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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and two pair of goggles), the other is a duffel bag for holidays, and then there’s my handbag (parking receipts and outdated medication).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.

Trusting God In Spite of My Fears

I have been taking swimming lessons in the open ocean for two summers, but I have not quite shaken off my fear of the deep, blue water.

My adventure with the open seas started three years ago when I toyed with the idea of joining my local surf lifesaving club. I wanted to meet new friends, contribute to my community, and I thought the surf sports the lifesaving clubs put out seemed fun.

I had also naively thought that the transition from a pool swimmer to an open ocean swimmer was an easy one. I learned a hard lesson when I signed up for my inaugural 500 meter open ocean swim, equipped with limited knowledge of swimming in the ocean.

I was seized by panic, and had clung on to my friend for the best part of the swim. That was when I knew I was not ready to be a lifeguard, because what lifeguard is afraid of the ocean?

So when I heard there was a workshop dedicated to coaching swimmers of varying levels of open water confidence, I immediately signed up for it.

I found my first few months in the open water rather terrifying, and I would refuse to paddle too far out. If I could not feel the ground, I was not keen on going any further, so I spent a huge amount of time swimming with the beginners.

To make matters worse, I kept having flashbacks to my first 500 meter swim where I was convinced I nearly drowned (I didn’t because I was kept buoyant by my wetsuit and if I had been in real danger, I would have been fished out by a lifeguard).

Even when it was soon obvious to the coaches that I could (and would be better off) swimming with the more advanced beginners’ group, I would flatly refuse. There were two specific scenarios that I feared: swimming too far out in the open ocean that I’d be unable to swim back to shore, and drowning under the watchful eye of the coaches.

As you can see, my fears were irrational, but I guess that is what fear does to us—it makes us entertain all sorts of crazy thoughts.

However, while I can now laugh at how irrational my fears are, I cannot begin to tell you how much I regret allowing fear to rob me of the potential to go further in my ocean swims. For example, if I had not spent so many months like a petulant toddler at the side of the shoreline, I am sure I would be able to enter various ocean swim races held in different places of New Zealand by now.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still no pro, and sometimes the sight of the choppy waters is enough to make me backpaddle to safety. But looking back, the root of my fear was my lack of trust in God.

Had I been more aware of God’s protection, knowing He will have His eye on me, I think I would have been  less afraid of the open water.

Had I spent less time nursing my fears, and focused more on pushing myself, I would have passed my surf lifeguarding course and would be patrolling beaches this summer, keeping swimmers safe.

Fear is a great robber, but I’ve learned that instead of entertaining various morbid thoughts, I could pray for safety, for the coaches to be alert, and for favorable water conditions. And even if the water conditions are less than favorable, then I could pray for the strength to continue swimming.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I should be putting myself out there to do something outrageous if I wasn’t equipped to do so, but that I can entrust my fears to God even as I progress in my lifesaving course.

One of my favorite verses is from Psalm 103:14, where the Psalmist says, “for He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust”. I believe this verse tells me God knows just how frail I am as I work up enough courage to paddle out in the ocean.

But what brings me comfort is the knowledge that the Bible is also filled with Scriptures telling us not to be afraid. Some of the verses that I often think about whenever I feel fear gripping my heart are 2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 56:3, and Psalm 23:4. While these verses do not immediately erase my feelings of fear, meditating on them has made it easier for me to bring them to mind and strengthen me whenever fear starts attacking me.

Open ocean classes resume next Saturday after a three-week break. While I am not 100 per cent convinced I will not balk at the sight of the ocean the moment I step inside my wetsuit, I am determined to trust in God.

For instance, I will not panic the moment I lose sight of any one of the coaches, knowing full well they are positioned at different markers to keep an eye on us. Instead, I will take a deep breath, pray, and continue swimming towards the markers.

Instead of filling my head with various negative thoughts that leave me exhausted even before I start my swim, I will run 2 Timothy 1:7 in my head on repeat. “For God has not given us a spirt of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”

To further fuel my courage, I will also replay my past achievements. There was one Saturday where I managed to shovel my fear all the way back to the recesses of my mind, and completed a 1 kilometer swim in the ocean. I could hardly believe I did it—and I hope this achievement will motivate me to keep going further.

Fighting and banishing fear out of our lives is not an overnight activity. I do not know when I will be fully able to overcome my niggly fear of the open water, but I’m going to focus my efforts on my goal of joining the surf lifesaving group one day.

Fears are big, ugly, and generally rather irrational. I’m not trying to dismiss your fears—I know all too well how paralyzing they can make us feel—but I want to tell you that you can trust God with your fears. Whether you are heading out to new adventures, trying a new hobby, or faced with an uncertain future, God wants you to put these fears in His hands.

5 Reasons I’m Looking Forward to Christmas

Ah, Christmas! Jolly Santas, white falling snow, reindeers and sleighs.

Well, not if you’re living in New Zealand. While our Northern European and American counterparts may be sipping mugs of hot cocoa and slipping into thick coats, Kiwis are busy gulping ice cold drinks and walking around town in jandals (rubbered slippers).

