I , along side what seems to be the majority of the population of Australia, have been watching the Marie Kondo ‘Tidying Up” series on Netflix. I started writing this blog as a knee jerk reaction after seeing the effect she was having on our society. Others saw it too. Articles and guidelines have been written identifying the issues I had with the program, so I shelved the idea of a blog. But then I met a volunteer in an opportunity (opp) shop. She was at breaking point. With tears in her eyes she explained how every morning they’ve been greeted with a mini mountain of lovingly donated goods as well as soiled and broken items, as the masses ‘say thanks” and move on their wares that no longer spark joy. The volunteer was certainly not experiencing any ‘joy’. Neither was I. The conversation is still with me a week later and the blog has been reborn. I owe it to her.
Many have already pointed out, the “Tidying Up” show has clearly demonstrated that we live with way too much ‘stuff’. Some of the clothing scenes are nothing short of obscene. Each episode shows how having a tidy, uncluttered home can lead to a healthier, more enjoyable, less stressed and more sustainable lifestyle. But people have also expressed their concerns about the show. It’s only showing one side of the coin and rather than enabling people to live with less, the show is just speeding up the consumerist cycle of “I want, I buy, I enjoy, I’m bored of it, I’ll dump it”. To pinch the lyrics of Ariana Grande “Thank u, Next!”. I have spent weeks thinking she was singing “bacon n eggs”, I’ve even got the kids singing it that way. Listen to it. It’s uncanny. Tenuous, but uncanny.
The show doesn’t touch on our pathological consumption problems or make any suggestions on what we as a society or as an individual can do to reverse this. With millions watching the series this would have been the prime opportunity to make this connection and create a real change.
On Netflix for nearly a month now the show has already created discussions about possessions and cleaning stuff out. But viewers are doing much more than just viewing and discussing, they’re actually doing it too. Many have been inspired to take the bull by the horns and sort out their domains. Furious folding and sorting is going on behind closed doors. With great pride people are showing each other their cupboards and drawers, places that were completely private and off limits in the past.
The show has made tidying up ‘in’ and is encouraging people to delve deep into their cupboards, as well as their hearts. The tips are great. The lessons learnt, useful. The results, individual. Even I have learnt new strategies and enjoyed having the other ones I know of confirmed by an international expert. I’ve really enjoyed the energy and lightness the process has brought to the homes and their families. Decluttering has literally lightened their lives and created spaces in which they can relax, play and come together. I love the fact it’s pointed out my old favorite chestnut, that items need a home within your home. If you don’t, then when you can’t find a specific item you tend to buy said item again. And again. And again. It happens, I once found 11 pairs of tweezers in a client’s house. To be honest I’ve been relieved as well. The combination of me being a very discerning frugal consumer and the fact I tend to go through my house once a year to make sure things are in their homes, means my place is a finely oiled home. Phew. No Kondo-ing for me.
I have two ‘joys’ (to coin the phrase) from the show. The first has been the spiritual side to it, the introduction to home and the thanks given to items for carrying out their duty. This for me is at least a step in the right direction, demonstrating respect and appreciation for the things that we have. The second is that the end result is a home that’s personal to the family. The series has stayed away from trying to turn each house into a picture perfect magazine worthy home. Which are for me, is very much part of the problem, which I’ll explain later. But that’s where my joy ends.
The joy is short lived for many others too. Writers, politicians, journalists, lobbyists, bloggers, facebookers have taken to their chosen form of communication to express concerns about the single sided approach and many have been getting angry and worried about the ramifications of what has turned out to be a very, very popular program. With transfer stations, opportunity shops and charity donations bins drowning in items as a result of the what is now coined “The Kondo Effect”, Marie Kondo has been blamed for the 40% rise in opp shops donations this summer. It’s become such an issue even the Victorian Government are publishing advice in relation to clearing out and decluttering to try and curb the impact.
My issues with the show are two fold and are essentially linked. Firstly it doesn’t show you all the methods of moving items out of your home responsibly and it doesn’t challenge our thought processes on buying new items or discuss the closed cycle of materials. For me, the lack of responsibility, accountability and imagination creates a hamster wheel effect where we keep making the same moves and stay in the same mind set.
