Yesterday, I began to lay out a case for the religious nature of the philosophy behind Marie Kondo’s writings and methodology of sorting and tidying up your house. The topic of minimization is simmering today, and Ms. Kondo is finding a great deal of admiration among those who claim to be Christians.
I like a clean house. I feel a great deal of satisfaction when my laundry is folded still warm from the drier. I even enjoy organizing the lids for my antiquated utilitarian Mason jars (metal lids are replaced immediately upon arrival in my home with one-piece lids that don’t leak–but that is another post for another time). I have nothing against organization or cleanliness, or beautifully barren kitchen counter tops.
So what is my concern with the KonMari Method and it’s spark of joy? My concern is frankly less for Ms. Kondo and her work. She is operating from a time-honored cultural perspective that emanates from the Shinto religion, the set of practices indigenous to Japan. The rituals surrounding Shintoism focus on humans’ harmony with the natural world as well as with each other. Harmony is good, right?
Digging deeper, Shintoism is animism–the attempted appeal to and control of spirits for the benefit of humans. Animism is found in many forms from indigenous tribal peoples to Islam to even some Catholicism. Specifically, the Shinto religion functions on a belief that all of nature contains spirits of divinity. All, that is, except most humans (the Emperor of Japan is an exception to this as he is a descendant of the sun goddess). Thus, its adherents must practice rituals of purification in order to achieve serenity with the spiritual world surrounding them. Beginning to sound familiar?
Place is important in Shintoism, because it is within a designated place that humans can interact with the spirits. Anyone who has visited a Japanese Garden or a Shinto temple can appreciate the aching beauty of these surroundings. But the purpose of a temple in the Shinto religion is to provide a residence for a spirit, a gateway between the worlds so that humans can have access to the spirit. Roadside shrines or personal home shrines are utilized in similar fashion.
Ms. Kondo is no stranger to the importance of place. As she mentions in her first book, she spent time as a teenager serving in a Shinto temple. Ms. Kondo is not operating from a vacuum, and any evaluation of her methodology must start with this background. Marie Kondo is consistent with her Shinto upbringing.
Perhaps you can think of ways that she has demonstrated this background in the show: referencing the spirit of a room, teaching clients to audibly thank the items they purge, folding socks into drawers to provide the socks with the ability to rest from their hard work. Yes, socks. And then there is the greeting of the house: Ms. Kondo carefully selects a spot, kneels, and spends a minute, eyes closed and hands moving in soft circles around her. An instrumental soundtrack swells to cover the awkwardness of the clients watching her through half-closed eyes like errant kindergartners in Sunday School praying together before their goldfish snack.
By now you are getting a sense for the basis of my concern for the unabashed enthusiasm lavished on Ms. Kondo’s methods. Stick with me for one more post. I will wrap this up tomorrow–I promise!