If you were to ask me whether I consider myself organized or messy, I wouldn’t really know what to say. I’m not organized to the point of winning awards, but I aim for some sort of organization. I’m not messy to the point of an intervention, either, but I would definitely need a 30-minute warning before I allowed someone into my apartment without feeling an ounce of embarrassment or anxiety. I’m that person with a special chair – you know, the one you never actually sit on, but that holds all of the clothes you’re too lazy to hang up.
I guess you could call me a creature of immediate convenience. Because for me and so many others who live in this weird liminal space between organized and messy, it’s a matter of convenience. Why is it that it’s so much easier to put things down rather than put them back where they belong? Some would call it lazy. Others would call it being tired after a 10-hour work day. I think the answer is much more simple: sometimes, we’re just human.
More Human Than Human
Enter Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizer turned author and now the latest subject of everyone’s Netflix binge. Kondo has written four books on organizing, which have collectively sold millions of copies, and her new Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” was released on New Year’s Day. Since then, dozens of think pieces have been written about the show (including gushing praise from The Atlantic to this more nuanced analysis from Vice. And, surprise surprise, we just couldn’t wait to add to the clutter with our own hot take.
Spoiler alert: Kondo and her show are highly overrated.
Kondo’s method for organization, dubbed the KonMari method, has essentially two parts: discarding and sorting. In the discarding portion, you collect everything you own in a category (for example, clothes, papers, miscellaneous items, sentimental pieces) and pile it together in one heap. In the sorting portion, you pick up every item and ask yourself if the item “sparks joy,” Kondo’s signature phrase. If so, you’ll likely keep it. If not, Kondo suggests that you first thank it for being in your life, then discard it.
We Get It, She’s Perfect and We’re Not
Each episode of “Tidying Up” follows the same format. The featured family is usually a couple (although one episode focuses on a widow who is trying to sort through her husband’s stuff) in need of tidying help. Clothes are out of place. Kitchen utensils are scattered on the counter. Everything from baseball cards to Christmas decorations overflow from every nook and cranny. You know, just your average American home packed with too much stuff. But in the case of Tidying Up, things have got to change now or the couple is in serious danger.
Then, Marie Kondo and her translator show up. She is dressed in white, her skin gleams with the undeniable health of being clutter free. Her bangs are perfectly trimmed. She takes a tour of the each home, makes observations and suggestions, then gives the couple their first week’s homework. After weeks of different homework and check-ins, Marie takes a final tour of the couple’s transformed, tidier home.
We then hear how the tidying process has changed the couple for the better—usually by bringing them closer together.
It Feels Like Something is Missing Here
Any makeover show knows that the payoff is in the transformation reveal. We love seeing an ugly duckling turn into an Architectural Digest dream. For example on Netflix’s Queer Eye, the audience bears witness to some incredible transformations—all carefully constructed at the hands of each of the show’s hosts.
The transformations in “Tidying Up,” however, aren’t drastic or breathtaking, they are anti-climactic. That’s because the transformation is at the hands of each couple—Kondo actually does little to no organization work for them. Her main contribution is to be as adorable as possible and show them how to roll up T-shirts. As such, the after part of each before-and-after look are very much real and attainable. They are still works in progress and as such, they communicate that anyone can do this.
And none of the results quite measure up to the Instagrammable-aesthetic that defines Kondo’s entire persona. It seems that the desire to be as clean and put together as Marie Kondo, that is the actual unattainable ideal that is driving the Internet obsessives and cult of personality that has developed around her.
Inevitably, each episode seems as much a couple’s counseling exercise as a journey through organization. In the first episode, a young couple attempt to rekindle their marriage and affection for each other through five years of kids, busy work schedules, and, of course, clutter. (Spoiler alert: They do.) In the final episode, a couple who disagrees about what organization means to each of them finds a compromise by the end.
This is perhaps the weakest part of “Tidying Up” series; the dramatic arcs of each episode feel forced and manipulative. Instead, the series would be stronger if it just focused on what it’s good at: showcasing everyday organization and tidying techniques. Thankfully, the series is just eight episodes, but the brevity doesn’t keep it from feeling repetitive and one note.
It seems that Marie Kondo’s answer to almost everything is to put it in a box to make it easier to organize. It’s the simplest idea in the world, but each family reacts as if it is the most world-changing realization they’ve ever encountered.
But maybe that’s the beauty of it all: there’s no great secret or code to unlock when it comes to organization. There’s just a box and the things that live inside that box. An item searching for its home. If that’s not the most human thing in the world, I don’t know what is.