Netflix UK TV review: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jan 2019
“My mission is to spark joy in the world through tidying.” That’s Marie Kondo introducing herself in her new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The organisation guru, who wrote the bestselling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”, has struck a chord with millions of people, as she tries to help everyone achieve their ideal home, tidied and sorted for them live their ideal life.
It’s no coincidence that Netflix has released the programme at the start of a New Year, a time when words such as “ideal” are used by everyone self-help and motivational book going, in an attempt to appeal to people’s natural instinct to better themselves – because while New Year’s resolutions might be a little old-hat, the notion of changing yourself or your lifestyle to match a projected ideal has never been more prevalent in the age of Instagram and social media.
Kondo’s KonMari Method has already proven divisive among users online, as it requires participants to tidy everything by category (Clothes, Books, Papers, Miscellaneous, Sentimental) and ask the single question: does it spark joy? (Anything that doesn’t gets a polite shove out the door.)
It’s a vague term, but one that Kondo tries to describe as the feeling when you hold a puppy or wear your favourite outfit. But it also doesn’t take into account the complicated nature of life, which contains a multitude of moods and feelings, not just joy; a jumper might spark sad memories, but is equally deserving of an important place in one’s wardrobe. A book might be challenging and provocative to read, or downright morose, but you might want to go back to it at a later date, rather than chuck it out now.
There are benefits to Kondo’s approach, particularly when someone is looking to move on from something and put their past behind them. And, of course, being tidy and organised has never hurt anyone – the notion of removing reasons for people to be stressed in their home, whether that’s mess or arguments about who’s going to sort out the mess, is a healthy one. It’s also a welcome corrective to years of the mental workload being placed on a single person in a household – here, everyone is required to sort through their own stuff, rather than leave it to an individual (often the wife or mother).
Netflix’s series demonstrates those advantages with a pastel-coloured brightness and unquestioning smile. Kondo herself, meanwhile, is a delightfully charming presence, never reprimanding or shaming her hosts, joking about her ability to reach higher shelves, and maintaining a thorough but chirpy air that’s reminiscent of Mary Poppins. But what would make her showcase a better programme is interrogating how well Kondo’s principles apply to real life: what about those who like their miserable dramas on DVD? Or those who can’t get to grips with the restrictively opaque concept of “sparking joy”?
One couple, Frankie and Matt, welcome Kondo into their home because they want to present an adult front to the world and “hide their messy selves”. When Matt struggles to tell what Marie means by her signature spark, he feels stressed out for failing at something. Rather than decide the KonMari Method isn’t for him, though, they simply perservere and ultimately praise him for becoming more “emotionally open” – a transformation that seems less about sparking joy with specific objects and more about the pair actively communicating with each other about what they want and don’t want in their apartment. Frankie’s parents, meanwhile, visit the tidied flat and say how proud they are of their son now that his living space looks like that of a grown-up – an attitude that beckons more examination than it’s given.
Our opening couple, Rachel and Kevin, are more explicit about the hassle of having to go through the sorting process over several weeks – the KonMari Method, for example, doesn’t stop Rachel not liking laundry. “I highly recommend doing it with kids. They love it,” is the kind of advice they’re given. And while Marie admits that sometimes, her kids don’t like it, and that she “scolds them”, those aspects are generally steered away from to maintain the mood. “By following the process step by step, there will always be an end to tidying,” she insists, but that denies the very nature of life, which is about mess, embracing it and dealing with it as it arrives. In an age where online profiles place more pressure on us than ever to live ideal lives, it can be useful to remember that in reality, tidying never stops, and that’s ok.
To that end, the Netflix series would be more interesting if it spent several episodes revisiting its subjects months later to find out if they stick with the KonMari Method or not – doing it once is all well and good, but does it actually apply to a busy, day-to-day life? What about those who it doesn’t work for? Where are their episodes? The show is also limited by the demographic of those it features: with Netflix’s audience notably more youthful than traditional TV, and with Millennials facing a tough housing market where owning a home is near impossible, not to mention unstable employment, low income, and the challenge of finding one’s own space in cramped flatshares, Tidying Up notably avoids the question of whether Marie Kondo’s approach works for younger people – those who aren’t in marriages, aren’t settling down with kids, don’t have long-term accommodation but have fallen trap to the same habit of accumulating belongings as everyone else. (And, of course, that’s still not even getting anywhere near those who don’t own very much or can’t afford very much.)
In the show’s final episode, Kondo acknowledges that her strategy isn’t all about forcing oneself to eliminate objects from their lives, but to consider how they feel about each and every item they possess. That seems to open up room for keeping books you haven’t read or films that don’t cheer you up, but other moments across the series seem to deny that possibility altogether. Gratitude is at the heart of it all, and there’s something worthwhile in becoming more mindful and grateful for what you own, but there’s also value in holding onto past objects, which can spark memories (happy or sad) when our own minds have forgotten them. There are interesting generational, social and financial questions raised that Tidying Up simply chooses not to ask.
Partway through one massive clear-out, our latest couple’s cleaner is quietly dismissed because they don’t need her anymore. She’s glad they’ve found something that works for them is the response they get back. At the start of a new year, as we’re flooded with books and TV shows telling us how to improve ourselves rather than accept ourselves (whether we want to keep books or throw them away), Tidying Up would ideally have a little more focus on that.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.