A couple of years ago, I read the life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo. The advice throughout the book was not only practical, but inspiring—and I don’t mean simply that kind of inspiring that makes you want to go clean your house, it was partly that but also soul-inspiring. Just reading the book made you feel better, calmer, less anxious. I told Steve about the book and read parts of it to him and we decided that year for Lent, we would practice the KonMarie method of decluttering our lives.
The KonMarie method has you collect everything of a certain category, put it all together and then decide which things bring you joy and which do not. Now that is an important distinction—which things bring you joy and which do not versus what you should keep and what you should throw out. If you go through your stuff trying to decide what you should keep and what you should throw out, you employ a certain amount of judgment—you have to run an item through an examination in order to see if it can hold up to a standard worthy of its status as an item in your home. That is not the KonMarie way. In the KonMarie way, instead of judgment, one employs empathy in deciding what to hold on too and what to let go of.
Those things that are released are not done so arbitrarily—one must hold each item in one’s hands and offer it gratitude before discarding it. In this way, the process of sorting through one’s stuff is significantly slowed down so that not only is an expression of gratitude prioritized throughout the process, but also the process is defined by a mindfulness that cultivates a more relaxed and peaceful setting. This mindful gratitude further underscores the sense of decreased judgment and increased empathy that defines the positive outlook associated with the KonMarie method. No longer do you feel guilty for getting rid of the horrible sweater your aunt sent you for Christmas, instead you can offer gratitude for a sweater that has taught you that mustard yellow is not your color and that your aunt loves you, thus releasing the anxiety of the sweater and replacing it with empathy for its unfortunate color and the love of your aunt. Now, not only have you found empathy for an object you despised, you have grown in empathy for an aunt who just doesn’t seem to get you but keeps on trying.
The joy in practicing the KonMarie method of decluttering and organizing is not simply limited to an intentional practice of gratitude and mindfulness that creates empathy, it is also a way of creating spaciousness. In Kondo’s recent Netflix series, Tidying Up, that sense of spaciousness is not simply realized in someone’s physical space but in finding space, they also found joy. In every episode, regular people—not hoarders or the super rich or poor—became happier in their own home and more satisfied and fulfilled by what they had. They had created space for their very souls simply by creating space in their closets.
Space is something that many of us lack. Though there is far more space than matter in the universe and we occupy only about 5% of the American continental land mass, we feel constricted and threatened by a sense of scarcity. Most of us do it to ourselves; restricting our environment such that it restricts us in turn. There is a reason prisoners are put in a restricted space that they cannot get out of. For most of us, our anxiety and blood pressure increase in restricted or cluttered spaces, but out in the open we are often more relaxed and able to experience joy. Spaciousness has a salvific component when understood in spiritual terms.
There are three types of spaciousness needed to cultivate joy and empathy in our lives. The first is the need to create a spacious physical environment in which feelings of joy and empathy emanate from one’s possessions and environment. This does not mean we need to get rid of a bunch of stuff, it means that we only hold on to those things that enhance joy and provide vitality to our life. The second type of spaciousness that cultivates joy is time. As smart phone, automobile owners, we have created a world in which everything has become urgent. To create spaciousness of time, we must first stop believing everything is urgent, and second allow that we can stop for three minutes and truly enjoy simply being—existing—as a creation of God. Third, we create space in our hearts for others, for different ideas and beliefs from our own, for God. Creating space in our hearts can rarely be done without cultivating space in both place and time. But once we begin to slow down and create a more intentional environment, we seem to allow for a more spiritual sense of space to grow and flourish within us. I think the reason for this, in part, is because the opposite of joy is not sorrow, but chaos and chaos is the result of sin in
our lives. Once we begin to create space, we can order our chaos, diminishing its power and hold upon us and finding ways of redemption and transformation.
In our Gospel reading today, we are reminded to “not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our treasures on earth are not only our material possessions but the things we hold on to emotionally as well. I don’t think Jesus is telling us we have to purge ourselves of all the things we possess physically or emotionally. Instead, I think Jesus is reminding us to reconsider our attitude toward what we are holding on too and why. If we cannot take into hand that which clutters our home or our hearts and minds and feel joy in it, then it is a treasure that should not be stored up. Our possessions are fleeting and temporal, they belong to this world and not the next. He who dies with the most toys, does not win. But it is more than a recognition that our things can’t go to heaven with us, Jesus is trying to tell us that our things are keeping us from living in the kingdom even while we are on earth.
If our possessions are cluttering up our hearts and holding us in the past, thus enabling us from thinking about the future, then we are excluded from kingdom living. If all the clothes in our closets and tchotchke on our shelves are limiting the space we have for God, then we are excluded from kingdom living. If the maintenance of our emotional baggage drives our daily motivation, then we are excluded from kingdom living. We are excluded from kingdom living not by God, but by our own misdirected values and concerns that push God out of the center of our being and, instead, prioritizes self, desire, need, and want.
In this season of Lent, we are called to self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial, reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. But none of that will benefit us if we don’t utilize the disciplines and practices of Lent as methods toward decluttering our souls and creating space for God. The point of Lent is the point that Marie Kondo makes regarding decluttering, it “is not to force yourself to eliminate things; it is to confirm how you feel about each and everything you possess.” In Lent, we practice self-examination through whatever spiritual discipline we plan to observe during the course of the season. That spiritual discipline coupled with self-examination can teach us a lot about who we are and how we feel about our beliefs, our feelings, our thoughts, even our actions. Applying the KonMarie method of holding each emotion—anger and fear, shame and sorrow, happiness and peace—in our metaphorical hands helps us to discard those things that do not bring us joy. Discarding them with thoughts of gratitude, not judgment, creates the empathy for our own person that can create space in our souls by decluttering all those little guilts, hatreds, irritations, and envy that restricts us and keeps us from living a liberated life in Christ.
Having the knowledge of how you feel about those things is a necessary step in living the transformed life—the life that is motivated by empathy and sustained by joy. In this season of Lent, I pray you might declutter your soul and find salvation in the spaciousness of God’s presence in your life. Amen.
Ash Wednesday: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer