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Tidying and the Gratitude Tune-Up

Every summer we take a family vacation to the beach.  My favorite thing to do is read on the sand, under the umbrella, facing the ocean, breathing in the sea air and hearing the waves gently crashing on the shore.  I always pick some light reading for the beach- either some trashy, pulpy novel, or perhaps a non-fiction that’s the latest craze. 
Two summers ago, I read The Joy of Tidying by Marie Kondo.  It was extremely popular at the time and Kondo’s method of home organizing was all the rage.  I found the book helpful and amusing.  Some of her ideas were so outlandish that I read them out loud to my family and we all had a good chuckle.
Kondo’s method, the Kon-marie method of tidying, is based on a few core principals and techniques.  She believes that all of your items should be visible to you when stored, she has a unique way of folding clothing, and she insists that you only keep items or objects that spark joy for you.  She has you go through every item you own one by one, hold it in your hands and determine whether it sparks joy. If not, you must thank it for it’s service to you and either donate it or throw it away.
It seemed rather silly to be thanking sweaters and old T-shirts.  It also seemed to be a rather strange criterion to use when cleaning one’s material goods- not whether you used something, or even needed it- but whether it sparked joy for you.  But, despite my initial reservations, I began to follow some of Marie Kondo’s suggestions.  She was definitely onto something here.  There was a certain spirituality that she was infusing into our everyday objects with her recitations of gratitude and her respect for the ordinary. 
Time passed and I only partially ‘Kondo-ed” my home until recently.  Marie Kondo now has a show streaming on Netflix where she is demonstrating her method of tidying with a new client in each episode.  I watched and was amused and intrigued.  Most remarkable to me was a ritual she performs with each client before she begins her work with them.  She greets their home.  She folds her tiny body up kneeling on the floor, rubs her palms along the floor surface and closes her eyes in silence for a few minutes.  She says she is greeting the house and introducing herself to it.  She finishes, stands up and begins her work.  She never discusses anything else about it.
It is just another piece in her methodology that reinforces her respect and reverence for the things around us.  It is also an acknowledgement of the sanctity of the home.  Homes are universally seen as holy spaces- places for families to feel safe, nurtured and secure.  They are our refuge from the outside world; and provide us with shelter and also a locale for gathering and memory making.  Many cultures and religions mark the home in a special way for these reasons- with an amulet, a paint color on the door, a cross on the wall, or in a Jewish home we place a holy text in a small box called a mezuzah on the door post of our houses.
As I watched Marie’s clients thank their objects as they packed them away for donation, I was reminded of the explanation of the tradition of covering the challah bread on the Shabbat table on Friday night.  We recite a number of blessings to usher in the Sabbath and the sages of old debated about the order of these blessings.  They finally decided to recite the wine blessing first and the challah bread second.  In order to spare the challah shame from being placed second, a beautiful cloth is used to cover it.  This shields the challah from any embarrassment it might experience being chosen second.  The lesson here is: if we are concerned about the feelings of the challah by accidentally shaming it, how much more so should we be concerned about the feelings of our fellow human beings and always strive to avid shaming them.
Marie Kondo’’s techniques remind us of the gratitude we must express for ALL of the things in our life- from the riches and immaterial to the everyday and mundane, for combined they create the tapestry that is our life.  Everything has a purpose.   If we get this right, then treating each other the same way may come a bit easier as well.
My house is still a bit messy, my drawers are a lot neater, but my sense of gratitude has gotten a tune-up.  Thanks, Marie.
Cantor Marcey Wagner
Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, NY


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