Clutter. Drives. Me. Crazy. It’s honestly one of the biggest anxiety triggers for me because I’m a visual person and I’m very sensitive to my environment. A disorganized space can lead to poorer health choices, lack of sleep, and “the visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can reduce our working memory” (for more, check out this great article). But I no longer want to talk about clutter or the act of removing it as de-cluttering. I’ve learned that tidying up is a spiritual practice, and it feels more correct for me to refer to that practice as space making. I don’t want to focus on what I’m taking away or getting rid of. Rather, let’s put the spotlight on what we are creating, allowing and inviting into our lives through the process: space, light, fresh air, potential, and the manifestation of truly sacred spaces that can support our best lives!
I think other people are onto the effects of clutter (or the lack of space) in their lives, because everyone is talking about Tidying Up – Marie Kondo’s new Netflix original show where the Japanese professional organizer comes to Americans’ homes and helps them whip their spaces into shape. As a former professional organizer, aspiring life coach and someone who moves way too much, I think about stuff and people’s relationship to it almost every day.
In another life, before moving to New Mexico, before working in the international nonprofit field, before my first “real” job, I became a professional organizer. A client introduced me to Marie Kondo and the world of professional organizing through her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I instantly fell in love with Marie’s explanations for how clutter and disorganization can seep into our lives. At once, Marie Kondo makes disorganization seem completely normal and natural in a non-judgmental way, while applying her no-nonsense process for keeping the clutter in check. Her KonMari method encourages folks to go through their belongings category-by-category, as opposed to room-by-room, in a very specific order: clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous items, saving sentimental items for last. In each category, you touch each item and ask yourself, Does this spark joy? Once you become more attuned to what sparks joy in your life and what doesn’t, the process of letting go becomes much easier. She recommends thanking each item as you put it in the donate bin or the trash can, which can really ease our suffering and guilt in parting with it. So much of what we keep around us is only out of fear of needing it for a rainy day or being wasteful while so many are in need. A genius solution to a common problem I faced with clients!
Those who adore her love the way she inspires people to take a hard look at their belongings, how she nudges them to get curious about the emotions behind their stuff, and her hard and fast rules about how organizing should be done. But she’s got some critics as well. Some say her rules are too rigid and it’s impossibly overwhelming to go through every item in one go. In fact, I myself have struggled with this! People have also mentioned difficulty in determining what “sparks joy” for them. Someone with attachment issues could easily mistake their anxiety of separating with an item for joy in possessing it. And if someone doesn’t have the self-awareness to know what brings them joy, it can feel as though every item is neutral. Also, the basic necessities in life rarely spark joy, but we still shouldn’t go tossing our toilets or refrigerators. While I agree with these criticisms to a certain extent, I know people will take the KonMari method out of context and to the extreme, because of their resistance to doing the work it requires. There have even been horribly racist backlash against her, and negativity and misunderstanding toward the way she taps on books to wake them up. This article explains the Japanese Shinto roots of her methods well.
What I like most about her method of tidying is how she applies mindfulness, a very psychological and spiritual practice, to the physical realm of our things. Whether it’s rational or not, we give energy and spirit to everything in our lives by attaching meaning, memories, sentimentality to the objects. This is neither good nor bad, rather it is natural and important to sort through these attachments. It is the same with our thoughts – having the thoughts is neither good nor bad, it is completely natural but also important to analyze and forgive and make peace with the thoughts. So it is useful to meditate on each possession (an interesting word!) and consider your attachment to it. Our things have spirit, our homes have a spirit and the space we free up by decluttering has a spirit. Therefore, decluttering or “tidying” is a spiritual space-making practice!
We can even apply spiritual manifestation techniques to the decluttering process – if you’ve ever done a manifestation meditation, you’ve visualized the type of life you would like to have, sought guidance from a Higher Self and tried to listen for and put into practice the lessons received. Likewise, we can visualize the ultimate manifestation of our sacred spaces. (And all space is sacred). Upon entering a new home, Marie takes the time to greet the house she is about to work in – she kneels on the floor once she’s found the heart of the home, places her hands on the floor, and closes her eyes and smiles. She says she is introducing herself and feeling the energy of the home. She asks the family to also communicate with their home, and to visualize the ultimate manifestation of their space. So, when my husband and I signed the lease on our pink adobe, we knelt on our floor and – no lie – thanked our home for welcoming us in and asked it to take care of us as long as we live here. We requested positive, nourishing energy and committed to making it a home to the best of our ability.
Try it out! Find the heart of your home and imagine how you would like the space to make you feel. Keeping that intention in mind, you can now work backwards to bring your vision to life! Once you get your space in order, it can better support and inspire you on your path to becoming who you are meant to be. Marie Kondo even mentions clients who, after going through her process with their belongings, have moved right along to getting rid of jobs – even husbands – who don’t spark joy!
This radical notion of only surrounding ourselves with things that spark joy can be applied to every aspect of our lives – how we fill our time, and who we spend it with, even our jobs and partners (maybe especially our jobs and partners). If, in the end, each aspect of our lives doesn’t inherently spark joy, we need to figure out either how to breathe joy into them, or kick them to the curb. Because, if they don’t spark joy, they suck joy out of our bones if we keep them around.
It’s been 4 years since I read Marie Kondo’s book, and I am no longer a professional organizer. But the debut of her Netflix show, Tidying Up, has inspired me to consider the genius behind her method. What makes her a great organizer, aside from her natural talent and obvious experience and knowledge, is her application of mindfulness principles to the physical realm of our things. This is the magical thinking that our consumer-obsessed American culture needs more than ever: that our stuff has energy. Our space has energy. And, if we aren’t conscious of the energy of what we surround ourselves with, we are unconsciously energetically polluting our sacred spaces.
So tell me, dear ones, have you experienced the life-changing magic of tidying up, or even spiritual space making? How did it go, and what did you find that sparked joy for you? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
For more on setting intentions and getting organized, check out this post!