In her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” decluttering guru Marie Kondo says that she only owns 30 books. Hearing that, I glanced at my bursting bookshelves and laughed. It simply isn’t possible. Kondo says that each item we own ought to spark joy. If it doesn’t spark joy, then it’s cluttering up our homes and weighing us down emotionally and mentally. My out-of-control collection of books aside, I like her message. As Christians, we can refine it to gain greater insight into our relationship with our possessions and what it means to practice healthy detachment.
We might ask why it feels freeing to declutter on the one hand and, on the other, why we have such a deep connection to other objects and would never get rid of them. The point of tidying up isn’t simply to have less stuff. Sure, it’s great to have a cleaner space and reduce the clutter, but remember that God Himself made this physical world and became Incarnate and joined Himself to it. The resurrection was physical and we, too, will inhabit heaven in resurrected bodies. When God created the world, He said that it was good. What had been formless and empty was now filled with precious objects, animals and people — all of whom He dearly loved. So less isn’t always more.
We don’t tidy up because all material things are bad. We don’t tidy up to better showcase items we want to show off. We declutter as a form of Christian detachment, to make room for God, to make room for family and friends, and yes, to make room for those precious objects in our possession that spark joy in us. Those objects may be meaningful because of memories connected with them, such as a family heirloom or a gift from a friend. Objects also have meaning to us if they are particularly beautiful. They help make a house a home, showing that we love this little corner of the universe we get to call our own, we love the people we share it with and love how each special item reflects the beauty of God. This, by the way, is why we strive to make churches beautiful, why priests wear beautiful vestments and why music at Mass is beautiful. All of this centers our minds and hearts on the beauty of God and increases our devotion. It’s a way to show that heaven is our true home.
How tidy we keep the house isn’t as important as our relationship with our possessions. Christian detachment is a re-ordering of our souls so that we will give our love away to what truly deserves it. We detach ourselves from undue love of material things so that we can love God the way He truly deserves. So go ahead and do your spring cleaning, maybe even be bold enough to get rid of a few books, but always remember that you are doing so out of love.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.