You can tell how I’m doing by the state of my apartment.
If my sink is empty, my IKEA shelves are dust-free and my plants look like they’ve been consistently cared for with regular, yet not excessive watering, I have my shit at least somewhat together. This usually means that I’m completing items on my to-do lists, able to make plans with friends (and actually keep them) and my fridge is stocked with food that I am regularly turning into edible meals. Maybe I’m even going to the gym. Maybe.
My ideal state is when everything is in its rightful place—and yet, when I heard about the so-called life-changing magic of Netflix’s hit series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, my immediate reaction was a swift and strong: NOPE. As the eight-part series took hold of my social media feed, I found myself actively avoiding watching the viral sensation. To be clear, it wasn’t because of anything that Kondo, a seemingly lovely Japanese tidying expert and best-selling author, was saying or doing. (Legit, her whole theory is to hold on to only items that “spark joy” and I truly don’t understand how anyone can have a problem with that.) Rather, I worried that the idea of watching a series about tidying would disrupt my state of being that was already so tenuous. It would mean that when I actually had my shit together it still wouldn’t be enough, because even if I could manage to keep things relatively organized there would still be more I could be doing—intricately folding T-shirts to fit better into my overcrammed drawers, reorganizing my pantry cupboard and hauling bags of joyless items to a donations centre. And that felt like a rabbit hole I wasn’t ready to go down.
I condensed this sentiment into a tweet—and it turns out, I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
One Halifax woman, who is currently living with her in-laws, told me she specifically didn’t want to watch the show because it’s a constant reminder that she doesn’t have her own place to organize as she wants. Another social media user tweeted that he didn’t want to watch it because some of the clutter in his closet is actually aspirational clothing that he hopes to one day wear. But most of the people on team #AvoidKondo cited the same reason: stress.
“[I] would leave the living room when my sister put it on,” says Brianne Cail, a 27-year-old freelance writer. Cail worked at Indigo in 2014 when the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing hit shelves, and she remembers the mania around it. It felt counterintuitive to buy a book to help you get rid of things, Cail says, especially when most of the main aspects of Kondo’s patented KonMari method—such as her much-talked about folding—are available for free online. But at that time, she wasn’t actively avoiding the book, she just had no interest in switching up her system of “organized chaos.” However, those feelings changed from indifference to defiance when Kondo came to Netflix.
“It just feels like it’s very condescending and nagging,” says Cail, noting that her sister, whom she lives with, binged the entire season and immediately KonMari-ed her room. “Like, I know I need to clean more or tidy more, but I don’t want to sit there and watch a 45-minute show that’s going to make me feel like I should be cleaning instead of watching a 45-minute show.”
And to be clear, Cail’s concerns aren’t aimed at Kondo herself. (The woman has received enough unfair criticism.) In fact, the responses to my tweet really had nothing to do with Kondo or her series. As Cail puts it, “It is not her. It is me.”
I mean, can I get an amen? What Cail describes is exactly why I was wary of the show. I felt like it would tap into that constant underlying feeling that I could do better or do more. It’s the sentiment that was so eloquently described by Anne Helen Petersen in her viral Buzzfeed article on millennial burnout.
“The media that surrounds us—both social and mainstream, from Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show to the lifestyle influencer economy—tells us that our personal spaces should be optimized just as much as one’s self and career. The end result isn’t just fatigue, but enveloping burnout that follows us to home and back,” writes Peterson. She describes this condition as a state where things that should feel good, like watching Netflix, feel bad because they illicit feelings of guilt for not working or being productive; and things that should feel bad, like constantly working (a condition that is clearly an issue among women), feel good because they are viewed as steps towards being successful. In this context, taking time out to binge-watch a show with delicately put suggestions about how to tidy felt bad not only because of the time spent on the couch, but because of its potential to make me reevaluate my living situation that I had previously thought was A-OK.
“There is perhaps a tendency to perceive [the Marie Kondo Netflix series] as being told how to do things, that some people may feel is an individualized, spontaneous decision,” says Dr. Debbie Sookman, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University and clinical psychologist who specializes in OCD and related disorders. “There is no right way, or perfect way, to tidy or to embrace what is felt to be meaningful and valuable.”
That said, Sookman outlines four specific reasons why people may not be interested in, or may avoid Tidying Up with Marie Kondo altogether.
- The person has their own way of tidying. In this case, people don’t see tidying as an issue in their life and Kondo’s Netflix series is of little interest to them.
- The person dislikes tidying and it is not a priority for them. For instance, Brooklyn-based Canadian author Jennifer McCartney, who wrote a satirical response to the KonMari movement, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place.
- Someone who desperately needs to tidy and to discard, but doesn’t feel able to do so (e.g. those with hoarding disorder). “For these people, it would likely not be enjoyable or particularly helpful if they did watch [the Kondo’s Netflix series],” says Sookman, adding that in these cases, people typically require clinical intervention and professional help to change their behaviours.
- People suffering from distress or anxiety linked to feelings of not adequately meeting their own standards or the standards of others. “[Tidying Up with Marie Kondo] may be appraised as ‘you’re not doing it right’ or ‘you should be doing it this way,’ even though, of course, this is not necessarily the intention of the series,” says Sookman. “In this case, interpretations of the series and its meanings—even if incorrect—might theoretically increase discomfort for some.”
Ding, ding, ding! As Sookman detailed the fourth scenario, I found myself nodding along. That is exactly how I felt, and so did 34-year-old Kate Morawetz, who struggles with anxiety, a condition that affects nearly half of Canadians and is on the rise among young people. She says that after a therapy session, her “homework” is often to not go into her storage room, because she will end up rearranging boxes for hours.
“I think watching an episode would send me into what my therapist calls ‘a spiral’,” says Morawetz, the senior digital producer at ET Canada. She had heard about the KonMari method, but she worried that watching the show would make it feel like she had to tidy the whole house right away, rather than piece by piece when she was ready or when she had time.
Though Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is formatted like a makeover show, with inspirational “before” and “after” shots and heartfelt backstories that make you care about the people behind the clutter, for some viewers it is actually more like an infomercial. Rather than having the cast and crew of Queer Eye dance into your life and do majority of the work for you, Kondo works with her clients to teach them how to tidy and then they do it themselves. It’s the whole teach-a-man-to-fish thing—but for some people, all we can manage is Uber Eats.
I did eventually watch some of the series and, yes, I now feel like I should refold all of my clothes and seriously reevaluate the mountain of sweatshirts piled in my closet. But I also realized that right now, what sparks joy is just getting through my to-do list as best I can, and cutting myself some dang slack.