TV | Wide Angle

Marie Kondo's new TV series cleans up

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Marie Kondo is the type of person you wouldn’t initially expect lots of people to go crazy over. In the cleaning consultant and best-selling author’s new Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she simply lays out the basics of her “KonMari” method of organizing homes — guided by the idea of finding items that “spark joy” in the owner — while also teaching the best way to fold socks and neckties.

Netflix rarely shares viewership data about specific shows, but going off the volume of social media posts, think pieces and photos of neatly folded clothes inspired by “Tidying Up,” Kondo’s streaming debut is a hit.

Kondo came to attention in Japan via her 2010 book-turned-manifesto “Jinsei ga Tokimeki Katazuke no Maho.” It sold millions and launched a “cleaning boom” that made Kondo a celebrity. The English title of her breakthrough is “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and it was also a hit, with NHK World even airing a special that closely resembled her current Netflix show.

The program’s success comes from a combination of good-timing — the entire series dropped on New Year’s Day, when resolutions were fresh and free time was plentiful — and a trend toward more self-help-oriented reality TV shows. But, of course, it hasn’t come without some controversy.

Plenty in Japan have been quick to espouse rival cleaning ideologies and voice criticism of Kondo’s approach, especially the elements that feel like religion. Overseas it hasn’t been much different, a New York Times Magazine profile reported that American tidying consultants had even treated her with what could be considered outright prejudiced critiques, and anyone who’s lived in Japan has poked holes in the idea of “Japanese minimalism” she purportedly embodies —there are a lot of homes here packed to the ceiling with trash.

Luckily for her, many more have embraced the KonMari method. Enough, at least, to prompt Netflix to devote a whole show to it. The stories are fairly tame, a far cry from offerings such as “Hoarders” that deal with extreme clutter and mental health. The biggest plot points here are that a baby is on the way or the parents are visiting soon. It falls somewhere between the uplifting improve-yourself narrative of “Queer Eye” and the drama-free ambience of “Terrace House.”

This lack of tension allows viewers to project their own views onto “Tidying Up.” That includes criticism, from bookworms outraged at Kondo’s push for people to get rid of books (which isn’t what she says, she just wants us to acknowledge which ones we read) to lengthy rants focused on capitalism. Kondo’s approach isn’t simply about cleaning, as she told The Japan Times in 2014, “It’s about the emotional and psychological impact cleaning has on our lives.”

But it’s mostly about tidying up and nothing more. If that sparks joy in the process, then Kondo’s work here is done.