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On Marie Kondo, Audrey Gelman and selling a lifestyle

staff note

Recently, my father decided to declutter his office. What that really means, of course, is that he dumped all his unwanted possessions onto me. Among the pink paper clips (perfect for a girl like me!) and sheet protectors was a small book: Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” 

Marie Kondo is an organization guru whose “KonMari” philosophy revolves around the action of tokimeku, which translates from Japanese as “to spark joy.” In the spirit of minimalism, here’s the gist: get rid of everything in your life that no longer “sparks joy.” The streamlined philosophy of Kondo’s book made her minimalizing philosophy a fashionable trend in 2015, and her popularity was only compounded by her sunny, optimistic 2019 Netflix special “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Cue the memes; a revolution had begun. 

I’ve never read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” mostly because as a self-diagnosed control freak I’ve never needed to. And despite his attempts to clean his office, I don’t think my father has either; the book had been sitting in the same spot on his shelf cheerfully for years. (The irony of a book about removing the unnecessary from your life itself being unnecessary doesn’t escape me.) 

Perhaps I’m just jaded — according to myriad blog and Youtube testimonials, Kondo’s minimalist philosophy has worked for many. I applaud her for opening up a lucrative niche and parlaying her success into… well, quite a lot. Go to KonMari.com and you’ll find a “shop” tab that has for sale her original book, its second volume (aptly titled “Spark Joy”), a manga on adventures of the KonMari method and “Kiki & Jax,” a children’s fable whose moral is tidying-up. Oh, and her new book “Joy at Work” is available to pre-order. There’s something for the whole family!

But you didn’t think the KonMari brand just sold books, did you? There’s also an expensive “Concrete & Brass Vortex Candle & Incense Holder” ($80), a disproportionately expensive “Small and Joyful Flower Vase” ($32) and, as the cherry on top, a wooden “Zen Egg” ($40). According to the website, “However you interact with the egg, it will transport you somewhere a little bit more peaceful.” 

Do I live in a world where a wooden egg just might “spark” enough joy for someone to spend $40 on it? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with peddling your wares, but there does seem to be some cognitive dissonance on Kondo’s part. Messiness and the need to declutter transcend socio-economic status, but the ability to buy this stuff certainly doesn’t. (And, as a side note, however much criticism one can lob at Kondo, racism should never be tolerated.) 

This is my question: Is the KonMari method about mindfulness or, in as seems to be the case in this late stage of capitalism, is it actually about presentability? You know what I’m talking about — luxurious, instagrammable perfection. (Think Kim Kardashian’s barren mansion, which just might feature the scariest hallway since “The Shining.”) On the note of Insta-worthy perfection, Audrey Gelman comes to mind.

With respect to Kondo, Audrey Gelman is a lesser-known name. I first heard of Gelman when reading Amanda Hess’s feature in the New York Times titled “The Wing Is a Women’s Utopia. Unless You Work There.” Gelman is the architect behind “The Wing,” a members-only collective of club-offices sprinkled around the United States (and London) that seeks to empower and support women. After its founding in 2016, The Wing closed its funding rounds with progressively impressive investment hauls and growing attention over its unprecedented care of professional-class women-on-the-go. 

What does The Wing offer to a woman worn down by her male-dominated environment? It’s a utopia; it has everything! A library of exclusively female publications, wine from female vintners and, importantly, the presence of other successful and chic girl-bosses. It even maintains an in-house magazine, “No-Man’s Land.” Visit The Wing’s impeccably designed website, and you’re greeted with snapshots of perfectly positioned velvet chairs and Kamala Harris. I imagine that those magenta paperclips my father gave me would look wonderful in a bowl on a coffee table in The Wing.

But controversy abounds: Claims of poor, demeaning treatment of workplace employees and criticism of the $3000-a-year membership fees are just some of the issues that have enmeshed The Wing and Audrey Gelman in a conversation about the luxury and pitfalls of marketable feminism. Just how accessible — or even necessary — is an elite utopia for the entire female population? And, I will reiterate, how necessary is a wooden egg? 

These thoughts have been swirling haphazardly around my head and it’s difficult to fully articulate them, but they’re spilling out. Marie Kondo and Audrey Gelman have, wittingly or not, made their honest messages into beautiful and fancy goods and services that fail to honor their original design. I fear that efforts to make change in our world are swallowed whole and spit back out, perpetuating and highlighting the inequalities of our society rather than solving them. 

As a self-professed tidy person and feminist, these just happen to be the most glaring examples. I suppose this is where I should be careful with where my thoughts are directed; attack the problem, not the people, after all. Existing and, more importantly, prospering in our work-grind culture means cultivating an image that people can buy into. 

I can’t help but be entranced by Kondo and Gelman’s trajectories, in a Tyra Banks-ian, “We were all rooting for you!” way. The only thing is, I have no idea where to go from here. Maybe if someone publishes a book on all of this and sticks it in The Wing’s library or a posh online marketplace, I’ll buy it. 

Megan Liu is a Trinity first-year and Recess staff columnist.

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