Marie Kondo has a new TV show that launched on Netflix on January 1. Eight episodes of the messages of her best-selling book brought to life with couples and families looking to shed their clutter and lead a different life in their home.
It’s exciting to have a show like this on television because I think it continues to highlight what working with a professional organizer — not just a Marie Kondo type, but anyone that works with your style and preferences — can be like to help transform your home and transform your life. I’ve watched the first season, and I wanted to share a professional organizer’s review of what the show shares. I think there are some great gems to the show, but they may not be what you think.
What’s “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” about?
In this eight-episode season, Marie is working with couples and families in different stages of life and transitions — empty nesters, downsizers, getting ready for first baby, new couples looking to become more “adult” in their home, after the loss of a spouse, overwhelmed with raising small children, and with children but trying to decide whether or not to add a third child (and the clutter situation is telling them they can’t). She looks to help them with her approach and her methodology to work through the transition to their desired goal of life in their homes.
Marie’s style is a unique one, and honestly, I don’t share a lot in common with her approach. You may know some of what she’s known for, including asking if your items “spark joy,” saying “thank you” to each item you let go of, “waking up” books, and greeting the house before starting work. She also believes in working in one entire category at a time, which I don’t always find to be a practical solution to getting things done with my clients. She’s very focused on proper folding of every item of clothes (I admit I’ve been telling folks about file-and-folding t-shirts since my blog launched in 2013; her book has done wonders to popularize a wonderful solution that was already around.
But as I tell anyone who asks me what I think of her or her book, “I’m all for anything the helps inspire people to think more critically about what they own and whether it helps them live the life they most want to live, or if it stands in their way.” And I can say the same thing about her show. Netflix and Marie Kondo have helped to introduce many people to the world of working with a professional organizer and helping to think differently about what they own and why they own it and helping to change lives.
Ten Things I Do Hope People Learn
If you’re someone who plans to watch one or even all 8 of the episodes, I hope you learn these 10 things, and NONE of these are specific to Marie Kondo or her approach:
1. Changing your life and your stuff is hard work, so you better know WHY you want to do it.
Knowing why you want your life to change can help you stay focused and motivated during challenging times. Each of the couples and families was able to articulate “What’s at risk if we don’t make a change?” and those scenarios they described were something they knew they wanted to work hard to avoid or achieve. It was the “eye on the prize” they often needed to help keep them motivated and focused when the work seemed too hard and too big, and just giving up and going back to the way it was seemed too easy to slip into. Know YOUR why so that you can have it support you when you question your ability to see it through.
2. Decluttering and getting organized doesn’t happen overnight.
One of the best parts of this show, unlike other shows out there that feature “makeovers,” is that it shows that these couples and families are working over a period of a month, and obviously putting the focused time in almost every day in that month to get these results. These people are working hard, staying with it, facing some interpersonal conflict and some inner conflict along the way. And in every episode, the story outlines the years it took to get this way. We can’t make a meaningful change overnight (without some gasoline and a match, but that’s not the direction most people consider a GOOD change).
3. Find and embrace gratitude for your home and what you have.
When I work with people in their homes, it can be hard to get past the overwhelming feeling of the chaos and clutter to truly appreciate what you have and where you are in life. We know when we watch home makeover shows on television, we often hear the complaints of how “the house failed us” — too small, too old, not enough closets, not enough storage space, etc. It can be easy to blame the house and look for a new one, and not recognize our own role in filing it up. This negative feeling when you’re facing a task like decluttering can weigh you down in blame — blaming yourself, blaming others — and not focusing on how to get past where you are to love where you are.
4. Sometimes, you need to face all of what you have in order to see a path to change.
Whether you’re piling it all in one place or you’re going through a full category, one spot at a time, you can learn a lot about yourself and how you got to where you are today when you visualize and appreciate all of what you have. Spoiler alert: seeing the sheer volume of what you own rarely sparks joy; in fact, it can spark some weighty feelings like anxiety, shame, overwhelmed, disappointment in yourself, a feeling of money wasted, not feeling great about your weight, etc. But if you’re like most of the people in the show (and most of us have some of this in us), you probably have things you’ve long since forgotten about throughout your home. Neglected, hidden, or just plain forgotten, these items have added up to the problem these people have today, and pulling it all out and facing it is part of moving forward.
