The phenomenally successful KonMari method is part self-improvement, part sexism, all cult.
When you're finally ready to dispose of your 9th-grade formal wear, that copy of Infinite Jest you should admit you'll never read, or your creepy, tiny baby teeth tucked underneath your mattress, Marie Kondo wants you to gently stroke each time, thank it for the joy it's brought to your life, and throw it the fuck away.
With her 2011 book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, the professional "organizing consultant" turned her KonMari method into global trend based on self-improvement and Shinto-inspired philosophies. Now, with her own Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, her strident rules about only keeping belongings that "spark joy" has become a phenomenal tool for the messy, a full-time lifestyle for the dedicated, and a religion for the obsessed. But are the basic tenets of the KonMari method right for everybody, or are they too rigid? When did speaking to inanimate objects become a mindful practice instead of a cry for help? Let's examine the practical benefits of this "spark joy" mentality, as well as its creepy, cultish undertones.
1. The Purge: the first principle in Kondo's book is simply to "commit yourself to tidying up." The KonMari method purports to eliminate the need to ever declutter again because everything you own will be in continual use. But this leaves little room for sentimentality. Your late grandfather's rickety cigar box full of his most prized possessions? Trash it. Those pen pal letters from your "girlfriend in Canada?" Ditch them: a prisoner probably wrote them. And when it comes to photographs, Kondo recommends keeping no more than five per major life event. Your childhood's over; grow up.
While this anti-sentimentality could benefit people who glorify the past with an unhealthy sense of nostalgia, it's not designed for those who rely on objects for strong visual memories or those who'd rather stare at fond photographs than another goddamn succulent plant.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix youtu.be
2. Sound Vague but Super Important: While visiting comedian Hasan Minhaj on his clearly half-serious invitation, Kondo says in Japanese, "What I really want people to understand is what tidying means, fundamentally. That's my gift to you." But, she doesn't directly explain what that meaning is, a pattern evident in most of her advice. Much of the force behind the KonMari method comes from its devout followers—sort of like, you know, a cult. People who laud the KonMari method spread the book's self-help guarantees, from improved time management, reduced stress, and improved focus and concentration to clearer career direction and enhanced mental and physical health.
Marie Kondo Sparks Joy with Hasan Minhaj | Tidying Up | Netflix youtu.be
3. All Objects Are Alive: Harder to grasp in the KonMari philosophy is the Shinto-Animist belief that all possessions have spirits, or as Kondo puts it, emotions. Rather than treating a purge like it's throwing away a lifetime of belongings, Kondo urges you to consider your items' hurt feelings when they're stowed away in the back of a closet. Seriously, she advises people to gently stroke and speak to their clothes while they're deciding what to throw away. On her Netflix special, she tells one couple that "it's important to convey love for your clothes from the palm of your hands. By doing this you will start to like folding your clothes. Folding is not just making your clothes smaller. It is actually an important opportunity to talk to your clothes and thank them." Why is this important? According to the KonMari method, gratitude is everything. You should feel thankful for what you own (a fair point), and the way she suggests doing that is to personally thank your belongings for what they've brought to your life before tossing them—and, of course, be sure to buy her special "gratitude journal," "Spark Joy Every Day," to keep track of your tidying journey. You can also purchase her graphic novel, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story, because you're not fully equipped to battle capitalism until you buy all the expert's guides.
4. Creepy Exoticism: This one isn't all Kondo's fault, but an undeniable appeal to western audiences has been her style of pseudo-philosophizing about basic Shinto principles. And that's pissed some Japanese citizens off. As the oldest spiritual belief in Japan, Shinto teaches respect for places of worship, family ancestors, and sacred objects with emphasis on ritualistic greetings and modest styles of dress in certain environments. As an organizing consultant, Kondo decided to apply these principles to her everyday clients' homes and effectively turned one of the world's most ancient religions into a Netflix show. While her simple method stresses "tidy by category, not by location" and "imagine your ideal lifestyle," she blatantly riffs on Shinto habits in the ways she "thanks" a home, strokes objects to "wake them up," and urges people to declutter their homes in order to "declutter their hearts."
Tidy Up Your Home: The KonMari Method : Greeting and introduction youtu.be
5. Sexism: One of the most glaring characteristics of all of the clients Kondo works with on Tidying Up is their outdated gender roles. All the heterosexual couples featured in the series' eight episodes agree that the onus of decluttering falls on the woman, while the man embodies an "aw, shucks, I don't even see a mess" attitude. Kavita Daiya, director of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at George Washington University, takes great issue with the series, criticizing, "It looked like a lot of women that they were featuring had internalized the idea that they were responsible for the kitchen, the cooking, and the organization (of space and clothes), and that it was a reflection of their own self, their own competence – in a way that the men didn't internalize it." Twitter agrees, spotlighting the two homosexual couples featured in the show as the highlights of the series and the gross kind of true love that's probably as genuine as it looks.
While USA Today has broken down each episode's eerie depiction of gender biases, how much of that is under Marie Kondo's control? As the sole creator and writer of the series, as well as one of only two executive co-producers, she has a lot of say. In fact, that's the only stitch of gender equality implied by the KonMari method. Her book still warns women (and women alone) to never allow themselves to become unattractive: "If you are a woman, try wearing something elegant as nightwear. The worst thing you can do is to wear a sloppy sweat suit. I occasionally meet people who dress like this all the time, whether waking or sleeping. If sweatpants are your everyday attire, you'll end up looking like you belong in them, which is not very attractive."
To be fair, Kondo has received plenty of criticism. After recommending that her clients dispose of many of their books on the fifth episode of Tidying Up, Twitter came after her with their torches. Her personal preference for owning no more than 30 books at one time outraged people far more than the cultish aspects of the KonMari method. From being called "a monster" touting "woo-woo nonsense" to receiving thinly veiled racial insults, Kondo experienced enough backlash to release a statement addressing how her method has been misunderstood. She told Indiewire: "I do think there is a misunderstanding of the process, that I'm recommending that we throw away books in the trash or burn them or something…The most important part of this process of tidying is to always think about what you have and about the discovery of your sense of value, what you value that is important. So it's not so much what I personally think about books. The question you should be asking is what do you think about books."
Whether Marie Kondo is the cleanest guru the world's ever seen or the next celebrity cult leader, business is thriving for the "tidiest woman in the world," with a six-month wait list to work with her Japanese agency. As a guest on The Late Show, she was teaching Stephen Colbert how to bow before his desk and verbalize his gratitude for the recording studio when Colbert voiced how most of America feels about Kondo: "I don't understand anything you're saying when you say it. But even if you had no translator, I would follow you to a cult compound and never leave."
Marie Kondo Tidies Up Stephen's 'Late Show' Desk youtu.be
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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