By Marcia Bosscher

Tidying Up

In the middle of a walk with my friend Jackie, I ran into The University Bookstore to pick up a copy of the NYT bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up the irony being that Jackie is one of those women seemingly blessed from birth with an innate sense of tidy. Though Jackie and her faculty husband Ken have raised 10 children (theirs by birth, foster care, and adoption) in their home, I have never seen it cluttered.

I, on the other hand, have struggled with tidy since childhood. “A place for everything and everything in its place” has eluded me, despite being raised in a heritage that strongly values cleanliness and order, spoofed by a Dutch children’s poem, “The Clean Queen”:

...If anyone drops just a hair
On any sidewalk anywhere,
He is beheaded on the spot,
For that annoys the Queen a lot!
Yes, she’s a very friendly queen,
But just a trifle OVER clean!

(from Pink Lemonade by Annie M.G. Schmidt, translated)

And I can’t blame my upbringing. My mother, faithful reader of Better Homes & Gardens (they were born in the same year), kept a well-ordered home.

My mother, as many of her peers, saw keeping a tidy home the mark of a successful woman. I remember telling a woman of my mother’s generation about a friend with an active professional life who had just completed her PhD, with four children still at home. Her response was, “But does she have a clean house?” The ingrained ideal of tidiness for her trumped all other accomplishments.

Besides having a natural inclination toward messiness, I had a youthful reaction against what I perceived as a superficial fascination with the Better Homes and Gardens (or for today, Real Simple) construction of what home life should look like. As a newly married twenty-something, I was encouraged and profoundly moved by Karen Burton Mains’s Open Heart, Open Home. Her premise was that if our heart is open to others, our homes should be as well, in whatever condition they may be. The idea of welcoming guests into a home that was “lived-in” was liberating.

But perhaps I’ve taken the “take my home as it is” creed too far. When there is little room for a guest to store belongings because closets are stuffed with no-longer-used-but-might-be-useful-someday items, I’ve become less hospitable. When it takes me hours to find a book in the stacks and piles, it is time to sort and share. And really, do I need more Target bins for storage? Isn’t that just another way of “building bigger barns?” It is so easy to accumulate; so challenging to divest.

The parable of the sower seems relevant here. The thorns that grow up and choke new life are described by Jesus as the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches. I can recognize that the care and ordering of my possessions can choke my life in Christ.

That is the intrigue for me of Marie Kondo’s book. She seems to be promising a once and for all clean-out that, if I believe the title (true confession, I’ve yet to open the book), has the potential to change my life. I’m not aware of any Christian grounding for this book, but if following her instructions can actually free me to seek God and seek his Kingdom, I’m all for it. If by cleaning out my home, I can in some way clean out my heart, it will be worthwhile.

Another, older, Dutch verse comes to mind:

Ah! Jesu Lord, my heal and weal,
my bliss complete, make thou my heart
thy garden plot, fair, trim and neat.
That I may hear this musick clear,
harp, dulcimer, lute, with cymbal,
trump and tymbal, and the tender soothing flute.

(King Jesus Hath a Garden, traditional Dutch carol)

If in the act of tidying, my heart can be cleared as well to better hear his voice, it will be time well spent.

Have any of you considered or tried Kondo’s method? I would love to hear what you think!
About the Author

Marcia Bosscher is the former editor of The Well and now an associate with InterVarsity's Faculty Ministry. Having been married to a professor and sharing life with grad students and faculty in a campus church, she has a deep interest and care for those in the academy. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with a golden-retriever mix and a diverse array of lodgers and travelers.

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