Pillbox

Marie Kondo and the rise of minimalism

Netflix kicked off 2019 with a new series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Organizing consultant Marie Kondo walks through her signature KonMari method in different American households, a method partially inspired by the Shinto religion that requires gathering all items within a certain category and keeping only those that “spark joy.” Earlier this month, Kondo helped Stephen Colbert tidy up his desk on his show.

Kondo has enjoyed massive success as an Internet darling who has inspired many to reconsider their current possessions and their future purchase decisions. However, she has received her fair share of criticism, some unfortunately predicated on racist beliefs. American political activist and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich posted, in a now-deleted tweet, that “I will be convinced that America is not in decline only when our de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo learns to speak English,” a clear jab at Kondo speaking Japanese on her Netflix show. Ehrenreich later clarified that “I confess: I hate Marie Kondo because, aesthetically speaking, I’m on the side of clutter. As for her language: It’s OK with me that she doesn’t speak English to her huge American audience but it does suggest that America is in decline as a superpower.” Not only are these claims outwardly racist, such messages also imply that other cultures are not welcome in America. In a heterogeneous culture like that of the U.S., it is especially disheartening to see that someone with such a platform can believe that one culture is inherently superior to another and has nothing to gain from learning about another’s. Kondo contributes a personal philosophy that was crafted from her background and unique experiences. It’s safe to say that hubris does not spark joy nor productivity; let’s propose to — as Kondo would say — dispose of it.

Even some compliments made towards Kondo have been backhanded, painting her as ethereal or as something that “exists in an art gallery, waiting room or mausoleum.” Although these may not have been made with racist intentions, they are degrading and fall into the stereotype that Asian women are submissive and exotic creatures. There’s no denying that Kondo is charming and comforting, but reducing her to such superficial qualities is to fail to recognize her as an individual woman who wants to share her passion in self-improvement.
Regardless, Kondo’s presence in the public sphere and overall message seems to have come at a perfect time. People are becoming more aware of the impacts of consumerism, leading to a wave of minimalism and anti-consumerism. “Declutters,” where people curate their material collections, seem to be trending online. Millennials, who comprise about a quarter of the total U.S. population and most of the workforce, are especially compelled to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle for various reasons. Growing awareness of materialism and its environmental impacts, placing more value on experiences than material items, economic factors, and more all contribute to millennials’ general tendency to be more cognizant in their purchasing patterns. As millennials gain more societal influence, it appears Kondo and KonMari are both here to stay.

Am I encouraging you all to donate half your possessions and survive only on the clothes on your back? Of course not. Neither is Kondo. She discourages arbitrarily getting rid of items for the sole reason of reducing clutter. Even she understands that people find that some level of clutter does, as she would say, “spark joy.” The message she is sending is about being more cognizant about mindless spending and accumulation of material goods. I think we can all relate to making impulse decisions that ultimately end up leaving us with yet another dust collector. Through her work, Kondo inspires others to be more aware of what they own and be happier with it, ensuring that whatever they add to their lives truly adds value. That’s a lesson that all of us can benefit from.