Listen, you have too much stuff. I have too much stuff.
We’re all embarrassed about it. It’s like being caught by David Suzuki when you’re throwing an old toaster into the Green Bin. You could try explaining the other bins are full and besides, somebody must have a good-paying job extracting old toasters and such from the Green Bin stuff. It wouldn’t fly. Suzuki would just give you this look.
You know the look – the disapproving stare disguised behind a slight smile, as if he was seeing you as a Lucifer about to ruin this planet and others nearby with your wanton wickedness. The same look emanates from Netflix’s newest sensation, one Marie Kondo. But with less authentic disapproval.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (now streaming on Netflix Canada) has the chattering classes chattering more than usual. And I might be the last columnist on this benighted planet to weigh in. We’re talking cultural phenomenon here. We’re also talking about a confidence trick. Flimflammery is the word for it. Kondo, presented as adorable, might be the most deeply annoying person on TV.
If you’ve been lucky enough to escape the presence and influence of Marie Kondo until now, pull up one of those chairs you don’t really need and I’ll tell you.
Kondo is a 34-year-old Japanese organizing consultant. She’s written bestselling books. The Netflix show is about decluttering and how that can make you superhappy and less stressed. This involves thanking the house for sheltering its occupant. Also, thanking your clothes for being clothes and determining if said clothes “spark joy.” If so, the clothes are folded in a very particular way, into rectangles that end up standing upright in your clothes drawers, arranged like a rainbow. By the way, Kondo takes a dim view of the books you have in your house.
CNN described Kondo rather cattily as “a tiny garbage fairy for messy people,” but it’s an apt description. The pseudo-mysticism of pseudo-praying for guidance about your pile of stuff amounts to scattering fairy dust in order to tidy up. There are no fairies. There is no such thing as fairy dust. It’s all delusional.
Also, Kondo doesn’t actually know how to fold clothes. Not real clothes, anyway. You know who does? Yours truly. My first paying job as a teenager was in the menswear section at Switzer’s department store in Dublin. I learned to fold a suit, trousers and other items. If I didn’t get it right, a man who had 50 years experience would sigh and make me do it again and again. Yes, I am now that annoying middle-aged man who leans over the counter at Joe Fresh and folds the garment I’ve purchased before it goes in the bag. Sometimes the young staffer says thanks. Sometimes they gaze at me the way CBC executives gaze at me.
While we’re at it – and I’ll stop talking about myself soon – I’m a dab hand at ironing. Love doing it. Order from chaos. Show me damp cotton and I’ll make it crisp, and then fold it properly. Once when I was obliged to return from L.A. on the red-eye flight, and unwilling to just crash into bed, I spent the entire day ironing. By nightfall every darn thing in the house from the curtains to the cat’s pyjamas, was ironed. A great day’s work I recall with fondness.
Thing is, many of the people Kondo encounters on her show – she comes to people’s homes shyly, accompanied by an interpreter – don’t seem familiar with ironing, folding or even doing laundry in the traditional manner. They are easy marks for the con job that transpires.
“Sensitivity to joy” is what Kondo talks about a lot. This is sanctimonious nonsense. It adds fake piety to the issue of having too much stuff. Further, it makes the matter of tidying up and organizing an act of narcissism. It’s all about you, your feelings. And, as David Suzuki has been telling us for decades, it’s not about you. It’s about the entirety of nature, other people and the human race.
“When you let go of an item, you must thank it,” Kondo says. Well, we’d let go of it faster if letting go was not a time-consuming dirge of regret that included thanking an inanimate object. And the issue of books is another irritating part of the Kondo method. If the books don’t spark joy, they should go. That’s a strange and unviable approach to books and literature and it underscores the essential materialism and narcissism that are key elements of Kondo’s approach. She’s selling a fantasy, one made more palatable and intriguing by larding it with prayers and the tinsel of thank-yous to objects.
Now it’s true that the popularity of Kondo’s tidying regime has led to a surge of donations of clothes to charities. That is actually the one adorable part of it all. See, I have too much stuff and you have too much stuff. Giving it away to the less fortunate isn’t about loving yourself and your objects that spark joy. It’s just the right thing to do.