If you wanted to be mean, you could call me a hoarder, but I prefer to consider myself a curator of life mementos and an avid collector of the miscellaneous. A few weeks ago, some of my collection piles began to topple over and, since Pesach was coming, I decided maybe it would be helpful to “KonMari” my stuff.
If “KonMari” is a new term to you, let me explain: Marie Kondo is a professional organizer who has written a wildly successful book titled The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her “KonMari” method is simple and brutal. She has you put all your possessions into big piles organized by category such as clothing, books, etc. Then you pick up each item you’ve set aside and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy”? If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you look at the item, thank it for its service, and toss it or give it away.
When I first read Kondo’s book, I snorted with laughter and put the book down. A few weeks later, I came home from work to find that the pile of stuff on my nightstand had mysteriously ended up in a heap next to my bed, so I decided to give her method a try.
I realized right away, however, that it’s impossible to KonMari certain aspects of Pesach cleaning. Imagine taking a piece of chametz, putting it into your hands and asking yourself if it sparks joy. There are two gigantic problems with doing that: 1) Every piece of chametz I pick up gives me joy – lots and lots of caloric joy; and 2) It’s irrelevant whether chametz makes me happy. I have to get rid of it regardless.
KonMari, however, very wisely distinguishes between cleaning and tidying. Cleaning means removing dirt while tidying means organizing and getting rid of clutter. To clean effectively you must first tidy up so you can get to the dirt. This distinction also provides incredible insight into how to connect to the spirituality of Pesach cleaning.
Why can’t we eat chametz on Pesach – or even own it? Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler answers this question by explaining that on Pesach we celebrate, not only physical freedom, but spiritual freedom as well. He compares chametz to the yetzer hara. Chametz has yeast, the ingredient that makes bread rise and become puffy. It therefore symbolizes the yetzer hara, which makes us puffy and arrogant – that part of us that desires money, power, and “stuff”; that part of us that accumulates possessions, not because we need them, but to impress other people.
When we clean for Pesach, what if we took Kondo’s “spark joy” test and gave it a twist? What if we looked at the items we own and asked ourselves, “What purpose does this item serve? Does it actually serve a positive purpose or did I buy it to impress someone or for some ulterior motive?”
Tidying up allows us to confront ourselves and strip away the clutter that makes us arrogant and egotistical; it allows us to see our true selves and motivations. Once we do that, we can remove an element of our yetzer hara, thereby truly removing all traces of metaphorical chametz from our lives, at least for a week.
In the end, I decided the KonMari method was not right for my personality. It was too black and white; its extreme nature did not appeal to me. I did, however, take away many positive lessons from trying it – most notably, to have hakaras hatov for all the amazing things Hashem has given me.
As wonderful as it seems, however, to be surrounded only by items that spark joy isn’t realistic. In real life we live with things that make us joyful, sad, and everything in between. On Pesach, we live for a brief time without chametz, without our yetzer hara – but that’s not real life. Real life involves learning to live with both chametz and matzah – both our yetzer hara and our yetzer tov – and figuring out how to successfully use them to channel our ego and energies and become our best selves.