Marie Kondo is having a moment. The diminutive beaming Japanese ninja neat warrior has tapped into the zeitgeist in a big way and is attempting to bring happiness and peace to the planet one neatly folded t-shirt at a time. Thanks to her recent Netflix series, she has become a global phenomenon. Who knew that tidying up was so Instagrammable? Who knew that sorting out stuff would lead to personal empowerment and who knew that a good old-fashioned cleaning session would spark joy. Certainly not me.
For anyone who has somehow missed her Netflix special, her books or massive media coverage, she is a Japanese de-clutterer expert who has devised a system, called KonMari to tackle tidying up. From what I can gather this really just means throwing things out and keeping the house clean. There are, however, a few signature moves. For instance, her approach to throwing out is that you should only keep things that spark joy. If they don’t spark joy, then you must hold the item (be it clothing, ornaments, books, whatever), thank it for its service and then toss it. She also has a special t-shirt folding and storage technique. T-shirts should be stacked upright in the drawer by colour. But first folded with love. (Why you can’t hang up t-shirts I’m not sure).
There is an argument that Marie, despite having released her first book in 2014, is having quite a moment now because of the global political situation. Because people feel adrift and have lost faith in governments and institutions to keep order, they are trying to create order in their own homes. That’s an argument I can get on board with and it’s the only way I can see tidying up being desirable.
It’s not that Marie isn’t likeable. She is. She’s positive with a beaming smile and neat, pressed pastel-coloured clothes and, refreshingly, she’s not an air-brushed Instagram model. She’s polite, she’s her own person and she doesn’t speak fluent English so she comes armed with an interpreter, which adds a different element to the program.
But from what I can glean on this program, there’s not a lot of focus on the root problem, which looks a lot like rampant consumerism. People have masses of stuff, be it fitness equipment, clothes, toys, kitchen appliances, because of the consumer model we live in. Western society peeps need big houses to store all this stuff they don’t really use. My problem with the KonMari method is that it doesn’t talk about what happens to all this discarded stuff. We never know if it goes to landfill or charity or is repurposed.
Also, another problem with the KonMari method is that it is a fact that some people are naturally tidy and others are naturally messy. But if you have never bought that much stuff to begin with then having a tendency to untidy is not a problem. For a start, you don’t need to spend forty minutes folding t-shirts. If I don’t have much stuff I don’t need to be neat! Also a subject Marie fails to mention, is that a little cluttery stuff makes a house a home, makes it personal, makes it real, gives it character. I’m not talking about a giant mess, just a little jumble here and there. If it sparks bemusement, keep it, I say!
I think all this tidying up is likely to spark anxiety, unless the root causes of clutter are tackled. Loneliness, too much stuff, spending addiction, fear of missing out on the latest gadget. And focus on the real things in life that spark joy. For me, what sparks joy is not having to do much housework. It’s life that should spark joy, not folding t-shirts.