I’m a lifelong untidy person, and Marie Kondo is my hero. I have never read her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” or seen her Netflix shows. I have no plans to stop being untidy. But I want to be just like her.
Let me back up a bit. When Marie Kondo first made her tasteful splash on the homemaker scene, many of my mom friends swooned at the idea of becoming entirely new people who could whip everything around them into delightful, streamlined, orderly shape. Others raged and fumed at Kondo’s insistence that they throw out most of their cherished belongings, get rid of their books, spend all their precious time fussing over trivialities and strive to live in a sterile museum rather than a comfortable home.
None of those folks had read her book, either. They had all heard about Kondo and her ideas through sloppy, sensationalistic headlines and snarky memes that misrepresented what she actually suggested in her book and shows. If they had actually read her (according to my friends who actually have), they would know that she’s quite gentle, doesn’t demand or even suggest radical shifts that work against your lifestyle, and never claims that her system or ideas are best, or that they work well for everyone in every circumstance.
Still, when the Washington Post recently quoted Kondo as saying she had pretty much given up tidying because she has three kids now, the internet exploded in a unanimous, rather vicious, “Ha-ha!” Now she’s a slob, just like the rest of us! Now she knows better!
But my friends who actually read her book and considered her advice were not at all surprised. Kondo never claimed that a rigid minimalism is superior. She apparently only offers suggestions for how to make yourself more functional and peaceful if the current state of your house is making you unhappy.
She is perhaps most famous for her advice to question whether some item in your house “sparks joy,” and if not, to consider discarding it. And now?
“Up until now, I was a professional tidier, so I did my best to keep my home tidy at all times. I have kind of given up on that in a good way for me. Now I realize what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home,” she said.
In other words, it is her children, and spending time with them, that sparks joy for Kondo.
And this is why she is my hero. Not necessarily because she clearly enjoys her children (although that’s a wonderful thing, and refreshing to hear someone say in public), but because she is courageously demonstrating something so few people understand: that you can change how you act and still be yourself. In fact, you have to.
Sometimes we have a core value or goal, but the circumstances in our life change pretty drastically, and so we must change our behavior in order to stay true to that core value or goal. And yet, we’re still ourselves. This is, apparently, what happened to Kondo. She wanted to live her life in a way that made it easy to focus on what was important to her. Before children, tidiness made that possible. With three children, she has other priorities. No doubt she has changed in some ways, as everyone does when they have children, but I don’t see any evidence that she’s renouncing her identity, or that it needs renouncing. She’s just putting her old wisdom to new uses. She’s not a different person now; she’s finding out how to be Marie Kondo with kids.
This is important because, so often, people are resistant to the kind of change they need and crave in their lives because they are afraid, perhaps only unconsciously, that they will lose themselves. That if they stop doing the things they realize are not serving them, they will be robbed of their actual identity. Very often, it is this fear, and nothing else, that prevents people from doing right, even when failure to change is keeping them miserable.
This fear keeps people from going to therapy; it keeps them from treating physical and mental illness; it prevents them from taking chances on relationships; it keeps them out of careers and hobbies; and it puts up a wall between them and God. They are afraid that if they do the thing they need and even want to do, they will no longer be themselves. That they will be lost. That they will be nobody. And nobody wants to be nobody.
There have been many times in my life I’ve been faced with the call to change and had to vault over the fear of losing my identity. It’s a terrifying leap to make.
It happened when I realized that home school was no longer working well for our family, and it was time to start looking for alternatives. My goal wasn’t changing: I wanted my children to be educated and raised decently. The practice has looked very different at different times in our life, though, and I had to get over the idea that our entire identity was as homeschoolers.
It happens to all decent parents throughout the years of raising their kids. You are called on to show love to your children, but that looks like so many different things, depending on whether they’re an infant or a toddler or a child or a teen or an adult. The goal is the same; the logistics, not so much.
It has happened in my marriage. I have been married for over 25 years. Have there been necessary, sometimes painful shifts in the course of this sweet sacrament? You bet your sweet aspergillum. But we work toward becoming more ourselves in the process, not less.
And it has happened in my spiritual life. God is still God; I’m still me. What a blessed relief it has been to finally realize that he doesn’t want me to be anyone else. He made me as I am, on purpose, for a reason. He loves me. He LIKES me. He is delighted when I figure out how to use the tools of my particular me-ness, my own individual identity, to glorify him and grow closer to him. It’s taken me almost 50 years, but I finally, truly believe this is so.
It’s the life-changing magic of being who you are. It’s not easy or simple. There’s a reason people keep on writing books about it! But at least you can eliminate the possibility that you have to become someone else entirely.
Simcha Fisher is an award-winning columnist who regularly contributes to America Magazine, Parable Magazine and The Catholic Weekly. She lives with her husband and eight of their 10 children and several animals in a surprisingly small house in New Hampshire.