Recently I was packing for a weekend away, and I could not find a particular sweater I wanted to take with me. I dug through drawers, looked in our storage room closet and rummaged through the nooks and crannies of my bedroom with no success. As I came up empty, I realized I had likely donated the sweater when it failed to spark joy in my life.
A few years ago I was swept up (pun intended) in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” craze, the brainchild of Marie Kondo. Her approach to decluttering has many unique characteristics, perhaps most notably where she urges people to touch every item in their homes and ask themselves whether the item “sparks joy.”
Suffice it to say, Kondo’s approach spoke straight to my intuitive, feeling soul and I walked through the rooms of my home touching items, then placing them in the donation bag when there was no joy. And it mostly worked. I decluttered my whole house, and while there have been some decluttering regrets (hello, sweater!), the experience showed me the power of decluttering and cleaning my physical surroundings has over the state of my soul.
How Our Surroundings Affect Us
In the past, I have believed that I have more important things to do than clean. After all, I have a job. I volunteer. I have a pretty full social life. Taking care of my physical space has often felt like an afterthought. But as I open my windows this spring, I find myself itching to examine the nooks and crannies of my home and rediscover the joy found in tidying up my space.
Sometimes I feel a bit shallow for the depth of joy I feel cleaning a bathroom or purging the junk drawer in my desk. I’m not the type of person who is particularly neat or just “loves to clean.” If you come to my home on an average day, there will be books all over the coffee table, a dish or two in the sink and a dusting of dog hair covering my hardwood floors.
The usually cluttered state of my home reflects the natural state of the world. In her article about Kondo’s tidying method, Karen Swallow Prior explains that “the natural state of the world always moves toward increasing clutter, dirt and decay. You need only look in my garden, never mind my kitchen counter, to see the sin of untidiness.”
Even coming home after a vacation reminds us that the natural state of our homes is decay. Though we’re not present, dust accumulates on our bookshelves and food spoils in the refrigerator. We come home with piles of laundry to wash, dry and put away.
Unsurprisingly, that clutter and decay of my physical surroundings affects my well-being. Though the natural state of the world is the untidiness Swallow wrote of, it wasn’t created to be this way. As humans, we’re designed to live in the beauty and order of Eden and we long for the beauty and order of New Jerusalem. When clutter and decay rule the day in my home, I quickly find myself grumpy, distracted and frustrated, ultimately restless for my eternal home.
That’s when I pick up my dusting mitt, broom and a garbage bag.
The Heart of Your Home
As I sweep up the dog hair, dust my book shelves and go through my closets (considering whether or not those t-shirts “spark joy”), I discover a deep satisfaction in going against my home’s bent toward decay by simply tidying up.
I’m not here to make you feel guilty or proud about the state of the place you call home, whether that’s an apartment, house or a bedroom shared with a housemate. The goal isn’t to have Pinterest-worthy space or hold yourself to someone else’s standard of cleanliness.
I simply want to remind myself, and maybe you, that Spring cleaning is about more than keeping up with the Joneses, impressing your guests and checking off a to-do list.
The practice of cleaning and decluttering touches on the desire to image our Creator and draw order and beauty out of chaos. “Earth’s crammed with heaven,” writes Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I’ve learned that cleaning and clearing the clutter helps me glimpse the pieces of heaven I have here on this earth.