Arts & Entertainment

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Is the Reason All Your Friends Are Suddenly Into Folding

Netflix's new makeover show strives for simplicity over consumerism, but it's not exactly exciting to watch people on TV fold their clothes.
IMAGE Denise Crew/Netflix
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All of my friends learned to fold their clothes this weekend. Or at least that's what my Instagram and Twitter feeds told me. If I didn't know any better, I'd assume that everyone had the same New Year's resolution, but I know what's really to blame for this sudden tidying spree that has taken over my social timelines: A lot of people I know, including myself, watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix this weekend, the latest self-improvement-centric makeover series to debut on the streaming service.

It's been a little over four years since Marie Kondo's bestselling guide to de-cluttering was first published in the United States, after its initial publication in Japan in 2011. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing first introduced Americans to Kondo's celebrated KonMari method, a step-by-step guide to tidying that aims to make one of life's most challenging tasks—that of organizing one's stuff—more approachable, not just from a practical standpoint but also from an emotional one. That's when the notion of our personal items "sparking joy" was first introduced as a concept (and as a now oft-used joke), as Kondo guides her reader through the process of cutting through their clutter by separating the vital clothes, housewares, and sentimental objects from the unnecessary ones by holding each piece in their hands and determining if the item sparks joy within them.

IMAGE: Amazon
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Considering the overwhelming popularity of Kondo's book, it seems like a natural fit for television—although putting such a bet on a Japanese host, who communicates primarily though an interpreter, is the kind of wager most American television executives would never make. Netflix, however, picked up the series, and the show proves that a communication barrier isn't exactly present. Messiness is universal, and Marie Kondo loves it no matter where it's found (the repeated scene during the show's opening montage, in which Kondo expresses a charming affection for domestic chaos, has already become a meme).

One might assume the series would resemble something like Hoarders, a dark vision into the disturbingly cluttered homes of potentially troubled individuals. For those of us who aren't drawn to shows overflowing with such grim schadenfreude, Tidying Upis blessedly a kinder, gentler makeover show. Yes, it follows guests—typically couples—who seek Kondo's expertise because they, for whatever personal reasons, find themselves overwhelmed by the stuff in their homes. But the tone resembles the tranquil cheeriness of The Great British Baking Show or the delightfully affirming Queer Eye, two series that have become increasingly popular with American audiences thanks to their availability on Netflix. (It's proof that the streaming service offers an alternative to the brain-warping and nihilistic reality TV fare found on network and cable TV.)

MESSINESS IS UNIVERSAL, AND MARIE KONDO LOVES IT NO MATTER WHERE IT'S FOUND.

The show's subjects all want to improve themselves by clearing space in their homes—which, according to Kondo's philosophies, allows one to clear space in their head. Watching a TV host espouse such explicitly Eastern sentiments is admittedly surprising; there are moments of quiet reflection, in which Kondo leads her guests in meditative exercises that allow them to be mindful of the space in which they inhabit, convincing them that the home is an important location that deserves their respect. One can easily contrast the moment when Kondo enters a space with the similar introductions on Queer Eye, in which the Fab Five essentially steamroll through before upending their makeover subjects' lives. (Anyone who is turned off by the capitalist leanings of Queer Eye might find some solace in Tidying Up, as it's not a show about buying things in search of self-improvement, but rather cutting out what's unnecessary and finding simplicity.)

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IMAGE: Denise Crew/Netflix

The people on Tidying Up aren't at their wits' end, thankfully; they are everyday people with everyday mountains of Christmas decorations, ill-fitting pants, unwatched DVDs, and unused kitchen gadgets. And they're often emotionally blocked by the stress of wanting to organize their lives but overwhelmed by the process. Kondo insists it's easy—and she's not the harsh kind of TV host who chides or screams at her students. Through the course of each episode, these subjects often learn something new about themselves (maybe one man's childhood artifacts and drawings suggests an inability to mature and embrace adulthood) while forming good habits, rather than breaking nasty ones. The personal journeys elevate the series beyond a simple how-to guide, but watching these folks suddenly improve their lives over 35 to 45 minutes (in which they complete the six-week KonMari method) is, perhaps, overwrought and rushed.

IMAGE: Denise Crew/Netflix
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While Kondo herself is a charming television personality, one who is soothing and wise as often as she is bubbly and quirky, the show itself lacks a certain entertainment factor—primarily because it's not particularly enthralling to watch people sort through clothes and then fold them. Kondo's tips are valuable, however, even if the most cynical of us might scoff at the idea of our personal affects making our hearts flutter and throb. And it's blissfully inoffensive, no matter how many people have bristled at Kondo's suggestion to pare down their collections of books. (Kondo is no menacing task-master, snatching your favorite books from your white-knuckled grips. You don't exactly have to throw anything out at all!)

Did I donate a box full of old clothes on Sunday afternoon, which I culled through my overstuffed closet after watching three episodes in one sitting this weekend? You bet. Did I hold each pair of worn-out pair of underwear to my chest to assess its joy? Nah. Yet, the vibe of Tidying Up—as well as Marie Kondo's worldview—suggests that cutting through the clutter is a personal journey, one that isn't identical for everyone who embarks upon it. Sparking joy is a starting point, a launchpad for improvement. Kondo may be pleased with our process no matter how we approach it, or how far we go.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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