Marie Kondo & The Gods In Small Things

marie kondo kneeling

While on the subject of Marie Kondo, I was reading some of the reviews of the Marie Kondo Netflix show ‘Tidying Up’ and was astonished at how much of the Western media is missing the whole point. A few critics have gotten tangled debating her suggestion that we should keep fewer books, “ideally, less than 30”, in the house. I found more than a few stories in mainstream UK newspapers saying the popularity of her process would be ultimately catastrophic to landfills.

For her part, Marie Kondo has clarified often enough that her process is not about removing things, including books, from our life—it is about loving those things which we choose to keep because they spark joy in us. The KonMari method is a gentle reminder of holding an attitude of gratefulness for the service these small gods offer us. From this flows a sincere desire to treat them wisely, kindly and gently.

Watching the show, one can see that Marie Kondo is obviously an empath, with a keen gift of sensing into the energy of objects and her physical environment. Those on the spiritual path are not unfamiliar with this kind of sensitivity. Her process marries this innate gift with the philosophy from her childhood in Shintoism, where everything in natural world is alive with sacred spirit called “kami” and worthy of reverence. It’s a beautiful combination.

The KonMari Method though is more than a philosophical ideal. At a deeper level, I realized as I worked through my books and papers, my attachment to things is my attachment to the stories of those things, and the stories behind those things. The objects are the tangible symbols of those stories. And the clutter around me is the plans and emotions that I haven’t dealt with yet. So de-cluttering is actually a cathartic process of facing those leftover stories—the debris of our abandoned plans, aborted love affairs and alternate timelines—and letting go.

For some, this may mean an overhaul, for others a few minor changes. Either way, your clutter is your perfect, custom-designed path. Like the Zen monk who mindfully and diligently sweeps the pathway of dead leaves, clearing your house of clutter is clearing your mind. No wonder so many of those who go through it report a burst of energy and clarity after they complete it.

To those Western minds furiously employing the law of attraction to manifest fantastic objects to bring joy, Marie Kondo offers a gentle sister process: how about finding joy in what you have already manifested? How about enjoying them in the present moment? How about folding your clothes not to make them smaller, but to touch them with gratitude?

Intrigued by Marie Kondo’s advice, I watched an episode of another popular Western de-cluttering expert. She attacked the same process with hard-hat determination—clutter was a scourge to be exterminated and objects were a litany of old sins to be expunged. On the contrary, Marie enters cluttered house and gleefully exclaims, “I love clutter!” She begins her method with a prayer to connect with the energy of the house and ask the house for permission. In place of a shame-fuelled purge she offers a gentle goodbye to that which has served us… and a reminder that everything we own has served us in some way. While the former approach changes the way your house looks, Marie promises to change your attitude to what you keep, to what you give away, and as a parting gift, to what you will purchase in the future.

With that last gift I think—and no critic has noted this—the Konmari method is actually an antidote to mindless consumerism and fast fashion. Not only because of that brilliant moment of shock when a person, for the first time, sees all the clothes they own piled into a mountain, but also for how Marie treats each object. Her method values the classic, the timeless, the long-lasting. Every item of clothing is treated like a friend you treasure for years, not as fast fashion you trash every few months. That lifelong bond with the items that serve us is an unspoken gift of the diminutive Japanese lady’s method to the audiences—and in the long run, also to the landfills.

The Picture Perfect Relationship

The Myth of The Perfect FamilyA car parks at dusk in the gravel driveway of a picket-fenced suburban home. A square-jawed man steps out, joyfully greeted by a bounding dog. His photoshop-perfect wife, just back from her high-profile job, kisses him at the doorstop: ‘Oh honey, you must be so tired. Let me fix you a cup of tea.’ As they settle down on their favorite couch, they share the funny incidents of their day. Laughter. They move to kiss. Fade Out.

If this is not what your relationship looks like, this post is for you. If this is what your relationship looks like, come back again in a year.

This post is about the box into which we try to fit our relationships, the parameters of which we have got from books, movies, advertising, sitcoms and ‘80s pop songs. We have an investment in believing things can and should look a certain fixed way. Which involves impossible words like unconditional and eternal love, total trust and unbreakable commitment. With mind-reading ability thrown in.

After the first flush of hormones, it becomes clear that these aren’t happening as natural by-products of romantic love, as we had secretly hoped. So we begin to ‘work’ on our relationship. Instead of altering the ill-fitting suit, we bind and cut off parts of ourselves to fit into it. The beauty is that we are mostly not aware of this at a conscious level. It’s an unspoken struggle between a couple employing cajoling, rewarding, shaming, aggression and threat to get to the picture perfect.

Is it possible that instead of one perfect relationship, there are seven billion different possibilities of perfect relationships, my mentor GD asked me the other day. What if our relationship didn’t need to look like our parents’ relationship – or the rebellious opposite of theirs – to be right? What if a relationship was as unique as our thumbprint?

I find just being open to this possibility immensely relieving and freeing. As I deeply open to this question, I find I am present in this moment to my partner instead of trying to load upon her the heavy shell of how-she-should-be. Even if there is a ‘problem’, instead of an umbrella judgment and rejection, there remains a simple statement of what action of my partner doesn’t work for me.

The best part is that in giving her the freedom to not be the picture perfect wife, I free myself. In this freedom, love, like a happy little brook, comes quietly bubbling up.