A few weeks ago, a close friend of mine told me about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing a book by a woman named Marie Kondo, a Japanese “cleaning consultant”. A mutual friend of both of ours had read it and had highly recommended it. I went home to look it up and was shocked to discover that it was THE number one bestseller in books on Amazon currently.

In her article for New York Magazine, “De-Cluttering Is the New Juice Cleanse (and Equally Annoying)”, Maureen O’Connor writes:

AR-AI981_Tidy_DV_20150225160144“Japanese lifestyle guru Marie Kondo is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a self-help best seller that has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. She studied feng shui and used to work at a Shinto shrine. She has been compared to a princess, a fairy, and a snowflake. She was one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015.”

She is driving me insane.

It’s not that Kondo’s jihad on messiness isn’t admirable. In her book, Kondo claims that a clutter-free living promotes confidence, serenity, and “the energy and motivation to create the life you want.” Given the sheer number of people who have embraced her philosophy, I gather that she gets results. And by “gather,” I mean that since the English translation of Tidying Up hit shelves last fall, there has been no way to avoid the exuberant exhortations of Kondo acolytes at every brunch, happy hour, and dinner party; on Twitter, Instagram, and your college roommate’s Facebook wall; at baby showers, bridal showers, and Mother’s Day teas. The “KonMari method” for cleanliness is the new juice fast, the new SoulCycle, the new organic food. Which is to say: It is a method for self-improvement that inspires cultlike evangelism — and passive-aggressive social warfare masquerading as cultlike evangelism. Once upon a time, your cruelest frenemies would watch you snacking on Tostitos, then announce how much weight they lost by giving up gluten. Now, they arch an eyebrow as you dig through the junk at the bottom of your purse, and pointedly ask whether you read that amazing book, the one about tidiness?”….

In 2013, Vanessa Grigoriadis called the juice cleanse “a new emblem of modern urban virtue, self-control, and simplicity.” In 2015, the same can be said for de-cluttering. Just as juicers simultaneously glorify and deny food — obsessing, for instance, over the power of kale while consuming it only in strictly portioned quantities — Kondo portrays her zeal for de-cluttering as a form of respect for material goods. (She devotes an entire chapter to “Treating Your Socks and Tights With Respect,” which basically comes down to folding them very carefully.) Before throwing away any object that has ceased to “spark joy,” Kondo instructs her followers to thank the object for its service. If dietary evangelism has its quasi-religious roots in asceticism and mortification of the flesh, then Kondo’s minimalism is part animism, part Zen.”

Movements like Marie Kondo’s are not unusual. It seems as if the idea of “living simply” is everywhere. Whether it’s Jen Hatmaker’s book “Seven” or the Tiny House Movement, less is clearly more these days.


As Maureen O’Connor herself said above, it’s not that these efforts aren’t admirable. Simplifying your environment, not unlike eating healthy and exercise, can be healthy and good. O’Connor’s piece struck such a chord with me because I was (not to brag or fetishize failure, of course) the messiest person you have potentially have ever met. My roommate in college could tell you stories for days, maybe even a week solid. I ate food in my bed and didn’t throw away the containers for weeks, there was nothing hanging in my closet because it was covering the floor and no one could ever ride with me–the only seat in my car that didn’t have junk in it was the driver’s seat.

When I was 27 and pregnant with our first child, some kind of (hormonal? Holy Spirit?) flip switched, and for months I cleaned all the time, organized, hung my laundry up, actually did dishes. I wiped my countertops several times a day. I even started to DVR “Hoarding: Buried Alive” and watched it late at night just so I could feel smug and superior. My house was immaculate and finally organized.

Five years later, I no longer watch “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, and my cleaning has leveled off a bit–but I haven’t gone back. I no longer can fall asleep in a messy room or drive a car with 20 Diet Coke cans decorating the floorboard. My husband will be the first to tell you that over the course of the thirteen years we have known one another, this change has been dramatic. Neither of us could tell you exactly how it occurred though. I certainly did nothing to engineer it. He brought up my messiness in pre-martial counseling as an issue and now the poor guy can barely set down a drinking glass without me putting it in the dishwasher.


Reflecting on own experience with organization and cleanliness, coupled with the current social pressures to expunge, I can say that, at least for me, the “stuff” is not (and was never) the problem. I wish I could say that once I finally started giving away clothes  or throwing away mismatched tupperware that I felt better, but I didn’t.

Like anything that promises us control, the idea of purging (whether through juicing or de-cluttering) is attractive. But it is built on the premise that, once everything is stripped away and tidied up, what’s left is pure. If only getting rid of the physical clutter in my home could have helped me escape my emotional clutter. My house is clean, but I’m still a mess. De-Cluttering, just like eating healthy or juicing, can have many benefits, but it certainly doesn’t offer you any peace when you wake up in the middle of the night worried about your marriage, money or your righteousness.

Sure, there are always areas in which I could improve: my closets have some things in them I could probably give away, my purse has a lot of receipts in it, and my car can get messy fast with two kids who seem to bring home no less than 45 art projects anytime they leave anywhere. I have a feeling if I levied my concerns that de-cluttering and organizing hasn’t really freed me from anything, Marie Kondo might just tell me that I did it wrong–that I should have been more intentional about the whole thing.

If there is any merit to the whole de-cluttering movement it is that it points to something outside of us to bring us relief from what keeps us up at night. It just points to the wrong thing. What finally helps me sleep is the assurance we hear about in next week’s lectionary readings, that that there was One who was willing to step into the mess to end all messes, not to condemn, but to absolve (John 3:17)–to blot out every stain, especially the ones that do not spark joy.