Have you had a chance to binge watch Marie Kondo's show Tidying Up on Netflix?
I watched the entire first season over the first two days of January. Partly out of curiosity, but also because I knew I would be asked about it from friends and clients. At this point, so many people have asked me my opinion of the show, I figured I'd gather up my thoughts and write them here.
Superficially, I'm going to begin by admitting that Marie Kondo's demeanor gets under my skin. (No surprise as I hated the narrative of her book and barely made it through the second chapter.) Her perpetual smile appears frozen, almost to the point of being disingenuous. I frequently felt like she wasn't truly connecting with her clients and their situations. I'll admit to yelling "Read the room Marie!" at the tv more than once. Her explanation for dealing with paper clutter and storage, a common issue with many of my clients, was confusingly incomplete. And don't get me started on the whole tapping books to "wake them up " ritual. I think we can all agree that's utterly ridiculous.
All that aside, the nerve Marie Kondo has struck with people is undeniable! And for that, I will be undeniably grateful. Her book, The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up has been a personal boon to my career as a professional organizer. Like me, her methods are not groundbreaking. They're based in common sense. And like me, she believes, correctly so, that most people have too much stuff.
Tidying Up has a few good things going for it. I like the thoughtful, inclusive selection of clients and their individual situations. I like that the decluttered closets, kitchens, and pantries end up looking like real life, not like they came out of Pinterest. I also like that Marie Kondo didn't recommend or sell organizing products, and instead opted to "shop the house" when containment was needed.
BUT, Tidying Up often fell short in nuanced ways, specifically in two episodes that I'd like to talk about.
The KonMari Method of decluttering is rigid. Her philosophy is based around doing decluttering steps in a very specific order to build up your ability to learn what possessions "spark joy " and let go of the rest. For many clients this may work. However, in the episode Sparking Joy After a Loss, focused around a grieving widow, it becomes abundantly clear that One-Size-Does-Not-Fit-All.
Every episode of Tidying Up begins with each client decluttering their clothing. After clearing out her half of the clothing in the master bedroom closet, leaving her deceased husband's clothing just hanging there, Marie then has the widow move on to the next step, sorting books. To me, this intuitively felt wrong. I actually wondered if I had missed a segment from viewing the show because I was also looking at my Instagram feed. Turns out I hadn't.
In thinking about it, I figured out what was going on. Following Marie Kondo's logic, the widow would have had to wait to declutter her husband's clothing in the final, most difficult step, Sentimental Items. In television time this would, of course, feel like "later that day." In real time, where the episodes were filmed over the course of months, this meant that the widow would have had to look at those clothes for many, many more weeks. Remember, the entire reason the widow was on Tidying Up was to help her deal with her husband's things. Read the room Marie!
The widow began halfheartedly going through the books but looked clearly distraught. She finally spoke up and insisted that she bypass the assigned steps and go back and finish up the closet before doing anything else. For a nano second Marie Kondo looked shocked. But then her frozen smile returned and she graciously capitulated. Or at least that's what they showed us on tv. I couldn't help but wonder how much emotional dialog was edited out between the client and Marie before they were able to do to the final, composed take.
Forging ahead without checking in on her emotionally fragile client's expectations was tone-deaf, and a rookie move for such an experienced organizer. The need to rigidly follow the KonMari Method (or any professional organizer's method) should never supersede the needs and expectations of a client.
I would also liked to have seen more ongoing meaningful conversations between Marie and her clients other than simply telling them to mound everything on the bed or floor and keep only what sparked joy. There was one particularly relatable client whose resistance to parting with just about anything was painfully captured, and whose eventual shift to letting go was mysteriously glossed over.
In Breaking Free From A Mountain Of Stuff, the husband admitted that he and his wife wanted to have a third child but confessed that their overstuffed house prevented them from moving forward. At first the wife also paid lip service to the need to declutter, but as far as I could sense she had no driving reason why. Her "why not" on the other hand was about as concrete as it gets. "I might need it someday. We have the space, so why not keep it? I don't want to spend money in the future on something I already have. I will NEVER get rid of those clothes, toys, shoes." On and on.
For most of this episode the husband made consistent progress. The wife on the other hand dug her heels in, vocalized her discomfort, and actively resisted parting with anything. Then cut to one morning when she mysteriously confesses that she's had a change of heart and can now let everything go.
What prompted this sudden shift? If dialog with Marie might explain this movement forward, it never made it onto the show. Maybe it was edited out, or maybe the production company sent her a threatening letter saying "Get rid of your crap by this date or we'll sue you!" Given that clients like the wife make the most progress what there's a hard deadline, the latter seems like the most plausible explanation to me.
When clients have a higher level of difficulty letting go of possessions, progress never happens overnight. There's a lot of ongoing talk, goal setting, reviewing family history, examining the past for trauma, and one-on-one work that goes into helping them move through their almost primal fear of divesting. The notion of an epiphany that instantly allowed her let everything go is highly implausible. A made for tv ending that doesn't hold up in real life and sends the wrong message to people like her to struggle with letting go.
My biggest issue with Tidying Up is this; It give the false impression that simply following the KonMari steps will teach you to spark joy and tidy up your home. For many people, things aren't that simple. The discipline it takes to go through each step is not something most people can sustain alone. Don't beat yourself up if you are one of those people! Sometimes a little help from a professional organizer goes a long way!
I'd love to know your thoughts on the show! What did you like? What inspired you? What bothered you?