In Defense of Marie Kondo

In 2011, when Marie Kondo first released her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she sparked a massive trend towards organization and minimalism.  Searching ‘konmari’ in the YouTube search bar will provide one evidence enough.  Now, however, that trend has shifted towards criticizing—but more often vehemently denigrating—her methods.  Regarding the famous question of whether or not an item ‘sparks joy’, one blogger writes, “Who the f*** has time for that?”  She continues on her expletive- and sarcasm-filled rant against Kondo, explaining how her numerous children and Maxim-loving husband have ruined her life and ultimately concludes that Kondo could never survive in the her home environment.  In another, less aggressive yet just as patronizing review, the writer relays her annoyance at not being able to eat scrambled eggs as a result of her throwing away an egg beater during her attempt at konmari-ing.

There are many more similar articles out there, their collective underlying message being that the lifestyle Kondo is selling is a privileged fantasy.  While I have not seen Kondo’s new Netflix show, I had watched a couple of ‘decluttering’ videos. They seemed a little unrealistic (see: clearing one’s bag out everyday) yet harmless enough, so I was intrigued by the amount of vitriol that was generating against what appeared to just be a woman advocating for organization.  Though I was not dedicated enough to read the entirety of Kondo’s book, I did flip through the more important chapters. What did I learn?

Kondo is not teaching us about what she terms ‘daily tidying’, which she explains must happen every day, so long as we are alive and wearing clothes, eating, and sleeping.  She is speaking to people who want and are willing to take on the challenge of a one-time restructuring of their living spaces. Furthermore, she reiterates over and over again that her method is highly customizable: everything depends on what each individual personally wants to achieve.  

Kondo truly appears to at least and try to cover all her bases.  Consequently, I can’t help but notice the racialized aspect of the reactions against KonMari.  It was not too long ago when Gwyneth Paltrow rose to prominence for her promotion of her organic lifestyle.  In fact, many American and European women are still building brands on these clean eating, clean living platforms.  In my opinion, if what Kondo is promoting is unattainable, so is Gwyneth Paltrow. Yet, Paltrow was touted for her lifestyle while Kondo is mocked for it.  The difference in reception could be due to cultural differences: American materialism certainly makes it tough for people to let go of their possessions, even in this era of minimalism.  However, it may very well also come from the continued perpetuation of the foreign ‘other’ and the resulting misinterpretation of her words and ideas because of the lens with which we as Americans consume media.  

Marie Kondo is not some random woman.  She is a professional organizer, a practicer of the Shinto religion (in which she bases many of her practices), and above all, another human being.  I think it’s about time that we start thinking about that before we fall into the easy trap of letting our biases speak first.