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Full Disclosure:  If I wasn’t a Christian, organization would probably be my religion, and I’d spend the high holy days at the Container Store—honoring (not purchasing) the holy vessels.

Nonetheless, when I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a little over two years ago, I found that her method went far beyond suggesting mere organizational tools. KonMari has significant spiritual consequences.

With the debut of Tidying up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, interest (genuine, playful and sometimes inexplicably hostile) in the KonMari Method has been rekindled. People are responding passionately—for and against—her particular approach to living more mindfully with our possessions.

As an African American woman, I’ve found recent concerns over the privileged position many think this method represents particularly interesting.  While I occupy a solid place in the middle class, I’m nonetheless fascinated by this analysis, as it seems to misdiagnose the problem.

Kondo’s method isn’t really about being tidy or talking to your clothes, your house or other belongings. (By the way–these practices stem from Shintoism and Japanese religious and cultural understandings that we shouldn’t mock). It’s about discovering the proper relationship to your stuff. The new show reveals, episode after episode, how the benefits of doing so can be unexpectedly life enhancing–and not just for the person who is tidying.

If we lived in better relationship to things:

We might escape the cycle of deprivation that a lot of us live in—largely due to an advertising industry that perpetuates these feelings in order to sell us more stuff. 

We might participate less in the fast-fashion industry that all but enslaves brown and black textile workers around the world and pollutes the environment. The industry also kills the textile industries in those brown and black nations, when the clothes that the West continually cycles through wind up in trash heaps of free stuff with which no local manufacturer can compete.

We might save money by not repurchasing things we didn’t know we already had, and get more use out of the things we choose to keep. We might even figure out what our true material needs are and reap happiness from making meaningful purchases that will actually make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.

We might save time. When everything we own is where it’s supposed to be, we won’t spend time searching. It will take significantly less time to clean, get ready in the morning, plan, pack and shop. We might find we are far more efficient at tasks that make up our regular routines. We might even have time to nap.

We might bring joy to others (locally) who can benefit now from the possessions that we discern aren’t a part of our future.

We might process emotions and feelings that are associated with possessions that we are keeping for reasons that no longer serve us. Tidying up might help us to remove toxic patterns from our lives, not just unnecessary things.

We might reevaluate our goals and values—or reaffirm them.

We might experience a new serenity, calmness and, yes, even joy when we come home to a house appointed only with things we love and/or need. When a new need presents itself, we may be surprisingly less anxious, better able to clearly and rationally identify the need and fill it.

Mass consumption reflects a deep spiritual poverty regardless of socio-economic status. In the past, retail therapy was only available to the rich, but that’s no longer the case. A decline in manufacturing costs has made it possible to purchase at every possible price point. While the rich have more expensive possessions, folks in any economic strata may very well have a lot of stuff. Many of us will benefit from considering the true meaning and value of our possessions, regardless of economic status or the extent of our material possessions. 

Spiritually speaking, we might have both a lot to gain and a lot to lose.

For more on the cultural implications of KonMari, read Caroline Langston’s Good Letter on Publishing, Marie Kondo, and the 30 Books Only ‘Crisis.’


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Cathleen Martin

Cathleen Marin is a writer and guest contributor to Good Letters.

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