The cult around the Japanese guru of tidiness Marie Kondo is bizarre but explicable. It is bizarre because it is absurd that people need to buy a book in order to be told why and how to tidy their houses. There is something grotesque about this spectacle of rich people obsessing about which of their many possessions bring them “joy” as they decide which to discard and which to keep. But such criticism is easy. Modern society has been wasteful long before Marie Kondo came along.
Where does this obsession spring from? I sense it in myself. A desire for order at home is a function of my desire for order in my life. Ordering or tidying the domestic environment can substitute for our failure to order the external environment and might at least temporarily soothe our persistent and growing anxieties. Can it be therefore that the cult of Kondo is a result of a more general crisis of agency? This is a crisis of the collective and individual feeling of lack of control manifested in opinion surveys but also myriad other ways, including of course the mounting popularity of the proto-fascists who promise that illusion of control.
Kondo therefore is as much a manifestation of the political and economic crisis of the age as Donald Trump or Marine le Pen (or indeed ISIS, which is arguably also a response to this unadmitted sense of powerlessness). But while their activities and the danger they pose are overt, hers is covert (and presumably unintended). She turns her readers and devotees inward, suggesting that they may find calm and joy at least in the domestic realm. Those who have attempted her “method” claim that it can take many days to re-order and cleanse their homes as she instructs. So in a sense her philosophy is anti-political. It reifies the private over the public, the personal over the political. This unconscious “ordering”, a consequence of the conscious physical ordering she promotes, is both a direct manifestation and symbol of the age. Her philosophy is deeply conservative and reactionary, fearful of the complexity and messiness inevitable in taking on the necessary effort to create change in the external world beyond one’s shelves and wardrobes. In celebrating an entirely unnecessary, specious and absurd revolution in the home, she is inhibiting the necessary revolution without.
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