People watch home improvement shows for a lot of reasons, but the most universal reason is that we’re all works in progress. Forget, for a moment, about the hate-watching that comes with ridiculous house-hunting budgets from people with careers that can’t possibly make actual money. What’s satisfying about some of the better shows out there is that you get the sense people are actually improving their lives while there just happen to be cameras around to document it.
People need to find a new home or make their existing home better, and so we watch them get good professional advice and complete this process. Even that endless list of house-flipping shows out there, at least in theory, are about personal enhancement of some sort. Those brothers or the married couple are going to take a mess of a floor plan and eventually make it someone’s home. At significant markup, of course.
There is something uniquely humane about watching people improve their lives. Organizing and bringing about a sense of structure to things is soothing. It’s what makes this video so infuriating, because there’s something innately alluring about just finally having your shit together. Which is why the current buzz around Tidying Up With Marie Kondo makes sense. The show, at least on the surface, hits all of the things that make real home improvement a satisfying binge watch.
Tidying Up premiered on New Year’s Day on Netflix, and the fortnight that’s followed has seen a rush of donations to thrift stores as people make their New Year’s resolution to follow the KonMari method. That tidying process addresses five categories of stuff in one’s life and asks them to only keep the things that “spark joy” in them and chuck the rest out. These categories are, as follows:
4) Komono, which includes
5) Sentimental Items
The message here is that less is more, and the process of tidying can lead to a better emotional and mental state. And the “clients” in the show’s eight episodes hit a wide variety of living situations, too. A family downsizing follows KonMari to help shift household roles and eliminate clutter after a move to a new state. A widow with a large home goes through her late husband’s things, an emotional segment where Kondo actually bends the rules of her own method to help her tackle something she clearly struggling to complete. Compared to my own clutter, watching her reminisce on an entire life lived with a person who is no longer there also helped put my own tidying into perspective. It was also compelling as hell, and you rooted for her to find strength through the process to make decisions that helped her remember, but also move on.
It’s extremely easy to like the people Marie Kondo and her translator are trying to help here. And each episode has mini-segments that show off Kondo’s method for folding various items — hoodies, bras, socks — and how she would store the miscellaneous items that often pile up without a true home. If those vignettes appeal to you, the show is actually teaching you how to tidy when you decide to get off the couch and do some cleaning for yourself.
And that’s the best thing about Tidying Up: it’s a home improvement show that’s not about granite countertops and busting up structurally insignificant walls to create an open floor plan and, in the process, a better life. It’s about taking all the stuff that people already own, paring it down a bit, organizing the rest of it, and perhaps actually making people feel better and less stressed. It’s the perfect home improvement show for people who actually want to live a better life. And, in theory, it costs nothing. Just fold some shirts into threes and admit that you’re never going to read that book and give it away. It’s going to be OK, man.
It’s also very hokey. Kondo “greets” every house she tidies, a meditation of sorts that the show adds inspirational music to. But everyone seems happy once it’s done, and as much as the phrase ‘spark joy’ makes me entirely uncomfortable, it’s an entirely practical method of deciding what matters to you and what’s just, well, stuff. Watching can be a very soothing experience, and also one that’s motivational. There are no artificial high stakes like most American home shows shove into the narrative. No tense teasers leading to commercial breaks — just families embracing Kondo’s method and finding personal and emotional growth in the process. No one is stripping wallpaper or making emergency trips to Home Depot struggling to stay under budget.
There are lessons to be learned from the eight-episode arc, but also pitfalls to the mysticism the show often leads to. The most obvious example is Sanita Mattison, who kept insisting problem areas of the home will be fixed once Kondo does her “magic” to her home. But the host isn’t making the decisions about what to keep or what to get rid of. She almost certainly wants you to huck out your extraneous garbage, but she’s only going to lean you that way. Everyone on the show is putting their clothing into a big pile, touching each item and thanking it verbally if they intend to get rid of it. And some of the piles are truly massive.
“I mean, I get it, Marie,” said Rachel Friend, the young matriarch of a family of four in the show’s first episode. “You look sweet, but on the inside, you mean business.”