5. A House “works” because everyone in it contributes to its success, and every one of those people thinks about organization differently.
With the exception of one episode, all of the couples and families were struggling as a unit with organization beforehand, but the lode of how to manage that, or whose “fault” it was perceived to be was uneven. This show does a great job of highlighting the value of everyone working together on their home, not only to get it organized but to keep it organized. You hear people talk about what they think their role has become up until now, and how they see responsibilities shifting. We learn about how people feel that they learned more about their spouses and partners through this process because an examination of our stuff often reflects, well, that its never ACTUALLY about the stuff but rather our psychological or emotional entanglement with it.
It also highlights that working together means truly that – listening, empathizing, seeking to understand each other’s viewpoints and finding a compromise that works – is part of moving forward. When I work with clients as a couple, I’m often told that a session together feels a little like couples therapy (I’m not a therapist) because they’re surprised at how much they’re talking about thoughts and feelings and less about “keep versus toss.” People are wired differently, people value things differently, people need systems designed in different ways. This comes out in our values, in how we think about money, in how we think about our space. If you’ve been in a relationship where you’ve lived with someone else, you know just how often this shows up.
In these episodes, Kondo doesn’t do much to facilitate this couples-learning process (it’s often showing up in the “homework” footage), but there’s nothing unique about these couples. They’re facing beliefs and wishes and old baggage, but they seem to be saying, “We’re in this together, and our dreams of change are a shared dream.” For change to occur in a home with more than one person, it often requires the same statement.
6. Your stuff isn’t the museum of your life, and it doesn’t have to be in your future to prove your past existed.
We see this one in the Mario and Clarissa (the sneakers episode) in neon lights. Mario has an attachment to so many items because they represent the steps he’s taken along the way to become who he is today. It is in the exploration of trading off keeping all the things for making space for becoming a parent (his “why” on getting organized) that he recognizes that he can’t make space for his future when it’s already filled with his past, and that not every item with his past needs to move forward with him. I speak about this with my clients when I talk about the fact that just because something is memorable doesn’t mean it is important.
7. Start with the easy stuff and then work your way up to the hard stuff.
Marie Kondo’s method has 5 stages: Clothing, Books, Paper, Komono (or “Miscellaneous — kitchen, bathroom, garage, etc.”) and finally, sentimental items. While I don’t agree that the Komono section is great (I mean, you’re going to do EVERYTHING else functional in the house in one phase? From silverware to toys?), the fact that they are all a build-up to the sentimental items rings true with me. You often need to go through understanding the value and importance of functional items long before you’ve developed the muscle and the lens to evaluate those items tied closest to your heartstrings.
8. There aren’t always right answers on where things go, but everything needs a home.
But working towards agreement so that one home reigns supreme means everyone is able to maintain the home. In the episode with Angela and Alishia, the couple articulates what I see all the time in working with homes with more than one person: two people can have very different (and valid) ideas for where things should go, or two people may have very different needs for where things go, for reasons of accessibility or sanity. In the end, however, there must be an answer.
The episode highlighted that the key was to have a conversation, check assumptions, talk through the pluses and minuses of the options, and agree upon a compromise that makes sense. When things have homes, things can be put back where they belong easily. Having the right homes and the right containers goes a long way to making lighter work of STAYING organized. (PS – in case it isn’t totally obvious, Marie Kondo believes in containerizing so much that she has released her own line of boxes, the Hikidashi Box Set, and they’re prominently placed in every promo piece and every episode.)
9. Yes, “normal” people hire professional organizers, too, and so can you.
Another great thing about this show is that it gives people an alternative to shows that focus on hoarding disorders to see how other people live and what it would take to get organized. For the most part, the people on this show do not seem to be suffering from hoarding disorder, which is a mental illness that we often see on the popular “Hoarders” shows. Many people who find out that I’m a professional organizer follow up with, “oh, like on ‘Hoarders’?” I explain that I don’t work with people in that situation, but I work with tons of people who are just like everyone else but are overwhelmed with clutter, don’t know where to start, don’t have the tools or the energy or the focus to do it on their own.
