Marie Kondo is the Japanese decluttering guru and tidying extraordinaire who is taking the world by storm. Her “KonMari” method is famous for its core principle: only keep things that “spark joy in your heart.” She encourages devotees to handle objects—both wanted and unwanted—with gentle affection. This is refreshingly atypical in a society accustomed to throwaway living. Despite her cult following and the commercial and critical success of her new eight-part Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, many deride Kondo for being anti-capitalist and comically outlandish.
A segment on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! featured Kondo and Kimmel going through the motions of the KonMari method. Before the tidying began, Kondo, through an interpreter, guided Kimmel through a ritualistic expression of gratitude for his soon-to-be-decluttered office space. With eyes closed and head bowed towards the ground, Kondo fetched snickers from the audience. An awkward Kimmel appeared to be stifling laughter.
But Kondo’s prayer-like gestures and benedictions aren’t meant to be funny. Her individualized approach to self-care actually possesses a meditative and introspective quality that can be easily overlooked. Kondo has said that her method is inspired by the Shinto religion—her practice of greeting a space before cleaning is derived from the etiquette of worship at Shinto shrines. She seeks to transform the home into a sacred space, and in doing so encourages “Konverts” (as Kondo’s devoted followers are called) to treat their homes with respect rather than callous indifference. Many have pointed out that criticisms of Kondo and her methodology usually stem from cultural ignorance. It’s unfortunate that we often resort to labeling that
wis as unfamiliar to us as it is unacceptable.
Ultimately, Kondo doesn’t claim to magically or single-handedly solve our problem of excess. And contrary to what book-lovers and critics have passionately claimed, nor is she suggesting that you throw away books that don’t “spark joy.” While some advocates of minimalism and a “less-is-more” approach to living resort to sanctimonious preaching, Kondo doesn’t discourage us from giving in to our natural consumeristic impulses. Although shows like Clean House and Hoarders offer a bleak picture of society in which modern consumers have become slaves to possessions and seduced by “stuff,” what Kondo offers is hope of liberation from the burden of always wanting more, more, and more.