If I could summarize the first 60 days of 2019 in one tweet, I’d tweet this: “Did it spark joy?” Every time I check social media my friends have posted something new about the latest bedroom they have organized and the trendiest storage hack they’ve discovered, all in an effort to focus on the things that “spark joy.” According to Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, tidying up your home will lead to a peaceful, more fulfilling life with those you love. If you ask me, that’s a pretty noble expectation to set on your spring cleaning efforts.
Developed by Judee Burgoon, Expectancy Violations Theory attempts to explain why people approach every interaction with certain expectations. Those expectations can either be violated positively or negatively, and it is all based upon how the other people participating in the interaction respond. The degree of violation is called the violation valence, and it is determined in conjunction with the communicator reward valence, which describes the nature of the person committing the violation.
In the context of tidying up, couples and families alike appear on Marie Kondo’s TV show, saying that they are ready to “get control of their lives,” “make their homes feel like homes,” and “grow closer together as a couple/family.” All of these people expect that the physical action of tidying up will lead to psychological, spiritual, and emotional benefits. They begin jettisoning their belongings to achieve a positive violation of their expectations, for they end each episode by sharing about how much MORE Marie Kondo helped them than they ever would have dreamed.
According to the wrap-up scenes of each episode, the expectations are met in full and violated with very positive results. The families operate more cohesively after tidying up, their homes are more manageable, and everyone is more at peace with each other and the world. What’s not to love?
At first, this all seems marvelous. Taking control of your belongings and gaining control of your life as a result? Achieving everything you have ever wanted by throwing out your junk? Just how much does our stuff sway our minds anyway? Wild.
In the beginning I was totally enamored by this expectation rippling across American pop culture. I have discovered firsthand that getting rid of things does indeed make me feel more free, and I love the minimalist aesthetic in magazines and design guides. I do not see anything wrong with following Marie Kondo’s method (have you SEEN her folding skills?!). However, I struggle with this trend too, because I wonder if perhaps we are setting an incorrect expectation for our tidying goals.
Why are we expecting a physical action to achieve spiritual results? I am afraid that we have substituted the journey toward spiritual freedom and God-honoring relationships with the literal choice of dumping our plastic bags of old clothes and mismatched picture frames at the local thrift store. We wonder why society has no place for God, yet we encourage and assign an almost spiritual-like aspiration to this practice of tidying up.
I fear that this expectation of freedom and cohesive families as a result of tidying up is only being met positively in the short term, for long-term struggles don’t quite disappear like your baggage at the airport. None of the episodes revisit the family several months after they finish their tenure with Marie Kondo, but I wish they would. I would love to see if the participants have continued to abide by the methods she teaches for maintaining a tidy home.
After all, having less leads to less things to hide behind.