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How Decluttering Changed My Spiritual Life

Written By Sherlyn Ang, Singapore

A year ago, before Marie Kondo made her star appearance on Netflix, two books changed my life— Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki and of course, the currently-trending Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. A friend had recommended these two books to me, which inspired me and got me started on my declutter-and-live-minimally journey.

My parents can testify that I’ve been a messy person all my life. I used to have a signboard placed on my table, which read—“This mess is a desk”—for indeed, I often could not see the table top of my two-metre long desk.

Even my floor was covered all over with bags and random items. Once in a while, when I couldn’t stand the mess any longer, I’d spend an entire day packing things away and cleaning up the mess.

But lo and behold, a couple of weeks later, my table was in a mess again.

My journey started in January 2018—a week of major clean up resulted in my wardrobe, bookshelf, stationery corner, bags, shoes, being reduced to a quarter of what I originally had.

The extent of the change I had undergone and the new perspectives I held about possessions brought about a certain kind of freedom that I had not experienced before. To my surprise, it turned out to have a positive impact on my spiritual life as well.

Here are three ways decluttering changed my spiritual life:

 

1. I had more time on my hands and felt more rested in God

There was no need to spend time rummaging through my clothes to decide what to wear. My table was so empty that I no longer had the nagging thought at the back of my mind that I had a task undone—pack my table.

The new-found space on my table and my neatly packed cupboards inspired me to take out my art materials to embark on creative projects. My room had become a conducive space for me to return home after a day’s work to be still before the Lord, rest in Him, pray, read the Bible and journal.

 

2. My identity in the Lord was strengthened

Some things were more difficult to discard than others, especially things that seemed to form part of my identity. For example, books that had shaped my values, handwritten cards from my childhood friends, souvenirs bought from memorable holidays, medals won at competitions, gifts received from family and friends, my journals and art pieces. It felt as if throwing these things away meant throwing part of my memory and my identity away.

But God showed me that He was the one who had used these things to shape me, and that He is the One in whom I find my identity. I am still who I am, even without possessing these physical items. Letting go of the items was also a way of moving ahead, not to hold on too tightly to the things of the past but to be open to new ways that God might change and shape me.

Now, I no longer look out for souvenirs to buy when I’m on holidays. What matters most is the experience, the people I travel with and God’s abundant blessings.

 

3. It taught me that godliness with contentment is great gain

There is much joy in having less. I keep only the things that I like (i.e., those that “spark joy”) and need. In owning fewer things, I learned to treasure them more. The need for possessing more and more material goods became less important. The little I had was more than enough. Clothes were no longer bought on impulse just because they were cheap.

I stopped accepting free gifts and items that I knew would end up as clutter or that did not bring joy. I found myself becoming less envious of the possessions of others. In decluttering my physical life, it made way for me to focus on what was truly important—living a godly life and building God’s Kingdom.

 

Some months back, my grandfather came into my room and asked in all seriousness, “Is this a new table?”

“No, grandpa, it’s the same table!” I laughed in amusement—he must never had seen my table top all these years.

I’m proud to say that it’s the first time in my life that my room has been free from clutter for more than a year. It was a life-changing experience. Now that I’ve found the joy of living simply, I never want to go back to my days of mess and clutter.

Would I recommend Marie Kondo’s book and Netflix series to others? Yes. Learn from the good and useful bits of it, leave out the parts about speaking to inanimate objects, and you’d be good to go.

 

Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Marie Kondo and decluttering? Here’s another article for you.

Marie Kondo Didn’t Make Me Want to Declutter

I have a confession: Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo left me with very little desire to declutter my home.

In fact, it got me wondering what sort of home would I be living in if it didn’t have at least some sort of clutter—like stacks of books piled on my coffee table, or a pile of fresh laundry in the corner, waiting to be folded—lying around.

To me, clutter in moderation, adds a bit of personality to one’s home, giving it a sense that it is lived in by real people, with interests and hobbies outside of work. But I’m not surprised that so many have taken so well to this new series.

Kondo is a Japanese cleaning consultant who helps clients clear clutter from their homes using the KonMari method. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, was first published in 2014, and is the inspiration behind the Netflix series.

Each episode focuses on Kondo helping a range of people—from time-strapped families with young toddlers to empty nesters—sort through their clutter so they are able to enjoy a simpler life.

As soon as I finished watching the first episode, “Tidying with Toddlers”, I did a quick survey of the clutter in my bedroom, and I doubt Kondo would be impressed with the state of my room.

For starters, I have three different bags at the foot of my chest of drawers: one bag contains my exercise gear (three beach towels, three swimsuits, and two pair of goggles), the other is a duffel bag for holidays, and then there’s my handbag (parking receipts and outdated medication).

I have not found homes for these bags, so I pile them on the floor.

My wardrobe is crammed with clothes I have accumulated over my years of working in retail, and at my last count, my bookcase has close to 100 books.

For me, there is something rather nice about these familiar clutter. I like being surrounded by my favorite books, and knowing where my clothes are.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging piles of unwashed dishes to be left in the kitchen sink, or weeks of dirty laundry festering in the wash basket. There is a difference between personal hygiene and simply decluttering your personal space of junk.

So, while Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has not left me feverishly cleaning my house, I do think that there are some principles from the KonMari method that we could apply to our everyday life:

 

1. Material things do not equate to happiness

The first episode, “Tidying Up With Toddlers”, centred around Kevin and Rachel Friend, and their two children, Jaxon and Ryan. The Friend family was struggling with the copious amount of stuff that has found its way into their wardrobes and garage, where they were simply stuffed into bags, tied away, and forgotten about.

