Originally published June 3, 2015
Marie Kondo, world-renowned Japanese organizational expert and the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, offers one basic piece of advice for deciding what you should keep in your home and what you should discard: keep nothing that does not give you joy. As I recently went through a move and had to pack/unpack all of my belongings, I had cause to contemplate how Kondo’s philosophy of decluttering jives well with a Christian attitude of detachment when it comes to material possessions.
For Christians, material things are meant to be used, not loved; persons are meant to be loved, not used.
So when it comes to the material things that we keep—from that shirt that you loved senior year of high school but never wear any more, to old to-do lists in your office or programs from recitals or events, to that broken thing you’re keeping because it was a birthday gift—human beings can find all kinds of emotional reasons to justify keeping clutter, hanging on tight-fistedly to material things as if they were essential threads in the fabric of our lives.
But this emotional-hoarder (or pat rack, if you will) attitude is not consistent with the detachment with which Christians ought to regard the things of this world. While we need not all be as detached as St. Francis in his radical poverty (although there is a certain freedom and beauty in such a way of life), it is wise to frequently purge ourselves of needless attachments to material things, and in so doing improve the beauty and organization of our surroundings. Here’s a few ideas:
- Ask yourself, what is my reason for keeping this? Is it useful, or important, or beautiful? Unless it has some really clear significance, consider getting rid of it.
- Out of sight, out of mind? —Then out of the house. For everything from clothing to old textbooks, if you never see it, never take it out, and can live with it for a number of months (up to a year) without missing it, then it’s probably safe to say that you can get rid of it. Try this with clothing: put the clothes you never wear but can’t bring yourself to give away in a bag or box, and in a few months, if you’ve had no cause to open it, drop it off at Goodwill.
- If you keep things for their emotional value, keep them organized. Like keeping the movie tickets to your first date with your now-spouse? Put them in a special “memories” box or folder, or, better yet, create a scrap book. A specific organizational system (not just a drawer or closet) has limited space, which will more strictly force you to evaluate what exactly is worth saving, and what is simply junk.
- If you’re hanging on to something just because it was a really good deal when you got it (from clothes to furniture to books to electronics, etc.,) consider whether someone else might get a better use out of it than you are. If the answer is yes, pass on that thing to someone who might want or need it more than you.
- Remember St. Augustine’s words: “Peace is the tranquility of order.” While this is true on the deeper levels of spirituality and philosophy, it is also true when it comes to the spaces in which we live. If a particular clutter-y object–or our habit of collecting bottle caps—is wreaking havoc on the order in our environment, ask yourself whether it’s worth risking the peace of your home to keep it.
Remember St. Augustine’s words: “Peace is the tranquility of order.”