My new favorite tv show is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The idea is that a lovely Japanese woman, an “organizing consultant,” enters someone’s house and life and helps them decide what to keep and what to get rid of and where to put the things that are kept. Actually, that’s not exactly true. She doesn’t help anyone decide. They want her to help them decide. They want her to do more than help, in fact they want her to make the decisions for them.
But she doesn’t. Making the decisions teaches helplessness and breeds resentment. As far as I can tell, she’s not in that business.
In the KonMari method (her clever name for the process), step 1 is to have the client take all of their clothes and pile them up on the bed. Think about that for a second. All of them. Do you have a big pile or a little pile or the kind of pile that prevents anyone else from ever going in that room again? (Years ago, while checking an oxygen machine, I was forced to climb a pile of clothes taller than I was, then servicing it lying on my belly with my feet over my head in a diving position. Good times.) Once the pile is created, you would take each item of clothing, from shirts and pants to socks, flatten it out with both hands, and as she says, “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy.” Does this jacket bring me joy? Do these t-shirts? If they do, they stay. If they don’t, they go. Now, this sounds incredibly long and tedious because it is. But it is also completely present and mindful.
It’s valuable because we do soooo many things by rote. (As long as we’re here, a definition of rote is “mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition a joyless sense of order, rote, and commercial hustle.” Unthinking. Joyless sense of order and hustle. How much of our lives are joyless hustling, coasting on autopilot?)
Step 1 sounds new-agey and goofy, but it engages every part of us, every sense, every intention.
The episode I watched (I know, it’s hard to call a show your favorite when you’ve only seen 1, but I’ve always been given to hyperbole, so it’s not only my favorite but it THE BEST TV SHOW EVER) featured a family of 4. What was very interesting was that the clutter (relatively mild, some clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, things on counters and tables) was eroding the marriage. The young couple, married only 5 years, was being consumed by the noise and restlessness of a lifestyle neither had chosen. The garage was full of boxes of treasured memories that should be inside, displayed as reminders of love and commitment. Their time spent together was bickering over closet space and toys on the floor. They spoke of ‘differences’ and ‘frustrations.’ Both wanted to find each other again, but thought they had grown, and were growing further, apart.
But mindfulness has this amazing thing that it does, it brings you back to here and now. When we offer our most precious gift, our time and attention, our eyes snap open to the gifts we have been given, by our spouse, partner, co-worker, friend, child, and more importantly, the gifts OF our spouse, partner, co-worker, friend, child. All gifts we have been given by Our Creator. And so, when we actually see and acknowledge them, we have no choice but to be grateful.
Marie Kondo is not addressing our books or our silverware, she is addressing our mindset, our approach to this beautiful gift of life to which we have grown blind. The couple didn’t suffer from “differences” or even a messy house or too many shoes, they had simply fallen asleep over time to what was there all along. It just took a woman and huge piles of undies – small, far from ‘insignificant,’ details – to point it out.