Category: Life skills

The Fantasy of Tidying

blue hubbard web detail
How do you tidy the natural world? Eat it!!

Netflix has begun streaming a series of Marie Kondo visits with her clients to help them declutter their homes, all of which are in California. I just binged the full eight episodes, and it is definitely helping me with my wish to make this a “no buy” year!

I have been a fan of Kondo since I read her 2011 book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but the suggestion of this series that working through one’s clutter, preferably in tandem with one’s spouse, will improve one’s life: solve problems in family relationships; bring more joy into the home; and eliminate the problem of clutter by creating habits and storage systems that will be continued to be used; and all in the short time one has with the in-person help of Marie Kondo, makes this clearly a TV show Netflix should file under the “sci-fi &fantasy” rubric!

The most egregious part of this series is the unspoken assumption that the hyper-consumerism that all these families support is somehow normal for the rest of us! These are wealthy people, not average working people. Most of these folks have houses big enough to support huge collections of clothes, kitchen supplies, shoes, books, bric-a-brac, toys, etc. (Interesting statistic from A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance: the US has 3.1% of the children in the world, but buys 40% of the toys worldwide!) But nowhere is the money that is needed to hoard the amount of stuff that fills these houses anywhere commented upon!

Kondo elides the darker, but truer emotions, that her method elicits: guilt over the amount of money and energy that allowed the stuff to be bought and to accumulate; anxiety over the inability to keep one’s head above the engulfing chaos; despair at the emptiness of lives lived for consumption; and grief over unfulfilling personal relationships. Instead we are given, in the figure of Marie Kondo, a Japanese Tinkerbell: perfect, petite, and with a constant smiling mask, who assures all her clients that they are okay, and that they will be successful.

The “system” Kondo uses is based on positivity (probably why it has been so attractive to Americans): the object is to make choices about what to keep rather than what to give up, though the pieces that don’t “spark joy” (a limited and poorly defined emotion) are dumped after being “thanked” for their service.  But never does Marie Kondo suggest that thanking one’s possessions for their service may not be as important as thanking the Earth for the resources it provided for all the objects, or thanking the thousands of people whose hands, sweat, ideas, and energy created the items that glut these homes! The source of our wealth here in the West is again made invisible!

And finally, as the focus remains tenaciously on the clients’ emotional state and how happy the Kondoma method will make them, the work of decluttering, which is a really hard struggle, takes place offstage. Nor is there any suggestion of a larger community who could use the stuff. Again, an interesting hint that the families only know other people in the same economic bracket as they are in; people who would not need any more stuff either or to whom they are too embarrassed to ask for help!

The assumption is that most of the bags go to thrift stores where it can be reused (though recent statistics suggest that much of what goes to thrift stores ends up in the trash as does recycling. But how much was recycled? And how much was trashed without any attempt to reuse? Recycling and reusing is not a part of the Marie Kondo brand.

There were a lot of intriguing hints of deeper issues in these first eight episodes: the gender roles, the politics of which played out with shopping, accumulation, and jobs in the home; the comparison of Japanese Americans, only a couple of generations here compared to Marie Kondo, a native of Japan; and the sadder struggles of the true hoarders whose spouses were enabling them and keeping them from dealing with their underlying and debilitating anxiety.

But for me in this blog, the show seems to be a warning against using a band-aid to make a gaping wound seem somehow more attractive! The basic problem is our love-affair with hyper-consumerism. The solution is as basic (and unpalatable) as stopping the shopping! Even the slogan: reduce, recycle, reuse may not be applicable if we are reducing from a completely unnatural level. It may be better for us to only buy necessities and to reuse as much in our homes as we can until we have worked through everything extra, which if the families in this show are any indication will be a long time!

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Taking care of ‘Stuff’

trash july 1 ,2018

July 1st, two weeks ago, was moving day in Montreal. Between 200,000 to 240,000 people moved their residences.The streets were filled up with worn out mattresses, broken furniture, and garbage bags of trash, recyclables, and reusable objects, all thrown together highly piggy because their owners were too rushed or too uninterested to sort out their stuff, or to take the still usable items to the local Salvation Army or Renaissance thrift stores.

It is shocking and saddening to watch these folks, who are clearly not well to do (most of them are moving themselves with the help of friends), being so wasteful with their possessions. It is as if the physical world has no meaning or reality for them. They have taken as a fact of living that it is normal to buy then to trash; to buy then to trash; to buy then to trash; and to repeat this process ad infinitum as if the resources of the earth are unlimited and they will have access to these resources forever!

But there is a secondary assumption at work here, and that is the belief that taking care of one’s stuff is somehow demeaning work! The goal appears to be to grow wealthy so that one can hire another person (less rich or lucky) to clean up and take care of one’s rapidly accumulating stuff.

So the skills of cleaning, tidying, repairing, and ordering are no longer learned nor respected. Once the skill of sewing is forgotten, a rip in a garment sentences the piece of clothing to the garbage unless one has the money and time to take it to a seamstress to be fixed. The ability to fix broken furniture is beyond the knowledge of most people even if all that is needed is wood glue & clamps. And in a disposable culture such as ours, the time needed to learn these skills makes the learning not worth doing. It is cheaper and faster to buy it new.

There also seems to me a final reason that what the care of things demands is beyond our present day understanding or interest. The world of objects, of our stuff, operates in the physical sphere which is bounded by time and energy, unlike the virtual world.  It takes discipline and the ability to stay focussed to organize and pack up a household, to take on these mundane tasks in the physical world; and this is qualitatively different than our experience in instantaneous online reality where most of us spend so much of our time.

Is it any surprise then that, as we are unable take care of the simple objects that make up our households, we find the natural world with its complexity, its vastly slower and infinitely longer time; and its profound subtleties beyond our understanding or concern?