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Commentary: If you don’t learn to love tidying up, Marie Kondo can’t save you

Just as you wouldn’t need a doctor to tell you to take a shower, no cleaning guru (or Netflix show) should have to tell you to keep your home tidy.

SINGAPORE: People are in a right tizzy about Marie Kondo

She's been on my radar for a couple of years now, since her first book - The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up - became an international bestseller. 

But with her Netflix show, the 34-year-old seems to have attained megastar status. Forget the hashtags, memes and listicles dedicated to her - her nickname (Kondo's birth name is Kondo Mariko) is now a verb. 

Marie Kondo has become the Google of decluttering. 

This boggles my mind.

Take all your clothes out, put them in a pile and get rid of the clothes you don't like, she tells half the families on her show. Arrange the things in your garage by category, she tells one and to another, she says, put everything back where they came from after you're done with them. 

It seems that all she does on this show is state the obvious. 

Yet, everywhere on social media, people are "doing the Marie Kondo" to their closets, "KonMari-ing" their kids' bedroom or talking about what their lives looked like before and after watching the show. 

What's most bewildering is how many of the most vocal Konverts are Asians.

I've never lived elsewhere, so I can't say for other cultures, but in Asia, we already have a time-honoured phrase for this ransacking of rooms, this filtering out of things that don't make us happy, and the tidying up and polishing of the belongings that remain. 

It’s spring cleaning.


READ: Mess appeal - Who is Marie Kondo and why does she want me to throw away stuff?

READ: Commentary - Is a minimalist home the route to personal success?


Remember spring cleaning - that thing we do every year, traditionally in preparation for Chinese New Year, but also before Hari Raya, Deepavali and before the Christmas gifts are shepherded in - all in the name of productivity and subsequently, good fortune?

So, why the Kondo mania?


Perhaps we have reached a point where we can no longer engage in the trivial. With the world at our fingertips, everything bores us and becomes difficult to do - unless our phones tell us to do it.

We no longer discover a new restaurant by walking leisurely down the street. We look to our phones for Burpple or HungryGoWhere to tell us where to go before we hotfoot it to one - ironically, in a GrabCar.

Even walking has to be gamified just to get people to engage in some basic form of exercise. These days, no one really wants to walk unless they need to close the rings on their Apple Watch or collect enough candy to evolve their Pokemon.

The same could be said about tidying up. 

It’s one of those everyday things that have become so uninteresting that it needs to be sensationalised before anyone will pay attention to it. 

Here’s a Japanese woman who has brought much of America to its knees without having to speak much English. Her books, with their watercolour-art covers and manga illustrations, have sold in the millions around the world. She has a Netflix show. I know many people for whom that last reason is enough.


It also helps, I suppose, that Kondo could not be further from the mental image of our nagging mothers during spring cleaning season. 

Instead of reproach and sarcasm, Kondo is a picture of calm and light animism. 

Never mind that her ritual of "introducing" herself to a home, with her namaste hands and quiet mmm-ing and aaah-ing as if having a conversation with fairies, scares me more than my mother's stories about monsters in my wardrobe. 

People are drawn to it like bees to honey. 

But does that mean we have become snowflakes - fearful of being told what's wrong with our lives? 

Incidentally, a profile in the New York magazine several years ago describes Kondo as just that - a "snowflake" - even if it was really referring to her all-white outfits and how she "doesn't so much make an entrance as drift to a halt on the stormy day..." 

I’m not saying that no good can come out of Marie Kondo.

Who needs Pinterest when the other social media have become inundated with such satisfying photos of organised kitchen cabinets and sock drawers? People are auctioning off clothes that don’t “spark joy” online. I just copped a designer outfit for next Hari Raya at a bargain price from one of these auctions.

The truth is, technology and clever marketing can only do so much. 

A photo of a drawer organised according to the KonMari Method that was shared on Marie Kondo's Facebook page. (Photo: Instagram/Obradeeva)

When we get sick of our Apple Watch or if there aren’t anymore exciting Pokemons to catch, will we stop walking? There is a price to pay for that, just as there is a price to pay for not taking responsibility for our own space.

If there’s one thing I learned from Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, it’s that.

In not so many words, the show reveals all the things that can go wrong if you don’t clean up after yourself. 

Like with the Mersier family on “The Downsizers”, you may spend more time preparing for a picnic in the park than at the actual picnic. You may no longer enjoy doing the things you used to, such as cooking and reading. Worst of all, you may hurt your relationship with the people you love, which seems to be the significance of the very first episode, “Tidying with Toddlers”.

It’s worth taking this time to think about all the things you already get done without needing to be told - especially by a complete stranger - and think of cleaning in the same vein. 

If you want to look and smell amazing on that date, you take a shower. If you want to do well in your exams, you study. If you want to see another country, you renew your passport.


READ: The life-changing magic of tidying up how much we read and know - a commentary


With all of these there is some work involved and sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. But you do it, because no one will do it for you. You might get some help, but the fact is - you can’t get someone else to take a shower for you, legally take your exam for you or pose for your passport photo. So you do it. And the result is almost always worth it.

The sooner we realise that we need to do it and just get it done, the sooner we’ll be able to lie back and enjoy all that our room, office or home has to offer.

Sometimes, it will be boring and it will be troublesome. You may feel like tearing your hair out from the sheer triviality of it all.

But as someone whose job it is to trawl the Internet for what’s new and exciting every single day, take it from me - the satisfaction from seeing all your books arranged by genre (or even colour), finding an on-trend outfit that was hidden in the back of your wardrobe or knowing exactly where to get the soup ladle when you need it, sparks a kind of joy that no sensational new app, podcast or show can. 

Source: CNA/hs