Marie Kondo sparks joy in millions who have decluttered and organized their homes. In her recent Netflix series, Kondo teaches her clients how to let go of possessions they do not need and to keep items that spark their joy. Kondo’s appeal goes far beyond the minimalist movement that seems more suited to spartan men than the average person. Kondo and the minimalists have a message for the church.
Instead of only getting rid of items, Kondo teaches people to manage possessions. She shows them how to order their clothing, dishes, and sentimentals. In short, she mixes minimalism with organization.
And the effect seems to be pervasive. San Francisco thrift stores have had to limit donations largely due to people minimizing their households. Netflix hosts not only a documentary on minimalism but also a whole season of Marie Kondo doing what she does best.
So why are Marie Kondo and the minimalists so popular? Why do so many people feel oppressed by their households and need the freedom that comes by tidying up?
Because ordered lives mean ordered souls
The lie of materialism is that we are biological machines without souls. Yet most people throughout the ages have realized that humans comprise body and spirit, matter and immateriality, external and internal elements.
Everyone knows that exercise gives us energy and vitality. It also can make an unkind spirit more joyous. A connection lies between external act and internal disposition.
The way in which we order our lives—what Christians call spiritual disciplines—shapes our whole person. Waking up at set times, praying at set times, meditating, and so on have venerable and ancient precedent in Christianity.
Order and not chaos lie at the heart of who God is. God ordered creation to sustain life (Genesis 1). He orders worship to create peace and not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). In him is no change. He is order.
So it stands to reason that God’s creatures would thrive by ordering their lives around set patterns: years, seasons, holidays, and so on. And even at the individual level, holy writ encourages shaping one’s life around God’s instructions (Deuteronomy 6) and to meditate on them day and night (Psalm 1).
And God has commanded humans to not only follow his order but also to order the world around them by being fruitful, multiplying, and working earth—to create culture, agriculture, horticulture, and whatever else tends towards dominion over the world.
External act and internal disposition unite together because humans are a composite of spirit and matter.
And so an ordered home makes an ordered soul
Kondo and the minimalists have tapped into the heart of what it is to be human. They have done what many Christians have not. They acted upon natural law while many believers fall head-long into Gnosticism.
For too long, we have acted as if all problems involved some internal principle. We ignored the body. We ignored the chaos of space. We thought accumulation would equal happiness. It is better to get than not to have at all, we thought. Consumerism enticed us into an unholy alliance with treasures on earth.
We failed to see any problem with buying new things every day and with filling our homes and offices with things. We thought that all that mattered was what lay within. We were wrong.
Things have now become an oppressive task-master creating hoarders across the continent. They have become addicted to stuff and so mastered by what they buy.
But more than this, the purchase of things and the over-clutterization of our environments (home, work, and society) has created a commensurate disorder in our souls. We feel constantly in flux, worry about the mess, live with a feeling of unease. Much of this can be located in our external disorder.
The disorder outside of us affects the order within us. The material world outside of us changes the interior world inside of us. No gnostic separation of body and spirit exists. It is diabolical rubbish to think that a disordered environment will not transform our inner-environment.
And the opposite is also true.
A disordered soul leads to a disordered life
Sin destroys purpose. Our purpose is to image God and so glorify him. Sin complexifies life by adding self-centred motives and actions that that split our attention. We pursue pornography while claiming fidelity. Yet this split purpose divides our attention. It makes us double-minded, double-souled.
So a disordered environment may not only mean a latent Gnosticism (the spirit does not relate to the body), it can also illustrate the sin of divided-purpose—that is, pursuing ends for self-glory, not God’s glory.
Note: I am not talking about a cluttered desk or sprawled toys on the floor within a young family’s house. I am talking about a systemically disordered life without schedule or ritual, a life that buys without giving away, that lets things control rather than be used.
And so Kondo and the minimalists offer real but insufficient help.
What we own controls us. The more we have, the more we must maintain. The less we have, the freer we are. Kondo and the minimalists do bring order to distressed souls by reordering our exterior life.
But the greatest disorder which lies at the heart of it all is sin. Sin vitiates. It rusts away virtue. It makes what shines lack its gleam. It is an acid that eats away at a chassis. Sin brings chaos to our interior and exterior life.
It causes bodily harm and spiritual harm because they are one and the same: we are composite beings of body and spirit. We cannot privilege the one and ignore the other.
Each has their place. The soul begins the transformation that flows outwardly to our bodies and environments. So there is a taxis, an order. And yet a sinful person entering into a holy church will find much room for sanctification. So the exterior church contributes to the renewal of the inner-person. Spirit and body work together.
Kondo gives us the order that we crave, that we need. But she can only give partial order. Sin, that principle of decadent disorder, only finds order by its destruction. It is nothing, has no being, but merely vitiates what is good. Christ on the tree bore our sin, destroyed it, and gave us the vivifying Spirit who conforms us to the God of peace and order.
We return to that image in which God first created us and so attain true humanity in the best human ever: Jesus.
And so tidy your house, tidy your heart by faith, and become truly human. Kondo cannot bring you there. Jesus can.
This article about Kondo and the minimalists originally appeared here.