Our relationship with objects: on Marie Kondo

Credit: RISE, CC BY 2.0

Reflections on how we can relate better to objects in light of a relational God

by Hannah Eves, 28th January 2019

This January’s Netflix offering comes in the form of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Kondo’s method has since sparked numerous comment pieces, offending book lovers the most with her decluttering method. As one disgruntled bibliophile put it, ‘we’re not after sparks of joy – we want to swim in wonder’. For those unfamiliar, Kondo’s method encourages her clients to hold their belongings in their hands to test if they ‘spark joy’. If the object passes the test then it is kept and carefully organised, if it does not it is gone. This method has been on the receiving end of internet mockery, my favourite being a tweet that read, ‘I just want Marie Kondo to walk into parliament today holding article 50 and ask “does this spark joy?”’.

Joking aside, she has received some serious criticism as well, with people arguing that her approach results in excessive waste. Certainly, it is alarming to read her description of clients ‘who have thrown out 200 45-litre bin bags in one go’. Others have been concerned that Kondo fetishizes obsessive behaviour. Recalling her childhood in her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, it is not hard to be slightly alarmed at the descriptions of a young Kondo: ‘at school, while other kids were playing chase or skipping, I’d slip away to rearrange the bookshelves in our classroom, or check the content of the mop cupboard, all the while muttering about the poor storage methods’. It seems at best eccentric and at worst symptomatic of a deeper neurosis.

Sailing counter to the tide of public opinion, I like Marie Kondo. I think part of it is because I love tidying and I cannot abide too much clutter. She is also very likeable, positioned in the programme as charming, matching the tone of her book. I also think there is something we can affirm about her philosophy of objects, by being more thoughtful about the relationship we have with the things we own. In a recent Guardian piece, the writer takes time to reflect on her book collection and the memories she has attached to the voices that inhabit her bookshelf, concluding: ‘the trouble is I’m not sure this kind of order would make me feel freer, happier, more connected to the world than my disorderly book collection’. Kondo’s method must be deeply personal, so she states herself: ‘order is dependent on the extremely personal values of how a person wants to live’. Therefore, how can Christians think about decluttering, our values, and our relationship with the things which surround us?

We tend to cultivate relationships with the things we own. In her show, Kondo encourages her clients to thank their rejected objects for their service to them before they get rid of them, to take stock of how that jumper kept them warm or how the words printed between the pages of a book once comforted them: ‘treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object are all essentially Shinto ways of living’. We can allow these principles to enrich our understanding, whilst understanding it through the lens of our relationship with our deeply relational God. Therefore, the gratitude we express to those objects must be understood in terms of our gratitude to God for his provision.

In Mark 14, a woman uses an alabaster flask of ointment in an act of worship towards Jesus. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ Jesus responded to their scolding, ‘she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’ The missing piece of the KonMari method is the relationship our things have with the God who created the world and blesses us with our possessions. As Christians we may use our belongings as the woman did, in worship to the Lord, thinking of our things as blessings, not to be hoarded but to be used and shared in fellowship, and yes, disposed of if necessary.

Kondo’s method asks ‘does this spark joy’ for you? The approach is centred around the individual’s needs and desires, but we know a different truth. In Psalm 89:11 we read, ‘the heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them’. As Christians we can reflect on popular culture, not always to be a polemic voice, but affirm what is good. We can hold our things in our hands and be grateful, not to the object itself but to the God that provided it in relationship with us as his people. We can affirm giving away what we do not need. For it states in Matthew 6:19-21: ‘do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ We must relate to treasures on earth through the lens of treasures in heaven.

Hannah Eves is a participant on Jubilee Centre’s SAGE Graduate Programme. She graduated from the University of Nottingham with an MA in Governance and Political Development.

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January, 2019

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  1. Tim says:

    Great reflection piece that I really agree with. I think KonMari is a step in the right direction for our society to consider our relationship with an abundance of ‘stuff’. And yet it’s incomplete. Gratitude seems philosophically problematic if it is spoken to inanimate objects or just outwardly into the universe, but that’s as far as one can go without some relationship with the divine. Tidying Up is a great way into bigger conversation about the nature of gratitude though, so, I’m grateful (to God) for it, for Mari, for Netflix, and this article.

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