Heather Mallick: Meet Marie Kondo, the great subtracter of a stockpiled era
Marie Kondo is tidying the world one enclosed space at a time: drawers, dividers in drawers, shelves, closets, boxes and bins, boxes in boxes in bins. Her advice about this did not initially grab mainstream American interest until “Spark joy” became a slogan, like Make America Great Again, Just Do It and Lean In, and look how those worked out.
Kondo, as a fine Taffy Brodesser-Akner profile has revealed, is sincere. Though her books and her Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, are turning her into an exquisitely courteous Japanese version of Martha Stewart — tidiness instead of moneyed amplitude — she is in no way an evangelist. She does not speak English, finds promotional work tiring and is dwarfed by the American hustlers who surround her.
She simply wants people to have more pleasure in their life, to pare things down, to give more thought to objects. Working people in Canada and the U.S. were bribed by the 1 per cent with loads of cheap stuff from China to help them accept their painful lot. Awash in trinkets, they feel cheated and overwhelmed.
Kondo herself makes me uncomfortable. She is 4’8” which was obviously not her decision, but her cute-little-girl-self presentation bring her close to an aspect of Japanese culture — schoolgirl sexualization in a nation hostile to adult women — that is worrying.
On the other hand, she is intelligent, humorous and composed and I am not a Japanese male with dubious tastes, so I shall cease grumbling and look for joy wherever it may pop up. Kondo disapproves of men expecting women to tidy, but concedes, in Brodesser-Akner’s words, that “women have a closer connection to their surroundings than men do.”
So that’s six of “men are oafs” and half a dozen of “men are otherworldly.” I shall make no comment.
Kondo takes the same approach to objects that Margaret Thatcher did to juvenile delinquents in her “short sharp shock” prisons of the 1980s. Kondo tells acolytes to empty the closet and hold each item to see if it sparks “joy in your body.”
Lately, objects have been more likely to spark rage in me. They all serve different purposes: symbolism; aspiration; deterioration; and, most Kondo of all, containment.
Symbolic objects like my vintage wooden Humpty Dumpty were charming until Trump started talking about his stupid wall, and now I want to smash the smug, curvy creature but it’s solid wood and won’t even dent.
As for aspirational purchases, I once asked my writing class if they had blankets or a duvet on the bed. Duvets won 15-1 so I bought a duvet, several of them, just to stay seasonal. Now that weighted glass-bead blankets are in fashion, I bought a 15-pounder only to realize that it feels just like my old heavy wool blankets so I have paid $250 to replace something that once brought me happy entombment with something that slithers off the bed in a maddening way that I don’t have the physical strength to manage at 3 a.m. How I have come to detest my weighted blanket.
A bathmat sparked joy in my body but the aftermath was painful. I have been unsuccessfully trying to replicate the thing, a Fieldcrest Luxury Bathmat bought in Target’s brief Canadian incarnation. Target left along with the mat, and I have relentlessly sought one as good in Zara Home, Amazon and Ikea, all a shadow of my original wild fling with perfection.
I will spare you the same boring story about a handtowel bought at Yves Delorme in 2012. You’re welcome.
And then there is the container, a class of object that brings genuine joy. KonMari, as the Kondo Method is known, is not actually about things. It’s about containing things because unlike the graceful and fastidious Japanese, we cannot delete our detritus or stop buying more.
I love purses. So does Kondo. I see actual delight on her face when she explains how to store them. Put each purse inside another purse, with the handles sticking out on both purses so that you don’t forget that inside a treasure, you have another treasure.
If I could consult her about anything, it would be this. Ms. Kondo, how do you store clutch purses? They don’t have handles.
I store purses like dominoes on an open shelf but classifying them by colour works best. And that means chaos. Yes, I have black, brown and blue shelves but whither the purple evening bag?
Kondo has annoyed people by advising them to cull their books. She is blank to books because she sees them en masse, not individually with some sparking joy, some sparking awe or intellect. It is a KonMari hiccup.
At this point, we see that Kondo is not a brand-builder, an esthetic campaigner, or an excellent housekeeper. She is a psychotherapist, a good one. When we clutch our stuff and check for a reiki-like heat emanating from them, we are asking about the only thing humans truly want, to give love and receive love.
There, I said it.
Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick