Tidying Up Consumerism: Marie Kondo’s Tidying Method & the Many Problems within the First Episode

It debuted on Netflix less than a month ago, but Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up has taken First-World countries by storm. Donations to thrift stores are increasing, and many people report feeling inspired by “decluttering” their homes and the extra time they have from less chores. People are even saying that minimalists “finally have a show!”.

That is actually pretty far from the truth….

Donations are piling up everywhere. So much so that not only are many charity shops full to capacity, but people are dumping their unwanted (and often unsellable) items outsides the doors of these charity shops. I’ve actually witnessed this here in my hometown of Wichita, KS, as I drove by a Disabled American Veterans thrift store.

One might say “Yeah but Marie is helping people live happier lives! She is helping people choose things that spark joy! Besides, thrift stores need donations.”

To that, I would say:

Possessions don’t need to “spark joy”, they need to serve a purpose. If they can do both, great, but experiences should spark joy- not things.

In addition, supplying thrift stores with mostly garbage is not considerate or helpful. Thrift stores in the United States have a surplus of clothing and other items even without the help of the KonMari method. Only 7 percent of people purchase used clothing, compared to 28 percent (and probably more, as of this month) who donate to thrift stores. Thrift stores are constantly forced to put clothing in a landfill (10 million tons in 2015 alone) or ship it to a third-world country that may have use for it.

And clothing isn’t even the biggest problem. Having worked at Goodwill as a processor, I know that while clothing that has been on the hangers at Goodwill gets taken down and sent somewhere else after about 4 weeks, most housewares don’t get that special treatment. Housewares go straight to the dumpster after a few weeks- no recycling or reuse. I’ve witnessed countless vintage porcelain dinnerware sets, mid-century glassware sets, and even an M.C. Escher (I googled the print number to verify it was real) original go straight into the dumpster at my Goodwill.

Minimalism, of which I have participated in for several years, is a far cry from the tidied overconsumption that we see on Marie Kondo’s show.

Minimalism is about enriching life with experiences instead of things- and part of that does relate to the freeing feeling of reducing the number of things you own. But many minimalist authors, speakers, and general influencers recognize that minimalism is about conscious living and conscious consuming- and they usually come to the conclusion that conscious living has to include being conscious of others. I’ve yet to find a minimalist YouTuber who doesn’t also practice veganism, purchase Fair-Trade whenever they can, and/or try to reduce their landfill waste.

But, leave it to Netflix and the KonMari Method to give the privileged people of the world a way to mimic minimalist aesthetic, cleanliness, some ideals without ever mentioning those uncomfortable subjects like:

-Plastic products & the devastating effects of crude oil drilling on clean water, air quality, animal life, and human life

Sweatshops & abuse of the people who make all the clothes that fill our closets

Recycling, and how to do dispose of waste properly

-How to reduce consumption so you don’t have to constantly reorganize your home

But we need to talk about those things, and more. Here are the main things I got from the first episode…

First-World Problems:

Oh no! I’m so overwhelmed with all of the task of folding and putting away laundry!(laundry that I didn’t even do myself)

Yes, laundry was one of the things that the couple in the first episode of Tidying Up said they were stressed about. Even though they said they normally hire a lady to do the laundry for them. I get it, laundry can be stressful if it has piled up for a long time. But, let me get this straight….a well-off American couple has two children, a large house, plenty of food and clothing….and they are stressed to the point that their relationship is a bit “tense” and they aren’t enjoying life like they want to. So, they need to hire someone to teach them how to organize all their stuff so they will fight less? What happens in a year when the closets are full again?

The thing is, an episode like this validates first-world problems. It portrays them as actual…problems. Not only that, but I’d confidently say that these type of validations are the reason that destructive behaviors (like overconsuming) don’t cease.

American values= personal wellbeing comes first

Marie talks quite a bit about holding an item to decide if it “sparks joy.” Much was said about how each person needed to become more sensitive to “joy” (meaning: knowing when something they have is something that they want to keep). Marie also teaches people to thank their home for serving them. But the thing that confirmed my suspicions that there wouldn’t be any moral take-away from this show is when Marie kindly but firmly told each person to “thank the item” before discarding it…and nothing was said about consideration of the person who made the item in the first place.

Marie, kind and sweet as she is, is unfortunately contributing to the self-centered mentality that keeps us purchasing fast-fashion….as long as it sparks joy in ME, that is all that matters. It doesn’t seem to matter than the garment was made by someone who was underpaid, disrespected, and who definitely didn’t feel a spark of joy when they made said item.

Treating the symptom, not the problem

The problem of too-much-stuff is not a problem- it is a symptom of overconsumption of goods. Marie Kondo won’t say that, though, she’ll say things just need to be organized.

Sure, I agree that a house full of stuff would be stressful, and organization can help. But, having a house full of stuff isn’t an illness or spontaneous event that a person is made victim of. We did it to ourselves. The compulsive shopping that led to the stuffed house is an addiction, however.

It isn’t a new problem either- First-World consumers have been increasing the rate of consumption for decades. And, psychiatrists have been trying to decide since the 1920s if compulsive shopping should be labelled as a disorder.

Marie’s method is basically, “Let’s tidy up the symptoms so we can ignore the problem.”

Teaching kids to fold clothes instead of acknowledge poverty

I’ve got to be honest- seeing children being taught to fold clothes as if it would inspire them had me floored.

Seriously, what a perfect time in their life to start teaching them something important: about the children around the world (and in the countries where the clothes were made) who don’t have good clothing, food, or water. Or, teaching their kids about donating extra clothes to those in need at the local homeless shelter.

If Marie suggests getting the kids involved cleaning and doing laundry, why not involve them in something that is actually inspiring: giving to those in need.

No emphasis on the donating or recycling the discarded items

Lastly, there was no talk about responsible disposal. At the end of the first episode of Tidying Up, we were shown a brief shot of a man from (hopefully) a donation center loading all the plastic bags of stuff into a box truck.

In an earlier shot, the camera showed a line a garbage bags full of discarded items that practically filled the kitchen floor. But where were these things donated? Were the items in good enough shape to be sold, or did the couple (or Marie) even care to check? And how much stuff was thrown away instead of recycled?

I’m saddened and angry that Tidying Up is inspiring people to be more selfish than they already were (dumping unwanted items on already full charity shops, focusing on their personal joy instead of the needs of others, etc.). If anything, I think Marie’s method will perpetuate selfish values by tidying up their appearance for awhile.

The best way to educate yourself on a simpler life with less time spent shopping and cleaning? Not by watching a Netflix “reality” show.


Books I recommend on the subject of reducing consumption & understanding the socio-economic impacts of overconsumption:

Cheap: The high cost of America’s discount culture*

The Story of Stuff*

*buy used at a local shop or thriftbooks

Any thoughts on Tidying Up? Did you notice the same things I did?

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