Unpacking Marie Kondo–Fame, Controversy, and Backlash

Marie Kondo, the Japanese author and organizing consultant, is everywhere. She penned our best-selling books, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying,” “Spark Joy,” and others. She’s on our screens, with her show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” publicizing her KonMari Method, described as a lifestyle brand. She’s even in our Twitter feeds, sparking controversial tweets and influencing the generation of memes.

As with most stars and their rise to fame, however, Marie Kondo has sparked some serious controversy and backlash. Her recommendation of keeping only 30 books, for example, has incited extreme anger and jumpstarted a debate about more than just books.

Bustle’s Kerri Jarema penned a popular piece titled “The Marie Kondo Books Debate Has Classist & Racist Undertones That Can’t Be Ignored,” which offers insight on the debate over books and how to interpret it. Ellen Oh, an author and supporter of books and reading, is one of many on social media who criticize the backlash against Kondo. Oh asserted, “Ever since I saw the backlash against Marie Kondo come out, I’ve been really bothered by what I thought of as deliberate misinterpretations.”

Oh struggled with the idea first— initially chalking it up to the difference in cultures and the difficulty of translations— but eventually came to the sad conclusion that people were misunderstanding her on purpose.

The number 30 comes from her use of the KonMari method in her own home. Additionally, she has never tried to force anything on anyone. In an interview with Refinery29, Kondo explained that if people are comfortable with clutter in their homes, that’s fine. “I will recommend...understand how much quantity of each category of things you have and need. I think that’s an important awareness to have,” she added.

The second people started to criticize her advice on books, they also went in on her personally. In a racist fashion, people focused on her poor English to mocking the terms and phrases she uses.

Oh also added that “Classism, elitism, the privilege of having a big house with a lot of storage? I don’t know what the rationale is for the backlash but I do know that it comes from a place of privilege.”

The books debate, which is now over as malicious social media users delete their racist Tweets and Kondo fans jump to her aid and support, has segued into many other controversies and conversations.

Nicole Clark, a writer for Vice, argued that Kondo’s Netflix show is “inadvertently about women’s invisible labor.”

Clark writes that while Americans have “long been taught to buy things, countless things, as a means to satisfaction and happiness...few of us have really been taught how to own things, to manage them, nor the consequences for accumulating an excess of them, what we would kindly call ‘clutter.’” Dealing with things— whether cleaning them, organizing them, or storing them— is “the dominion of women.”

This take on traditionally female domestic duties isn’t new— a huge criticism many people have with the GDP calculation is that it doesn’t take into account services that aren’t in the market, such as volunteer work or the labor done in the home, which is mostly carried out by women.

The Internet has long been a hub for difficult conversations and debates like these, and Marie Kondo, whose clothes-folding techniques have been life-changing (for me, at least!) has sparked both joy and important discussions of class, race, and gender inequalities.


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