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Metaphysical KonMari

The Konmari Method can totally be applied to your astral life. Does it bring you joy? No? Then stop that shit and do something that does. […] That’s called adjusting your approach to your spirit life and people do that shit all the time.
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Right about the time Marie Kondo published her second book, I found the above post on Tumblr. It was clearly intended as both a joke and a serious question, and I found myself circling around the thought multiple times. I often find myself in a mindset that’s dangerously close to scrupulosity, where the way I think about religion becomes unhealthy and I worry everything I do is wrong and will bring down wrath upon me.

There’s a place in her second book where Marie Kondo talks about working with people who don’t know what it means to ask if something “sparks joy.” I know that feeling myself, but for me it’s a facet of depression or anxiety. I sometimes declutter compulsively when I’m in a bad state, sometimes only physical things and sometimes more abstract things like internet accounts.

Decluttering my spiritual life is a lot harder. A few years ago I did an exercise called Project Protagonist, a whole year spent revisiting the ideas that were important to me and to my ideas about magic, metaphysics and spirituality as a child and teenager, before I got involved with others. I have a tendency to fold myself into interesting shapes to try to please other people, and I wanted to see what I looked like unfolded, if you will.

This was an excellent exercise and I rediscovered a lot of things that were very useful to me, including getting back into fictional reconstruction. Both Project Protagonist and fictional recon as a system, however, lead to a certain amount of... overcrowding. One can only discover what works by trying things, and some of those things don’t work. I have a hard time putting things aside.

Keeping going when it's hard doesn’t mean continuing to do everything I start forever. It means actively evaluating what works and what doesn’t, as opposed to getting mired down and overwhelmed. It means being willing to move on to the next thing. One of the things I've had to learn to do is to evaluate and be willing to change or even end spirit relationships and practices that aren’t working, and to take risks and try new things.

Nothing is permanent. That’s what gets me through panic attacks. *This too shall pass*. I worry about changing things because I’m afraid everything will fall apart, as if I’m atop a delicate framework with no real support to it. I suspect there’s more support than I think, but ultimately the best I can do is build more support. Part of that is doing the construction, putting the work in.

Part of that is the lesson of the Hanged Man: learning to let go.

My Outline

The KonMari system divides everything one owns up into categories, and then instructs that you gather *all* of the things in that category together and go through it in one big session, deciding what brings joy and what doesn’t. Marie Kondo recommends starting with clothing, then books, then paper, then "komono", or miscellaneous household items, and then sentimental objects. The idea is to progress from the easiest decisions to the most complicated.

So the question is, what 'categories' would one use for a spiritual KonMari process? I ended up with four categories:

  1. I started with PHYSICAL items because that is a process I’m already familiar with using the KonMari method on. Gathering up all of my altar pieces and tools is a bit of a logistics challenge, but I try to dredge everything out of hiding every so often just to remember what I have. I am definitely a Magic Packrat, and my ADHD means that things that are not in front of my face tend to stop existing. The question here is the simple “Does $THING bring me joy?” and so this category is the most straightforward.
  2. After the easiest stuff is done, I look at INFLUENCES. This includes things like the blogs I read, the pagan/magical Facebook groups I read and post in, social media follows, Discord servers, and even my to-read pile. “Does $GROUP bring joy into my life?” Yes or no, and move on.
  3. Once that’s complete, I move on to the more complex PRACTICES. It may seem too early, but my goal is to divorce practices from all the other categories. If I take joy in a practice, I can adapt it. If I do not, I can find other practices to satisfy the other categories. This question is “Do I find joy in doing $ACTION, or in having done it?”
  4. Much like sentimental items, I recommend saving what I expect to be the most fraught category for last: SPIRITS AND POWERS. Yes, I “decluttering the gods.” It may seem strange to do this separately from altars, but I can always repurposes items I like for other uses, or find new altar pieces to replace ones I don’t really like. This category is more about evaluating my relationships with the powers in my life. I don’t expect every interaction with an entity to bring me ecstatic joy. This is “On the whole, am I happier better off having $ENTITY in my life?” The answer might be no because the relationship is unpleasant, or because it is no longer going anywhere or because I get only crickets and emptiness. It doesn’t matter whether the disconnect is on my part or the spirit’s.

This last category will often involve divination in various areas to determine what the opinions of the spirits are, as well as to see if there is anyone trying to get a message in that's not being heard. Then there are offerings of thanks and well-wishes to any spirits I am ending a relationship with, regardless of whether it’s my choice or theirs.

01: Physical

This is the easy part, I said.

Just gather up all your random magical crap and sort it, I said.

Easiest, however, doesn't actually mean easy.

The first time I attempted to do the physical component of the konmari was at night, gathering up everything I could find before the baby went to bed. I knew I was missing a number of things that got boxed up when we were making space for the baby, but I decided to go ahead with what I had, because what I had was still a pretty big pile.

One entire altar didn’t even make it on the pile, I just looked at it and knew I wasn’t attached to anything on it anymore. I quickly had a box of things that are definitely no longer mine. But this was so much harder than I expected.

There was a surprising amount of anxiety in dismantling an altar or taking down a figure I no longer have any connection with. It’s not as if it’s necessarily long term, and it’s explicitly not a reflection of my relationship with the god but somehow I having no active Kuan Yin altar bothered me.

I discovered I had five sets of runes, somehow. I couldn’t even find one of them at the time. Two sets are handmade by me. Two other sets are handmade ones I bought. I read with runes approximately three times a year, so I asked myself, do I really need this many runes, Allfather or no Allfather? Then I remembered I was supposed to do this without thinking of the practice of reading runes or the spirits I associate with it. How the hell, I wondered, do I separate the tool from the thing the tool does? For some reason I thought this would be a lot easier than it is to separate.

I got overwhelmed and that first session took much longer than I’d envisioned. I ended up putting a bunch of things aside to try again later, once I'd had a chance to really think through the assumptions I'd come in with.

A few days later, I was ready to start again, this time with my shrines specifically. To be honest, I have a bit of a shrine problem. Left to my natural instincts, I tend to have a lot of them, and they tend to creep into other, unoccupied spaces when I’m not looking. Separating out my feelings about the physical “stuff” of shrines and altars from the deities represented was quickly becoming one of the hallmark challenges of my KonMari attempt, but I was able to find two solid wins by focusing on altars.

The first was my ancestors shrine, which gave me my first real sense of improvement. I redid this shrine almost immediately after that first attempt at the physical step, removing some things that no longer made sense, and adding a few things I’d rounded up from elsewhere, like my grandfather’s pocket knives. I did a lot of waffling over what went on there, and a lot of fiddling with placement. Finding the balance between different categories of ancestors and the symbolism of each is a challenge, but I ended up happier with the layout now than the previous one. Since then, my ancestor altar has remained the one I change up most often.

As for the second shrine…

I used to work much more closely with spirits of the waters than I do now. For a time, this meant a strong relationship with the Norse goddess Rán. For several years I hung a net indoors and hung various shinies and offerings to her on the net. When we moved into the place we were living at the time, I wanted to try maintaining it as an outdoor shrine. Over time, however, it became clear that this just wasn’t working, but I the idea of disassembling the shrine was overwhelming. I found a beaded shawl that was made like a net and created a new indoor shrine, but left the old one outside, too anxious to do anything about it but feel guilty.

On that Friday, I took the whole thing down. There was very little to save from it, given how much it had weathered outside. It was barely even a decommissioning, given that I’d already replaced it. It was just a thing that needed to be done, that I finally did.

Having that shrine taken care of, finally, instead if sitting there making me feel guilty was such a huge relief for me. Even if I had stopped there, it would have been worth it.

The problem I kept running into with trying to gather up everything of a particular category in one place is that one has to remember where all of the things from that category are. If I’ve forgotten where something is, or even that I owned it, you’d think it’d be easy to cast aside but my memory is terrible and I’ve had things disappear during terrible moves before, so when something seems to be nowhere to be found, well, either it’ll turn up or it won’t, so I move on and put the thought aside.

I found myself thinking about this again when I found, entirely by accident, an array of pieces from Odin’s altar, from the last time Odin had had a proper altar. Spearhead, knife, other knife, small sword-shaped letter opener, a necklace I used to wear for Loki and a few other bits and bobs. I come by my obsession with sharp things honestly.

I didn’t quite have room in my Magical Knives Drawer for more knives, but I already knew I was going to find space for them.

I have your normal assortment of metal ritual blades and bowie knives and daggers and pocket knives I’ve pressed into service when I somehow managed not to have a fancy knife to hand. I also have knives made of wood, bone, and glass. You know, because you never know exactly how you might want to tweak your elemental associations. (I have enough knives of different material associations that I could set up an altar where every element was represented by a knife. *That* generates some interesting energy of its own, as you can probably imagine.)

