So the push to declutter is on. I haven’t been watching Mari Kondo—I don’t feel like I should have to, although I probably will break down and do it out of morbid fascination, because I endured the book, and because I got caught up in that funny program, Shtisel, which, incidentally, is full of very spare living spaces, Kon Mari would be dumbstruck—but it seems like all my friends are. It is changing their lives, as it is supposed to, while I retrench myself in mine.
In an effort to bolster my resolve, and to justify myself against the new moral principle not having stuff, I call witness number one, who agrees with me about Kon Mari’s weird bias against books. If you look back in my archives you’ll find I mentioned it before, with tears in my eyes, and so am happy that other people are saying it as well. As the Guardian writer observes, the best way to know about whether a book sparks joy is by reading it, not by holding it up and wondering to yourself how you feel. Moreover, the very point of books is not for you to experience some sort of nebulous, elusive, spark of ‘joy,’ it is for you to come up against the objective reality of Other People’s Thoughts, not molded and shaped by your own. You don’t need to be the complete measure of all reality. That’s called narcissism.
Witness number two, this nice person, who self-identifies as Tasmanian Devil rather than minimalist. I can’t read that NYT clutter piece because I am already out of free articles, but I like whatever it was that she said about it. First because she uses the word ‘predeliction,’ which is marvelous, and second because she appeals to The Summer of George as part of her defense.
Of course, if Kon Mari wasn’t a little bit right everybody wouldn’t be flocking to her in great groups of whatever kind of creature it is that flocks (it’s too early in the morning for me to remember). We are drowning in stuff, culturally and spiritually. The soul’s slow awakening to the reality that cheap plastic isn’t the quickest path to happiness is overtaking the whole world. It’s like a spiritual revival. Expect not, because the conversation is still so much about the stuff, and the solution is yet another law. Get rid of all the stuff you got trying to be happy in order to now be happy. No one ever wants to lift up the eyes to the hills, cluttered or uncluttered, whence cometh my help, unless that help arrives with a bucket of bleach and a big empty box into which I may throw all my stuff.Like so many, what I most desire is a mind spiritually uncluttered, an emotional verity where I float along untroubled by the catastrophe of myself and my own life. I want to exist on the Elysian Plain without having to die first. I want to have beautiful things, beautifully arranged, and a mind untroubled by irritation, vice, other people, and sorrow. And so I move my stuff from one cupboard to another in the hopes that today will be the day that I am finally happy.
Whereas, the Christian life is cluttered and frustrating. Whether you have stuff or no stuff, the one thing you do have is your own sin, your own problems, and those of all the people jostling you. Even when you try to run away, the memory of them and all their problems follows after you. Shove them in a box today, but tomorrow you will stub your toe trying to finally dig through it.
The impulse to minimize your stuff must come to a complete halt when you enter the doors of your church and survey the jumbled humanity that is leaving out its paper cups and walking away without sweeping the floor after the potluck. Those are the people who, when you bash into them like some book you haven’t read yet, you ought not hold them up to the light and wonder to yourself if they spark joy, because certainly they don’t. They spark frustration and madness—in the short term. In the long term they are part of the means of your ultimate salvation, the delivering of yourself out of yourself unto eternal life. God uses them to ruin your life so that you may live forever.
But, as my dear friend says, quoting someone else, we always confuse people with things. And we confuse happiness with ourselves. And we think that if we just get a handle on our stuff we will have taken the reins of the soul and can make it go in the direction we want. Which is toward ‘happiness,’ and almost never toward God.