Marie Kondo and Gospel Fluency

On January 1, 2019, Netflix aired a series called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. If you haven’t seen the show, Netflix describes it as “a series of inspiring home makeovers, [in which] world-renowned tidying expert Marie Kondo helps clients clear out the clutter -- and choose joy.”

The KonMari method is simple: hold each item and ask yourself whether that possession “sparks joy.” If so, keep it. If not, thank it for all it has taught you, and then get rid of it.

Marie Kondo offers tricks and tips for organizing, folding, and storing—never stacking!—the remaining items that spark joy, from shirts and socks to papers and sentimental items.

In less than a month, Kondo’s spark of joy has spread like wildfire. The internet has been ablaze with memes and photos from thousands of people inspired to declutter their homes. Thrift stores across the country have reported massive surges in donations, with one Washington D.C. store experiencing a 367 percent spike over the same week last year.

Practice Speaking the Gospel Fluently

The Marie Kondo craze is a perfect opportunity for us to practice speaking the gospel fluently. When the gospel is like a second language to us, we might think, “What could be more neutral—and less spiritual!—than the way you fold your shirts or arrange your photos? Home organizing techniques are completely innocuous, right?”

But as we speak the gospel with greater fluency, we learn to think about everything, even the KonMari method, in gospel categories.

Tidying Up Is a Gospel Issue

With book titles like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy it’s clear that Marie Kondo is not merely in the business of cleaning and organizing. She’s offering peace, contentment, and joy. She’s promising soul-satisfaction.

If the mess in your home feels like hell, tidying up is the functional savior that can deliver you. Listen for the false gospel from another minimalist blogger:

“We eliminated all of the excess stuff from our home and lives and it has been truly life giving.”

On the surface, minimalism may look more “Christian” than materialism. But pay close attention! What is the source of life? Having a neat and tidy home! What sparks joy? Stuff!

While materialism says you lack joy because you don’t have enough stuff, minimalism says you lack joy because you have too much stuff. But materialism and minimalism preach the same false gospel: true joy comes from your relationship to stuff. Just like all idols, stuff is a weak and powerless god.

The weakness of materialism is that you can never have enough to satisfy your soul.

“Again, I saw a vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches …. This also is vanity and an unhappy business” (Ecclesiastes 4:8).

But minimalism is also weak and depressing. The joy that it offers will always be just out of reach or fragile and fleeting. Minimalism offers unattainable joy because it tells you that you can’t rest, you can’t be happy, you can’t be content and satisfied until every square inch is decluttered and organized.

If you ever finish decluttering and organizing, your joy will be fragile and fleeting, especially if you share a house with a spouse and children. God have mercy on the soul who takes a toy off the shelf and puts it away in the wrong place! Heaven help the thirsty passerby who leaves a dirty cup on the counter!

A Theology of Tidying Up

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with decluttering, cleaning, and organizing. In fact, Christians have the most compelling reason to bring order to the chaos in their closets.

In creation, God himself established order and boundaries over the formless and void earth (Gen. 1:2). After bringing everything into existence, God planted a garden and put Adam there “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God blessed Adam and Eve with dominion over every living creature and told them to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). God commissioned humans to expand the Garden, to extend the care and dominion of God’s image-bearers to the wilderness outside.

Throughout the story of redemption, wilderness and waste places represent the curse (cf. Deuteronomy 29:23; Jeremiah 17:5-6), while fruitful and cultivated places represent the blessing of God’s rule and reign (cf. Deuteronomy 28:2-6; Isaiah 35:6-7). God is a God of peace and not confusion (literally, “a state of disorder or instability”), and all things are to be done “decently and in order” in his church (1 Cor. 14:33, 40).

Scripture promises a day when the earth will be a cultivated Garden-City filled with God’s presence.

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5).

That’s a biblical theology of tidying up in a nutshell.

So Tidy Up Like a Christian

Both minimalism and materialism enslave us to our stuff, but the gospel of Jesus offers a different way. When Christians tidy up, we take dominion over the stuff God has entrusted to us as stewards who already enjoy the peace and dominion of Christ in our hearts.

Paul writes,

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing … abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13).

There’s nothing wrong with using Marie Kondo’s method of folding clothes to take dominion over your dresser. But it’s very possible that clutter in our homes is a reflection of clutter in our souls, and storing clothes vertically can’t change our hearts.

Gospel-centered tidying up is the outworking and overflowing of the life-changing work of Jesus Christ inside of us. When the peace of Jesus rules in our hearts and minds, we should expect that peace to overflow in the spaces around us.

Christians tidy up, not because we’re looking for joy and peace to come from our environment and possessions, but because the joy and peace of Christ is already ruling in us. The order you see in a Christian home is an outward expression of the dominion that Christ asserts in the souls who dwell in that home.

So take dominion and tidy up, not like someone looking for joy, but like one who has found eternal joy in Jesus Christ.

Ryan Chase