I’ve only seen one episode of Marie Kondo’s new show, and I haven’t read her book. I know very little about Japanese traditions or the Shinto religion that play a role in her methods. However, a few years ago, I began hearing about her technique and used to to clean out my closet and dresser drawers. I liked what she had to say, and for quite a while it was very helpful in keeping my things orderly. I applied it to the books in our house and nearly filled my mini-van with donations to the local library. I skipped the part where I gaged the joy-bringing power of each item, but I did go through every single item of clothing and book. I have every intention of doing this to even more areas of my home.
While this method is great for cleaning out your basement or closets, I must admit, it makes me a little disconcerted when I hear people broadening this approach to life in general. Yes, we need to prioritize where we spend out time and our money. We need to focus on relationships that help us grow as people. Yes, we need to learn to say “no” to things in life that drain us or hold us back. But we also need to be careful about the implications of keeping only what brings us joy in life.
Let’s just talk about people. Most of us agree that investing in a few quality relationships is far better than having many surface relationships. We agree that toxic relationships need boundaries, and in some cases that means the total elimination of people who are destructive to you. But does every relationship need to bring you joy? Some people walk into my life, and I can’t help but smile. These are my people. They laugh with me, cry with me, and challenge me to be more. There are other people who require my limited energy. People who need things from me. I love those people who have mentored me in life, and it is important to give back in mentoring relationships. Sometimes we are more on the taking end of a relationship, so we need to make sure we are on the giving end in others. Those relationships spark joy in different ways, but at times or even seasons they are more taxing or difficult. Don’t throw them away. Other relationships are mostly negative but necessary. We don’t get to chose every relationship. Difficult relationships in our life can refine us. Some relationships need firm boundaries but are relationships of obligation through family, work, etc. Challenging relationships may never bring joy, but they might help to mold us into better people that are able to handle adversity with increased patience and a deeper sense of charity. Choosing to engage in those relationships rather than abandon them is partially what makes life a little messy. If we try to sanitize all the mess away, we lose on out what the mess can add to our life in the way of character.
Let’s talk about time commitments. Much like relationships, we want the majority of our life to be filled with those things that make us joyful, rested, happy, etc. Yet, not all of life can be that. The toilet bowl must be cleaned, the bills must be paid, the kid’s activities need volunteers, and you have to get out of bed when the alarm rings. Expecting a life free of commitments that don’t spark joy is not only unrealistic, it slowly twists they way we think so that we come to believe that life is about my own personal happiness and that all things should revolve around what I want and enjoy. It’s not. It doesn’t. I don’t want to volunteer to run backstage during my child’s drama performance, but someone has to. If more people stepped up, there would be less to do for everyone. I love my child, I value the arts, and I know his participation in these shows will make him a better person, so I do my required part. (Yes, it’s required.) The same has been true for a variety of scouting and sports related activities over the past 20 years of parenting. I love my job, but not every aspect of my job. I love my family, but not every aspect of family life. I love Jesus, but not every moment of following Him. That’s okay, because life is made up of doing things we don’t like. That’s part of being an adult. Learning to find contentment in this rather than avoid this is what actually leads to a happy life.
So, please, Marie Kondo your closets, you cupboards, and your garage. Make your teenager Marie Kondo his/her bedroom. But please, don’t Marie Kondo you life. You need some of that stuff that doesn’t bring you joy.