Marie Kondō Can’t Spark True Joy

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Let’s keep this short. (Because a long post about minimalism seems out of place.) KonMari can’t sustain joy. No form of minimalism can.

The Long Con of KonMari

For the uninitiated, KonMari is the eponymously-named method of minimalism created by bestselling author and TV personality Marie Kondō. Thanks to her new Netflix show, Kondō is wildly popular right now, and chances are you needed no introduction.

But minimalism isn’t new. At least, not by Internet standards. Kondō’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,came out nearly five years ago. And hers is far from the only book of its kind.[1]

Despite some minor differences, books about minimalism share a commitment to living with less in the hope of getting more of out life. In the words of leaders within the movement, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Sounds good. But wait, there’s more!

Descriptions of minimalism sound remarkably religious. It is said to be “life-changing,” the source of “joy,” the secret to a “meaningful life,” and the key to “finding the life you want”—and that’s just what the titles alone claim minimalism can do for you. Buried within the books themselves are even bolder promises, like Kondō’s assertion that minimalism is “the magic that creates a vibrant and happy life” (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 127).

A Spark of Truth (But Only a Spark)

Minimalists are onto something. Every trend, in some small way, highlights a human yearning for something more. In this case, minimalists have seized upon the crisis of our times, where people’s homes are full but their hearts are empty. It surveys our abundance of possessions and rightly says, “This stuff isn’t making you happy.” But then it veers sharply off course, out of the frying pan and into the fire, as my grandmother would say.  

There are ditches on both sides of the road, it turns out: relying on an abundance of stuff to make you happy is a bad idea, but blaming an abundance of stuff for your unhappiness is equally foolish. In God’s economy abundance is a sign of blessing, after all (Deuteronomy 28:12; Proverbs 3:9-10; John 10:10; Ephesians 3:20; James 1:17). In fact, the New World that God is making will be filled with so many good things that some minimalists wouldn’t feel at home there (Revelation 21:26).

Thus it is that materialism and minimalism, though they seem to be opposites on the surface, are both misguided quests for self-discovery and self-expression connected either to the quantity or the quality of the things you possess.

But what if ‘things’ aren’t the problem and never have been? And what if the real problem, ironically, isn’t that we need to have less but more?

Our problem, then, isn’t the quest for more out of life. Our problem is that we look in the wrong places.

The Hunger for More

We are created beings, made by God for God. This is why Augustine said, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising You, because You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”[2]

Because we were made for fellowship with the God of infinite pleasure (Psalm 16:11), Isaiah’s rebuke carries deep significance for us. “Your iniquities have separated you from your God,” the prophet warns (Isaiah 59:2). Sin separates us from the Source of all true and lasting joy.

But sin doesn’t stop us from seeking joy. In fact, to be a joy-seeker is part of what it means to be human. So we will never stop our restless searching until we find the greater pleasure of knowing God and enjoying him forever, as the Westminster Catechism rightly summarizes.

Our problem, then, isn’t the quest for more out of life. Our problem is that we look in the wrong places—to materialism or to minimalism, to more or to less. Yet in both cases we are hoping that creation will satisfy what only the Creator can supply (Romans 1:25).

This is a lesson that we all need to learn repeatedly. We must learn to receive God’s gifts (not reject them, as minimalism would have us do), without rejoicing in the gifts above the Giver (as materialism would have us do).

For God’s Sake, Clean Your House

“But what if KonMari helps me!”

Look, if you have much more than you need, giving away some of the abundance in your life is not a good idea from Marie Kondō; it’s a command from God (1 Timothy 6:17-19). And if KonMari helps you clean your house, then set aside her Shinto spirituality and join the long line of God’s people who have plundered the pagans for valuable tools and insights (Exodus 12:35-36).

But don’t get swept up in the insanity of the moment. Minimalism, even at its best, seems like a misguided hope that less will equal more. But at its worst, minimalism is just the latest version of self-discovery and self-expression.

As an alternative, God invites you to something better: a life centered on him, laid down in love for others. And that life will never fail to yield an abundance of joy no matter how many—or how few—possessions you have.

[1] See also Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Millburn, and The Joy of Less by Francine Jay, and The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker, and The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, and new titles on the same topic that release almost monthly.

[2] Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford University Press, 1991).

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Doug Ponder

Doug Ponder (M.Div., Th.M. Southeastern Seminary) is the Teaching Pastor at Remnant Church in Richmond, VA. He also serves as Dean of Faculty and Professor of Biblical Studies at Grimke Seminary. He and his wife, Jessica, have four sons.

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