Thinking too Deeply about Marie Kondo

I’m bad at many things in life (math, geography, and basketball come immediately to mind), but one thing I know I’m good at is tidying, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a clutter-free environment (household members’ spaces excluded, since those aren’t mine to touch).

So other than for pure OCD enjoyment, I’ve generally stopped reading about the best ways to purge, organize, and clean.

A recent exception to this is the work of Marie Kondo.

After seeing so many of my Facebook friends referencing her, I decided to check her out for myself. I see why she has such a wide following! Her ideas and methods are simple, clear, and steer us towards a place too few other things in life do, which is that of curating our lives for the sake of joy rather than materialism. If it doesn’t bring joy, out it goes!

With that said, I’ve also read several articles pointing out the KonMari method doesn’t really work for those with small children (which is true), and that prior to Kondo’s smashing success, NAPO took issue with perceived all-or-nothing draconian ways (there’s debate about this). But what I find myself struggling with is neither of those things, but rather the impact of Kondo’s work on historical preservation.

My mother lives in my home and has quite a few things in her possession that she has made clear she expects me to keep after her passing, then leave to my own children when the time is right.

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Mother’s, grandmother’s, and mine.

Most of these things don’t bring me joy, nor do I think they bring joy to her. But they do have a significance that if overlooked would be tragic.

For example:

My grandmother’s sorority pin (I was never in one). The torn and faded photo of my great-great grandfather with safari hat and rifle, holding up proudly the jungle animal he’d just killed (vegan here). The leaded oil and vinegar set no one can use anymore because, you know, lead.

What about handmade quilt fragments from several generations ago that take up valuable linen closet space and smell slightly (or not-so-slightly) of mildew?

To be fair, Kondo does make exceptions for certain things: super special baby clothes? Frame them. Art from the first day of kindergarten? Put it on display.

And yet … there is so much more than that to a family’s history.

Will anyone want the cremated ashes of my recently-passed German Shepard? Probably not, but when my great-great grandkids find the lovely (sealed) urn and corresponding plaque, and realize it goes along with the photos neatly arranged within a dedicated photo album, they may think it’s a little weird and creepy, but they will also be awed to hold those bits of history in their hands.

The Spode Christmas dishes I bought for 80% off? 100 years from now a future descendent will lovingly set them out for Christmas dinner, admonishing her children to be very careful with them given their family significance and age.

My mom has always said one of the meanest gifts you can give someone is a Bible they don’t want, like, or need. Why? Because who the heck is going to get rid of a Bible? (Don’t answer that). And they’re big! I have so many Bibles from so many family members that they take up an entire two shelves in my home library. Do I need all of them? No. Do they all spark joy? Not really. Some do, like my father’s. But what of the family tree neatly chronicled in Uncle-what-his-face’s Bible? I may not have ever met him, but man, that handwritten tree is historic.

As I read through the specifications of the KonMari method, I began to question my recent decision to save in a special box all the Christmas cards we receive each year. My original thought process was that someday a future generation will stumble upon and untie the box, and fully enjoy the found faces of babies, now grown or gone, or notes that at the time were quickly jotted – “pray for us during the shutdown!” – that have since become museum-worthy.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sometimes items saved don’t just fail to bring joy, they actually bring great sadness.

And yet … in that sadness there is a memory we would never choose to purge.

The clothes of my first son, gone now for over two decades.

A red rose saved from my father’s casket.

A photo of a broken-out window, leftover from a marriage gone horribly wrong.

These are things that remind us who we are, where we’ve been, how we’ve loved and been loved. Of how we were once brought low but then rose up by virtue of a strength we otherwise might forget we have, and by a God we learned would always be there, no matter how bad things might get.

So while I say tidy up! Declutter! Fold your socks until they are perfect rectangles that stand on end! I also say keep. Remember. Hold tight.

Because what’s important doesn’t always spark joy.

What sparks joy doesn’t always do so for the best of reasons.

And the space we want to see decluttered might be better off overflowing with what will later bring joy to someone we’ll never meet, tell a story in need of telling, teach a lesson in need of teaching, or lift someone from the ashes of despair as they see historic proof of struggles overcome and the life-affirming work of a still-speaking God.

Our spaces are not necessarily ours to keep, and it isn’t just our personal joy we’re responsible for sparking. So as you hold each object in your hands, waiting for it to speak to you, listen not just for yourself, but for the generations yet to come.

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