Tidying Up With Marie Kondo: The LW Review

Katharine Mann ‘19
Features Editor

At the risk of sparking controversy, I’m going to admit that I spent a decent chunk of my winter break watching Marie Kondo organize other peoples’ houses and then another chunk attempting to organizing my own. I only got as far as my bedroom, but it is satisfyingly tidy at the moment. I won’t attempt to explain all the reasons Marie Kondo is controversial, though the vast majority of criticism that I’ve seen relates to her helping people part with books.[1]  

A exactingly culled and precisely reorganized drawer full of inner joy (and neatly folded T-shirts). Photo courtesy Netflix.

A exactingly culled and precisely reorganized drawer full of inner joy (and neatly folded T-shirts). Photo courtesy Netflix.

My initial reaction to her show was that I love her, and her enthusiasm for what she does, and the fact that she seems to cherish her clients and their spaces. I can only hope I’ll feel as good about being a lawyer as she does about being a tidying expert. My other reaction was that the producers did an admirable job of selecting diverse clients and households. There were not many clients that I found actually likeable, though, and I began to wonder if vigorous eye-rolling counts as exercise. Marie loves them all, bless her, and she is the only reason I kept watching. She is soothing in both voice and manner, and her approach of nonjudgmental respect made me imagine that someday I, too, might like people. 

A good chunk of each episode is related to reducing the amount of clothing the clients own, which is always more than they need. For the only person reading who doesn’t know already, a brief summary: You pile everything in one place, hold each piece, and decide if it sparks joy. If it does, you keep it, and if it doesn’t, you thank it and give it away. But the really inspiring part for me is putting the clothes away again, because there’s a special way to fold everything to 1) save space, 2) keep the item in good condition, and 3) be able to see each item without rifling through stacks. Laundry just happens to be my favorite chore,[2] and folding is the best part, but even I was doing it wrong. I won’t attempt to explain it here, but you can watch the first episode for a glimpse, or one of the many YouTube videos demonstrating her method. 

The show has been criticized for having weak before-and-after reveals,[3] but my husband’s and my drawers are now a thing of beauty. I have, on more than one occasion, just opened a random drawer to see the pretty array and felt a little better about my life. The topic of the show came up the other night at the poker table; it was controversial even there, where the average for the six of us on the tidiness scale was about a three. One friend’s (perfectly valid) criticism is that some people just want to be messy—spending time fretting over organization takes away from actual life activities that are way more enriching. Marie would agree, I think, because she only helps people who want to be tidier. Another friend made the point that the attraction is about controlling some aspect of your life. If everything else is chaos, making your space tidy makes you feel like you’ve got it together at least a little bit. It seems obvious writing it out, but in the moment, I was like Oh my god that’s me and I’ve been a little concerned about myself ever since.  

One of the themes of the show is that the process of culling and tidying makes families bond. It’s not as simple as giving up things; rather you have to discuss and decide which things have priority. The sentimental items are often the triggers for these kinds of discussions. I have not ventured this far in the process, because it would mean going through the photos, letters, and other various accumulations of my parents, who are deceased, and I am not ready for that yet. Just as an example, my stepfather passed away last May, and he bequeathed me his Oxford English Dictionary—the unabridged, twenty-volume, two-hundred-pound, arguably obsolete version. I would say it “brings comfort” rather than “sparks joy,” but at any rate, I can’t let it go. I am therefore likely to put off the sentimental items part of the process until at least after graduation, if not until after the bar exam. 

But I will say that my family has bonded—or at least been mildly changed—by Marie’s show. I put an episode on the other day and my son sat down next to me and watched the whole thing, completely unbidden by me. Later that same day, he got frustrated with a project and yelled, “I’m just going to go clean my room,” and then proceeded to huff off and do just that. My husband and I don’t get to see a lot of each other, but he came home from work the other night after I’d tidied all the clothes except his t-shirt drawer. We each had a bourbon while he decided if each shirt sparked joy, and then I folded them and put them away.[4] Maybe not your idea of romance, but it was a joyful moment. I freely admit that my goal is to get a little control over my chaotic life, and maybe it’s just a diversionary tactic to empty out all the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen and decide what sparks joy when I should be reading for Bankruptcy. But the little benefits I’ve seen are worth continuing the process. 

[1]I do recommend an interesting take on the Shinto influence of her work and the idea that some of the backlash to it has xenophobic roots. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/marie-kondo-white-western-audineces_us_5c47859be4b025aa26bde77c.

[2] It’s not coincidental that machines do most of the work.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/jan/04/tidying-up-with-marie-kondo-review-tv-destined-for-the-bin-bag-of-shame.

[4] Just in case you’re thinking, “Why doesn’t he fold his own stuff?”—I won’t let him. He does plenty of washing up and cooking, but laundry is my thing.