Kitty Corner: Marie Kondo’s critics are misguided

After Netflix released “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” Kondo’s KonMari method faced heavy criticism. (Photo from IMDb)

When Netflix released “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” Jan. 1, they were probably expecting most of the audience to consist of Kondo’s already-extant fanbase: middle-aged, stay-at-home moms with too much time on their hands and millennials flirting with minimalism, inspired by the pristine white “#hygge” homes.

Instead, the show became something of an overnight sensation. Kondo’s message of “sparking joy” spread like wildfire. Some Twitter users fawned over her warm, spritely mannerisms, while others dismissed her as a foreign hack. Her most vocal dissidents were elevated, then just as quickly shut down. Thinkpieces pivoted from reviewing the show to covering the aftermath as Goodwills became laden with the neglected spoils of thousands of closets. Then, the memes appeared.  

For those newly introduced to the KonMari method and interested in learning more, I’d highly recommend the 2014 book that launched Kondo into the public eye, capturing the hearts and homes of many — “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering.”

The basic outline of the method is laid out in the Netflix show, but “Life-Changing Magic” explains the decluttering process more in-depth, separating it into two steps: discarding and storing. Kondo systematically explains exactly how each category of clothing, books, papers and komono (miscellaneous items) should be addressed, while peppering in amusing anecdotes about her career as a personal tidying consultant.

But this column is not exactly a review of the book. This is more, I suppose, an airing of grievances.

Full disclosure: Last semester, I worked as an intern for KonMari Media, the home and lifestyle brand founded by Kondo. I was given full access to her social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and was I tasked with monitoring her community of fans and devotees, dubbed “Konverts.” I also met Kondo while helping out behind the scenes with a photoshoot. She is just as tiny, gracious and charming as she appears on-screen, and I would gladly lay down my life for her.  

I’m heartened to see how many people are hopping aboard the KonMari train, as evidenced by the fact that all 110 ebook copies of “Life-Changing Magic” at the Los Angeles Public Library are currently out on loans. But the deeper I wade into the discourse, the more apparent it is that many people have not read her writing, and therefore either have a faulty perception of her principles or willfully misunderstand her advice.  

Kondo is not trying to get you to give up your acne cream just because it doesn’t spark joy. She advises you to thank utilitarian items that are mundane yet necessary for the benefits they bring to your life: “Thank you, acne cream, for helping me keep my skin clear and healthy.” She wants you to address the perfume samples, the inkless pens, the receipts shoved in a bottom drawer — all the detritus that accumulates as a byproduct of our existence.  

For some reason, people get very prickly about their personal possessions, as if Kondo has personally put them and their lifestyles on blast. They seem to think that she plans to make off with their vast collection of travel-sized shampoos in the dead of night, a tidying vigilante. Writers have already fired off plenty of thinkpieces, so I’m sure I don’t need to get into the covert racism people deploy when their hackles are raised by the mere suggestion that hey, maybe you don’t need to hold onto your French 101 textbooks from college.

If all 10,000 books you own spark joy for you, then Kondo wants you to keep them. Her method is not a prescriptivist one that forces everyone to conform to a fixed structure of what she believes the ideal clutter-free life looks like. Instead, it is flexible and adaptable, modified to accommodate the whimsies and foibles of each individual. You are allowed to pick and choose which aspects to implement. She acknowledges that her method won’t work for everyone, but it works for her, and it seems to work for her legion of Konverts.

Above all, I hope people remember that Kondo is a person, not a magical fairy godmother who can spawn a total transformation with the wave of a wand. She is not advocating for everyone to adopt a monk’s asceticism. She does not have nefarious designs upon your tchotkes. She’s too busy granting interviews, writing her new book and enjoying her life with her husband and their two roly-poly daughters. She’s clearly achieved her ideal lifestyle. All she wants to do is help others achieve theirs.

Kitty Guo is a junior writing about contemporary literature. Her column, “Kitty Corner,” runs every other Wednesday.