Set Your House in Order

What Marie Kondo Got Right and Isaiah Didn’t

by Samuel Son 

“Set you house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.”  — Isaiah to King Hezekiah (2 Kings)

“Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.” — Mari Kondo

The prophet Isaiah came to bedridden Hezekiah to say, “God told me to tell you, set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Not what Hezekiah was waiting to hear when his guards let in his old friend — his partner for reforming Israel. Now if Hezekiah had partnered with Marie Kondo, author of Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, he would have already had his house in order and would not have had to beg for another 15 years of his life to do so. The problem with prophets is that they’re really really good at pointing out what’s wrong with us. But they have no idea how to help us make things right. Prophets are notoriously impractical, while Kondo promises to teach us a “simple and effective” way of ordering our house without relapse.

Prophets are notoriously impractical.

With Hezekiah being a king, putting his house in order was of massive importance because any disorder where his children would be unable to find his will and fight over his inheritance would create a sibling squabble that would spin out into a bloody civil war. Thousands of lives are at stake in the order of a King’s household. In most of our houses, an entire country isn’t destabilized, but our lives and the lives of our loved ones are at stake; fewer lives, but they are the only lives that matter so existentially, a palace or a home in Middletown of Louisville, it’s the same life and death game.

This is how Kondo sees it too. She’s not a OCD neat freak who can’t handle a wayward sock even in a stranger’s home. She teaches because she says,“I am convinced that putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart. Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”

“I am convinced that putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart. Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”

Kondo’s book is not a manual on how to organize your life. The book’s aim is more fundamental than that. It invites us into another world view, a generous way to see and respect everything you live with. It invites us to see our possessions as having a being of their own. The dirty secret in the mess of materialism is not that we love things too much, it’s that we don’t love them enough. We keep getting more because we don’t honor what we have. We love possessing, so we don’t know how to love what we possess. Disorganization results when we do not lovingly give a home for all the things that’ s already in our home. The way out of the ever-growing mass and mess of possession is to actually be more materialistic. Pay attention to your things. Recognize them as beings. Purchase is a covenant, not just with the seller, but with the item — a covenant of mutual respect.

Pay attention to our things. Recognize them as beings. Purchase is a covenant, not just with the seller, but with the item, a covenant of mutual respect.

I hear many detractors saying they don’t read Kondo’s book because it’s just pages of repeating the same thing — “Keep what sparks joy.” Those detractors are missing the point. It takes an inhabiting of a new worldview to get what those words mean. Kondo brings that view through an invitation of simple daily practices so one doesn’t get the seismic shifting happening underneath their beliefs. She changes your world by not saying she’s changing your world. She simply shows you her world. It’s philosophy though practicality.

For example, she says “touch” the object. This is how we human get in “touch” with anything in life: people and possessions. Touching means intimacy. We say “let’s stay in touch” meaning let’s stay connected. Ordering of the house begins with touch. And if the item doesn’t spark joy? You don’t just discard it. You say “thank you” for the joy it gave you once, and now you release it back into the world.

When she goes into a family’s home, the first thing she does is kneel and pray, thanking the home for its continuous protection. You can’t see the home the same way, when you kneel. And mind you, this is not simply practicing gratitude. It’s gratitude that emerges from seeing the home as a being in a relationship with you. Gratitude is not the seed, it’s the flower and the fruit. The “relating to our house as a being” is the seed. Yes, you bought the house, and it’s yours, but the home works joyously to serve you, and darn good at it too.

Kondo even made me see my shirts differently.

“When examined carefully,” she says, “the fate that links us to the things we own is quite amazing. Take just one shirt, for example. Even if it was mass-produced in a factory, that particular shirt that you bought and brought home on that particular day is unique to you. The destiny that led us to each one of our possessions is just as precious and sacred as the destiny that connected us with the people in our lives.” The mystery and miracle of all things/beings and our connections. She’s a sort of old school prophet in this way, believing that all things, political to house management, is fundamentally a spiritual matter.

Tidying is a spiritual discipline. This book is the modern day Practicing the Presence of God, and she’s Brother Lawrence reminding us of spirituality of all things.

Ordering my home is my mutual respect of all beings. If that isn’t spirituality, what is?

Growing up in a Christian family household, and taught the primacy of spirituality, I’ve read many and diverse books on spirituality. But this book has done more for me than any other spiritual book I’ve read and most any you will find in the christian/religion/spirituality section of Barnes and Nobles. Because Kondo’s book does what other spiritual books fail to do: It keeps me grounded in what I do every day. Ironically, by making spirituality about everything spirit and not matter, evangelical Christianity taught a spirituality isolated from life itself. It’s a spirituality that can actually do harm to the material world. As long as I pray, what I do to the earth, water, my house, etc. won’t hurt my spirituality. And in separating human relations from the material world, it hasn’t protected the sacredness of human relations, but turned human relations into material transactions. People are to be used and discarded like any old shirt. But if all things are sacred — even my shirt — then every person is sacred. There is no place in my life where I can stop being disrespectful. Ordering my home is my mutual respect for all beings. If that isn’t spirituality, what is?

Samuel Son is the manager of reconciliation and diversity with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.