It is with a mingled sense of shame and pride that I write these words: I have become a Marie Kondo disciple.
Pride, because it implies that I’m taking control of my home, my possessions and my life — consciously pushing back against a culture of mindless consumption. Shame, because it indicates that I need to take control of my home, my possessions and my life, and that I’ve so far failed to curb my habits of mindless consumption. Plus, as a recovering hipster snob, I hate admitting that I’ve jumped on the bandwagon with everyone else.
And I do mean everyone.
“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was an immediate sensation when its English translation was published in 2014. Author Marie Kondo urged readers to discard any item that didn’t “spark joy.” She found a ready audience among design buffs, trendy minimalists, clutterphobes and the sort of GOOP groupie who still treats anything Eastern with a sort of mystified reverence. (Wabi-sabi? Kintsugi? We may not totally understand it, but we’re all in.)
In 2019, however, that Magic has really spread to the masses — and its pull is more profound than you might expect.
Eight bingeable episodes of “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” appeared on Netflix on Jan. 1. In them, the disconcertingly adorable Ms. Kondo helps everyday American families discard mounds of clothes and massive collections of komono (miscellaneous items), and teaches them to fold ties and towels the KonMari way. The new show arrived just in time to inspire the nation’s New Year’s resolutions — my social media feeds are full of friends decluttering their closets, thrift stores across the country are seeing an unprecedented surge in donations, and the Container Store’s stock price is up 40+ percent from late December.
But it’s also deeply humane. Joy and kindness call to us, and they are at the heart of Kondo’s philosophy. The key to deciding what to keep or discard is to take each object in hand and ask “does this spark joy?” If it does, it can stay. And if it doesn’t, you thank it sincerely and let it go.
For Kondo, the question is unironic and extremely personal. It calls for inwardness and quiet contemplation, two things that are rarely celebrated in our too-performative world. And even the acts of keeping and discarding are infused with sensitivity. Properly folding your socks is an act of love, for them and for yourself. Even the shabbiest sweater played a role in your life; respect it for that reason, even if it’s time for it to leave your home.
Kondo invites her readers and watchers to fix their lives in an analog way. The KonMari method, despite its rather gimmicky portmanteau, isn’t a diet or a class, but a system of manual and emotional labor. And yes, there is actual labor involved. Politicians are increasingly invoking the “dignity of work” to appeal to a populist-leaning public. Yet for many who take their trends from Netflix and New York Times bestseller lists, it’s unusual in this day and age to see the work of one’s hands made manifest. Following KonMari doesn’t result in evanescent numbers on a screen or slides in a deck, but in a closet once full made empty, or a kitchen once cluttered turned clean and still.
There’s also a sense of reassurance. We may not know we needed it, but we’re drawn to her optimism like flowers to the sun — or like clothes to that one chair in our bedrooms. When Kondo gaily chirps, “I love mess!” it does two things. One, it assures us that our messiness — of whatever form — is actually okay. And two, it tells us that it’s possible to overcome.
“As I am both lazy and forgetful,” Kondo wrote, “I can’t take proper care of too many things. That is why I want to cherish properly the things I love, and that is why I have insisted on tidying for so much of my life.”
I can relate, at least to the first part. And it’s that gentleness and sense of quiet hope that make “Tidying Up” uniquely compelling in contrast to most reality television. It’s not a competition; there’s no backstabbing or drama. It’s neither out-of-reach aspirational nor conspicuously grotesque.
The Marie Kondo craze is just us and our everyday lives, calmly being put into order again. As it turns out, that’s all we really want.