With the popularity of the new Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” it seems that everyone is searching for joy – in their clothes, in their kitchen utensils and in their storage bins.
The show, which is a spin off of the book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, features that book’s author, Marie Kondo, walking different families through her step-by-step process of tidying up their homes. In doing so, they get rid of large quantities of material possessions, and the criterion for keeping an item is whether or not it “sparks joy.”
About two years ago, when I was preparing to fit both my things and my now-husband’s things into a small one-bedroom apartment, I read Marie Kondo’s book and found myself inspired to go home and weed out unnecessary possessions. In the end, it led to many bags of donated clothing, which I have never missed.
I did my best to only hold onto things that “sparked joy,” and I became so appalled by how much unnecessary and meaningless stuff I had, that my desire to purchase new things also significantly lessened. If we want to follow the lead of humble leaders like St. Francis and Mother Teresa, and if we want to reduce our involvement in the “throwaway culture” that Pope Francis describes, this commitment to owning less stuff is definitely a positive step.
But now that everyone is talking about Marie Kondo’s show, it has me reflecting on whether what I felt when I held certain possessions is actually joy – and I’m not sure.
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis encourages Catholics to live with joy, but acknowledges that joy looks different at different times.
“Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved,” he wrote. Later, he adds that he has seen people in different states of life express joy in different ways, and, “In their own way, all of these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.”
As I think back on times in my own life when I have experienced the most joy – saying my wedding vows, sitting on a porch at the beach with my family, holding my newborn nephew for the first time, or spending time with close friends – those feelings of joy have stemmed from the love I experienced in those moments, which I believe does “flow from the infinite love of God.”
In his book, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis calls joy, “an unsatisfied desire which itself is more desirable than any other satisfaction.”
This definition also rings true – because in those moments when I was experiencing so much love, there was also a sort of aching desire for those moments to never pass away, so I could rest in that feeling forever. But of course, that desire can never be satisfied.
Lewis writes again about this “unsatisfied desire” in his book Mere Christianity, when he says, “If I feel in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
“If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud,” he writes. “Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
That "real thing" is the love of God and the fullness of joy that we will someday experience in Heaven. So whatever “spark” of joy that my possessions may elicit within me points toward a deeper joy, which points to the deepest joy of all – union with God.
When I hold the star shaped ornament that my college small group leader made for me, I feel joy at the thought of all of those women who have become close friends and at the reminder of the many laughs, tears, and conversations that we shared together. When I hold my wool Irish sweater, I feel joy at the memories of the beauty of the striking landscape of cliffs, crashing waves, and chilly breeze in Ireland that made me feel in awe of God’s creation. And when I hold a well loved and worn out book, I feel joy at the reminder of the truths that were contained in it and the lessons that it taught me.
I think the answer to whether or not a possession can really “spark joy” lies in C.S. Lewis’ next few lines of Mere Christianity, when he says, “I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.”
While it is important to acknowledge that the joy found in material things is only that – a reflection of a reflection of true Joy – I think C.S. Lewis and Marie Kondo are right to be thankful for these “earthly blessings.”
So the next time I am cleaning out my closet, instead of thanking the objects themselves (as Marie Kondo suggests), I think it would be more appropriate to thank God for the small spark of joy that they bring, and for the true Joy that they point toward.