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Marie Kondo, Sukkot and Redefining Joy

October 6, 2019 | by Eliana Cline

Joy isn't about the space we live in but the space within in us.

I am expecting my first child. My two-bedroom apartment is stuffed with things we do not use or want. Browsing the web, I discover this new breed of people called minimalists; they own three pairs of shoes and four plates in total.

Inspired, my nesting instinct takes over and I throw away a huge number of things, and the image of an orderly, tidy home becomes my dream. The problem is that I am naturally disorganized, with zero clue how to create the order I crave.

Our family blessedly grows, and with it, the amount of stuff we own. We move into a bigger apartment; still there is never enough room.

The solution is clear: I need outside help. I hire professional home organizers. My heart sings when they leave, but a week later we are back to chaos.

I make peace with my limitations, but never stop yearning for a home where everything has a place and finding my keys is not a daily ordeal.

Kids’ clothes of all sizes and seasons pile up, I can never get on top of them. I am not ready to give them away, as our family is still growing, but I am drowning.

My clothes are no different. Clothes from before I got married and clothes that fit me in high school waiting in hope they would fit me again. The kitchen is the same. Just-in-case oversized platters. A never-used electric meat slicer given to me by my mom.

I turn to my old friends, the minimalists, but this time I am annoyed. The blogs seem to compete in the need to own the least number of things. It feels like a religion.

Marie Kondo is different; there’s no preaching but a lot about how to fold and store socks so they feel loved.

I have all but given up until my sister tells me she “marie kondoed” all her clothes. I am intrigued. Who is this Marie Kondo? I buy her book. She’s different; there’s no preaching but a lot about how to fold and store socks so they feel loved.

Marie Kondo doesn't dictate how many dresses are acceptable to own, or the ideal number of newborn vests (infinite if you ask me).

Instead, she encourages you to only keep things that "spark joy".

With renewed zest, motivated by the fact that I was expecting baby number four, I spring into action.

I yank out the luxurious tree-green curtains, which been stuffed in a cupboard for three years. Joy sparked? No. They spark only irritation of the space they take up. I smile gleefully as my neighbor lugs them home, not believing her luck.

That massive awkwardly shaped glass bowl is dispatched to my mom who entertains huge crowds regularly. Brand new shoes which are a bit too tight go into the charity box.

With each item, I get bolder, braver, more liberated. In the stealth of the night, I give away wooden peg puzzles and developmental stacking toys and beading activities. Our kindergarten is thrilled and my children are none the wiser.

I relish in my newfound freedom.

Until I start looking around and despite having rehomed half my household, my home does not match the joy-sparked homes I was envisioning. Instead of joy I feel let down and disappointed.

Without realizing, I am pursuing the Instagram images that are all the same: pristine spaces with a few books artfully placed alongside one perfect orchid, in neutral color schemes. It is beautiful, calm, and serene.

Compared to these images, my space sparks little joy. No matter how much I throw away, I can’t hide the worn couch with stains or the kitchen sink piled high with dishes from Shabbat.

I ask myself: what would spark joy? Would I really be happier eating out both Shabbat meals, with the house looking just as clean on Friday afternoon, with the white tablecloth unwrinkled and unused, free of grape juice spills and chocolate mousse smudges. Would that really spark joy?

Should I ban the kids – and their play dates – from playing inside so there would be no tiny Lego pieces to clean up?

I realize I need to redefine joy.

The sparks of joy I get from my home and possessions are through living and creating with them.

The sparks of joy I get from my home and possessions are through living and creating with them. The spark of joy I get from my couch is from sitting night after night with the children reading stories, learning the Torah portion and discussing the deep and trivial issues that come up in their life.

My cluttered and scratched dining room table evokes joy by playing its pivotal role in the heart of our home where we host Shabbas guests, play Snap, make birthday cards and have our Passover Seder.

Joy is found in watching my five-year-old share his new soccer ball with his younger brother, and my daughter concentrate while she practices her shading skills, with pencil shavings fluttering to the floor. Sparks of joy come through connecting and giving, through working on my kindness and creating a loving home.

Joy isn't about the space we live in but the space within in us.

So Marie Kondo, I beg to differ; owning less is not necessarily going to create the joy we yearn for.

In a few days, we will gather in our sukkah with the wobbly folding table and artwork scribbles from kindergarten. And in that space where the rain will inevitably mar our careful decorations we will celebrate Sukkot – the festival of joy.

It is particularly in the sukkah when we leave our permanent homes and enter a holy space encased in God's eternal love that we experience true joy.

The deepest joy is found specifically when we move out of the safety of our things (however many or few), with no solid roof over our heads, open to the elements.

It is found in our vulnerability, in acknowledging that we are powerless but beloved, and part of the Divine plan which we do not fully grasp but trust is good.

It is found when we look way beyond the concrete through to the stars, realizing that security ultimately comes from connecting with God, basking in the sparks of joy that come through God's loving, sustaining embrace.


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