These 5 Misconceptions about Marie Kondo Ain’t Cute (Thanks @ Sexism and Xenophobia)
by Hailey Wiper
Let’s be real: I have a ton of things, especially for a freshly-minted college grad about to move cross-country. While I may be a pro at traveling with a carry-on, I’m a maximalist in my daily life. My room was even voted messiest in my dorm building freshman year -- shoutout to my roomies for being as overwhelmed by college life as me!!! There is one minimalist ideology I embrace, though, and it’s the KonMari method of tidying.
Marie Kondo, author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the ever-bubbly star of Tidying up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, leads a new generation of it-girls. She’s preaching freedom from the junk that fills our parents’ American-dream houses and our millennial apartments, and this teaching is being amplified by the influencers you follow. Her message is one we’re dying to buy: you are enough, and for the love of all things that are holy, you have enough stuff.
If you’re hoping this will be a listicle of ways to KonMari your life, you’re in the wrong place. If you need tips on how to fold fitted sheets, you can watch the show on your cousin’s roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s Netflix account. Or, you could call your mom.
This article will be tidying up the misconceptions about her method that are slinking through the interwebs. To start, let’s take a cue from Kondo and put everything in a pile so we can see what we’re working with:
Getting rid of things leads to more buying
Owning less is better than organizing more
3. Thanking items is dumb and a waste of my time!
4. But she’s telling people to just throw out things! That’s so unsustainable!!
5. “I will be convinced that America is not in decline only when our decluttering guru Marie Kondo learns to speak English.” - Author Barbara Ehrenreich
As you can see, the criticisms start innocently, but quickly veer into full-blown racism. Those small little critiques are hiding a mix of sexism, racism, and ignorance. Let’s say it like it is: She’s a woman of color who’s at the top of her field, demonstrating yet another crack in American culture, and the backlash ain’t cute.
As far as the consumption Kondo is purportedly pushing, think of all the other self-help shows before, including our beloved Queer Eye —another über-successful Netflix series. All of them include a shopping element. The point made by every KonMari predecessor was to get rid of the ugly things, things you may even love, so that you can buy a trendy replacement. The only thing Marie Kondo has ever said to buy are organizational boxes, and even then she encourages using what you have - as long as it sparks joy!
The Queer Eye Fab Five were ushered in with warm hearts and adoration from nearly all, and the haters have been ignored as bigots. Search their hashtags on Insta and you’ll find doting memes and stories of self-acceptance. Both Tidying Up and Queer Eye are on the same network, both are self-help shows meant to inspire a wide audience to take back control of their lives, and Kondo even does without the judgmental gaze (but where would we be without Antoni’s side eye?)
So, why then has the hate targeted at Kondo not been similarly ignored? Why, when searching her hashtags, are the memes you’ll find mostly negative? While there are non-white members of The Fab Five, the racial tensions that surround Kondo’s celebrity found their way into the mainstream, while those of Queer Eye fell to the depths of Reddit.
Next, we have the criticisms that stem from her supposed quote that you should only own 30 books. This is a misrepresentation, since she said that she prefers to limit her own books to 30 - it’s the number that sparks joy for her. Kondo’s “spark joy” maintains individuality, and is something that everyone can learn to identify and embrace, from the ultra-minimalists to that one aunt who keeps the rooms of her adult children in mint condition. If all of the books or ceramic unicorns you own spark joy, then it isn’t Kondo telling you to kick them to the curb.
Since we’re already on the curb, let’s get a little bit trashy. Ya, our decluttering prophet does say to get rid of things. And while she doesn’t go into specifics on how to rehome or recycle items, saying she wants our things in landfills is putting words in her mouth. If you want to get rid of items, it’s on you to responsibly dispose of them (but Google can help —and so can the forthcoming article on recycling).
Now, we all recognize that it's racist to demand someone learn English. Well here’s the tea: critiquing Kondo’s instructions to thank your items as dumb, or the translation of “sparking joy” is also xenophobic. But, don’t take it from me, a naive white woman. Listen to the voices of those who are affected by these types of statements. Margaret Dilloway, an author and Japanese-American, in her article What White, Western Audiences Don’t Understand about Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up,” (which was the first majorly circulated article on the topic), explains that Kondo’s concept of thanking an item is based in Shintoism. Shintoism holds that all things, including inanimate man-made things, have a spirit. Even if this religious concept is too far removed from your worldview to embrace, remember that thanking an item also removes the guilt of deciding it no longer sparks joy. And as for the linguistic oppression happening, author and activist Ellen Oh stated “it reminds me in many ways of people deliberately misunderstanding and making fun of my parents' broken English." So, with this information, let’s step away from the cultural judgements and enjoy the benefits of the KonMari method.
One such benefit is that once I’ve moved thousands of miles away and settled in, there’s one thing I know I’ll be doing - splurging on about 15 books from a secondhand bookstore, because if I’ve learned anything from Kondo and my decluttering journey, it’s that a dozen books is just not enough.
And hey, let’s all keep doing this: Minus18 on Instagram: “Cleaning out the closest of that trash we don’t need in 2019 👋🏼
Hailey Wiper is a recent grad of Westmont College, where she majored in Biology, and minored in Global Studies and French. She cannot shut up about sustainability, intersectionality, or kombucha. You can usually find her saving all the animals, or knitting while watching Friends. She dreams of being the first veterinarian to win a Tony award, but would settle for either of those accolades. ‘