Entertainment

Netflix's 'Tidying Up with Marie Kondo' Wants All of Us to Live Better in 2019

marie kondo
Time for some KonMari. | Denise Crew/Netflix
Time for some KonMari. | Denise Crew/Netflix

For a series that's about finding the quiet, resolute joy in tidying clutter and purging your unneeded shit, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is incredibly stressful to watch. Marie Kondo, for those who are neither among the more than 10 million people who have bought her dainty screeds on tidying, nor are part of the angry horde who thinks her philosophy is a blight to American households, is a Japanese home organizing oracle, not just a missionary, but an incorporated brand and strangely divisive figure. Her rise was meteoric -- Kondo only found acclaim in the United States in 2014 after a New York Times Homes writer plucked her book from obscurity, applying the "KonMari" method to the sock drawer. Cleaning professionals hate her. Those who have devoted themselves to her approach call themselves Konverts. Like any wellness brand -- SoulCycle, Equinox, Goop, etc. -- KonMari is a lifestyle representing a fundamental shift in one's thinking. It is decluttering enlightenment.

Of course, demonstrating your commitment to the method comes with a price tag: She hosts seminars, for a mere $2,400, so that Konverts may become part of her stable of global consultants. Everyone else can buy the lidless boxes (putting things into small boxes that go into bigger boxes is a staple of KonMari) for $89 on her website, at least before they sold out, or purchase one of her many best-selling books that have been translated into English.

In each episode of her new Netflix series, Kondo, ever a beam of unslakable positivity, seems to float through the messy living spaces featured while her American clients literally trip over their junky accumulations during anxious attempts to "find homes" for their belongings. Couples bicker over what's valuable to their partner and tears fall when people sort through sentimental possessions as Kondo and her translator, Iida, flit weightlessly in and out of their homes, calmly presenting a trademarked solution to every organizational woe that arises. It's a weird clash of energies -- clearly, most of the homeowners don't immediately buy into Kondo's introductory step of silently "greeting" their home -- but the KonMari method always subsumes the mess by the end. What I'm saying is: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is an insane show and you should watch it.

marie kondo
Denise Crew/Netflix

It'd be easy to write off this new eight-episode Netflix series as another step in building Kondo's global empire, which it absolutely is. But it's more than that, too, a reality TV effort that pits conscious minimalism against the excesses of American consumerism. Previously most experienced as a gentle smiling face with bangs, Kondo, for once, feels humanized, oozing what reads as genuine empathy as she helps each home, full of triplicate junk and clothes people have never worn, find order. She offers storage tips on everything from how to fold your pants into tiny, manageable rectangles, to how to correctly place miscellaneous items into their proper small boxes.

This wouldn't be good unscripted television, however, if there weren't an element of cringeworthy unbearability to it. Kondo's screen time carries tons of warmth, which is a crucial palate cleanser to the anxiety-ridden tension that comes when her clients are left to fend with their belongings alone. Episodes are structured similarly: Kondo takes a tour of the home before giving out homework to confront -- or, in Kondo's gentler terms, "encounter" -- different categories of their stuff, deciding whether or not it "sparks joy." First it's clothes, which are ripped out of closets and piled into mountains, then books, then paper goods, then "komono," which amounts to everything miscellaneous, and lastly sentimental items.

In just the first episode, following the KonMari journey of Rachel and Kevin Friend (the Friend Family, as they won't have you forget), we're treated to unstaged fights over how Rachel doesn't do laundry (sexist!) and how Kevin thinks there are too many pillows on one bed (impossible!). The gleaming high point comes when, after dealing with their piles of clothes, they're left with, like, 200 extra hangers after thanking the items they didn’t want anymore (another crucial part of the process) and setting them aside to donate. Kevin thinks they should get rid of the hangers as part of paring down, but Rachel disagrees. "Will you use them? BABE, DO THEY BRING YOU JOY??" she shouts back at Kevin. Eventually, their tension dissolves, and they're left with nothing but a beautiful, clean home with toddlers who are now very into folding laundry.

marie kondo
Denise Crew/Netflix

The rest of the season is a bit less frenetic, but no less surreal. Empty nesters grapple with a household of shit, including a three-decade old baseball card collection and Christmas decorations that could outfit an entire building of New York City apartments, eventually tossing more than 200 garbage bags full of unneeded things. A young writer couple successfully upgrades their dorm-like L.A. apartment. Expecting parents take the initiative to reorganize their home so they don't feel like they have to plop down a bassinet on top of some of their garbage. Pets always get their due camera time.

Shockingly, only once, in episode 6, does it seem like the couple front and center are actually worse off from KonMari-ing their home (again, it’s totally the husband’s fault), and strangely, it stems from a place of wholehearted buy-in from both people who've interpreted Kondo's wisdom in their own way. Aaron Mattison takes KonMari to mean that they must get rid of everything that's taking up unnecessary space; Sunita Mattison wants to keep the items that have emotional value and help her to connect to her culture (Sunita was born in Pakistan; Aaron is a white American). The thing is, in a way, they're both right, that KonMari rejects accumulating too much stuff, but exercises kindness towards our sentimental belongings tied to loved ones, fond memories, or home. But that's the trouble with the new wave of wellness: Sometimes intention just isn't enough.

That said, everyone featured on Tidying Up talks about their journey inward during confessionals, professing a strong desire to change going into it and chattering on about the holistic benefits of living in a tidied space long term. They all profess their intention to keep it up because of how happy KonMari makes them. No one should be so naive as to believe the high of clean living doesn't wear off, or that people are innately lazy, as I am. But, feeling inspired after an episode, I found myself at the kitchen sink washing the plates that had piled up, finally scrubbing off stubborn burnt bits stuck to the bottom of a pot, and sorting through a stack of mail. And guess what: I felt better afterward! Guess what else: I cleaned dishes again the next day!

I’m not saying that I've suddenly become one of the truly enlightened, freeing myself of shameful piles of discarded clothes or disorganized cupboards. Frankly, I’m disgusting! But Tidying Up has taught me that it’s all about mindset, so if that dipshit Kevin Friend can do it, maybe so can I.

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Leanne Butkovic (@leanbutk) is an entertainment editor at Thrillist.