Against Popular Opinion
I love popular culture. I love keeping up on what’s trendy, what gets people’s attention and what sticks, what changes habits, behaviors, tastes.
So, since clearing stuff I don’t use anymore out of my house has been a big part of my life recently, I decided to read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten Speed Press, 2014). The book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 48 weeks; there must be something about it that is worth checking out. I know people who have read it and thought it helped them re-envision how to get rid of excess possessions. There was even a reference to this book as a “mystical manifesto” in a Wall Street Journal article dated 2/26/15.
I hated the book. (The last time I hated a book that everyone else seemed to love was when I read The Bridges of Madison County and thought it was stupid.) The book is loaded with repetition. From the early chapters, where Kondo makes it known that she has been obsessed with tidying since she was a child and, uninvited, would tidy up her family members’ spaces, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was nuts. As someone who is already pretty well-organized, I thought her method of dumping items of the same type onto the floor all at once was something akin to what one does with a child whose room is beyond messy. And that is a pretty good analogy, I believe, although Kondo employs a hint of Zen. How so? She has people honor their possessions by thanking them for their service, greet their houses, touch everything to see if it sparks joy. By the time I got to page 190, where Kondo admits to family relationships as the basis for her obsession, specifically her relationship with her mother, I really questioned why this book is such a phenomenon. And her afterword, in which she admits to having to call an ambulance because her neck froze from spending so much time at a client’s house looking into cupboards and moving heavy furniture, made me wonder how the obsessive tone of this book gets overlooked. Is the idea of magic enough?
Yes, there is absolutely a calmness that is achieved by cleaning up one’s living space. There is a satisfaction to removing clutter, donating things no longer being used, being able to move around in more open space. But this book felt like it tried too hard to make a basic task feel like something holy.
So, I did some research. Since the book came out in the U.S. a year ago, plenty of articles on it have appeared, Facebook groups on tidying have been created, celebrities have endorsed it. What did I miss?
I finally decided I’m not the target audience. But this does make me wonder why there aren’t more readers questioning whether this sort of obsession is just another way to turn inward and avoid dealing with bigger issues, like the spiritual longing that seems to weave its way through Kondo’s book. An obsession points to fulfillment that never arrives. Kondo does write that clearing clutter allows one to more fully live their life, but she could have said this in far fewer words, which strikes me as just a tad ironic.
There is one thing I’m glad for. I’m glad that I bought this as an e-book and it won’t take up any physical space on my shelf.