Has Marie Kondo Gone Too Far?

For the past decade, Marie Kondo has built a base of followers, guided by her principles in decluttering and streamlined material possession. But has capitalism steered her away from her original purpose?

"Does this bring you joy?"

For the past decade, this had been the guiding phrase for followers of Marie Kondo, a mantra that guided countless numbers of individuals and families to show appreciation, declutter, and ultimately live with a streamlined yet grateful mindset toward material possession.


The KonMari Method

For those readers who are saying, "Mary who? What is this?" I'll provide a bit of context. In 2010, a consultant-turned-author named Marie Kondo (pronounced Ma-rē-ā Kōn-dō) published a book called "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing." Though there are differing accounts of the book's origin story, the beloved version tells of a wildly successful consultant helping Japanese families to declutter their living spaces. As Japan generally has smaller square footage in households and apartments, it's not difficult to imagine why a service like this would be desirable. As the client list and waitlist grew, Kondo eventually published her first book as a means to share the magic with the ever-increasing waitlist that she no longer had the capacity to reach. The book took off in Japan, and in 2014, Marie Kondo's KonMari methodology (KonMari is a shortened juxtaposition of Kondo and Marie) came to the United States and quickly climbed to the #1 position on the New York Times Best Seller list. 

Though there is quite a bit of nuance to KonMari, and a very deep philosophical foundation underlying the methodology, in a nutshell, Kondo argues that humans only need to hold onto the items that bring one personal joy. Perhaps it's a memory or a symbol of a relationship, or maybe it's just an inexplicable love of the object; only those items should be kept, with everything else purged (donated, disposed of, discarded). Along with this proposed mentality, Kondo also provides a practical methodology for properly storing and organizing one's possessions.


The (Personally) Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

For myself, discovering KonMari in 2015 was nothing short of life-changing. By this point, she had released her second book, "Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up." For those who know me well and my disdain of reading, this illustrated book provided a suitable guide to getting started, a veritable punch bowl for me to drink the KonMari Kool-Aid.

In a nutshell, Kondo argues that humans only need to hold onto the items that bring one personal joy. Perhaps it's a memory or a symbol of a relationship, or maybe it's just an inexplicable love of the object; only those items should be kept.

In a matter of weeks, my drawers, closets, cabinets, and desk had all been carefully streamlined, organized, and categorized. Within a matter of months, I had taken on the exponentially more difficult task of venturing home to declutter boxes of photos, cards, school artifacts, all relics of my childhood. 

It's all history from there. To this day, I continue to live with an almost draconian sense of streamlined material ownership. Has the Tupperware seen its better days? Toss is. Is the keyboard no longer in use? Sell it. Haven't worn this shirt in over a year (minus the last 500 pandemic days where I've basically worn the same thing every day)? Donate it. 

Little did I know those ties would seldom be worn post-pandemic... but they still bring me joy.

As an active KonMari evangelist, it was also my duty to spread the word and get others to join the club as well. I think I may have lent out and bought the book for at least 10-20 different people, including my mother, who also swiftly and ruthlessly decluttered the old Ishii stomping ground (believe me when I say the apple does not fall far from the tree, like mother, like son). So when I saw Kondo's new Netflix series "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo," I genuinely felt excited for her to share her magic to a broad binge-susceptible audience.

Over 3 million copies of her book sold, hundreds of thousands of viewers on Netflix, why not earn mass revenue for sharing such a noteworthy and life-changing methodology? 


KonMari… Now at the Container Store?

On a 94 degree day during a massive Southern California heat wave, as I was strolling down the local promenade, I stumbled upon a sign at the Container Store advertising their latest partnership with KonMari… a partnership which made me say, "um, why?"

As I browsed the Container Store Collection, I was greeted with clean white storage jars, wooden crates with an ever-so-subtle Japanese style reminiscent of a shoji screen, and white cloth boxes for stationary storage, none of which I found particularly practical. 

Then as I continued to browse and noticed the glorified shoe boxes, wooden hangers, and this ceramic egg holder, I couldn't help but ask, "how in the world is a ceramic egg holder not clutter?" It felt like capitalism had devolved the streamlined, clean culture of KonMari into a streamlined, clean aesthetic. As I looked at these items with the KonMari branding beneath the tinge of oriental design, they seemed devoid of meaning and almost counterintuitive to the style of living that I remember being taught. 

Now before we move on, let's clarify that KonMari was never mutually exclusive to capitalism. There's never a statement in any of her books or media that says, "don't buy new things." Again, the concept is "joy," new or old; if the item sparks joy, keep it, if not, say thank you and bye-bye.

It felt like capitalism had devolved the streamlined, clean culture of KonMari into a streamlined, clean aesthetic.

However, there is certainly a strong culture built around practicality and reuse when it comes to the storage items that you already own. In both of her books, she provides a number of examples of how she herself has taken old shoe boxes and cardboard pieces to sort, divide, and categorize items. In the show's very first episode, there's a specific scene showing her bringing boxes from her own home to help a family as they tidy up. In "Spark Joy," she proudly tells a story of how, instead of buying a new vase for a flower, she repurposes an old soda bottle. But now, on her site, you can purchase a "stoneware bubble bud vase" for the low-low cost of $60. 

Wait, don't I already have these hangers?

Again, I ask, has KonMari lost its way amidst the drive for revenue and profit?


Formatively Solid, But Currently Existentially Confused 

I bring all of this in the form of this article, not with the intent of being a critic. Just take a look at my drawers to see that KonMari is now personally seven years strong, and I don't think that cultural element of my life is going to change. But as a fan, I question if the KonMari business has eclipsed the KonMari soul. 

In the nonprofit world, we have this concept called "mission drift," where an organization begins to incrementally move away from its core mission for the purpose of financial gain or sustainability. With each grant that requires them to start or modify a program away from its original core purpose, slowly, the organization loses sight of its original reason for being. 

With the team of product marketers behind the brand, I'm sure that these items bring someone joy; after all, they've been integrated and optimized to do so (welcome to upstream marketing 101), but this seems like a crossroads, and I hope in the decision to spark joy or spark profit, KonMari chooses joy.

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