This past weekend my wife had that look in her eye like she just wanted to KonMari something. If you’re like I was until 11:35 a.m, Saturday morning and don’t know what the verb KonMari means, allow me to enlighten you. KonMari means to declutter. But it also means so much more than that. KonMari is the five-step decluttering, life-changing, tidying-up process developed by Japanese organizing sensation Marie Kondo (that’s right we live in a world with Japanese organizing sensations). Marie Kondo is everywhere these days and has been for a while. Her 2014 book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 40 different languages. More recently she has a new book, “Spark Joy” (which when I first saw it I briefly mistook for a John Piper book) and even her own Netflix original series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”
On Kondo’s website, KonMari is described as, “…a state of mind— and a way of life— that encourages cherishing the things that spark joy in one’s life.” On her show, she teaches regular people her method, starting the decluttering process with clothing, and telling them to touch each and every piece of their wardrobe and ask the question, “Does this spark joy?” If yes they keep it, if no, they thank the article of clothing for its service and let it go. In her show, Marie Kondo likens the joy one should feel in the spark-joy test to the same joy that is felt when holding a puppy. Ultimately, the goal of the show and KonMari is to spark joy in the world and lead to happier lives for those who practice it.
Marie Kondo’s website, books, and Netflix series all make some pretty big claims about what KonMari is and what it can do. As a cross-cultural Christian worker (we don’t use the “m” word in this neck of the woods) I am confronted with new and different worldviews regularly. It is often helpful for me, and anyone who regularly encounters worldviews different from their own, to analyze those worldviews, to be able to engage with them appropriately. To do that effectively a framework of analysis can be a handy tool.
At this time you can go to your bookshelf, and dust off your copy of Nick Pollard’s “Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult.” If you have already KonMari’d your books and Pollard’s 1997 “Evangelism” didn’t give you that holding-a-puppy feeling, you can do what I did and go to bethinking.org. What Pollard provides in the chapter “Deconstructing a Worldview” is a basic framework for analyzing different worldviews. This framework has four parts: identity, analyze, affirm truth, and discover errors. Let’s start with identify.
After reading about and then watching the KonMari method in action, it seems as though it is made up of a unique blend of hedonism (the feeling of joy is what drives decision making in KonMari, and the ultimate goal is happiness) and Shinto pantheism (when a KonMari disciple chooses not to keep an item they thank the item for its service). Instead of analyzing both of these worldviews individually let’s look at the totality of them as they function within the KonMari method.
According to Nick Pollard’s framework, or what we could call the PollNi method, the observer asks three questions of the worldview being analyzed. The answers to those three questions will reveal what is true and can be affirmed about the worldview and what is untrue and therefore must be rejected. The three questions are Does it cohere? Does it correspond with reality? Does it work?
Does it cohere?
In his book, Pollard deconstructs relativism by way of example. When it comes to the first question—Does it cohere?—Pollard has this to say, “When people state: ‘There is no such thing as absolute truth,’ they are making a statement which itself is absolute. So one cannot even state relativism without denying it.” Though Pollard pretty well takes relativism to task, KonMari’s proposition that “if you keep only what sparks joy you will be happier,” doesn’t appear to contradict itself on the coherent level. But just because there are no apparent contradictions doesn’t get KonMari off the hook. There are still two more questions.
Does it correspond to reality?
If I go right now and hold my rain jacket, I can assure you that I won’t feel any joy. But I can also tell you that I want to keep my rain jacket for a rainy day. This is where the hedonistic aspect of KonMari gets a bit tripped up in Pollard’s gauntlet. Using joy-derived as the sole criteria for assigning worth to something has significant limitations.
Additionally, thanking my clothing for its service assumes that my clothing has some type of spirit (a tenet of Japanese Shintoism) which doesn’t seem to correspond to the reality that inanimate objects are just matter and not spirit-based life forms.
Does it work?
According to Netflix yes. But what if we take the cameras and the editing away? Also, what would happen if we visited the people whose lives were changed by the KonMari method six months later? Would they still be living in decluttered KonMari nirvana? Perhaps on some level, KonMari works, but we would do well to guard our expectations in regard to KonMari’s life-changing claims.
I appreciate the PollNi method for analyzing worldviews because it places a strong emphasis on affirming truth in other worldviews. This is helpful for many reasons including keeping us from seeming overly judgmental and only being known for what we are against.
And to be honest, there is a lot to affirm within KonMari.The very pursuit of tidying is noble if not divine. As Jason Meyer, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis said in his sermon, Dominion and Vocation:
“God calls us to use the intelligence and skill that he gave us to bring order out of the chaos in order to create a context for flourishing…When you are doing the dishes, you are doing a divine work. You are giving structure so that you and those around you can flourish. That work can honor God. Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do…do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).”
This same way of thinking can apply to tidying in general and KonMari more specifically.
The other aspect of KonMari that can be affirmed is its focus on gratitude. A successful follower of KonMari must be very aware of his or her gratitude and express it regularly when KonMariing. This gratitude is no less than God’s will for our lives in Christ (1 Thess. 5:18).
But like all worldviews, KonMari isn’t perfect. We can’t declutter our way to God or true happiness apart from Him. Also, as mentioned above, KonMari’s preoccupation with joy (hedonism) seems like a limitation as some things might not spark joy but still be valuable to us. Finally, as followers of Christ, we don’t believe that our clothes have spirits. Although KonMari preaches gratitude, that gratitude is incorrectly directed at the gifts rather than the Giver.
Only keeping joy sparkers in our lives raises other questions too. Should we apply this philosophy to other areas of our lives? It might work well if we asked ourselves this question in relationship to our social media accounts and online habits. But if in KonMari it is ok to part with spirit-filled clothes that don’t bring us joy, is it acceptable to discard spirit-filled-people that don’t either?
Some might think that taking the latest organization fad this seriously is a bit over the top. But Marie Kondo and her KonMari method, by claiming to change lives while at the same time being wildly popular, necessitates a certain level of scrutiny. As Christians, we need to be intentional about engaging new ideas in order to understand better how to reach people with different worldviews from our own with the gospel. It also helps us keep untrue elements of various philosophies from seeping into our own lives. If done well, deconstructing worldviews like KonMari with Nick Pollard’s framework can help us do both.