For Kiwis, the Christmas season marks the start of a string of outdoor activities (weather dependent), such as camping, hiking, and going away on the weekends chilling at a bach (pronounced as “batch”, and is a Kiwi slang for a holiday house) by the beach.

Christmas at the Ong household is a slightly quiet affair. While we don’t do big dinners and fancy presents, it doesn’t mean Christmas gets missed. For us, it’s more about time spent together as a family, attending Christmas performances at church, and our favorite—carols at the church on Christmas Eve.

So you might probably be thinking, Christmas at the Ongs sounds rather ho-hum!

But it really isn’t, and I still do love the Christmas season. Below are five reasons why I love the festive season.

 

1. Listening to My Favorite Christmas Songs

For me, listening to songs such as Mary, Did You Know?, O, Holy Night, and Away in a Manger, is the best part of Christmas. Christmas carols renew my sense of awe for Jesus. This is because I tend to push Jesus to the recesses of my mind as I go about my various daily tasks.

But taking the time to listen to songs such as O, Holy Night reminds me of the promises that the birth of Jesus brings, such as the healing of sicknesses and the forgiveness of sins—to name a few. And this fills me with hope for the new year, knowing the same Jesus who came 2,000 years ago will walk with me over the next 365 days.

 

2. My Alarm Clock and Exercise Routine Takes A Break

The Christmas season is also an opportunity to take a little break after a year of busyness. After all, even God rested on the seventh day of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3), and the Scriptures says a well-deserved break after hard work is beneficial for us (Ecclesiastes 8:15) .

One of the things I love about the Christmas break is the sweet silence of my alarm. Being able to rise when I want to, instead to the shrill demands of my alarm at 5:55 a.m., is a dream.

The other thing that is most excellent about the Christmas break is that the weekly swim squads and ocean classes I attend wind down for the year, resuming in the new year. Don’t get me wrong, I do love swimming, but it’s also nice to take a break from pushing myself to keep my swim time down (and end up smelling like chlorine for two days), and it’s lovely not having to keep fighting back my fear of the open water as I wade out every Saturday morning with coaches and fellow swimmers.

 

3. Family Time on Road Trips

My family packs our bags for a road trip every Christmas season. As most of my relatives are living overseas, we do not have any immediate family to visit.

So, we tend to take our Christmas by going out of town. This year, we’ll be heading into Taupo and Rotorua, located about two to three hours outside Auckland. Taupo is famed for its pristine Huka Falls and the Lake Taupo, which is the size of Singapore.

Rotorua is a geothermal town with its natural hot mineral springs. I am unable to contain my excitement at the idea of soaking my weary bones and muscles in the hot pools.

 

4. Treats for Myself

Christmas is the season for giving, but the list of people I buy Christmas presents for are very small, as most of my friends are living overseas, and are well-established enough in their careers to be able to treat themselves throughout the year.

But that doesn’t stop me from treating myself. You see, my birthday’s about four days before Christmas, and I tend to treat myself to all sorts of gifts. This year, I have bought a bespoke book subscription from an independent bookseller in London, plus two more books from another online retailer, and am considering buying a new backpack to store my swim gear.

 

5. The Endless Food Feasts

I love a good feed, and in my opinion, there are no other seasons on the calendar where the days are filled with continuous eating than Christmas. The warmer season could mean people are more willing to catch-up, so the weekends and evenings after work are often filled with appointments and opportunities for me to reconnect with my friends, and eating is always involved.

My work hosts its annual Christmas buffet lunch in-house, with a variety of meats to choose from, complete with free drinks and my absolute favorite, the ice-cream cart. This year, I intend to try to eat two ice-creams during lunch, a feat I have yet to achieve.

 

These are five of my favorite things about Christmas. While I look forward to times of celebration and relaxation as I gear up for the year ahead, I’m also reminding myself to take some time out to remember and reflect on the birth of Jesus, who is the reason for Christmas. I hope that as you enjoy the festive season, you’ll do the same.

What Happened When I Quit Social Media

“Am saying bye bye to Facebook! It’s taking too much of my time. I’m on Insta (which I check sporadically) or Messenger, text or WhatsApp! Adios!” That was my last Facebook post, written two months ago.

As soon as the post went live, I deleted my Facebook app and shuffled my Instagram app to sit on the lowest row of my phone.

I was suffering from social media fatigue and needed to escape before it ruined me. I was tired of seeing my news feed dominated by the constant food pictures and posts on wedding engagements, baby announcements, and work promotions.

Don’t get me wrong—weddings, new additions to the family, and doing well in one’s career are all very commendable. But it was starting to get a little overwhelming.

Of course, there were accounts worth following, such as my favorite news channels, journalists and photojournalists that I admire—and who can say no to cute puppy videos? ​​But I was miles away from getting married, with a career that has yet to take flight. I felt like my life was less than perfect.

On top of it all, I realized I was wasting a lot time mindlessly scrolling my phone. The realization hit me one Saturday morning, when I woke up at 8:00 a.m., but ended up spending a good 40 minutes thumbing my phone. By the end of it, a dull headache had formed at the base of my skull and I was quite groggy.

