The chances are that you have told yourself at least once in your lifetime, while making your list of New Year’s resolutions, to do a big clean out of your home. I live alone in a small flat and even I’ve been making that futile promise. This will be the year you get everything organized, from those increasingly cluttered kitchen cupboards to the jam-packed selection of the last decade of clothes in your wardrobe. It always sounds like a great idea, then you just never get around to it because the prospect is too daunting. That or you’re like me and you’re just lazy as all hell.
Netflix are here to fix all your problems with a spark of cleaning inspiration in the form of Marie Kondo. The Japanese organising consultant and cleaning expert came to worldwide prominence with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. In it, she explains her KonMari method, wherein the key to efficient organizing of one’s property comes through a simple decision: Does the item spark joy? If not, then you dispose of it, but not before thanking it for its valuable work. That, on top of handy folding techniques and a distinctly Pollyanna approach to an oft-loathed activity, made Kondo something of a cult figure. Now, she brings her method to America for the good old fashioned reality television mould.
Kondo’s work is perfect for this sort of show, wherein the hurdles of daily life can be overcome with easy to follow techniques. Anyone who’s ever watched a show where professional cleaners take over messy homes will know the drill. It’s satisfaction in its purest form, but it’s also distinctly unflashy about it. This isn’t Hoarders, thankfully. The problems the people and families Kondo visits have are familiar, the sort of clutter that becomes habit and gets increasingly difficult to deal with the longer it stays in your life. It’s the end result of not knowing what’s in your overloaded kitchen drawers so you end up buying six of the same thing, or dumping things in the garage for future organization that never happens. The series is smart in its sense of proportion about such sensations: They won’t ruin your life but they do put a notable damper on it in ways that can manifest through family tension and personal dissatisfaction.
Kondo herself is a charming on-screen presence, endlessly excited about organizing but pragmatic about the limits of her clients. Parents will have a harder time than singletons, for example, and sometimes emotion gets in the way of the reasonable need to get rid of all your sh-t. In one episode, a woman candidly admits to having trouble throwing out certain pieces of clothing she owns because, while they no longer fit her, she still hopes to one day lose weight and return to her old fashions. Given how many criticisms the KonMari method has faced for being too rigid or overtly simplistic in its near childlike view of life, Kondo herself is very flexible to her clients’ needs. She’s a sweet guru, the Mary Poppins free of upper-class sternness, but the show still cannot help but frame her as an ‘exotic’ figure, the adorable Japanese lady who talks to clothes and guides Americans on their journeys of self-fulfilment. Thankfully, the show does not try to force Queer Eye style moments of emotional revelations between Kondo and her guests.
The show itself is less interesting than the conversations it sparks. Watching families work to declutter, one is reminded of how such labour is typically coded as female, and the discussions had in each episodes by and large imply that it is the wives and mothers doing most of the heavy lifting around the house. Kondo is keen to make cleaning a universal experience for men, women and children, and you get the neat resolution of organizational harmony at the end of each episode, albeit with little deeper psychological understanding. The series makes cleaning cute and there’s a perfectly reasonable argument for doing so - wasn’t it Mary Poppins who told us tidying up could be a game? - but when the objective is satisfaction, there’s little room to explore the way domesticity is framed and enforced.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is clearly Netflix’s attempt to appeal to the HGTV crowd. Its formula is near identical to their successful slate and it inspires a similar kind of catharsis in its setting of simple goals that it achieves with a sparkle. It certainly made me consider emptying every piece of clothing I own onto my bed to check which underwear sparks joy. The show has a very limited ambition but I can’t say it doesn’t fulfil it. Kondo wants you to clean your house and I am now sorely tempted to do so. It’s the television equivalent of those Instagram videos where people slice up bars of soap. However, it’s tough to say if this show has legs beyond its novelty value. How many times can you watch the same advice be given out to the same effect in each episode? At least in book form, the reader has the ability to project their own fantasies onto it, something the HGTV formula loves to encourage but isn’t as appealing when it comes to cleaning as it is with major house renovations. Still, I would like to organize my drawers now.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is available to watch on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix