Marie Kondo: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Shamanic Shrine Magic

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When Marie Kondo was five she experienced a strong impulse to arrange the items in her room. She was possessed by the act of tidying up. The rest is history. Now, she’s the internationally acclaimed author of the much loved book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

When I came across a youtube video of her speaking to Google employees, I was interested in seeing what she had to say. I have friends who have read and employed the techniques in her book.

Today, I’m going to tell you how to make your house in order. That will change your life forever.

Once I got into to it, I realized much of what she was saying rang true as related to my experience exploring shamanic shrines. It was also humorous to see her pause for the reactions of the audience when she instructs them to ask, when handling an object, if the object sparks joy.

It’s a fun moment.

I suspect the audience found inspiration in more than just the charm of her presentation style. Many, as programmers, probably see a certain utility in keeping things tidy. As people, they likely felt the emotional truth, a simple rightness in what she was saying.


Kondo, the Shaman

Kondo says before launching into the points of her method:

Today, I’m going to tell you how to make your house in order. That will change your life forever.

Recently, I heard a shaman on Jeju Island, South Korea say something like this to a younger member of his community:

You should visit the shrines regularly. It will change your life. You will feel that everything is in order. 

He spoke those words under this tree:

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A shrine tree, of course, is the axis-mundi, the world tree, the center of creation and the spiritual village center. It is not to be approached like any other ordinary tree. The tree and the area surrounding are sacred.

Kondo is sort of suggesting to us that we should make our own living space into a shrine, and like a shrine, infuse it with mystical energy. Actually, Kondo never says anything like ‘mystical energy’, but her sorting method of holding an object in your hands and assessing its joy suggests endowing every object with some meaning. I suspect to the brilliant people in the google audience it might seem all quite esoteric, but also I think intuitively they understand exactly what she’s getting at. (If you’re not familiar with Google’s youtube channel, check it out. The ‘don’t be evil’ company hosts a number of amazing speakers every week.)

Kondo doesn’t cover every point in her book in the presentation, but she goes into a few.

Konmari method point #1:

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And #2:

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In shamanic shrines, shrines and altars of any sort, tidying and sorting are of upmost importance. Offerings are placed just so on symmetrical and central altars. As to point one of the Konmari method, the actions involved in these arrangements are often quite economical.

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On Jeju Island, little bits are left purposely scattered about (below). I bet Kondo leaves a few details undone from time to time in her own personal space. (I haven’t read the book, but am curious to know more)



Does the object spark joy?

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The objects in our lives do affect us in interesting ways. They sow us with emotion and can even gain significant power over us. Perhaps, they even see and identify parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t be able to recognize otherwise. More obvious examples of such power objects might be artwork or personal items like photographs or gifts from significant people. Think of the power of a diploma. Kondo might say that even mundane objects affect us, more than we know.

For a great book on the power of objects:

See The Object Stares Back by art critic James Elkins for a fascinating, and rather creepy ride. A slow boil, but when he eventually convinces you the objects around you are indeed watching you, constantly identifying new parts of you…seeing things in you that you couldn’t see for yourself, altering you at every moment…well, it’s unsettling, but rewarding.

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How about when a whole community finds joy in an object?

Like in the case of a shrine.

Kondo states, in the Q and A session after the talk, that even objects serving utilitarian purposes can provide joy. She also says to treat the event of tidying up like a holiday. Relics, shrines, hallowed ground–these places and the objects within take on meaning of greater proportions. And the objects therein are arranged on the event of sacred days–holidays. Whether we engage with them in a religious or secular manner, this is still the case.

More riffing on the power of objects and shrines to come.

(The purpose of these ‘riffing’ posts are to explore and roughly flesh out some questions I have about the culture/ existence of shamanic shrines and shrines otherwise. Please link to anything in the comments, whether cultural ideas or scientific articles or your own ideas that might help me understand more.)



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