The thing is? I really do love them all. They each have different energies, associations and uses. As ridiculous as it might be to have a Magical Knife Drawer full of magical knives, hey, I’ve done much more ridiculous things. I’m embracing what brings me joy and has worked for me for a long time, well, stabby things are definitely on that list.

Part of the reason for doing a KonMari was because of the amount of physical things I had, but much of my collection is small and sentimental as well as useful. I don’t often think about talismans, charms and the like as a part of my practice, but they have been since I was small.

There’s an ongoing debate over the value of *things* in magical practice, whether equipment is a tool or a trap. Since I'm talking about decluttering and minimalism, you might expect me to lean towards “trap” and in some respects you’d be right. It’s too easy in modern practice to collect things: wands, blades and staves, chalices and offering dishes, tarot decks and runes, incense and candles to last for years, books in the hundreds or thousands, statues and offerings and… well, you get the idea.

But there’s so much value in something that can be set and forgotten, that maybe has the energy of multiple practitioners in it. For example, I have a rune pendant that I bought in a gift shop on a school field trip more than twenty years ago. I knew jack shit about runes except that they were magical and this one reminded me of one of my favorite comic book character’s logo. Since then, I wore it until the bail snapped off, kept it in a bag on my altar, then had a good friend offer to make it wearable again while I told him about my first “real” encounter with Odin. It has all that energy in it: childhood wonder and wanderlust, my first forays into paganism, learning the runes, that strong friendship and all the care and protection he felt for me…

All of that. In one little piece of pewter. So physical things are simple, and they are also complex.

02: Influences

I used to I have a folder in my feed reader that was specifically for the feeds that annoyed me, so I didn’t have to look at them unless I had the energy to be angry.

Why did I have this folder? Why was I even following blogs that I know will annoy the crap out of me? I could justify it, that I needed to keep an eye on what was happening in the community, that I wanted to stay informed, but that wasn't really necessary. I was just hatereading.

As soon as I started clearing out influences, I realized I probably should have done it first. I'd done digital purges several times before, and this was much less fraught than sorting through tools or altar pieces. There’s still some angst there, as I let go of blogs that haven’t been updated in over a year or that I feel like I would keep up with if I was a better magician.

There is the idea of the lifestyle blog, all about being a better $X. There is a tendency to read these blogs aspirationally – instead of doing the things on those blogs, it’s so much easier to just read them and dream about doing them. I know this kind of blog well; I know six different recipes for making your own detergent and gave up after trying one of them. I collect recipes and DIYs and almost never get around to using them.

The point is that I tend to get into a new kind of blog, or a new “wing” of an old kind of blog, and subscribe to ten different blogs (or worse, Facebook groups) in the same genre and then they all sit there until I get overwhelmed and delete them all. I plan to do ALL THE THINGS and then I get overwhelmed and fail to do any of the things. I've improved in this somewhat over the years, but the impulse is still there. I have learned not to get as frustrated with myself in the end, though.

There is great pleasure in unsubscribing from that minimalism blog that always annoys me, from that spiritwork blog that always seems to be talking down, from that magic blog that’s not a system I’m never likely to put any time into. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in a wide variety of topics, that’s a good thing to a point. Unfortunately, I can only focus on so much at once, so I need to improve the signal to noise ratio. It's giving myself permission to not do everything.

I still need to hone my ability to judge whether something is bringing me joy in the moment – not necessarily whether this particular post makes me happy, but whether the last two or three have made me happy, whether I sigh inwardly when a certain blog shows up in my feed, what I look forward to and what I delete unread. Rather than let everything pile up, I need to be more aware of my own happiness in the moment and more responsive to my own state of mind.

Ideally that is a process I can always keep moving forward – I can clear out my FB groups, but there’s always a stream of newsletters, liked pages and other influences that spill in front of me. There's always new links, suggested content, new ideas. The ongoing work is to keep that mindfulness about what brings me joy and what I need to get out of my life, one status update at a time.

03: Practices

I started out trying to make a list of practices and then I got to ‘reading runes’ and I stopped.

(Why is it always the fucking runes that trip me up? Can I blame Odin? I blame Odin.)

You see, I only read with runes about twice a year, when I’m doing specific kinds of card readings that need additional context. I happened to think about runes because I have been thinking about my missing ones for days on end now, but there are probably plenty of other things I only do every couple of months and I’m not thinking of.

I was talking to a friend about this and she suggested that I treat it similarly to the decluttering technique where you turn your hangers backwards for six months or a year and only keep the clothes’ whose hangers have been turned, indicating that they were worn.

