By now almost everyone has heard of Marie Kondo.
Kondo is the attractive Japanese woman who has parlayed her penchant for decluttering into a personal brand that now includes a Netflix series and several books.
Her method helps you sort through household and personal detritus, throwing out, giving away, reorganizing, and always asking, as you look at that dress you haven’t worn in five years, “Does this bring me joy?” It doesn’t? Then out it goes.
At the library, I noticed an entire display dedicated to books about decluttering. Apparently Kondo’s success has given birth to a genre. Something about getting rid of “stuff” has touched a chord in our affluent society.
Kondo and her ilk are on to something valuable. But they only touch a small part of the problem. It’s spring housecleaning season, and they’ve got that. But we are also in the spiritual season of Lent, which touches on a deeper, more fundamental part of this issue.
The questions we should ask, along with “Does this cracked mug I’m keeping in the cupboard spark joy?” are: Why do I buy so much stuff? What need, what emptiness, what insecurity am I trying to fill?
Americans have joked about “retail therapy,” as if buying more can boost our mood and increase our happiness. But this is no joke. We’re inundated by plastics that wash up on formerly pristine shores and seriously threaten the health of our seafood supply. Our landfills overflow. There’s not a market for all the clothes we donate. Recycling worldwide can’t keep up with us. Our “stuff” threatens the planet.
Climate change and overconsumption disproportionately impact the poor and oppressed, who beg for crumbs from our overladen tables.
Our consumption is a moral issue, a Lenten question.
Chapter 16 of the Book of Exodus, read at a recent novena I attended, portrays the Israelites escaping from Egypt, traveling through the desert. They begin to doubt the whole enterprise, as well as their faith in Moses and God. Grumbling ensues. God provides quail in the evening, manna in the morning.
But Moses cautions: Harvest the manna and consume it all — there’ll be more. But, folks have their doubts. Better tuck away some for tomorrow. Just in case. The result is stinking, maggot-filled leftover manna. What a metaphor for our burgeoning storage spaces and overflowing closets.
The Israelites’ insecurity made them question that God provides.
Is there some of that in our constant yearning for more?
I thought of that the other day as I hauled items to a thrift store. It had taken me a while to deliver those bags of clothes. Part of it was distance, but part of it was my reluctance to part with “stuff.”
I look at my large closet and see abundance. And I’m trying not to buy more. Yet, all the more excuse to hesitate at giving away that black sweater that’s already in the bag. What if I want that later? What if I need it?
Need? How often do I buy from need? More likely, it’s impulse, momentary pleasure, insecurity. Does this spark joy? What about all those who do not have the means I have? Could my money be better spent on them? That’s a fundamental Lenten question.
The same preacher who read Chapter 16 to us offered this quote from Jesuit Father Ignacio Ellacurio, who was martyred in El Salvador in 1989: “Always remember that there is no conversion to God if there is no conversion to the oppressed.”
Lent is all about conversion. How does my consumption affect my conversion?