Like the Friend family, my wardrobe is filled with clothes, accumulated through years of impulse buying or as a little “pick-me-up”. While I am getting better at controlling my impulse buys, the younger me often believed buying new things was the answer to fixing life’s problems.

But no matter how many new items I bought, the life issues that bothered me still remained once the excitement of owning something new wore off. And once wear and tear got to my beloved items, or they don’t perform the way I expected them to, I was left disappointed.

That’s why I find wisdom in what the Bible says about not measuring our lives by what we own (Luke 12:15), or storing our earthly treasure on earth, where it is vulnerable to moths, rust and thieves (Matthew 6:19). Instead of looking to things to make us happy, perhaps our lives should be measured by how generous we are with our time and money, how loving we are to others, or how willing we are to help those in need. These are the investments that matter and will last through eternity.

 

2. Be thankful for what we have

Before Kondo started work on cleaning the Friend family home, she invited the family to take a few minutes of silence to thank the house for the shelter and protection it had provided them.

Kevin had later said it was good to be able to reflect on how the home “has been a very good home for us”, and the quiet moment spent had him also wondering if the family had done the home justice.

This reminded me of how easy it is to take things for granted—and I thought of the little Honda Jazz that I bought secondhand, and how this faithful wee car has gone on numerous road trips with me and accompanied me to different parts of New Zealand for work.

Yet, I grumble when I have to fill its tank up, wash and polish it so it keeps its shine, and I sigh whenever I look at the amount of money I have to fork out for its annual maintenance. Instead of complaining, I should be reminding myself how fortunate I am to have a car to go places in, instead of having to rely on public transport—when many do not have access to the same luxury.

Giving thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is a principle the Bible also encourages us to cultivate, and I should be more proactive in adopting it. Realizing this has made me complain a lot less about “what a hassle it is” to keep my car neat and tidy, and to appreciate it more for what it can do.

 

3. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t feel like doing

In the same episode, Rachel Friend told Kondo she palms her laundry to a third-party as having to wash and fold her family’s clothes induces her into an anxiety attack. To Rachel’s credit, she did say it was something she wanted to overcome.

Rachel’s attitude got me thinking of how we cannot always avoid doing what we deem as unpleasant tasks. Because let’s face it, adulting is hard. Figuring out what to cook for dinner, paying the weekly gas bill and rent, rising up early for work that you may not always enjoy, finding energy to clean the house after an exhausting day at work—these are tasks some of us would rather avoid if we could. Or even hire someone else to do these exhausting chores for us, if possible.

Unfortunately, life often does not give us wriggle room to run away from our problems and responsibilities. And sometimes it is good for us to deal with life’s challenges as it builds character, such as perseverance, patience, and compassion—after which, we will be better able to relate with our friends who may be going through the same problem.

The good news is, we do not have to face our problems alone. Just like how Rachel reached out to Kondo to help overcome her laundry anxiety, God is there with us when we go through tough times. I don’t think God wants us to back out of hard situations. In fact, He wants to mold us into brave people who are able to see through challenging times (Romans 5:3-5).

 

4. Hold on to things that don’t spark joy

Even if you’ve never seen the Netflix series, you might have heard of what Kondo’s famous for: encouraging people to get rid of things that no longer spark joy. They are to hold the item in their hands and ask themselves, “Does this spark joy?”. If it no longer does, they’re to thank the item for its service before throwing it out or donating it.

However, while Kondo’s advice of letting go of items that no longer spark joy might apply well to objects, there are other areas of our lives we cannot just shake off because it doesn’t spark joy. But the good news is that with God, we can find joy even amidst life’s mind-boggling problems.

The Oxford Dictionary defines joy as a “feeling of great pleasure and happiness”, but the Bible describes “joy” a little differently. The Scripture tells us to “consider it all joy when we encounter various trials” (James 1:2-3)—which I’m sure do not ignite any feelings of pleasure.

I believe God’s idea of joy is less to do with a temporary feeling of happiness, and more anchored on the knowledge that He will see us through our trials, mind-boggling or otherwise. It is the anchor that keeps us steady through trials and focused on the work that God might yield in our lives as we submit ourselves to Him—that end goal of becoming more like Him is what gives us hope and joy.

At the end of our earthly troubles, the Bible promises that we will be rewarded with a “crown of life” (James 1:12) for faithfully staying our course. To me, that’s a goal that’s worth aiming and working towards.

 

Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo may have truly changed the lives of certain individuals, and I am certainly not disregarding it. However, while Kondo’s tips on decluttering our house of unwanted goods could lead to better living on the outside, it’s what’s inside of us that’s more important.

When I was going through a hard break-up a number of years back, I tossed out most of the items that were given to me by my ex-boyfriend, but the euphoria lasted for only a few seconds. Soon after, the feeling of emptiness and betrayal would creep back in and overwhelm me again. But I found my inner joy by going back to God’s Words and clinging onto His promise that all things will work for good for those who trust in Him (Romans 8:28).

So even as you’re picking up tips from the show or Kondo’s books on how to declutter your house, I’d encourage you to also go to the Bible and make space for God to declutter what’s on the inside—it’ll spark a joy inside of you that will last for all eternity.

 

Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Marie Kondo and decluttering? Here’s another article for you.