I have not been immune to the charms of Marie Kondo. It brings me great pleasure to open up my pajama draw and witness my tops and bottoms huddled against one another in the kind of compact neatness enjoyed by most serial killers. This is the only drawer I have KonMaried. In my defense, Grey’s Anatomy returned from break and a lot of people were posting some very funny Facebook memes that demanded my utmost attention, plus I didn’t have the additional pressure of a camera crew following me around my house as I pressed dish towels to my bosom, whispering “Yes, you spark joy. Yes. Thank you.”
I freely admit that there is plenty to be skeptical about, or at least casually suspicious of, when it comes to the KonMari method. Kondo enraged booknerds, bibliofanatics, and many other kinds of level-thinking humans when she cheerfully (the woman seems to project one mood: post-clutter glow) advised folks to keep no less than 30 books total. We took this decree like a mortal wound. Whatever, Marie. You can pry The History of Colonial Soap and Candle Making from my cold, dead hands.
There is also Kondo’s highly delusional notion about children and their toys. Specifically, that kids are gamely and happily going to sort through their toys, parting with the handful of capless markers, their ink exsanguinated and tips drier than dust because they no longer spark anything let alone joy. Children have this feral sense about their stuff. The minute darling little Ovaltine realizes an item is verboten, she’ll clamp down on that broken, unusable, rubbery-sticky thing coated in dog hair like a vampire on a virgin neck. Not to mention Kondo’s laughable suggestion to then group toys neatly into designated sorting boxes or small bins. Kids’ toys are mushroom cloud explosions of wood, plastic, fur, felt, and electronic bits and pieces. They are Gremlins on Red Bull and high-powered grow lights, endlessly multiplying to form a tsunami that barrels unstoppable from room to room. But sure, buy one of those lovely, cotton candy pink storage boxes for your daughter’s Polly Pocket collection. I’m sure it will dam the tide of kid junk as sure as this twig will stopper Niagara Falls.
The nitty-gritty of her methods is less the point than her overriding philosophy, which asks, or in our consumption swamped times, begs us to simply hit the pause button and bring a level of conscientiousness to our buying, keeping, and maintaining practices. Kondo’s stuff barometer in the form of the question, “Does this spark joy?” has been relentlessly mocked, snarked upon, and thoroughly eye-rolled by many (raises hand). But that’s only because we have become comfortable in our new normal of fast speeds, instant downloads, mobile order pick-ups, and Mark Zuckerberg’s axiom to “move fast and break things.” Like our democracy? Thanks Zucks.
“Does this spark joy?” is the take a deep breath, is the count to five that puts us on the shortest path to interrogate the “why” that’s at the root of our desire to buy and, most importantly, our perceived need to keep. Her question neatly (Oh, I see what you did there, Marie—tidying up your philosophy, you sly minx!) circumvents our own emotional tedium and angsty storytelling about what our possessions mean to us, say about us, how they function as part of our identities to, instead, package the process into something any consumer can understand and put into play immediately. Does my Grandmother’s antique thimble collection make me feel like a five-time Oscar winner who has Michelle Obama in her “favorites” contact list? Yes? Ducky. But it reminds of the time when she…. Nope. See, it’s about how I always was the baby of the family…Hush But, but….shhhhh. Our work here is done. Move on. Easy.
The Reflection for Dummies approach Kondo offers interests me a lot more than her technique of folding sweatshirts and underwear into things no bigger than the average Handi Wipe. If we can turn the purple sequined halter top over in our hands, caress its fine, silky material that we once thought would look stunning paired with the mini-skirt as we danced with bitter, drunken abandonment at our ex-boyfriend’s New Year’s Eve party and ultimately admit, “You sparked a punishing hang-over, but never any joy,” what else can we put in the heave-ho pile? Might “spark joy” also be another way of coyly asking us to consider: “Is settling for less than what you deserve what you’re about, Judy? Does pretending not to mind your aunt’s racist Facebook posts sit well with you, Matt? Are you cool with being the never-follows-through-on-anything, type, Bethany?”
We could KonMari ourselves just as easily as we do the junk drawer in the kitchen. We could perform an audit on that nasty, messy, gnarly interior closet—the one as big as a walk-in freezer where we jam all sorts of fun personal knick-knacks like goals we’re still waiting to pursue, apologies we can’t quite get around to making, and other selves we habitually slip into in order to make others more comfortable while we feel like we’re walking around inside one of those enormous, padded Japanese Sumo suits. The permission to discard is always in play. The courage it takes is sold separately.
Part of the “dramatic tension” on Kondo’s Tidying Up show, if you can bring such a storytelling device to something like pawing through a file cabinet, is in watching the faces and body language of the people as they wrestle with deciding what to keep and what to chuck. However, the real crux of the moment is the palpable change that comes over them when they decide to fully release the item. They don’t need it and, more importantly, they don’t need to be whoever that person was anymore. When we shed something about ourselves that no longer works for us, no longer resonates with who we are, with who we are striving to be, we create more space for authenticity to thrive—unapologetically.
In my version of the show, they end on one final scene of Marie kneeling on the floor of a white room. Next to her is a black sack. Marie describes the bag as depthless, weightless, and fits snugly in your pocket. It is the ultimate tidying up accessory, Marie tells us. She eases the bag open and explains in her mellifluous cadence that this is where you put all the fucks that you no longer give about pretending to be someone you’re not, about holding onto attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that no longer serve you and spark zero joy. Tidy often! she says brightly, her confident smile fixed until the shot fades.