So much more than a home makeover show.
On Netflix | 2019 | TV-PG | 1 season, 8 episodes
Genre: Self-Care Reality TV
Why I watched: I followed along as Twitter lost its mind on New Years Day over Marie Kondo's show, which pushed to Netflix just in time for us to all make resolutions about "tidying" our lives. After a single episode, I was folding all of my shirts via her "KonMari" Method and preaching about her wisdom to everyone who would listen to me!
You might also like: Netflix has developed several reality programs that at first glance conform neatly to genre norms. Queer Eye is a makeover show á la the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Salt Fat Acid Heat is a cooking and travel show. Tidying Up is Netflix's version of Hoarders meets Extreme Home Makeover. But Netflix's "self-care" reality isn't about shame or spectacle, like the earlier series were. Instead, this new brand of reality television introduces us to individuals who learn and benefit from the advice of a joyful expert. And if a little bit of that expertise translates to the viewer, what's not to love?
In 2014, Marie Kondo changed many Americans' approach to home organization with the English-language publication of her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The KonMari Method encourages tidying by category rather than location, beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (which includes kitchen, bathroom, garage, and miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Marie tells her clients to only keep those things that "spark joy," and to get rid of that which no longer speaks to the heart. For the items that you're prepared to discard, you thank them for their service, then let them go.
Marie is as approachable as her method. Her stature is slight, at just over four-feet tall, and she's always donning a signature look of a crisp white top, colorful skirt, black tights, and neat haircut. She greets her clients with a smile on her face, never judging them and their disorganized way of life. But she can also be tough. Marie explains that she's not here to clean up their houses for them: They're going to do that all on their own, with her there to coach them along the way. And if at some point you find yourself pausing the show to go refold all of the shirts in your chest-of-drawers... well, I think Marie would be ok with that!
A big difference between Tidying Up and other home makeover options available for streaming is that the KonMari Method is not about buying more things. When one of her clients suggests the need to purchase matching baskets to organize her closet, Marie notes that she already has baskets. The next day, she brings over shoe boxes to serve as drawer organizers. And Tidying Up isn't about making everyone's life look the same: One couple finds items that their relatives kept throughout the Japanese-American incarceration camps, a family of four organizes their instruments in a two-bedroom apartment, and a widow finally goes through her late-husband's items. The before and after pictures of linen closets are fun, but what's more impactful are the wholly changed expressions on her client's faces, from overwhelmed to, well, joyful.
While Tidying Up never makes an open critique of consumer culture, it does quietly makes visible the flawed nature of uninhibited object acquisition. Step one for every client is that each member of the household, including children, take their clothes and put them on their bed. Confronted by the image of their excess as mountains of clothing tower over them, the aspiring declutter-ers acknowledge their need to cut down and to buy less. "That's not what I want my little man to think is what life is," expectant father Mario says, after recalling the credit card debt he went into to purchase the shoes that now surround him, unworn. "I don't ever want him to glorify anything materialistic."
Marie's method attributes significance to inanimate objects—she taps on books to wake them up and greets the house—while also helping us realize that to hold onto things that we aren't using does those objects a great disservice. "Tidying is not just about cleaning," Kondo explains. "It is also about creating a space that sparks joy. By doing this, you get one step closer to your ideal life." It's about letting go of items from your past so that you can make room for the future.