Recently I read the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  ­I’m a neat and well-organized person, so I mostly wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I thought I might glean a new tip or two, but I didn’t expect any major revelations.  I am happy to report that I was wrong.

For Kondo, tidying and organizing is the way to restore balance among people, their possessions, and the places that they live.  Her premise is that, with very few exceptions (like essential documents), we should only own things that bring us joy. Period.  She asserts, and I agree, that our homes and lives are often cluttered with things that we “might use some day” like clothes that don’t quite fit, books and gadgets, or things that we feel obligated to keep such as gifts, souvenirs, and mementos. She instructs readers to gather all similar items (such as all your books or all of clothes) in one place, pick each item up, and determine if it brings you joy.  If so, you keep it.  If not, you toss it or give it away.  Hesitancy or uncertainty over an item indicates that it should go.

I decided to try her method on my clothes. My closets were not over-full, but I was amazed at how much I could easily part with, how practical it was to organize per her instructions, and how freeing the process was.  I was delighted to discover that I felt better with fewer things I truly enjoyed in a (more) organized space.

For Kondo, our homes are sacred spaces.  For those having difficulty shedding things, she asks the simple question, would you rather live in a sacred space or a storage shed? Would you rather come home to a space that is intentionally designed to bring you joy, or to a space that is cluttered with things you don’t want or need?  Stated this way, the answer seems obvious doesn’t it?

As I began working my way through other areas in our home, I started to wonder what it would be like to apply Kondo’s wisdom to our churches.  How many of our facilities have rooms (and rooms and rooms) cluttered with old furniture, dated hymnals, years of abandoned VBS props, and who knows what else?  What if instead of asking if these items give us joy, we asked if they give God joy?  What if we asked, does this item help us meet our God-given mission in this time and place?  Kondo’s question really came home at this point, would you rather live (worship) in a sacred space or a storage shed?

Next, I began to wonder what might happen if we applied these questions to our programming.  What if we held up each thing that we do and asked the same questions.  Does this program/event/activity bring God joy?  Does it help advance our current mission and vision? Does it embody our calling and our values?

What would it look like for our churches to start the New Year with less?  How might it liberate our congregations to shed clutter and organize what is truly essential?  How might we be able to partner with others in new ways if we had “room in the inn”?  What new work might God be able to do if our time, money and talents weren’t held captive by obsolete programs?

Let me be clear here, there is much in our buildings and programs that we will want and need to keep.  There is much in our history and tradition that is valuable and worthy and will bring us and God great joy. By nature, we organize our lives around rituals that provide us with anchors and meaning and purpose.  This is right and good. The answer to keeping many of these things should be a resounding, “YES!”  Yet for most of us, there is much shedding to be done.

So let’s begin 2017 by holding each piece in our hands and asking the right questions.  When we do, I am confident that the right answers will come with amazing ease.  Who knows, we might even start a New Year’s Revolution.

Tracy Hartman
Tracy was a member of the first class of M. Div. students at BTSR and won the Miller Award for Academic Achievement upon her graduation in 1995. Her graduate work at Union included ground-breaking research into the relationship between parish setting and preaching style for women pastors. Dr. Hartman teaches preaching and directs the seminary’s Supervised Ministry and Doctor of Ministry programs. She is the author of Letting the Other Speak: Proclaiming the Stories of Biblical Women and co-author of New Proclamation Commentary. Dr. Hartman is active in Baptist life and has served as staff member and interim pastor to several Virginia churches. She enjoys preaching throughout the region. She is a coach for CHC.