I don’t ever see it going back to what it was like before.
Before you came into our lives.
You’ve got to hand it to Netflix. Putting on Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up straight after Christmas and the New Year was a masterstroke in scheduling.
By now, in a frenzy of new year’s resolve and loathing of the old self, thousands of Westerners are throwing out stuff they no longer need; probably didn’t need in the first place; and definitely won’t need as they go into the brighter, more successful futures that the pursuit of order promises to bring.
I say Westerners, because we’re the bunch of people with too much stuff right? Not sure there’s much need for the graceful opinions of Marie Kondo in Southern Sudan, where the real concern is where the next meal might come from, never mind why we have three egg whisks.
It’s a fascinating show, and a fascinating exposé of what we are like. And what we were like before we became what we are like.
We moved from the order of the Garden, an order that God had put in place, and then into which he placed the first humans who were to tend that order. The resultant expulsion pushed us out in hunter/gatherer mode, a frantic search for first survival, and then beyond that into meaning.
For make no mistake about it, the hunting and gathering instinct never leaves us. It’s a sign that we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. But if we just look a little longer, look a little further. And hello Apple, Nike, and JB HI-FI!
Marie is kind and sweet and polite in that way Westerners love. And don’t we love her! My Facebook feed this past week is full of Kondo ideas and quotes.
Not that I need it of course. My guilty secret is that I am a compulsive chucker-outerer. Order and sparsity are my schtick. If something hangs around long enough being useless then it is going to be turfed out of my scene (take note of that Millennials).
Even books! I even get rid of books. Constantly. People who come into my office assume that it will be laden with hundreds and hundreds. And I have had hundreds and hundreds. But I’ve given away hundreds and hundreds.
The looks on their faces are often genuine disappointment, as if my lack of stacks and stacks of dust-collecting dust-jacketed tomes is a sign that I am not the intelligent creature they took me to be. There are other more telling signs that I am not the intelligent creature people take me to be, but let’s leave it at that!
Besides I’m a member of a great theological library (Vose Seminary in Perth) that has a wide range, and I’ve got several hundred e-books. There’s something slightly smarmy about the guy with five thousand books excoriating the dude who buys new technology all of the time, as if the ownership of books in and of itself is a source of (self-righteous) distinction. Which, of course, in this age of self-justifying distinctions from other people, it is.
Of course it’s not simply about tidying up, is it? As the name of Kondo’s book suggests; The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
We all need our lives changed. And when we’re living in mess we’re living in the mess of the past. And we don’t want to be hankered, bogged down, by our past. That’s what makes a hoarder a hoarder. Somewhere along the line they atrophied, and a life that they could not slough off has stuck fast for some deep seated psychological – and spiritual – reason.
And magic! What else do we need in this most secular of ages, in which the truly transcendent has been lopped off our world, than some fresh magic. And who better to deliver that magic than a young, fey Japanese sprite such as Marie Kondo? It has all the hall-markings of a salvation narrative, for that is exactly what it is. We just can’t get rid of that need to be saved, for something outside of us to save us, even if it is the realisation that through tidying up we can both expunge our pasts and set up our futures.
Look at that quote at the top of the page. That’s what I overheard on the TV show this morning, as our family loafed around in holiday mode before heading out for an afternoon in our local port city of Fremantle to browse the secondhand shops and flea markets, and come home with even more stuff that we don’t need. Hunters and gatherers to the end.
It’s a salvation narrative, isn’t it? The family in question was about to welcome a new baby into the world and they wanted to do so without the chaos they had created. They knew something had to change.
The past behind me, the well polished, sensitively placed cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.
Marie Kondo points to a deeper truth though, doesn’t she? Order is a good thing. Chaos is a sign of, well, chaos. Chaos is other areas of life. My wife once worked in a maximum security men’s prison. She observed that the best health, mental, physical and social, that many of these men ever had, was behind bars.
Not that prison was fun, far from it. But their lives were so chaotic on the outside, that it was the high control of prison that let many of them dry out, or come down from being strung out. They craved the order of set meals, set times, set duties so much that recidivism was par for the course. This is not to say that such places of order are desirable, but it certainly is a poke in the eye for unfettered freedom (aka chaos), that many choose controlled certainty over it.
Which is a worrying trend in our global politics. The search for order, without the God of order, will usher in – has ushered in – tyrannical leadership and a desire to control a seemingly seething populace. The Right and the Left are both to blame for this. The rise of statism is a prime example of the huge fear of chaos in our godless culture, and elites of both sides are eager to play on it for their own nefarious goals.
The gospel, of course, promises that the new creation will restore the order that God intended. It will not settle for the chaos of this age, nor will it settle for the brutal and brutalising false order that the powerful wish for. The book of Revelation observes that there will be “no sea” in the new creation, the sea being the sign of chaos and churn that cast fearsome beasts onto the shores of history, all desiring to usurp God and his order.
Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up is a pointer, albeit a small, broken version of that desire for order that we all have. Only it gives us the power to tidy it up ourselves. And in that sense she’s simply a domestic version of Jordan Peterson and his First Commandment ‘Tidy Your Room!”. Whatever way you look at it, we all want the same thing.
But enough for now. I’ve got two clothes drawers the bottom layers of which have not seen the light of day since last summer. I’ve got me some tidying up to do.