Yes, some of the people in the show seemed to have “Chronic Disorganization.” People with chronic disorganization have struggled with disorganization over a long period of time, it has had a negative effect on their lives on a daily basis, and self-help attempts have failed. I work with a number of these clients, and recognize these hallmark signs in a few episodes, like the one with the Mattisons (Sunita and Aaron and their 2 kids) and with the Akiyama family (the empty nesters with clothes, Christmas decorations, and baseball cards).
But many of the episodes just had people who were struggling, who wanted to live differently, who weren’t afraid to ask for the right kind of help to get there. People just like you or people you know and love. (Honestly, a complaint I have about the Mattisons’ episode and Mario and Clarissa’s episode is that they just seemed to magically turn a corner after some introspection, and then, suddenly, they were decluttering machines. I think this is one of the ways in which Tidying Up fails as a reality show, because there have to be some missing pieces to that reality).
10. Happier with Less is better than Unhappier with More
Okay, it’s a television show that’s been produced to support a certain thesis and viewing experience, but the answer is consistent with everyone who has thought that they’re living with too much clutter, and with everyone who has done something about it. It may be a hard process, but people feel better when they let go of things because they’ve made room for what’s important. They eliminated the stuff that wasn’t important but had been blocking them from accessing and appreciating what is. Whether the important “stuff” was actual things or just how they spent their time, you hear in the show and I hear with my clients all the time, “I feel lighter” or “I feel like a weight has been lifted.” People are happier with less, and they can see that being “unhappier with more” was a choice, not a life sentence, and they could work hard to get through to the other side.
So what about this “Spark Joy” focus?
Marie explains that an item you keep should be one that sparks joy, and when she shows you in the episodes what it means, it apparently means holding an item and your insides and outsides get a little squeaky with happiness. Listen, sparking joy is awesome. It would be amazing if it was all that simple – just find the things that spark joy and keep them, and let them go if they don’t.
But there are a few issues with this. First of all, not everything you should keep in life will spark joy. I mean, those spare AA batteries are going to spark something, but “joy” probably isn’t it. Your dish-scrubber probably doesn’t spark joy, but it’s certainly critical. Toilet paper? Well, I guess I know I’m happier with some brands than others, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say using my preferred brand sparks joy. You know what I mean; joy can’t be the ONLY criteria you use.
Second, as evidenced in the episode with the Mattison Family, Sunita can’t get past other sparks — guilt, fear, the ambition of goal weight — to even find the joy part. And this is how it is with many of my clients. And with the episode of Mario and Clarissa, Mario found joy in EVERYTHING. So, this is why it can be challenging. What happens when finding the items that spark joy and letting go of the rest isn’t that simple? I know many people who have said that this lens has helped them immensely; the people who go a step further and say “it’s time for me to invest in some professional assistance” probably stumbled through this part of the book or exercise and found themselves in need of a Plan B.
So, what did YOU think?
If you decide to watch “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” remember that this is still television, and the stories have been edited to fit your TV screen and the producers’ vision of reality. There will be items thrown in to be a little sensational, but nowhere near as much as in an episode of “Hoarders.” And you might find something to pick on with every couple and family (heck knows the Twitterverse already has). But remember that, for many people, there’s going to be an episode that feels REALLY relatable, hit too close to home, either for them or for a family member or loved one.
If it’s you, and watching the show inspires you to make some changes, CONGRATULATIONS! Picture Marie Kondo clapping for you, or heck, just picture me clapping for you. I mean, when’s the last time you can say a TV show made you want to change your life and you actually stood up and did something about it? Just remember that it’s not going to change overnight, but it CAN change. Your own work will take a lot of time, but it can be SO worth it to make a change if you’re not happy with the way you’re living today.
Want to dive in a little more to learn about what’s been holding you back from moving forward with letting things go? Well, I’d much rather recommend my own book, Clever Girl’s Guide to Living with Less, which explores the psychological and emotional barriers to letting things go, and helps you devise a plan to address some of the most common challenging categories: clothes, books, paper, photos, and memorabilia/sentimental items. Better yet, get in touch with me for an in-person or virtual organizing session, or find a professional organizer from the thousands of members of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) to get started on making your OWN change today!