter) and yet the Christian industrial complex pumps out stuff, most of it geared towards (white) women sold to us at (white) Christian women’s conferences by (white) Christian women. There are several (white) Christian women who have built lifestyle brands around shabby chic, reclaimed wood decor, and statement jewelry, none of which we can take with us to heaven, and even as I look around my home I wonder what if any of it is about bringing about joy let alone bringing about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven unless we think heaven will be a cross between Ikea and Magnolia.

And just in case someone is ready to pounce, I AM PART OF THE CHRISTIAN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. I am a published author promoting a book, side gigging sassy cross-stitching and bracelets. Part of my “brand” is that I often sport a t-shirt with a provoking message, and the other part of my brand can’t be copied because I bought the last blouse in the clearance section. I am writing because I am wrestling, and I hope my Dear Readers you are, too, whether or not you are KonMarie fan. I am also a neat freak but also a child of immigrants. There is no pretty way of drying my ziplock baggies that I have washed to reuse. There is no joyful way of saving every plastic container that can be reused rather than buying matching plastic food storage containers. Old towels don’t bring me joy but their stiffness and scratchiness help with exfoliation and absorption (I don’t use dryer sheets).

Kondo is Japanese. Her method is socially located in a country where space is limited and overcrowded spaces are giving way to tidiness, whereas here in the US an entire industry has emerged around people paying for additional storage to hold their extra stuff.  Haters go on about how ridiculous it is to pare down a book collection to 30 books, but as one who has several bookcases throughout my home full of books I will never read again how many of us are too afraid to admit the books make us feel accomplished, intelligent, and therefore safe and affirmed? No? Me neither. It’s not a judgment, but I will be honest. The books I surround myself with say as much about my intentions around reading as they do about how I perceive myself and how I want to be perceived. Who wants to talk with me about that and not just about how my bookcases look so much better having gotten rid of many of the books written by white men?

The same goes with the rest of our stuff. Does a tidy home say something about our interior lives? Do we believe a tidy home is inherently better and therefore a reflection of my interior life being…better? Tidier? Closer to an ideal? What does this love/hate around Kondo say to us Christians about our relationship to the physical world and its connection to our interior lives? Or does it? Instead of Christians bragging about the number of books they have gotten rid of or kept, I want to wrestle with our relationship to the physical. I think that is in part what Kondo is doing and that’s why it’s hitting a nerve, for better and for worse. I am afraid that once again the Church has abdicated some degree of responsibility to the “culture out there” as if we can’t taste a bit of our own hypocrisy as we sip our fair trade coffee in church-branded mugs.

5 Comments

  1. Candy January 16, 2019

    I’ve been a silent observer as social media debates Kondo, and since I haven’t watched her show I haven’t formed an opinion either way. but I think you’ve parsed out the deeper issue–us and our stuff–so succinctly and perfectly. now I’m thinking about my own relationship to my stuff. particularly in the context of my faith.

    “The books I surround myself with say as much about my intentions around reading as they do about how I perceive myself and how I want to be perceived.”

    that sentence in particular struck a nerve with me and I had to be really, brutally honest for a moment. I really do love reading and enjoy books (my first job was in a public library!) but between the library that I still visit regularly, and my amazon prime subscription, I have stacks and stacks of books that I will likely never get through. and I wonder if that has less to do with my love of reading and more to do with how it sounds when I tell people that I’m usually in the midst of reading 3-4 at any given time. ick. and gross. I think there are some things I definitely need to reflect on.

    Reply
  2. Paul January 16, 2019

    Hi Kathy,

    > For all the various takes on KonMari (Kondo Mariko is her Japanese name),
    *** I’d be curious to read any negative reactions to KonMari from Christians.

