When I first heard an interview about Marie Kondo on NPR, years ago, her very phrase “spark joy” sparked joy in me, then and there, as I drove along the highway. I remember exactly where on the road I was, just over that crest beyond Kwiki, where you can look down into the river, across the river, over the fields, to the mountains. There’s a pullout there. Just east of that pullout I heard the phrase spark joy for the first time.
Marie Kondo is a Shinto priestess. Those who deride her approach to things, (gentle, respectful, connected, grateful) are the product of separation from the natural world enforced by the military-industrialist culture that pervades the globe. Transportation, weapons, communication, myriad insidious tendrils of technology wrap around this living planet like so much tangled fishing net, choking the life from her, drowning her in her own effluent as she is pumped dry and belched into a finite bubble of atmosphere. Only the scum of the earth would make a career out of destroying the planet, and so the scum rises to the upper echelons of corporate domination.
But I digress. I felt the truth of Marie’s philosophy in my bones that day, and tingled inside my skin. It reflects the way I have always felt about things, from obviously animate things like Raggedy Ann and my stuffed animals, the orchids in my sunroom; to less obviously inspirited things like rocks, firewood, a brass pelican, appliances, toy plastic spiders, bubble wrap, even nail clippings. Growing up in this dominant “consumer” culture, I’ve had to unlearn the reverence for all things with which I was born. I resent being called a consumer. I consume as little as I can from this planet, and do my best to give back to it.
I have a lot of stuff because most of it came to me, and I attached to it, and couldn’t pass it on through my life. My ancestors, parents (grandparents, great-grandparents) spent time in the Far East, as they called it, Japan, China, the Philippines, from the early days of US colonization well into my generation of cousins. I was raised among oriental antiques and taught the value of good things. Other than that, though, we were a throwaway family like everyone else.
It’s taken a long time for me to even face, much less begin to unravel, the web of stuff that surrounds me. There are obviously enough people who suffer from their inability to organize stuff to make Marie Kondo a superstar. I’m one of them. Generations of things have reached a dead end in me. There is no one to inherit in my line. Generations of things, which I have because each piece speaks to me, holds an association, belongs to some story or person in my life. And/Or, because it’s functional, so why spend money on new materials? I’m a keeper.
But each thing connects to me with a cosmic invisible strand, enmeshes me in a culture of things as surely as the techno-web entangles the earth. Marie gives people like me hope. There is a way out, by cultivating discernment, and a better understanding of ourselves and our values, and learning some simple storage techniques. People embrace the KonMari method because it works.
It’s the age-old adage I was raised with, A place for everything, and everything in its place. It’s appreciating what you have, it is in fact, wanting what you have instead of getting what you want. Is this the fundamental objection some people have to the Konmari method? That they can’t continue to consume everything they want, if they even think about her approach? That they can’t stand to look inside themselves and feel and think about their belongings, and whether, maybe, they need to own so much stuff?
My friend Dawn has helped me with my stuff-culling struggle before, and was instrumental in helping me reduce my ancestral inheritance from one storage unit down to a quarter of a yurtful. Not long after I first heard about Marie, Dawn gave me her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. While I haven’t been able to commit to the process entirely, I have used its philosophy of respecting and thanking things that no longer serve, and its spark joy criterion to help me clear a bunch of stuff from my life. Every time I take a box or two to the thrift store I feel lighter. Every year I resolve to git‘er done once and for all. Maybe this year.
I am learning. For example, all my tea towels bring me joy, and when they age out of the kitchen, they go to work as animal wipes for wet coats, muddy feet, weed seeds. I enjoy every one of the cotton dishcloths I’ve knitted, and they last forever; when one finally gets too old it’s recycled into the tool box for a small work cloth, or into the rag bin for a scrubber. I finally have rag mentality: natural fiber clothing gets used long and hard for its initial purpose, and then it gets shredded into rags to use for cleaning, dusting, and eventually compost.
What Marie teaches is that if we value stuff more, we have less of it. It’s a lesson capitalist, consumer culture would do well to learn. It’s the lesson my friend Jerry knew forty years ago and I failed to grasp completely. I had more of that feeling living in an 8’x40’ trailer when I first landed here, with the bulk of my world outside that one long room, than I do now. More and more stuff accrued after the house was built, the bulky edifice in which I now dwell most of my waking hours instead of outside. Inside, surrounded by stuff, much of it inherited, which overwhelms me.
I’m grateful to Marie Kondo and her method, which is grounded in a deep sense of spirit. Maybe someday I’ll have time and energy to tackle everything all in one month, but meanwhile I’ll just keep on decluttering one drawer, one bookshelf, one file drawer, one windowsill at a time. And still, I’ll have a full house; but everything in it will spark joy. Then I’ll finally have peace of mind. Right?