The newest Netflix entry, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”, premiered on the first day of the New Year. It should come as no surprise that the show debuted on the day when the world collectively begins to put into practice well-intended resolutions. Many of those resolutions have to do with decluttering and getting organized, and this show is the personification of Marie Kondo’s wildly popular book on the subject, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
People often ask if I’ve read the book, so yes, I read the book and watched the episodes. This show will certainly continue to be fodder for those discussions. What struck me most about the show has little to do with the method of decluttering Marie suggests, nor the infamous instructions to keep only those items that spark joy. The order of decluttering that is suggested: clothing, books, documents, komono and sentimental items, and the fact that there is an order, can be debated. (The one exception being that sentimental items should be addressed last.) The very fact that komono, translated into miscellaneous items located in the kitchen, bathroom and garage, certainly garner a multitude of opinions. There aren’t too many professional organizers I know who encourage using the word miscellaneous as a category label.
It's encouraging that the show acknowledges the time lapse of each organizing project. Entire homes are being decluttered and organized after all. Moreover, Marie offers initial guidance and it’s largely up to each family to carry out the work of decluttering and organizing. She pops in and out over the course of several days and weeks and squeals with delight to see the progress that’s been made. However, the impact that she has made is real. Her promotional tour includes segments on many TV news, talk and lifestyle shows with quick demonstrations of how to fold a shirt, and social media is bursting with testimonials from people who have dived in to their own clutter and have lived to tell about it.
What struck me most when I read the book is that Marie’s work was centered in a very different culture. It’s quite evident to see that difference come to life in the show. There is a genuine aura of gratitude (an important pillar of the Japanese culture) that Marie brings into each household. The cultures merge as each family ultimately shares that sense of appreciation and gratitude. There’s an appreciation for the decluttering process itself. It takes longer for some than others to fully engage in order to get to the point of gratitude, but they do. There’s appreciation for gaining insight as to how and why they arrived at the point of overwhelm. And there’s certainly appreciation for the results. It’s one of the best parts of my experience working with clients, too. What seems unreachable is reached, and the gratitude is palpable. Kondo herself sets the tone for appreciation and gratitude by greeting the house and thanking it for its service before the life-changing magic begins. Kondo’s ritual, silently kneeling on the floor, may catch some of her American students by surprise, and is the first glimpse of what identifies the differences between these two cultures. One steeped with gratitude, the other overrun by consumption.
That’s not to say that the participating Americans have no appreciation for what they have. We see plenty of examples of the families expressing just the opposite. However, the shock of seeing just how high a pile of clothes can reach is humbling. The method of piling clothes, the first decluttering category, is indeed meant to be shocking. It begins the process of being infused into the Japanese culture of gratitude, expressing appreciation for the usefulness of each item. It’s a brand-new experience for many.
Along the decluttering way, each participant learns something about themselves and other household members. They begin to understand one another’s point of view and appreciate not only what the process has done to transform their physical spaces, but their relationships with each other as well. They appreciate living with less having removed the visual noise and the burden of clutter.
An attitude of gratitude. Not a bad way to begin a New Year.