This is a reasonable suggestion, but it doesn’t make for much of a blog post, nor does it make me feel like I’m accomplishing much, so I started making a list and I’ve been slowly adding to it and I realized today that I’ve been overlooking a whole category of things. Things I have very much wanted to declutter from my spiritual life before.

I am, of course, referring to the scrupulous practices that were part of why I started thinking about metaphysical decluttering in the first place. These overlap heavily with luck and omen-spotting, and are therefore metaphysical and/or spiritual practices. They go on the list, and even the act of putting names to them makes it easier to stare them down.

Because the stunning thing I realized, when I started making my practices list, was how many things were on it that I didn’t enjoy doing. Not just things I did because I felt like I should, like runes, but things I actively did because of religious scrupulosity rather than because of any kind of faith or experience. I have a tendency to track omens in really unhealthy ways, for example, telling myself that since X didn’t happen, it must be because I’d upset a deity. I know this is disordered thinking, but I spend too much time and energy addressing it in the moment instead of working on the pattern in the same way I do with other aspects of my OCD.

I’m not going to go into my full list of practices here, but once I felt like I had a good, solid representation of my practices, I made a companion list of what I would like my practice to look like. It had things like:

- add incense and water more regularly to candle offerings

- regular offerings, esp to ancestors and spirits I have a personal relationship with do more regular magical work

- start seriously working with my coin system

- develop a regular divination habit

- more magical journaling

- regular meditation and spiritwork practices

The same key words kept coming up: habit, and especially regular. I struggle with doing things regularly (hell, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s profoundly unfair that the laundry won’t just *stay done*) and with creating good habits. I finally realized, when I got my diagnosis years later, that this is not just a personal failure, this is how ADHD works.

It’s frustrating, but it is what it is. We each need to learn to work around ourselves, because stomping on the parts that don’t work well in the name of being a better person doesn't work.

At night, I like doing my candles; I like taking that moment of silence and reflection. I always want to do more of that. I need to figure out new ways to make the regular parts easier, because what works for me shift over time, and that's okay too. That's not failure, that's just change.

04: Spirits and Powers

When I started this process, I was actually eager to leap ahead to “decluttering the gods,” even before I finished the earlier steps I outlined for myself. I was convinced that giving myself some kind of clean (or almost-clean, anyway) slate was the way to solve my anxiety.

As I worked through it, though, I came around to the idea that what I really need to tidy up my expectations for myself. Rather than getting hung up on whether I have enough or do enough for any individual god, maybe I should focus my effort on creating a sustainable spriritwork practice that’s not dependant on adding more and more work or complexity to my system.

There’s always going to be another spirit. I regularly recommit myself to active magical work, when I have th energy and feel called to it, and that requires working with a variety of spirits depending on the project and my goals. More than that, I have been working on paying attention as much as I can and asking those interested in me to make themselves known. Being open to a project like this is basically the opposite of reducing the number of spirits and powers in my life.

Rather than fight it, though, I’m looking to switch from individual offerings to more generalized offerings aside from when I’m actively working on things that would result in specific offerings. Taking a bit of inspiration from Traif Banquet, I’ve experimented with different offerings for “those who watch over or take interest in me or my family”. I’ve been asking them to let me know who they are when they want to step up; I’ve had some dreams pushing individuals to the forefront and I’m trying to encourage them to let me know what I should be doing. (I can’t do a practice exactly like the wet egg in the link, if for no other reason than my area has a truly amazing ant problem if I so much as leave a few crumbs out too long.) One dream pushed me to reach out to the spirit I tag 1934 Indian, after the motorcycle I see him on. Another dream reminded me of a spirit who shows as much interest in my attempts at cooking as at sorcery.

Keeping the Egg Wet (Traif Banquet)

There’s still Mara, as ever, and in fact I’ve gotten suggestions to shake up the way I worship her again. There’s Hekate, and Odin and Loki, Persephone and Hades, Ganesha, Kuan Yin and Guan Yu, my ancestor work and local land and city spirits and others who simply don’t have names. But the difference is that for once I don’t feel overwhelmed.

To put it in KonMari terminology: they all bring me joy. What didn’t bring joy was my expectations of how “offerings” are supposed to happen, so my attitude is what needs to be fixed up.

Maybe I just read too many stories as a child with ragingly angry gods in them (the Book of Job probably had a bigger effect on my fear of what’s outside of my control than I like to admit; at least in the Greek myths, people tended to deserve it) but I have a very hard time with the idea of stopping work with a deity. Not for any rational reason, but because I’ve read stories of people whose attention the gods want, or who call on their HGA, and their lives get ruined. It was just recently that I pegged this as related to religious scrupulously and, therefore, to OCD.

