Tidying Up With Marie Kondo: A Show More About Gender Than Clutter

My grandparents were hoarders. They had a majestic four-story farmhouse in small-town southern Minnesota, overlooking the park with the baseball diamond, and most of the rooms were sealed, some filled to the ceiling with stuff. Growing up, I would go “spelunking” beyond the two semi-passable rooms in which they had confined themselves. After my grandfather got sick, they moved up to a senior apartment where my grandmother lived during the brief period before he died and the subsequent years that followed. She promptly filled that one-bedroom unit, too, with stuff, creating impassable corridors and unusable spaces with tantalizing green glass knickknacks, piles of books and periodicals, and tins full of candies or coins or buttons everywhere. A covered table and lack of couch did not matter: You could sit on her bed or stand at the makeshift table to eat her luxuriant pies and have a spot of amusing conversation. It would be easy to blame the hoarding on my grandmother, but I believe my grandfather, too, was a hoarder: In addition to the big-old house, he had literal warehouses full of stuff that he would auction. My grandmother’s mobility was limited and I think only he would have been able to fill most of the rooms in their home.

‘Hating’ The Container Store in a principled yet flirty way is part of my feminism. I resent the implication that I can have it all — an office, a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a Christmas wrapping season that never ends — and be neat, and yet I am tantalized by the implied promises whispering in my ears as I pace slowly, solipstically down aisles smelling of new plastic, gleaming and not yet bulging botulistic with objects that are irrelevant to my present needs but that I have not found the confidence to throw away. I am guilty of purchasing plastic bins that don’t get used, sometimes empty old bins stacked on top of new, aspirational bins, for years-long stretches before I try, slowly, to chip away at my stuff. Mainly I just hate that we expect women to be ready for everything but also to be clean.

I think we’re supposed to hate Marie Kondo. Mainly because she’s a woman and we’re supposed to hate women, but also because she’s a successful Asian woman, businesswoman, and entrepreneur with a net worth that our culture mostly reserves for white men. In my artistic presentation of the problem she treats, her book has sat on my overstuffed bookshelf for well over a year. As I look forward to reading it, I have started watching her show on Netflix. And I love Marie Kondo. I love her skirts and her hugs. I love imagining getting dressed up and walking into someone’s house and loving their energy and giving them a hug during a filming season just before viral loads and droplets wrecked all that. I love how she sits down and blesses a house. I love how she listens to people and offers no judgement over their habits and preferences and quirks. I love how she folds T-shirts in a way that make them seem like little tea towels. I love her name. When I say it I feel sweet, in control, and ready to storm the gates. If Madonna in a cone bra was the next stage of feminism in the 1990s, surely Marie Kondo reassuring women and silently letting men and children begin to observe the latticework of their own over-reliance on Mom is another stage of feminism during this bleak juncture of the twenty-first century.

For this viewer, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is not a television show about clutter. It is a way of analyzing gender. What I see in these shows is women being expected to hold it together for everyone and slowly, then finally, breaking. It is women navigating grief and loss, picking up the pieces of lives that are no longer in the present. It is women who are so well dressed, forced to confront at an older age a mountain of clothes showing how we are expected to look stylish and fresh. She makes us put the mountain on our beds, where culture shoved us in such a different way when we were younger. Sometimes when I watch this show I cry. Marie Kondo is perfect. She is calm, measured, flexible, patient, and playing her gender role in a radical, subversive way — making bank and also giving women permission to look at ourselves honestly and say what who we really are and want out of life, rather than holding on for contingencies someone else might expect us to have at the ready, just in case. Her television show is, for this feminist, about shedding crap and allowing people in the private sphere to be seen. Subtly, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo acknowledges the complicity of men and kids in delegating the hearth to women in the most unrealistic of ways, and promotes building confidence to see and state our own preferences in a mainstream, unthreatening way that walks and talks like self-help capitalism rather than the radical feminist promise it holds.

 

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