There’s a million cooking shows and plenty of parenting shows. TV likes to get into our daily homes and be the nagging mother correcting our errant ways. But the most everyday activity that we almost all fail at, to varying degrees, must be tidying up. So Marie Kondo is here to whip us into shape with her distinctly softly softly Japanese approach and helpful tips.
“I love mess!” she chirrups right off the bat. And boy, does she get it. The eight episodes that make up Tidying Up with Marie Kondo are titled depending on the reasons why the homes she visits have gotten into the state they are. “Empty Nesters” features retirees whose home is overloaded with 40 years of family life. “Downsizers” shows a family that moved from a house to an apartment due to work. “Toddlers” highlights the destructive power of family life. Considering the essential format is essentially the same in every episode, it’s these specific ‘mess issues’ that help give some relatable context to each part. These are not freaky hoarders, just normal people surrounded by their own possessions!
Marie Kondo is the bestselling author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. And this Netflix series is putting her ‘KonMari’ techniques into effect. Kondo breaks down all possessions into 5 categories. They are Clothing; Books; Papers; Komono (Misc); and Sentimental Items. You may have guessed that Komono basically covers everything else. But she does break that down somewhat into sub-categories like CDs / Skincare / Electronics etc… It doesn’t really matter because most of the KonMari method can be boiled down to a phrase you may have heard storming up and down Twitter since the show aired: does this item spark joy?
Sparking joy gets a few definitions from Kondo as the show goes on. Especially when a baffled American is clutching a scarf trying to decide whether or not it’s a keeper. In a uniquely cutesy Japanese way, Kondo demonstrates what she means by making a noise that can’t really be described, except perhaps as ‘bling!’. If holding something makes you light up, then that’s the key.
In this vein, Kondo gets the families to gather all the clothing (or whichever category) in the house and dump them into one huge pile. A bed with a mountain of clothing on it is enough to make anyone flustered in embarrassment! Each item is then gone through individually and the question is asked each time: does it spark joy? If so, it’s kept. If not, then Kondo bids that the item be thanked before it is dismissed. Whilst this creates even more mess in the beginning, the message of valuing each possession is certainly a worthwhile one.
Of course, the joy is subjective, and many a family argue on screen about the possessions. Indeed there is a telling gender divide that becomes apparent throughout the show. Many of the women (in the heterosexual couples) take the brunt of the guilt or the guilting for the problem. The downsized family rely entirely on mom to tell them where things are. To the point of bombarding her with texts and calls. And while she gets emotional with the struggle of it all, Dad freely admits that he never cooks and barely ventures into the kitchen. And yet the men seem to express frustration without taking much responsibility.
When a woman of Pakistani heritage living in L.A. wants to hold on to scarves and sari’s to keep alive her cultural heritage and her husband simply grinds her down asking ‘but when do you wear it?’ it’s hard not to want to slap him, and with him, many of the men in the show.
Kondo rarely addresses this issue herself as she isn’t the American style ‘fix your life’ host. It may be the translation barrier (as her English is limited and she has an interpreter throughout) but she calmly listens to their issues and, more often than not, repeats her gentle guidance simply reworded. It’s actually refreshing to have a host that doesn’t – falsely for TV – try to cure the entire lives of the participants. Occasionally she volunteers a little personal information (such as seeing wedding photos and admitting she is missing her husband) but such moments are fleeting and typically Japanese: a touch of personability to sweeten otherwise pleasant professionalism. She visits their home with warm but detached purpose. She guides them to actually decide whether or not things spark joy, and then gives folding and storing advice for the rest. It’s both very simple and yet quite meditative to watch.
Another passing glance at social media might have alerted you to the furore of Kondo’s opinion that people shouldn’t have more than 30 books. Outrage! Indignation! Fury! But this isn’t strictly true – more that Kondo wants you to properly assess usefulness or joy. If books are indeed your core, then respect them and store them properly. She directs you to give them all a gentle smack to ‘wake them up’ before making such judgements. This, combined with her finding a spot to kneel in silence for 30 seconds most episodes to ‘thank the house’ is the core of her method: respect.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is unlikely to really change your life unless you do have a month to dump everything of one category in one place and dispose of large chunks of your life. But even though the show has some useful tips (store things so you can see them all / fold items tightly to be tucked away) the core message is the most likely thing you will take away. Your home is you and your possessions are you. So, respect all aspects of yourself. A lovely way to start 2019 indeed.
Words by Michael Record