Dear Marie Kondo, I beg to differ
I am expecting my first child. My two-bedroom apartment is stuffed with things we do not use or want. Browsing the web, meet this new breed of people. I am not sure they are of human origin, but I am enthralled. Growing up with lots of siblings, order is not something I remember. These people call themselves minimalists, and they own three pairs of shoes and four plates in total.
Inspired, my nesting instinct takes over and I throw away a huge amount of things, and the image of an orderly, tidy home becomes my dream. The problem is that I am naturally disorganized, with zero clue how to create the order I crave.
Our family blessedly grows, and with it, the amount of stuff we own. We move into a bigger apartment; still, there is never enough room.
The solution is clear. I need outside help; I hire professional home organizers. My heart sings when they leave, but a week later we are back to chaos.
I make peace with my limitations, but never stop yearning for a home where everything has a home and finding my keys is not a daily ordeal.
Kids’ clothes of all sizes and seasons pile up, I can never get on top of them. I am not ready to give them away, as our family is still growing but I am drowning.
My clothes are no different. Clothes from before I got married and clothes that fit me in high school waiting in the hope they would fit me again. The kitchen is the same. Just-in-case oversized platters. A never-used electric meat slicer given to me by my mom.
I turn to my old friends, the minimalists; but this time, I am annoyed. The blogs I read are almost competitive in the need to own the least amount of things. It has become about who could excel more in the pursuit of minimalism. While their homes were maybe pristine and empty, their minds seem consumed by how “minimalist” and “natural” and “waste-free” they could be. These minimalist achievements are not to support their life; it was their life. They spend weeks researching and documenting the perfect handbag that will fulfil every possible function because owning two would just be out of the question.
I look around at my mentors, rabbis, rebbetzins I have encountered and who guide my choices; some live in tiny Jerusalem apartments with one table and some plastic chairs, some have more elegant homes; but never once did they count their kids’ shoes or brag about how few pieces of crockery they had. They had better things to do.
On I search. I read every article on “10 ways to store toys”; but apart from chucking them all in the bin, I am as lost as ever.
I have all but given up until my sister, who shares my dream of order, tells me she “marie-kondoed” all her clothes. I am intrigued. Who is this Marie Kondo? I buy her book. She’s different to all I have read before; there’s no preaching of an “ism” though much preaching about how to fold and store socks so they feel loved.
Marie Kondo is not prescriptive in the traditional way of the minimalists. She does not dictate how many dresses are acceptable to own, or the ideal amount of newborn vests (infinite if you ask me).
Instead, she talks about things that “spark joy”, encouraging you to only keep things that spark this highly-prized joy.
With renewed zest, undoubtedly motivated by the fact that I was expecting baby number 4, I spring into action.
I yank out the luxurious tree-green curtains, which been stuffed in a cupboard for three years. Joy sparked? No. They do spark irritation of the space they take up. I smile gleefully as my neighbour lugs them home, not believing her luck.
That massive awkwardly shaped glass bowl is dispatched to my mom who entertains huge crowds regularly. Brand new shoes, which are just a tiny bit too tight, go into the charity box.
With each item, I get bolder, braver, more liberated. In the stealth of the night, I give away wooden peg puzzles and developmental stacking toys and beading activities. Our kindergarten is thrilled, and my children are none the wiser.
I relish in my newfound freedom.
Until I start looking around and despite having rehomed half my household, my home does not match the joy-sparked homes I envision. Instead of joy I feel annoyed, let down and disappointed.
Without realizing, I am pursuing the Instagram images that are all the same: pristine spaces with a few books artfully placed alongside one perfect orchid, in neutral colour schemes. It is beautiful, calm, and serene. The sight sparks joy.
Compared to these images, my space sparks little joy. No matter how much I throw away, I can’t hide the worn couch, with stains and a hole covered by a throw, desperately needing to be replaced.
The kitchen sink piled high with dishes from shabbat and no matter how hard I try, by Sunday morning; there is not a clean teaspoon in sight.
So I ask myself: what would spark joy?
The sought-after joy, propagated by Marie’s followers, would be sparked by walking into the house on Shabbat afternoon, after eating out both meals, and the house looking just as it did before the cleaner left on Friday afternoon. As I walked in, the white tablecloth would be unwrinkled, free of grape juice spills and chocolate mousse smudges untouched, flowers and a shiny floor – yes, that would spark joy.
I know what to do. I must ban the kids from playing inside (or maybe ever entering the inside apart from sleeping and bathing) – that would mean no muddy trails or tiny lego pieces to clean up.
I must tell our friends who come over for Kiddush shabbat morning that I am not hosting anymore, but we can meet in the park. My kids are welcome to play dates –at their friends’ homes – ,messy crafts definitely will spark no joy.
But before I inform my family of our new rules, I realize that Marie Kondo got joy all wrong.
If I define joy like Marie Kondo, I will never be happy.
Redefining joy, I realize that the sight of our homes and possessions are not there to spark to joy.
They are vessels to hold joy and light. Our things are tools given to us; where joy is meant to be created, lived and nurtured through life, through living. Joy is not something to look at it, and take pleasure in from the outside.
Joy is not sparked by owning a spotless white couch to look at, but joy is created night after night we sit and read stories, Parsha stories, tales of our sages, and discuss the deepest things on the planet like how many stars there are in the universe and why they don’t need to bath tonight.
My cluttered and scratched dining room table may not evoke joy upon first sight, but it is the heart of our home, where we host Shabbas guests and play Snap and make birthday cards and have our Pesach seder.
Joy is found in watching my 5-year-old share his new soccer ball with his younger brother, and my daughter concentrate while she practices her shading skills, with pencil shavings fluttering to the floor. Joy is connecting – to my family joy is giving, growing and creating. Joy is developing my true self – my kindness, my selflessness, and my authenticity.
Joy is not about looking at the outside in, it’s not about the space we live in but the space within us.
So Marie Kondo, I beg to differ. Yes, we should not hoard things and store things, but owning less is not going to create the joy we yearn for.
Sparking joy is just that – a fleeting moment of happiness when our surroundings match an ideal image, but that joy cannot be maintained.
In a few days, we will gather in our sukka – with the wobbly trestle table and metal beams and artwork scribbles from kindergarten. And in that space – where the rain will inevitably drown our careful decorations, and the mismatched globes hang with ugly thick black wire encasing – we will celebrate Sukkot – the only festival explicitly named in our tradition as “Zman Simchateinu”.
It is particularly in these spaces –where we are stripped of the most basic permanent shelter and that we are completely encased in G-ds eternal love, that we experience true joy.
The deepest joy is s found specifically when we move out of the safety of our things (however many or few), with no roof over our heads, and open to every element.
It is found in our vulnerability, in acknowledging that we are powerless but beloved, and part of the Divine plan which we do not understand but trust is good.
It is found when we look way beyond the concrete through to the stars, and when we connect with the truth that it is only G-d who is in control, He who loves us and sustains us every second. It is found once we have been through the transformative power of the Days of Awe, connecting to our deepest eternal selves and our Creator, and embracing our utter dependence on G-d’s will.