No Marie Kondo, everything doesn’t have to spark joy

Does Netflix's show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo take an oversimplified view of clutter?

By Sayantan Ghosh
  • Published 8.02.19, 7:56 PM
  • Updated 8.02.19, 7:56 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Kondo, whose KonMari method is a rage, asks people to touch objects they own and figure out if they spark joy or not Image: Wikimedia Commons

I must admit that I have only watched one episode of Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix—Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. But it was enough for me to get the idea behind what she’s trying to do. She’s entering the lives of strangers and helping them clear the clutter of their first world existence so that once the things they don’t actually need are gone, they learn to value what they are left with. It’s a noble thought but is it exactly feasible beyond the scope of her bestselling book or now popular TV show? Steve Jobs had famously said, “People don't know what they want until you show it to them.” She’s doing the same thing. While asking you to choose between keeping something you own and discarding another, she’s showing you what you perhaps want. But the fundamental difference between the two is that while Jobs introduced a plethora of completely new entities in our lives after making that statement, Kondo is taking away what has already found a place in your life.

When she’s saying, get rid of the excess or your mind will be haunted by the mess created by the disorder around you, she’s making the choice for you already. She doesn’t want you to hold on to stuff that you think maybe useful someday. She asks people to touch all the clothes they own and figure out if they ‘spark joy’ or not. And if they don’t, you know what their fate would be. But that’s just a clinical axing of every memory associated with anything we own. What sparks joy on one day, may be the cause of immense pain on the very next. And vice versa. We may decide to get rid of an old vase, or a watch, only to later miss their presence. Our lives are not just what we use. It’s what surrounds us, what cloaks our very beings with warmth and familiarity that makes our waking hours fulfilling.

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When my grandfather died, the one question that seemed to bother our entire family was what was to be done with the things he had left behind. Some were given away to charity, but all of us decided to keep certain things which belonged to him for ourselves. I held on to his black thick rimmed glasses for years, before handing them over to my grandmother while switching cities. If Kondo had entered my room during all those years, she would have probably found those glasses as nothing but a sentimental attachment I was not freeing myself from, and asked me to give them away. And I would have shown her the door.

‘Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence?’ Kondo asks. And the simple answer for most of us would be a yes, even if we can’t say it with a hundred per cent certainty. We are all hoarders—of objects, memories, ideas and old pens which don’t have ink left in them anymore. Her ‘spark joy’ comment has, of course, taken the internet by storm in the past few weeks. And one can tell there’s sincerity in that thought. But objects which don’t spark joy also deserve a place in our life. If something that belongs to us has an unhappy memory attached to it, it too played a role in shaping us and making us who we are today. Even if we are not very proud of who they helped us become, it’s still all right, because all of us are living on a giant ball of work-in-progress.

Noted Bengali satirist Shibram Chakraborty is said to have lived in a room where a visitor would struggle to find a place to even sit. Nothing used to be in its place, and apparently he owned so many books that he had to give up one half of his bed to keep books on it while he used to sleep on the other half. He is even said to have had the habit of scribbling the walls of his room with phone numbers and important dates using it as a blank slate. Is that any way of living? Kondo would have probably asked. But much of his literature, the middle class life in Bengal that he depicted in his stories, resembled the milieu of his own surroundings. In a house where everything was ‘tidied up’, Chakraborty might had ended up discovering a more hygienic way of living, but even decades after his death Bengalis all over the world wouldn’t have been talking about his immortal creations.

I know since this piece began you have probably been waiting for it to tackle her 30-book rule, but since it has already drawn enough criticism from around the world, not to forget given birth to some terrific memes, I wouldn’t want to add much to it. According to her rule, people almost never reread books, and therefore, must discard the majority of their collections. While this is a broad generalization, there actually is some truth in it. In a world where, as Zappa said, there are too many books and too little time, not many readers have the opportunity to revisit books. But every book is like a vacation the reader takes along with its characters, with each book we make a journey. And like we won’t toss away the fridge magnet or postcard we brought back from our holidays, we can’t do that to books either.