How to Declutter Your Soul During the High Holidays
“Your days are like scrolls -- write on them what you want to be remembered.”
- Bachya Ibn Pakuda
When I was a rabbi on a college campus, I regularly counseled students who were overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy. They felt immense pressure from multiple forces: their parents encouraged them to take certain classes; their friends told them to participate in certain clubs; and the university repeatedly reminded them to “make the most” of their college experience. To help them prioritize and find meaning in the ways they were spending their time, I turned to Marie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering and organization expert.
Kondo has an incredible spiritual approach to organizing one’s home which centers around an item-by-item evaluation. She invites one to hold each item and ask whether it sparks joy in that moment. If it does, Kondo helps to organize it. If it does not, however, she insists on thanking it for its service and letting it go.
Although Kondo’s approach focuses on the contents of one’s home, I invited my students to apply the same technique to their calendars. For each block of time accounted for in a day, I recommended that students ask the same question: Does this activity (calculus, crew practice, fraternity date night, etc.) spark joy for me in this moment? If their answer was “yes,” we would discuss ways in which we could “organize” that activity to make it more manageable in the student’s busy life. If, however, the answer was no, we would try to understand why it was still on the calendar, and what we could do to remove it.
Such an exercise really pushed my students to consider how they spend their days and what brings them joy. The more I think about the exercise today, the more I believe it is precisely the work we need to be doing during the Days of Awe.
Alan Lew, in his book, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, says: “The ten days of Teshuva are days of renewal, days when we are not only concerned with change and transformation, but also with reinvigorating, refreshing and reimagining our lives…” In other words, we are gifted at this time of year the permission (and encouragement) to reevaluate, to declutter our lives. It is this work that can lead us to a life of meaning and authenticity.
On Yom Kippur, we try to reconcile our internal and our external selves: aligning what is in our hearts with what is reflected through our actions. This year, I invite you to look at your calendar hour by hour and ask each item if it sparks joy for you. For each activity, ask if it imbues your life with meaning. And, if the answer is “no,” begin to explore what it might look like to make a change. Marie Kondo instructs us: “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing so, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” Yom Kippur is the time when we as Jews reset our lives; may Marie Kondo’s words inspire us to set our spiritual house in order, creating paths that spark joy for us each day during the New Year and beyond.