Rachel and Kevin are overwhelmed parents with laundry issues. Wendy and Ron are empty-nesters with a big-time clutter problem. Margie is a recent widow who can’t part with her late-husband’s belongings. All of them have too many clothes stashed in too many places.
If any of these messy lives sound like your messy life, this is the time of year when you are probably thinking about turning over a new, neat leaf. And if you have a Netflix subscription, you might also be hoping that the new series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” is the answer to your junk-drawer prayers.
And it can be. If you don’t mind an organizational TV show that leaves you with some loose ends that you will have to deal with on your own time.
The eight-part series, which conveniently debuted on New Year’s Day, is based on “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the 2014 mega best-seller that introduced Americans to Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method of decluttering and organizing your home and — presumably — your life.
On the show, Kondo is adorable and totally charming. But the KonMari Method is intense. If you are going to do it right, you have to pick up and carefully consider every item in your house — every shirt, every book, every photograph, every souvenir shot glass — to see if it “sparks joy” in your heart. If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, out it goes.
As someone who devoted a few industrious days to KonMari-ing a portion of my life a few years ago, I am happy to tell you that it works. The closets that I organized in 2016 are still organized. I still fold my socks according to her very-specific instructions. And the little shelf that I devoted to some of my favorite knickknacks — Hello, “Supernatural” commemorative plate! — does indeed spark joy every time I look at it.
But after watching three of the eight episodes, I am sad to say that the Netflix series does not work the kind of makeover magic that will inspire you to change your life. Kondo has the organizational goods, but the show does not put them on display.
In the book and in the series, Kondo’s method has you organizing by category. Clothes are first, because they are the easiest. Sentimental items are last, because if you start with your vast collection of Mother’s Day cards or your 20 years of half-marathon T-shirts, you will fall into a pit of nostalgic despair and that will be the end of it.
The ritual of the clothing purge — in which you pile all of your clothing in one place and go over it piece by piece — is an essential part of the KonMari Method. It clears up a lot of space in a short period of time, and it gives you a crash course in letting things go, which will come in handy once you move on to those boxes of photographs you’ve been meaning to get to since the ’90s.
But all of the episodes I watched started with a lengthy “Hoarders”-style tour of the mess, followed by the all-consuming clothing dump. This leaves little time for Kondo and her subjects to deal with paperwork, keepsakes and other tough stuff. And like all of us watching at home, the challenges Kondo’s TV subjects face have less to do with stuff than the tough emotions the stuff represents.
How does Kondo help Margie separate herself from her beloved husband’s clothes? How do Rachel and Kevin find the time to bring order to their house? It’s not clear. After giving them brief instructions about how to fold shirts or the importance of using smaller containers to organize drawers and closets, Kondo leaves her subjects to purge on their own. When she returns a week or two later, the hard work has been done.
Somehow, Wendy has pared down her massive nutcracker collection; Rachel and Kevin are no longer arguing about the laundry; and Margie has managed to part with her husband’s clothes, books and spices. The houses look neat and the residents are visibly happier and less stressed. But what happened? We’ll never really know.
Which is a shame, because in her book, the pixie-like Kondo is actually a mighty storehouse of hard-nosed practical advice that doesn’t really make its way onto the screen.
Those mystery cords you keep saving? If you don’t know what they belong to now, you’ll never know. Those books you always hope to read sometime? “ ‘Sometime’ means ‘never,’” Kondo says. And those sentimental keepsakes, the gifts that didn’t suit you, the anniversary cards, the vacation souvenirs? By touching each item, you can determine which ones resonate while paying your respects to the ones you are ready to let go.
Everyone needs a jump-start at the New Year, and if nothing else, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” is a friendly nudge in the direction of change. But the real magic comes when you put down the remote and pick up the book.
Which is a pretty good resolution unto itself.