    > Why do we have so much stuff?
    *** I am fortunate that both my wife and I are minimalists — not that we wear it as a badge of honor or anything. It’s just who we are. But yeah, I have to say I am horrified when I see the amount of stuff that Christian consumers have in their homes. I went to a pastor’s home and they had a huge 100” TV and toys galore for their 3 kids. What does this say about stewarding of our resources? (But note my confession below)

    [Jesus] then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15; CSB)

    > And just in case someone is ready to pounce, I AM PART OF THE CHRISTIAN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.
    *** Thanks for your honesty Kathy. 🙂

    > I am also a neat freak but also a child of immigrants. There is no pretty way of drying my ziplock baggies that I have washed to reuse. There is no joyful way of saving every plastic container that can be reused rather than buying matching plastic food storage containers.
    *** As a son of an immigrant, I laughed when I read this! “drying my ziplock baggies”!! LOL!

    > Haters go on about how ridiculous it is to pare down a book collection to 30 books,
    *** Confession time: I used to own 10 – 12 bookshelves worth of books! My justification: I’m acquiring a seminary education through self-study.

    > but as one who has several bookcases throughout my home full of books I will never read again how many of us are too afraid to admit the books make us feel accomplished, intelligent, and therefore safe and affirmed? … The books I surround myself with say as much about my intentions around reading as they do about how I perceive myself and how I want to be perceived. Who wants to talk with me about that …
    *** OK, I’ll bite. For me, I genuinely love to study theology, philosophy, etc. However, there is also a subversive side: I was tired of the condescending manner in which the clerical caste spoke (whether in sermons or to me personally). Biblical literacy is not restricted to just the “clergy” and I was going to prove it.

    > The same goes with the rest of our stuff. Does a tidy home say something about our interior lives? … I am afraid that once again the Church has abdicated some degree of responsibility to the “culture out there” as if we can’t taste a bit of our own hypocrisy as we sip our fair trade coffee in church-branded mugs.
    *** Amen! Totally agree with you. Thanks for getting the conversation going! More could be said, but I’ll stop for now. Thanks again for your post!

    Reply
  3. Heather Lynn Caliri January 16, 2019

    I grew up in a home that was very tidy and organized and terribly, terribly unhappy. It took me a long time to admit to myself that I myself was tidy because I so associated neatness with unhappiness. I hate the ways women shame themselves (and its always us women who talk about it) about the state of their houses and how much they struggle to organize or declutter. The stuff is a yoke, and also our way of judging all that stuff is often very much like the way we judge fatness as a kind of moral failing. I like you am complicit in all of this, and also caught in the same net. Finally, though, a tidy space keeps my head less anxious. Less stuff helps me not feel frantic and burdened. I start there and try to learn what works for -me- and leave other people’s tidy or not houses to them, because I know happiness does not necessarily come from neatly folded t-shirts. It’s all so complicated, and I really appreciate you writing about it here.

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  4. Mary January 18, 2019

    Preach it! I don’t know if you intended this to be sermon like but it definitely spoke to me. I am SO WITH YOU.

    I think we have bought into all of the advertising that buying stuff will make us happier. It’s almost impossible to avoid.

    Buying stuff, thinking about buying stuff, deciding which one to buy, adding things to my wish list (mentally), and spending time going through clearance racks and thrift shops, have definitely been a way for me to occupy myself, whilst fooling myself that it is a worthwhile endeavor. A part of me knows that it’s a method of escape in some ways, but there is the practicality and comfort provided in having a really nice knife or printer (some of my more recent purchases).

    Anyway, my thoughts are all over the place right now but I am definitely pro decluttering and buying less things.

    Reply
  5. Xavier Graves January 22, 2019

    I have just watched a couple of episodes with my wife. There are parts of our house we should really practice this with. Specifically our kid’s toys. I worry about the message we send them. But as a black male leader I will like to add more books. And I want it to tell a story about who I am. I literally was telling one of my teens in my youth group this past Sunday to come to my house and pick a book off my shelf. And between that moment and reading this post, I realized I didn’t know any black role models that loved reading growing up. And Kathy I believe you nailed it, when you asked does the stuff we have bring the kingdom down to earth as it is in Heaven. For us we have items that don’t (Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, McDonald’s toys) and things that do (books, large kitchen table, full pantries)

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