I decided the best way to reclaim the hours lost was to say goodbye to social media. And I soon discovered that this was probably one of the best decisions I have made to date. Here are three things that happened since I’ve quit social media:

 

1. I Rediscovered God’s Love For Me

With social media out of my life, I could refocus on the things that were truly important—one of which was to return to my neglected Bible. Re-reading the Bible was like being embraced by an old friend, comforting and secure. I was almost ashamed for having neglected my Bible in favor of spending time scrolling through social media. I started by reading portions of the Bible, using a devotional as a guide. Reading the Bible soon led me to rediscover God’s incredible love for me.

When I was on social media, I was desperate for the love and approval of others. My emotions were tied to the number of likes my post receives. If the post did better than expected, I felt like Miss Popular. If it didn’t, I was Miss No Friends.

I mulled over what to post on social media. I once posted a photo of me post-ocean swim, in a sleeveless dress with a physio tape visible across my shoulder and down my arm due to an injury. I was proud of that photo—it made me look like I was a keen sportsperson, with an injury to boast about!

Once the post went up, I checked my phone every nano-second for notifications. Who has liked my post? Any new likes apart from the usual crowd? Imagine my deflated mood when, eight hours after the post went up, I had only six likes.

However, re-learning God’s deep and unconditional love for me broke my need for approval from others. Scriptures such as John 3:16, 1 John 4:16, and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 showed me that God’s love for me isn’t based on my posts or the number of likes I received.

You see, God isn’t into our status updates, cool photos or the hipster café where we had our lunch. God’s love goes beyond the superficial details of our lives.

He sees us in all of our strengths and weaknesses, and says “I love you. I approve of you. I am proud of you.” Knowing God’s love freed me from the tyranny of constantly wanting to earn the likes and loves of fellow men. With God, I can be #authentic.

 

2. I Reconnected with My Friends

My weekends have never been more social since quitting social media.

In the past, I used to go on liking sprees. The fact that I had barely spoken a word to these people in the last 10 years was immaterial. Hey, I liked their posts, right? So I was still floating around in the periphery of their lives.

That all changed when I stopped checking my account. I was forced to text friends that I really wanted to catch up with.

One of the first people I caught up with was a friend from journalism school. It had been nine years since we graduated from journalism school, and a good three years since we last met up.  Mindless peppering of likes or loves on Facebook cannot compare with the joy of being able to talk to someone in person over a cup of coffee.

I have since also been able to set aside time to write emails to my overseas friends. A long, carefully thought-out email is a hundred times more meaningful than merely reacting to their posts.

I thought my life would fall apart the moment I gave up social media, but I have found the reverse to be true. For me, I felt a lot more isolated seeing pictures of people having a good time (especially when  I wasn’t invited).

And who would have thought that the old-fashioned way of ringing someone up (or in my instance, texting/messaging someone) to meet up was actually a lot more fun and fulfilling? My post-social media life has been filled with dinner and movie dates with friends, and I walk away feeling I have developed deeper and more meaningful relationships.

 

3. I Regathered My Focus

Social media played into my vulnerabilities, and it would very often leave me feeling like an underachiever.

A former workmate’s success as a news anchor had me desperately wishing I was her, and thinking,  maybe if I had the right looks or skin color, I could succeed.

But it was not limited to coveting someone else’s career. It could be someone else’s sporting success—how is it possible for them to complete a triathlon or achieve an enviable swim time so far superior to mine? And I have been working at this for almost two years! This was completely unfair.

Moving away from social media has allowed me to cancel out all this noise, and to regather my focus. For too long, I had been focusing on my negatives—why am I not fast enough in the pools? Why hasn’t my career taken off like so-and-so?

With no external noise, I am now competing against myself. Sure, I will not be swimming a straight three kilometers open water session anytime soon. But I am making progress when I compare my progress to say, how well I did the last week, month, or year. And that should have been my focus, not trying to replicate other’s achievements.

As for comparing my career to that of my peers, it’s almost laughable. Most of my friends and acquaintances are in different fields, so I could not say for certain that other people were doing better than me. While this seems clear now, it wasn’t as obvious when I was a part of social media. I guess, in a way, I wanted to fit in on social media, and felt like an underachiever when I didn’t have anything to shout about.

 

It has now been two months since I stopped using Facebook, and I have only been on Instagram sporadically. But I have no plans of returning to either platforms on a full-time basis. I suppose I may miss out on breaking news or cool book launches, but I figure there’s always the radio and email subscription lists to keep me in the loop.

With the extra time I now have (to be honest, that’s really only the half hour before bedtime), I intend on making my way through the stack of books that is collecting dust on my To-Be-Read pile, continuing my long emails to friends overseas, or watching documentaries on Netflix.

My decision to quit social media has been a personal one. It may not be realistic or desirable for everyone. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by what you see on social media, I would encourage you to give it a try. This doesn’t mean that you have to burn your phone or delete all your social media accounts. But capping time spent on social media to 10-15 minutes a day, or going social media-free on weekends, might work just as well. I know my decision has given me a sense of freedom and relief I have not experienced before.