Novel ap­proach to win war on clutter

New re­al­ity TV show with a twist to hit Net­flix screens

Saturday Star - - | AFFLUENCE - HANK STUEVER

THE WAR on clutter con­tin­ues. In pre­vi­ous re­al­ity-tv skir­mishes with Amer­ica’s junk-filled clos­ets and over­stuffed garages, shows about clear-cut clean­ing tried to sass and snark peo­ple into a state of tidi­ness.

Be­fore she found her way as an ac­tress, Niecy Nash on Clean House de­cried home own­ers’ “fool­ish­ness” be­fore un­leash­ing helpers to pare down the mess and re­dec­o­rate rooms to min­i­mal­ist per­fec­tion.

View­ers later be­came trans­fixed by the tragedies seen on Hoard­ers, a tough-love ap­proach to a form of men­tal ill­ness, in which trou­bled home­own­ers and renters liv­ing amid un­safe piles of be­long­ings and filth.

Now it’s Marie Kondo to the res­cue in Net­flix’s hap­pily en­gag­ing new re­al­ity se­ries, Tidy­ing Up with Marie Kondo.

The show isn’t all that rev­e­la­tory, but it qual­i­fies as a fine New Year’s binge for peo­ple who in­tend to drag the Christ­mas tree to the kerb some­time be­fore Easter.

If you haven’t heard of Kondo, a suc­cess­ful Ja­panese home or­gan­iser, then you’ve prob­a­bly been buried un­der a mound of still-tagged bar­gains. The rest of us al­ready know (and per­haps ad­here to) the prin­ci­ples in Kondo’s in­ter­na­tional best­seller, The Life-chang­ing Magic of Tidy­ing

Up, which ad­vo­cates a five-step Kon­mari ap­proach to eval­u­at­ing one’s be­long­ings on an emo­tional level.

If an ob­ject does not “spark joy” (in Kondo’s terms), it prob­a­bly needs to go. Tidy­ing Up puts Kondo’s meth­ods to the test in eight dif­fer­ent Los An­ge­les homes, start­ing with that of Kevin and Rachel: mar­ried adults with busy ca­reers and two small chil­dren, not enough space and not enough time or en­ergy to stay ahead of the stuff they own.

Kondo, who is in her early thir­ties and also has two young chil­dren, ar­rives at her clients’ houses (ac­com­pa­nied by trans­la­tor Marie

Iida) full of squeaky, ir­re­sistibly cute en­thu­si­asm, greet­ing en­gorged clos­ets and chaotic junk draw­ers with giddy dis­cov­ery. “I love mess,” she de­clares.

Un­like her TV pre­de­ces­sors, Kondo brings a calm­ing in­flu­ence to the sur­round­ings – even ask­ing own­ers if she may kneel in a par­tic­u­lar spot and silently greet their homes.

Some­times she asks the home­own­ers to join in and of­fer un­spo­ken thanks to their home for the shel­ter it has thus far pro­vided.

This is a no­ble and over­due con­cept for the home make-over and real es­tate genre – a chance to ex­press gratitude for any home, rather than the per­fect home.

Years of TV pro­gram­ming have placed home­own­ers and home-seek­ers on a nar­cis­sis­tic pedestal of en­ti­tled com­plaint (our house is too small, too ugly, too out­dated) and crit­i­cisms.

How many cou­ples, by now, have we seen walk through homes for sale and dis­par­age the counter tops, bath­room tiling or back­yard size?

Where’s the re­minder that we should be so lucky as to have lived in a state of ac­qui­si­tion rather than sac­ri­fice?

The gratitude ex­tends to Kondo’s lessons in culling.

Once Rachel has dragged a few clos­ets’ worth of her mas­sive, mostly ca­sual wardrobe and piled ev­ery­thing on the bed, per Kondo’s in­struc­tions, she is asked to “thank” an item of cloth­ing be­fore dis­card­ing it.

It’s a long process, topped off with Kondo’s in­sis­tence that the re­main­ing T-shirts, un­der­wear and socks be folded into rec­tan­gu­lar shapes that line up in draw­ers like obe­di­ent chil­dren.

Herein lies the hap­pi­ness. You might not run to your dresser to im­me­di­ately du­pli­cate it, but you’ll at least be tempted.

Kondo’s jour­ney con­tin­ues to other fam­i­lies and cou­ples facing var­i­ous anx­i­eties about their mess.

Margie, re­cently wid­owed, con­fronts a closet full of her late hus­band’s clothes. A male cou­ple, Frank and Matt, seek Kondo’s help tidy­ing their shared LA flat as a way of as­sert­ing their adult­hood, es­pe­cially for fam­ily mem­bers who still think of them as young slobs.

Clarissa and Mario are ex­pect­ing their first baby and must reckon with a sur­feit of clothes, es­pe­cially his stacks of col­lectible sneak­ers and ath­letic shoes, many of which he bought with no in­ten­tion of wear­ing.

And Ron and Wendy, emp­tynesters mar­ried 42 years, must tackle lay­ers of ac­cu­mu­la­tion, in­clud­ing the dreaded Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions and decades’ worth of base­ball cards.

The vi­car­i­ous fac­tor can be ap­peal­ing on its own. Other view­ers may watch to get the in­spi­ra­tion to tackle some of their own clos­ets.

Kondo’s meth­ods make good sense, di­vid­ing the work into cat­e­gories – clothes first, then books, then pa­pers, fol­lowed by a catch-all cat­e­gory, “komono” (mis­cel­la­neous), which in­cludes the kitchen, bath­rooms, garage and mis­cel­la­neous spots where stuff ac­cu­mu­lates.

She saves sen­ti­men­tal objects for last, and it’s here where the own­ers must re­ally buckle down and as­sess whether they are keep­ing some­thing out of a sense of duty or true joy.

To her credit, Kondo is not a make-over artist. She ef­fuses over any form of progress, happy to over­look mat­ters of taste and decor.

As such, Tidy­ing Up isn’t filled with vis­ually ap­peal­ing re­veals that view­ers ex­pect from other home­im­prove­ment shows.

It’s also worth not­ing that Tidy­ing Up is so re­lent­lessly en­cour­ag­ing that it can­not bring it­self to fea­ture a fail­ure, such as a home­owner who gives up in the mid­dle of the process. It can some­times feel as if Kondo and her pro­duc­ers set­tle for small vic­to­ries with­out ad­dress­ing some of the home­own­ers’ personal is­sues.

She’s here to tidy up and spark joy, which ul­ti­mately in­cludes a bit of gloss­ing-over. | The Wash­ing­ton Post

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