There are plenty of deities I have, in fact, stepped back from over the years... or maybe I should say they stepped back from me. But it’s as if I can’t remember how that happened, how it escaped their notice that I hadn’t yet been smote from on high. (Or down below, in Ereshkigal’s case.)

Then I started on the opposite obsessive thought, that they wanted me gone and I was annoying them by not having figured it out yet. Because thank you, Lizard Brain, I needed that.

I don’t mind having an eclectic practice, but it's a matter of having an intentional one, not one where altars and statues just hang around because I’m afraid of offending someone I no longer really have a relationship with.

When I get caught up in these kinds of thoughts, I like to spend some time sitting with each of the deities and spirits I have altar space set aside for and ask them what they want, and do divination because I don’t trust myself to interpret their answers. Even for deities I want to continue working with, it’s probably not a bad idea to check in and see how things are going, if I’m overlooking things that are important, and so on.

05: And Again

A short while after considering this project done, I finally found that last set of runes that I knew were missing. Also my two missing tarot decks, and all of the hematite and copper jewelry I used to wear for private, formal ritual, and a few other things besides.

I found them in a storage box that I thought held something else entirely. In other words, it was pure chance I found them then and not three months before or three years later. And yet I found them at the perfect time, immediately after I’d designated a storage container for divination tools and other special pieces.

It’s hard to know, sometimes, whether you’re on the right track or the wrong one. Everything can look like it was meant to happen if you trace the path far enough. Everything is fated, if fate is the sum total of everything we’ve already done and the choices we’ve made.

So, I found the damn bone runes. I finally had all my divination and close practice stuff together in one bag, for the first time since before the baby was born. And I was reminded that this is a practice too.

When I first started on Deb Castellano's book Glamour Magic, I created a pinterest board called #aesthetic, where I started filing away things that appeal to me on a "yes I want to be the person that wears/owns/does that" level. It’s been an interesting challenge, since when I started Konmari-ing, there was a strong emphasis on facing down the aspirational things you own. Konmari says there’s no point in owning things for the person you feel like you should be or want to be rather than the person you are.

Glamour Magic

There’s a lot of truth in that, especially the "should be" part. Don’t feel obliged to own tools you aren’t comfortable using, books everyone says you should read, or things like that. Evaluating whether the things in your life are there because they’re serving you is important.

At the same time, though, aspirational things can go two ways. Yes, there’s the unhealthy one where you’re buying things you never use because you’re not the kind of housekeeper who’s going to keep up a Pinterest-worthy dry erase family calendar, or the crafter who has time for elaborate stained glass projects in your tiny apartment, or even the person who remembers to put the matching decorative pillows on the bed every day when you make it. This is the equivalent of having clothes in your closet for after you lose weight, but without any concrete plans for weight loss. They are made of spun sugar and guilt. They only sit there and make you feel bad. Why am I not a better housekeeper, crafter, parent, spouse? Fuck that. Trash the fucking decorative pillows. Trash the ritual that makes you feel silly instead of sacred. Burn all of that guilt and expectation to the ground.

The other thing you can do with an aspirational thing, though- and I suppose this would be the point where the aspirational thing gives you joy- is bring yourself to it’s level. I want to be the kind of person who cooks, who crafts, who makes his own tools. I joke that my aesthetic is solarpunk maker, but there’s no reason I can’t be that weirdo in real life. I still need to go to work and take care of the kid and all that but even when my neurochemistry is kicking my butt, I feel better when I do stuff. Even if doing the barest minimum of stuff feels insurmountable, I feel better having done it. There’s satisfaction in a clean house, in mending clothes, in making things. In doing some tiny part to make better choices.

So I have two options. Wrestle the joy from something, or admit it doesn’t fit my life and let the expectation go. I've built the complicated and "weird" wards out of chains and charms. I've painted, and written, and mixed magpie decks and sewn and mended. I cook, and I use good cookware when I do it. I don't use everything all the time, but I try not to feel bad when I don't have the spoons for it right now, if I know I'll have the spoons for it in the future and I know I WANT to find those spoons, to make the space for them in my life.

Marie Kondo says once you Konmari, you won't need to declutter again because you learn how to let things enter and leave your life. Maybe it's the ADHD or maybe I'm just conceiving of it differently, but I see it as an ongoing process. A practice. A willingness to be intentional about what is in my life, and why it's there, and whether it serves me.

And for me, that's a practice worth keeping.

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