Reducing Marie Kondo

Personal / Monday, May 11th, 2020

There was some recent twitter drama surrounding a woman who said some uncalled for things about some other women that you can read about here. Read it or don’t, it, the article sums up the larger, more culturally pervasive issues regarding the specific people involved. I’m just gonna rant about a small part of that. See, one of the women criticized was Marie Kondo.

Marie Kondo is best known for her books-the most notable being The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It spawned what many call the KonMari method, which is just her ideology. But as the book and herself became more popular, more and more people naturally had an opinion without having read at least the first book. And as much as I enjoyed it, I think her Netflix show also sent mixed messages. I remember watching it with my husband and mom and having to explain things that the show either glossed over or didn’t mention.

The most common misconception of course is that she’s teaching minimlism, that she’s encouraging you to throw out your treasured possessions. That is false. That literally is the opposite of her desire for people to find and understand what “sparks joy” for them in their lives.

Minimalism and Decluttering are Different, yo.

While Kondo herself might be a minimist (or as much as one can be with young kids??) that’s not the ideology she teaches.

At its core, KonMari is about taking a step back and accessing what actually matters to you. What realistically benefits you and what is just clutter. To take a step back from a very Western mindset build on consumerism, on bigger is better, on keeping up with the Jones’s, and try to learn what you need in life. It’s probably a lot less than what you have. Both physically and mentally, let’s be real here.

She asks you to take a deeper look at yourself and your priorities, and then see how your belongings relate to that.

Start by Category–Not Location

We’re taught to clean section by section, room by room. Kondo argues you should do it by category: clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous, and sentimental things.

The kicker here, is you’re supposed to gather every single thing of that category into one area–one pile, one corner of the house, so you can physically see ALL of it at once.

I know that made a big difference for me. Even re-reading a post from 2016 about her and my little journey, I’ve come so much father. For example, even just coats and jackets. When I lived at my parents’ house, I had coats and jackets in my closet, in the spare bedroom closet, in the main coat closet, and in the basement. And more than one in each location. She wasn’t telling me to only have one, or only one for each season even, she was telling me, here they are, now you decide what works for you. Maybe someone who really loves fashion keeps them all, and moves them all to an area together so they know their options. Maybe someone who lives in a place with consistent weather year-round does get rid of everything but one. For me, it was somewhere in between. My first sorting was certainly the hardest, but you get better and can reason with yourself better over time. For me, it was, I can get rid of one of these peacoats since they’re so similar, but I want both of these faux leather jackets because I don’t want to pick between the brown one and yellow, I like both and wear both.

I got rid of around 80 books my first book purge, but I still kept like 300 books because I love books and use books for work and love books.

She’s not asking you to compromise things you want. She’s asking you to be realistic. For some, that might be a massive overhaul of their belongings which opens up other avenues for growth and transformation in their lives. For some, it’s a slight reduction but maybe they’re more mindful about what they bring into their lives. Or not.

For me, it still looks like I have a lot of shit because I still have a lot of shit because I like too many different things.

KonMari Products

The criticism that spurred this sort of silly post was a woman calling Kondo a sell out for selling products on her site. I understand that gut reaction to a de-clutterer telling you to buy her stuff. But even then, that doesn’t summarize it.

For me the value was a mindset shift.

Now this kind of stuff has taken root in pop culture, we joke about minimalists. I have moments where I’ll see minimalism lifestyle videos on YouTube (I think because I watch a lot of tiny house videos?) and then wonder if a “real” minimalist would want the mental clutter of YouTube or all the crap you need with cameras, only to tell myself to shut up because 1) labels mean so many things to so many people 2) people need to make a living/have hobbies.

People don’t not own stuff. They just curate their belongings more. There’s more intention there. So for Kondo to have a line of beautifully curated, well-made products makes sense with her brand.

When her book first came stateside, minimalism and adjacent lifestyles were not as common. There’s always going to be a backlash when someone tries to propose a different way of living, there’s always an insecurity that someone is implying you’re not doing it right.

Unlearning: The Hardest Form of Learning

For me, that was true, but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It’s even only in my adult life that I thought more about where everything comes from, the waste generated, gag gifts bought for a white elephant holiday party made of plastic that require oil to make. I used that example mostly because…has anyone ever left an office party white elephant with something they actually liked or used? Other than the concerning amount of wine bottles that are fought over?

Just like anything, no one wants their way of life criticized. No one wants to think about the impact their consumerism has on the world at large. I say this and think about it constantly, the idea that no one can live in this world without the benefit of someone else being exploited. The way our capitalist system is setup right now, we as Westerners live off the pennies others earn, be it the copper mined in horrible conditions that permanently ruin land to run the batteries of electric cars, the parts in your phone from China, the fast fashion that exploits workers in places like Bangladesh and the water waste generated to make even a pair of jeans. Even vegetables, harvested largely by undocumented workers here in the US, paid under the table, below minimum wage. It’s impossible.

For me, it was challenging to unlearn buying habits I’d had, to try to find alternatives to things. It still is.

It was ironically challenging for me to throw out stuff, not because I couldn’t recognize that ‘if this thing has been here for three years untouched, I probably don’t need it’ but accepting the spike in waste I was generating by trying to purge my belongings. Shortly after KonMari spiked in popularity, there were lots of thinkpieces about second hand stores and Goodwills being overwhelmed, many specifically blaming Kondo.

And to that, it’s like, 1) don’t blame Kondo for people trying to get one aspect of their lives together 2) people probably needed to be more scrutinizing about the junk vs donation piles? But also, even saying that, its all relative, and I’m sure too there are people who can’t be bothered and just lump it all into a bag. While it makes more work for the staff at the stores, that still isn’t Kondo’s fault people don’t read the store requirements for quality of the items…

Back to the Initial Twitter Drama…

So the drama involved a white woman, Alison Roman, who sells cookbooks and was giving an interview and criticized Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo for selling out. It was hypocritical, and it was upsetting seeing a woman go after other women. For me, it left me wondering about her (Roman) socio-economic background: what privileges she was afforded to get started and get new opportunities–at the very least as a white person–compared to Kondo and Teigen when they first started their careers (and in Kondo’s case when she first tried to breach the US market). I don’t know any of their backgrounds, the specifics of them starting their businesses or educations or early opportunities, nor do I care enough. It just lacked self-awareness. The whole dang thing. Here’s another article that got a bit more into those elements.

 It’s also worth remembering that the wealthy and the white disproportionately get to decide the parameters of this supposed virtue—making it an unfortunate coincidence that both women Roman chose to critique happen to be women of color.

It’s something I wanted to rant about too, but enough’s been said. To be fair, all of the above rant about how reductive people are with Kondo has also been said time and time again.

For me the moral of both stories is to be more aware. You’re allowed to say that you aren’t informed enough about something to have an opinion on it instead of all of the reductive Kondo hot-takes. You need self-awareness to understand your relationship with your belongings and your habits as a consumer. You need awareness to not be mean to other people?? Ugh ok I’m done.

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