Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. My Orthodox Christian take on Marie Kondo's book.

Last week our family was at a book store. My kids were all absorbed in different exciting titles when a little turquoise book caught my eye. The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. "I think I have actually heard of this book," I thought. (Which is a small miracle in and of itself, as my head has been buried in the sand for almost two years now.) "Is this the one my mom had just told me about?" I had just turned 40 two days before and decided to buy it for my birthday present. I have been trying to learn how to find joy in the last few years, and one way is to buy myself a birthday present that I like. In this way I can empower myself to not become bitter if I don't receive something to my liking. It's still a broken process for a broken woman, but for now it's helping me. Regardless, about the book...I figured, how could it hurt? Maybe it will actually inspire me to keep my house clean once and for all! 

I am almost finished reading the book. Let me first say that Marie, is NOT a Christian. She is from Japan and visits shrines, Buddhists temples, and is a pagan worshiper, she discusses that briefly in her book. One of the opening lines in the book is quoting from her fans and one of them says that they were SO helped that not only did she get rid of all of her clutter but she also got rid of her husband and divorced him. Um, yikes. My 18-year-old scolded me when she read that part of the book wondering what sort of crazy trash her mother had purchased. Good for her, she’s my fiery child and keeps me honest. I decided to be rebellious and read it anyway.

I was antsy to do some of her recommendations, but I didn’t want to dive right in and do it in her correct order. (my rebellious side rearing it's ugly head) In hindsight I now see why she lays down the law so-to-speak, it can create issues if you go about tidying in the incorrect manner.

The other evening I decided to tackle some of my husband's clothes. I folded his laundry the Marie Kondo way, put it all nicely away in his drawer. I discarded some socks and shirts that had holes in them and “kondo-ed” his main large top drawer. I asked him about this nice pair of pants that I bought him a few years ago. Mainly I was asking if we could get rid of them since I didn’t see him wear them, I was trying to be true to Marie saying that you can’t just get rid of other people’s things. In my mind, I thought that getting rid of them by asking him first was perfectly fine, but in reality it wasn't. He reluctantly said, “Well, fine, I guess.” He was clearly annoyed, so I re-asked, “Well, do you like them? Do you wear them a lot?” He replied, “Well, I do like them, but I don’t wear them a lot.” I realized that I had been too pushy, I re-asked, “Well, I don’t have to get rid of them, it’s ok, I don’t want you to be annoyed.” He replied, “Well, I am annoyed, but I already said that you could get rid of them, so take me at my word and just do it.” Ouch. I still didn’t see, really, what was going on there…

This morning I was walking around in our bedroom, making the bed, admiring his clean side of the room that I had worked on tidying up. I then walked around my suitcase on my side of the bed, and got dressed. I picked up the t-shirt off of our chair and put that on, the jeans that were also on the chair, I put those on, I picked up the socks that were on the floor and put those on. Not one item did I remove from my tidy closet as I have my clothes “stored” on the chair and on the floor around it and on the comfortable couch. It’s easy for me to get dressed when the clothes aren’t put away. My error hit me like a painless loud slap across the face.

“Look at you,” I thought. “Look at your clothes messily draped on the only chair in the bedroom so that neither of us can sit there, look at the pile of clothes that fell off of the couch.  Look at the opened suitcase that you haven’t bothered to unpack after being home for 7 days, look at the box of stuff just sitting on the floor there that you don’t know what to do with, that has been there for over a month now. No wonder my poor husband was annoyed at me, I’d rather clean and sort his things rather than my own. The whole time I was asking him about his one pair of pants he was looking at more than 20 pieces of my clothing strewn about behind me. How much are my sins that are the same way? How often have I done this to him in our twenty years of marriage? How does he stand it? How often do I look straight past my own clutter and sins and look at his? How blind I have been?! How selfish and pretentious.”

