Decluttering in dependence. Why the Marie Kondo method has captured our inbuilt love of bringing order from chaos


Marie Kondo is a Netflix sensation. The recent launch of her series ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ sees the Japanese consultant explain her method of decluttering your home in a way which ‘sparks joy’. Reactions to it have flooded social media and her methods have captured the imagination of many. She advocates that through ‘tidying your space’ you can ‘transform your life’ and teaches the importance of gratitude as we organise our things by category.

I really enjoyed watching the Netflix series, and let me tell you my folded scarf drawer really does spark joy for me now. But as we try to implement many of Marie’s fantastically useful tips and scour the shops for mini boxes, let’s take a moment to consider why it is that Marie’s methods have captivated so many of us. Why is it that we’re so attracted to a cupboard that’s clean and categorised? What is it about us that sends us running to the Ikea storage section now we’ve been given the tactics we need to bring order to our homes?

Bringing order from chaos was God’s idea and we’re made in his image.

As I watched the first episode of the Netflix series and heard Marie advocate the importance of organisation by category I couldn’t help but be reminded of the repetition we find in Genesis 1 as God brings order from chaos while he fashions the world. Before God sets to work the world is ‘without form and void’, but then he starts creating.

First he brings form to what was formless: light and darkness, sea and sky, water and land. Then he fills each form according to what fits within it: plants and trees, sun and moon, fish and birds. As God fills his world, consider how organised he is, everything is created and grouped ‘according to its kind’.

‘And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.’

You see, organisation by category, the grouping and ordering of things that are alike, was God’s idea first. Putting things together ‘according to its kind’ chimes with us so deeply because it reflects the God who ordered our world like this in the first place. Considering the fact that God makes us in his image, is it any wonder that Marie’s methods of organising our things by category captivates us so? We’re made in the image of a God who delights in bringing order from chaos and who categorised his creation right from the start.

And did you notice what God does when he’s done with bringing creative order to each section of his world? He pauses, looks at his work and delights in it. ‘And God saw that it was good’. His creative work, his ordering and filling, brings him joy. Again it shouldn’t surprise us that we, creatures crafted in his image, can experience so much joy when we work hard to bring order to the chaos of our closets. The Marie Kondo method captivates us so deeply because it taps into something of what it means to be made in God’s image and to delight in order by category.

At the end of each episode of ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ we see those who have gone through the process enjoying the fruits of their efforts. The joy and relief on their faces is obvious, they’ve worked hard at bringing order from chaos and we see many of them finally able to enjoy meaningful rest in their homes. This echoes something else we see in Genesis: meaningful rest is facilitated by order. At the end of his creative work God rests. He looks at his work, is satisfied with it and rests as a result of a job well done. It’s no wonder that order enables rest, it has always been so.

The direction of our gratitude 

Gratitude is one of the hallmarks of the Marie Kondo method, and it’s a wonderful emphasis. We should be thankful for what we have. However, Marie directs gratitude towards each material thing, teaching us that we should thank each item when we decide to get rid of it, displaying gratitude for what it’s brought to our lives.

Although its good to rightly value what we own, I don’t want to be grateful to a thing, but to the one who gave it to me. If my child unwrapped a gift on Christmas morning and promptly thanked the gift for what it would bring to their life, rather than me as the giver, we would think something wasn’t quite right. Gratitude should be directed to the giver, not the gift. The Bible tells us that all things come from God and ultimately belong to him. As a Christian I want to attribute what I have to the God who gave it to me and thank him for his good gifts. As I part with things I no longer need I want to direct any gratitude I feel towards the good God who gave me what I have in the first place.

Decluttering in Dependence

I’m someone who loves a project, and the first thing I did having watched an episode of ‘Tidying with Marie Kondo’ was head to the kitchen and start pulling everything out of drawers with a sense of frenzied purpose. It feels great to be productive, and personally I love the satisfaction that comes from a good clear out. The problem is, the process of decluttering is actually pretty stressful. As you work out where everything should live, everything becomes temporarily homeless. Stuff gets scattered as you work out what to keep and what to chuck. Midway through last week as my efforts to tidy intensified, I suddenly found myself feeling utterly miserable and overwhelmed whilst sitting in a pile of half-folded towels. Why was this so hard, I wondered? I’d had such a sense of purpose when I started, but it seemed that all my efforts were yielding nothing but stress. The house was in a state of unmitigated chaos and our linen cupboard seemed to perfectly mirror the disarray of my mind.

Whilst scrolling Facebook in a moment of attempted escapism I landed on a Christian article that quoted Psalm 127.

‘Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.’

Up until that moment my efforts to declutter our home had been just that, my efforts. With a sense of hyper self-sufficiency I had launched myself into this latest project determined to subdue my home through my own manic will power. This house was my kingdom and I was going to bring these unruly cupboards into submission! I was going from drawer to drawer, room to room, toiling with manic energy, but rather than experience satisfaction and joy I was becoming increasingly anxious. Psalm 127 nailed my self-sufficiency in one fell swoop. It is the Lord who builds the house.

My labour was in vain, it wasn’t yielding fruit or joy because I’d failed to do it in dependence on the one who takes our efforts and makes them fruitful. I had taken a good work, that of bringing order from chaos, and twisted it instead into anxious toil. Anxious toil, that phrase seemed to perfectly sum up my foolish attempts to bring my home under my own will in my own strength.

It wasn’t that the work in itself was bad. It was that I’d tried to do it without thought to the One who is the builder of all things. As a result, my labour was in vain. I turned in repentance and instead of striving on in self-dependence, I sought instead to begin decluttering in dependence on God. I stopped trying to be sovereign over my things and instead acknowledged that this home isn’t my kingdom, it’s a tiny part of God’s kingdom and he’s given it to me to steward and subdue only in dependence on him.

Physically speaking not much has changed. There’s still piles of clothes and half-sorted drawers around. The difference now is that while I tackle the tidying I can experience the relief that comes from acknowledging that any work I start can only be accomplished in his strength. As one made in his image I can now enjoy bringing order from chaos as I declutter in dependence.

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