What an Animist Can Learn from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up coverIf you’re at all interested in housekeeping, minimalism, or the New York Times Bestseller List, then you’ve almost certainly heard of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Kondo, a professional organizer and inventor of the eponymous KonMari Method outlined in her book, is being hailed as the “Martha Stewart of the East” and “a warrior princess in the war on clutter”, and her ideas are being analyzed, taken apart, added to other systems, and even outright plagiarized by bloggers everywhere.

So why should I add to the noise? And why discuss a Japanese system on a blog devoted to all things Deitsch? It turns out that the one thing most advocates of the KonMari Method ignore is extremely relevant for Heathens, especially Urglaawer: the KonMari Method is inherently animistic.

Most articles on Kondo’s book will mention something about the “quirky” nature of the KonMari method: how odd it is that you’re supposed to thank items that have served you before sending them on their way out of your life, or how amusing it is that you’re supposed to carefully fold your socks so they can rest in between hard days on your feet. But after a quick chuckle at such “eccentric” practices, they recommend a stripped down version of the KonMari method that leaves out things a mainstream Western audience is uncomfortable with. And when they do, they take out the heart of what makes the system work: a reciprocal relationship with the spirits of the objects in our lives.

Objects that have spirits? Even many Heathens will raise an eyebrow at this idea. Sure, there are the Wichde (land spirits), plant spirits, and animal spirits, and most Heathens will include at least a nod to these in their practices. But objects? Really? Yes, really. Think about it: everything you own came from either living beings or the Earth itself. Books? Those are trees. Plastic? That comes from oil, which came from plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. But if you’re looking for a more lore-oriented explanation, look at just how many tools owned by our forebears were named, given histories, and even hailed in stories and sagas. Swords, spinning wheels, even combs. Nearly every kind of tool used in day to day life by Heathens of the Viking age was given a name, then carefully inscribed with runes, in order to give it life and power. (Check out Runic Amulets and Magic Objects for lots of great archaeological finds with these names!) We also know from the lore that it was the local land spirits, those of home and hearth and the land the family owned, that were worshiped most often by pre-modern Heathens.

In her book, Kondo doesn’t go far into explaining why things have spirits, or why our energy affects them, she simply states it in a matter of fact, results oriented way. Try this, she tells us, and see if you don’t notice results: longer lasting clothing, more vibrancy in your possessions, a home that feels serene and more alive. She does tell us a bit about her background in Shinto and her past work helping to care for a temple. Shinto has some points in common with Heathenry in that it’s a polytheistic, animistic religion, and spirits are everywhere. But it’s also, unlike Heathenry, an uninterrupted tradition. Even today, it is normal in Japan to believe in and interact with spirits, regardless of your official religious affiliation.

Kondo simply takes the presence of these spirits to its natural conclusions, empathizing with our belongings and trying to be considerate of their wishes–to be folded neatly, to be stored without strain, to have a “home” within your home, to be touched gently and lovingly, to be allowed to rest after a long day’s work. She also pays attention to the spirit of the home itself, something more Heathens will be familiar with. She greets her home and belongings whenever she returns. When she’s tidying for clients, she formally introduces herself to the home she is working in with a brief ceremony where she kneels, tells the home who she is, and requests its assistance in choosing where to put items.

Kondo observes that the tidying process always goes much smoother with the help of the home, and that a home that is regularly greeted and thanked for its efforts is a much more comfortable and pleasant place to live. She also tells us that items we care for well become better able to, and more inclined to, assist us in our day to day lives. She says that when we appreciate our possessions, we will “gain strong allies”. Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like spirit work? That’s because it is! The cycle of reciprocity can aid us in all our relationships, not just with the Gods, Ancestors, and Wichde, but also the relationships we have with our belongings. My personal feeling on the matter is, if I’m going to be interacting with so many spirits in day to day life anyway, everything from the roof over my head to the ground I walk on, I would like for all those spirits to be my allies!

I’ve already touched on the spiritual importance of cleaning your home before, but it’s worth discussing further. In Urglaawe, Frau Holle is the deity most associated with the home and hearth, and keeping all within in order. When we take a look at the animistic view, the idea that every object in our homes has its associated spirit, Holle’s role becomes clearer. She is the one Who tends to the spirits of unborn children, She is the one Who rounds up spirits who have gone astray on the annual Wild Hunt*, and She is the one Who takes our souls through Her Mill when we pass from the physical world. All of these roles show Holle guiding spirits to where they belong. It makes perfect sense, then, that She would also be the one Who governs which spirits should and should not be within our homes, in the form of the objects within our homes finding their rightful places. Thus, we undertake our Spring cleaning in order to prepare for Frau Holle’s return from the Wild Hunt, and to make Her welcome within our homes. I view this work itself as an important offering to Her. One of the key lessons I’ve learned from this work is that your entire home can be sacred space if you make it so–a theme Kondo touches on several times in her book.

Cleaning up your home also has a lot to do with Urglaawe virtues. Some of the most applicable ones are industriousness and hospitality. Industriousness is pretty self explanatory: it’s about the day to day actions that will lead us to our goals, make us happy, healthy, and strong, and ultimately serve to elevate humanity as a whole as we strive to care for the World Tree and become more like our role models and Elder Kin, the Gods. But why hospitality? Hospitality is about making guests welcome in our homes, about the reciprocal duties of guests and hosts, and about the ability to provide things like shelter, food, and a bath for weary travelers. But, have you ever apologized to guests about the messy state of your home, or even avoided having guests altogether because things were such a wreck? I know I have! When this happens, the shape your house is in is actually hindering your ability to practice hospitality. You can also make the argument that you’re practicing hospitality for the various spirits in your home–those of the house itself, your possessions, and those you invite in at altars or shrines–by keeping your home in order and making them comfortable.

Overall, the KonMari Method is incredibly simple. The book is short, just over 200 pages, and its message is clear enough that you likely won’t feel the need to reread or take notes on much of anything. You may even decide, as she suggests, to send her book itself on its way once you’ve finished reading it! Yet, this book has the word “magic” in the title for a reason. Kondo describes the magical changes that will take place in your life once your home is truly in order. She likely knows–and we Heathens can join her in this–that the magic comes from a household full of happy spirits working with you and your home in harmony.

*In my personal belief, Wudan and Holle lead the Wild Hunt together. Wudan (aka Odin, Woden) is my personal patron and therefore I give Him more emphasis in my practice than might be typical for most Urglaawer, and I don’t want to misrepresent anything.

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