Our soul is often referred to as a room. We have to clean out the room of our soul in order for Christ to have a place to sit. My husband literally doesn’t have a place to sit in our room because of MY clothes, how much more do I need to take a closer look at my soul so that Christ (and even my husband) has a place to sit? What sort of little sins have I allowed through my front door? Sins can grow just like our piles of clothes can. It sits on the couch and before you know it the pile is covering the whole thing…just as sin will grow into a giant beast and getting rid of it is much harder than getting rid of a cute little harmless baby sin. How do we get rid of these? Frighteningly, the only way I can see is with fierce violence. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent men take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12) My unwillingness to look not only at the clothes in front of my face nor my sins reminds me of how weak and lukewarm I really am. I remind myself of that frog that’s in the pot that is slowly being boiled alive. How often do I make excuses every single day for the sins that I commit? The Lord says, “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.” (Revelations 3:16)

There are so many similarities in the way Marie approaches decluttering to the way that we must approach the spiritual life. Marie says, “To quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with a family that doesn’t tidy.” Woah, that sounds familiar. Compare this with our own spiritual struggles. How many times have we been told to quit looking at your neighbor’s sins and concentrate on your own?! “As if drawn into your wake, they will begin weeding out unnecessary belongings and tidying without your having to utter a single complaint. It may sound incredible, but when someone starts tidying it sets off a chain reaction.” (Marie Kondo pp. 52) The funny thing is that the other book that I’m currently reading is, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. I literally just read the part, “It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it. Even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.” (#14 in Chapter On family life) How amazing the similarities of these two statements…our families and friends don’t need us to fix their ways, they need us to fix ourselves. Clean up our own hearts and our own bedrooms and only then can we, with true humility and meekness, help them to clean up theirs.

The other thing that Marie harps on is making sure that the things you keep spark joy, you must purge those things from your life that drag you down, but in order to do that you must find the things that give you peace, joy and comfort. How badly do we need this also in our every day life? 

Finding joy is not always easy, but that is what God truly wants from us. He desires us to be fulfilled, joyful, grateful... He gives us roofs over our heads, money in our wallet, food in our belly, and we complain. Why?? Well, we have people that we love who have died, we might have house in dis-repair, we might have a mean boss or even spouse. These hardships, like the thorns of a rose, bring us to our knees. On our knees we can repent of our sins and ask God to help us get up again. These hardships bring us closer to our Father who deeply loves us beyond measure. Our job is that we must be thankful always and joyful always. It is our duty. We must look at the roses rather than their thorns. Remembering that the money we possess, the house we own, the car we drive are not ours, but gifts from our Creator and the lover of mankind. 

For me this reminder from Elder Thaddeus was helpful and may indeed help me on my tidying up journey, “Any work we do here on earth is God’s work. However we always work with reservation, without sincerity. Not only can God not bear that, but no human being can. We know that the universe belongs to God, that the Earth is God’s planet, and that everything belongs to God, no matter what type of work we do.”

I’m thankful that I’m reading Marie’s book while reading Elder Thaddeus. He keeps things real. I realize now that my job, the one that God gave me, is to focus on my family, my husband and my children. I’m supposed to keep a tidy house, to cook good meals for them. I always wanted this job while I was a kid and after 20 years of marriage I’m finally waking up and realizing what my actual job is. God gave me my heart's desire and I have spent so much of that time being miserable in the work that He gave to me out of His deep love for me. I took a left turn somewhere along the way. Let’s pray that I can have the strength and courage to stay on track.

I appreciate Marie’s book and her attitude to look at all items with extreme scrutiny. She encourages you to thank each item for its purpose that it had in your life and then give it away or discard it. With the sin that we face we will not give it that gratitude like we do with our things. We must spit on it when we shove it out the door. If we treat it with kindness and love, then we still love that sin more than God and we are not really getting rid of it. Just like I have taught my kids to tidy up their room, you start with the largest items taking up the most floor space first, you get a cleaner room in a much faster way. We will do likewise and tackle the big sins first, not those little ones. If we first uproot the large beasts from their comfy chair we can more easily see and then deal with the smaller sins that remain. I wish that tidying our hearts was as easy as tidying our homes. It. Will. Be. Hard. But, it is do-able. We CAN uproot the sins that keep us from drawing closer to our families, our husbands and our God. Maybe decluttering my heart will help me to start dealing with some of my physical clutter, and maybe decluttering my house will allow me to face the past, thank my struggles for teaching me valuable lessons and then move forward on the path towards Christ. I know that it’s far more important to declutter my soul than my house, but with Christ’s help, I can end up doing both in this process.

Glory be to God for all things!!!