The English Anglican cleric and theologian John Wesley wrote in one of his sermons that ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness,’ a quote often misidentified as a Bible quotation.
Wesley, the co-founder of Methodism, may not have had minimalism in mind when he spoke of cleanliness, but best-selling writer Marie Kondo and her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” take cleanliness to an almost-religious level.
Keeping house and sparking joy
In her 2014 book and its follow-up, “Spark Joy,” Kondo extolls the virtues of organization, pleasant ways to store precious items, and the freedom one finds in letting go of extras; all kinds of extras, including clothing, books, papers and even sentimental hand-me-downs.
For a woman like me, with innumerable dusty boxes lurking inside her garage, Kondo’s philosophy sparks both freedom and fear. Let me explain.
After reading about the life-changing magic Kondo found in discarding possessions, I realized that each of my boxes represents some emotional messiness I am hanging onto. The worst part is that I continue to dawdle in attacking the problem. It’s too hot out to go through the garage; it’s too late in the day to begin a big project; the dust in the garage will make my allergies flare up – my excuses are endless.
Among other stuff, the boxes include:
- Love letters and cards my husband of 32-plus years and I sent each other in the five years we courted.
- The hundreds of family photographs my mother gave me when she downsized into a one-bedroom apartment.
- Scrapbooks I kept of family vacations, beginning when I was 5 years old.
- My late mother-in-law’s belongings that we packed up when she entered a board-and-care home about 10 years ago. (They have never been opened since.)
- My children’s artwork and projects. (They are now adults.)
Kondo says her KonMarie program works magic even for the most ardent hoarders: By examining each possession and determining the joy it brings to me, I can decide to let it go or keep it.
Teaching children cleanliness
I know moms who are or were relentless in prodding their children to clean up their rooms. I used to be one of them until I finally decided to merely shut their bedroom doors when company arrived.
As little ones they were happy to tidy up when we cleaned together. We sang songs as we put army men in their boxes and toys in their chest. It was when they became adolescents that I lost all control.
Still, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that my kids sought godliness, my children were always physically clean and never questioned their need for a shower and a good stick of antiperspirant. We taught them that cleaning up was a service to others and a source of personal pride.
Why cleanliness matters to God
I believe God treasures every one of us, whether we live in a cluttered home or not. I think He loves us even when we’re dirty from yard work and sweaty from fighting traffic.
I also believe that He enjoys it when we come to His house and we’re all cleaned up wearing our best clothes. Because we cleanse our bodies and don freshly laundered outfits for Mass, we present Him with our best selves.
Perhaps that’s what the Reverend Wesley meant about cleanliness and godliness. After all, Heaven is pure, fresh and white. Who can imagine God living in a cluttered house, or wearing dirty clothes?