I have not seen Bird Box, and you can’t make me.
It’s not just that anything on Netflix that inspires people to drive blindfolded seems like a terrible idea. Or that I’m still recovering from A Quiet Place and Get Out.
I’ve lately been watching that other Netflix horror show, the one in which a small, relentlessly cheerful woman shows up at people’s doors, and after “introducing” herself to their houses, takes a tour of their overcrowded closets and junked-up garages, and then encourages them to dispose of any possessions that don’t “spark joy.”
Really, could there be anything more terrifying?
And, yet, the folding. I cannot get enough of the folding.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, whose star is the author of the 2014 best seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Method of Decluttering and Organizing, seems to have sparked as many debates as it has joy since its New Year’s Day premiere.
Kondo’s approach to people’s book collections has proved particularly controversial (at least in my writer-heavy Twitter feed), though I’ve not seen her actually pry a volume out of anyone’s cold, dead hands. And in a recent interview with Indiewire, she said she doesn’t expect everyone to adopt her preference for having no more than 30 (!) books.
As someone who’s not a hoarder but who does sometimes worry that an apocalypse will erase all the e-books on her Kindle, I say that if all our books fit neatly on our many bookshelves, why would I “wake” them, as Kondo advises, to see if they spark joy or if they might be better off somewhere else?
Beyond books, there are the family dynamics that any “reality” show is bound to lay bare.
Nicole Clark, a culture writer at Vice, looked at how the show highlights the work that still mostly falls to women, of not just performing many household chores but of being responsible for their planning and execution.
Plus, “when tasked with home organizing, men and women on Tidying Up treat it very differently,” she writes. “Piles of disorganized possessions provoke disproportionate dismay and shame in the women of the house, while men seem irritated but not personally ashamed.”
That’s very much the vibe I got from an episode where a husband, Aaron, seemed eager to have Kondo help him bully his wife, Shehnita, into cleaning out a closet that, like mine (and maybe yours), contains not just clothes she wears now, but items she hopes to be able to wear again at some future size.
Her current wardrobe options may not all “spark joy,” but they do fit, and for that she’s grateful.
Kondo insists, through her interpreter, Marie Iida, that she does understand, “because of my height. You have no idea what a nightmare it is for me to find clothes that fit me because I’m so short, and small.”
That Shehnita doesn’t just laugh in her face and escort the two Maries to the front door says a lot about the civility of Tidying Up, which, to be fair, doesn’t seem to have been cast for conflict. Some people are just tidier than others, or less attached to possessions.
And it’s not entirely about gender. Though the show’s one same-sex couple, Matt and Frank, seem to share the same goals for their already pretty nice living space, including impressing their parents with their maturity, it’s clear one has more trouble letting go of things — especially books — than the other.
My favorite family so far has been the Mersiers. Katrina and Douglas had moved with their two children, Kayci and Nolan, from a four-bedroom house in Michigan to a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, so their clutter wasn’t so much evidence of overconsumption as sheer lack of space. And though their episode also illustrates Clark’s point about the psychic toll that being responsible for everyone’s stuff can take on women, it shows that some of that burden can be shared if people really love each other.
And if the whole family learns, of course, to fold the KonMari way.
Kondo’s given to saying things like, “Folding clothes is so much fun!” as she demonstrates the multistep process of how to fold a baby’s onesie. This seems like a bit much for something that could just as easily be snatched from the laundry basket as needed. The parents of kids small enough to wear onesies don’t need even one more task.
But if we’re talking about items that won’t be spit up on and need to be changed several times a day, Kondo’s folding methods do seem to be making some of my dresser drawers easier to close.
I come to Tidying Up as a longtime fan of FYI’s Tiny House Nation. The most addictive of the several tiny-house shows, it’s the one in which people who have somehow convinced themselves they could live — frequently with others — in 500 square feet or less see their present homes invaded by a very tall, and, yes, relentlessly cheerful man named John Weisbarth.
Like Kondo, he’s there to get them to simplify their lives by getting rid of stuff.
He doesn’t have anything as fancy as Kondo’s KonMari method, but he can show families the footprint of a dwelling, usually mounted on wheels, that won’t have room for dozens of pairs of shoes or a garage full of sports equipment. And he can entice them with fancy finishes and clever storage solutions, courtesy of his partner in space-saving, long-suffering carpenter Zach Giffin.
In my saner moments, I know I won’t be moving my family into a wood-clad trailer anytime soon, even one as fancy as those that Giffin produces. But as someone writing this at a messy desk, the thought of leaving most of my belongings behind and starting fresh has its appeal.
I can’t say that watching shows about simplifying one’s life has made my life simpler, though. Just as more people watch food shows than seem to actually cook, watching other people sorting through their stuff is just one of the many ways I’ve found to avoid facing those piles of no longer joyful objects myself.
And in a medium like television that, through ads or product placement or just aspirational set-dressing, encourages consumption, the message that we might all be better off simply buying less is bound to get lost.