The curious case of white people against Marie Kondo

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” has taken the world by storm since its debut. The star of the show, Marie Kondo, is a pleasant Japanese consultant who helps people clean up their habitually cluttered homes. Initially, she inspired many, gaining fans around the world with her positive methods and ideology concerning cleanliness and organization. However, in spite of this popularity, a rather unexpected wave of controversy from a certain demographic of the population has come to overshadow it. Some white people in particular, are unique in their unwarranted vitriol regarding Kondo. With faint but disturbing notes of xenophobia, they wilfully misinterpret her philosophy and make poorly disguised attempts to undermine the success of her work as a woman of color.

Marie Kondo is undoubtedly an accomplished person. Her first book titled “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was published in 2011 and sold millions of copies in many different languages; thus inspiring the emergence of her Netflix series and introducing the KonMari Method to all. Said technique involves the concept of mental care and cultivation, stemming from the ideologies of Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan which focuses upon treating the home as a sacred space that deserves special care and devotion. Essentially, Kondo advises one to consider whether or not a certain object “sparks joy,” and to handle said item accordingly. This benign thought process is fairly simple to comprehend, which is part of the reason why the initial controversy surrounding Kondo is difficult to stomach.

In particular, there was an odd misinterpretation concerning Kondo’s opinion on books. During one of the episodes in her show, she states, “By having these books, will it be beneficial to your life going forward? Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values.” This would appear to be a gentle reminder of her cleaning methods; she is simply asking whether or not each book is worth keeping. However, Twitter users and online writers wasted no time in twisting her words, strangely misinterpreting them to paint Kondo in a negative light. One of the main culprits of this barrage, Anakana Schofield, took to Twitter and wrote a following piece in order to criticize Kondo, declaring that the organization consultant was misguided and incorrect in saying that one needs to throw out books that don’t “spark joy.” Other attacks were quick to accumulate, a now deleted viral picture featuring Marie Kondo and an edited speech bubble with the words “one should only keep thirty books or less,” circulated the internet; the caption rancorously calling her a “monster”.

Those attacks certainly erred on the harsher side, especially given the fact that they were all based upon a misunderstanding. Kondo has said time and time again, that personally, she keeps only about thirty books in her home. Never once has she told someone that they needed to follow a specific numerical rule; in fact, she takes a distinctly feeling-based approach. The idea is to keep the books that you value and take pleasure in. So upon closer inspection, the misinterpretation of her words becomes incongruous. It is as if these people are intentionally misconstruing her message, preferring to paint her as some sort of villain and turn others against her influence.

It is even more concerning to learn that this assault was only the beginning of the crusade against Kondo. She has since become the target of white disparagement, with many major publications putting out dismissive, and often denigrating pieces regarding the Japanese consultant. There is a general consensus among these critiques, in which they appear to lack an understanding of her philosophy, but simultaneously take it upon themselves to attack her for personalized issues or try and speak over her as an authoritative figure, with the simple objective of subverting her clear ascendancy as a homekeeping expert.

By now, it is evident that a great many of these detractors feel threatened by this small Japanese woman.  Some people have an extraordinarily difficult time accepting Marie Kondo and her many triumphs, feeling the need to vocalize their strong, unrestrained disdain — which most definitely raises a question or two. It may be difficult to discern the exact reason why, but one can make an educated guess. Americans in particular are accustomed to authority figures being male, and more importantly, white. Indeed, the concept of keeping items that are important, and tossing ones that are not, is not new in any way. A related idea, minimalism, advises people to try and rid themselves of any objects that are unnecessary, and it does so in a much less empathetic manner. There are many blogs and books dedicated to the concept of minimalism, and yet, the many who support and advocate for this lifestyle are not facing nearly any of the same repercussions that plague Kondo.

This becomes even more of a serious issue as one considers the language that said white critics use when speaking about her. She has been continuously “othered,” or condemned to being treated as completely alien due to her being of a different race; in other words, a sly form of dehumanization one may attribute to her identity as a foreign, East Asian woman. This particular criticism is more disturbing due to its blatant xenophobic overtones, as an American woman at a conference for the National Organization of Professional Organizers, described her books as only being fit for a “20-something Japanese girl” living at home with Hello Kitty stuffed animals. Another writer, Barbara Ehrenreich, gave her two cents about Kondo, tweeting that her hopes in America have been lost, in part thanks to the popular cleaning-guru’s lack of English language ability — a sentiment that is nothing if not prejudiced.

These are unmistakable attempts to racialize her, to push her back into the stereotype and role that these white people are most comfortable with. Marie Kondo and her success do not fit into the boxes that her race and sex would deem appropriate for America. In this way, they are plain endeavors to mark her as someone different and undesirable, and to sabotage the positive following that she has amassed.

It is incredibly disconcerting to think that certain people, often of white descent, are going out of their way to trivialize the success of Marie Kondo simply because she is an Asian woman; and that they are doing so with an obvious racist and xenophobic agenda, whether volitional or not. Kondo deserves none of the negativity that she is being subject to, and it is worrisome to think that in a supposedly post-racism time, this is how the some members of the white public decide to treat a minority woman who is committing no crime, and doing nothing wrong other than gaining prestige and influence in her field of work.

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