• Marie Kondo, zen tidiness guru on her Netflix show. (Gety Images )Source: Gety Images
After watching Tidying Up and reading the Kondo’s books I can’t help but feel that something has been lost in translation.
Albert Santos

11 Jan 2019 - 12:57 PM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2019 - 2:41 PM

With the New Year still fresh and people eager to dig into their New Year’s resolutions, the world has become transfixed by cult celebrity tidying consultant Marie Kondo.

With the release of the first season of her Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, the diminutive Japanese woman, once spoken about only in the world of self-help books and DIY blogs, has become a worldwide sensation with her mantra of only keeping things that ‘spark joy’.

But with her nascent success has come a sea of commentary - from those decrying that her method doesn't work for books, to criticism that it ignores over-consumption and reveals gender inequality. There have even been funny spoofs. Whilst some criticisms have been made in good faith others have missed the mark and – occasionally – completely misinterpreted Kondo’s vision and ethos. 

Marie Kondo spends an entire section of her patented ‘KonMari Method’ talking about books. Specifically, she believes in only keeping the books that truly ‘spark joy’, regardless of whether you’re yet to read, or have finished reading them.

In a world devoted to endless consumption and mass consumerism, what can be better than taking a moment or two to actually appreciate what we have?

To some, understandably, suggesting that you cut down on the tomes on your bookshelf is akin to blasphemy, with many taking to social media to decry Kondo’s perceived attitude to books.

There has also been well-meaning discussions regarding the environmental impact of KonMari’s method; on what the real cost of minimalism is when cities continue to send tonnes of rubbish to landfills on a daily basis.

After watching Tidying Up and reading the Kondo’s books, I can’t help but feel that something has been lost in translation for TV watchers. Specifically, that the KonMari method was never about minimalism – it’s about mindfulness.

In her book The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up, Kondo spends just as much time talking about folding methods and boxes as she does about the philosophy behind tidying.

She explains that a messy home – and, conversely, tidying a home – can often be a mask for other emotional and behavioural issues. That if you get the cleaning in order once and for all, you can then approach everything else with a clearer conscience. It’s not a solution, but a catalyst, to further growth.

Kondo also brings up a major point that if you have a large collection of things that bring you joy, then it’s perfectly fine to keep it all, elaborating that even she has more lounge wear in her drawers than she’ll ever wear, but that it all sparks joy in her. That is to say: yes, you can keep that copy of Infinite Jest that you’ll never finish reading, along with the rest of your collection, if it ‘sparks joy’.

 The KonMari method is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

This isn’t to say that Kondo and Tidying Up aren’t completely at fault here. One of the issues with the hit series is that it’s been edited to show cleaning, disposing and tidying as the solution to various middle-class American ailments – being a time-poor young family, grieving after the loss of a loved one, the inability to grow out of your ‘young adult’ phase – going against the very ethos of Kondo’s work.

It also places an unreasonable focus on the minimalist aspect of the KonMari Method, with lingering shots of empty rooms and garbage bags waiting to be collected.

It also goes without saying that the KonMari method is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Just as you shouldn’t expect to fix all life’s woes through learning how to categorise items in small boxes, you may find that trying to decide what exact kitchen utensil ‘sparks joy’ just won’t work for you. 

Kondo and the KonMari Method were never about getting rid of things for the sake of it. Some of the best moments in Tidying Up are when, whilst sorting through the mess, her clients find long lost mementos with true value, like small photos, old letters or especially important books. Things that easily slip through the cracks when we accumulate too much, despite how much they mean to us.

If anything, Marie Kondo’s methods offer us a greater understanding of how much we bring into our home, what we truly need – both objectively and emotionally – to build the lives we really want. And in a world devoted to endless consumption and mass consumerism, what can be better than taking a moment or two to actually appreciate what we have?

Albert Santos is a freelance writer. You can follow Albert on Twitter @albertinho. 

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