Lack of Responsible Rehoming.
It wasn’t until episode four that they showed the potential to give old possessions a new life. This was introduced with a trip to an opp shop and the hosting of a garage sale. Up until this point things were just bagged in bin bags and ‘removed’. By whom, how or where to is not discussed. They’re just G.O.N.E . But nothing, absolutely nothing, can be gotten rid of completely. In the grand scheme of things, there is no away. It has to go somewhere. There has been no mention of upcycling or recycling programs such as freecycle, green collect or terracycle. No mention of selling platforms such as eBay, Gumtree or Buy, Swap & Sell (BSS) pages on Facebook or its marketplace. No mention of repair cafes or working mens’ sheds. Other charities that collect books and clothes for those less fortunate such as Fit for Work and Refugee homework clubs for example. How about offering hand me down childrens’ clothes to friends or neighbours who have kids? It didn’t even explain the benefits of the opp shop drop off or the garage sale. No tips on what to (or not to) donate or why do it. I get that it’s an international production and it would be hard to cover local opportunities, but even at the broadest level the options just don’t get a mention. The show’s focus is to bag it and get it out of your life. End of.
But many do donate to charity and try to give new homes to old things. However what’s clear is we need to think about how we do this and be more imaginative and put in a bit of an effort. Dumping stuff at an opp shop shifts the problem and responsibility of re-homing your stuff nicely. Donating boot loads to the opp shop is, frankly, a cop out. A recent chat with an opp shop worker would suggest that, for many, opp shops are a convenient dumping ground providing a dose of clean conscience to boot. “Yes, we donated our dining chairs to charity”. Tick. The fact the dining room chairs had a couple of broken legs and ripped upholstery is ignored. It’s been donated to charity because “Someone will make use of them”. But these charities cannot sell damaged, worn out, incomplete or broken products. This legitimising behavior is a bit like the litterer who neatly folds a chip packet and rams it in a crevice in a wall. “It isn’t littering because it’s been placed.” Your mind is excellent at providing you with excuses you want to hear. It’s about time we stopped listening to the internal excuse mechanism and really became responsible about how we re-home our items. Sustainability Victoria have written an article on ways to move on your items responsibly . This can be found here. It’s a good start.
As well as the issues listed above, opp shops can’t sell the items you donate if there isn’t a demand for them. There is a massive disparity between the number of people who donate items to these organisations set against the number of people who use them to purchase items. I’ve been to the back of a reasonable sized opp shop. The volume of items in storage out the back was colossal, easily outweighing what was in the shop front by ten. Yes that’s right. For every lamp out the front, there was another 10 out the back. Stacked ceiling high in checked laundry bags, opp shops are becoming nothing more than beautifully organised landfill sites. It’s all very well donating your unwanted items to charity, but unless you are prepared to buy second hand and increase the demand for such products you’re not truly being part of the solution. That someone who will make use of them, needs to be you.
Rethinking if and how we buy.
What the “Tidying Up” series fails to do is challenge our addiction to buying stuff. Yes the candidates have just cleared out their home and made it all organised, streamline and stress free. But there’s no discussion around how to keep the status quo in their new found home and stop the build up of excessive belongings from happening again.
Other bloggers and writers have coined her phrase and suggested that consumers need to “find the joy” in an item before purchasing it in an effort to curb consumption. I’ve written several blogs based around making good purchasing decisions HERE and HERE, as well as a blog on the need to instill these skills into our children HERE. I don’t want to discuss the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’. Or the process you should go through and the questions you should ask yourself when you are considering buying an item because these and other topics are discussed in these blogs. In this blog I want to highlight how “finding the joy” in purchases isn’t the way forward.
Beside the obvious issue of it being second hand and thus owned by someone else before, there are a few more reasons why people struggle to buy items from second hand sources. A lot of it is to do with how we’ve become conditioned to buying items and how we are effected by marketing and styling. And to show you what I mean I present you with two lovely large French provincial glass jars with porcelain lids and a cute chicken shaped handle. Use your imagination….
Now I saw these jars for sale in an opp shop for $4 each. The sort of item you would see at a french provincial home-ware store costing $40 - $50 retail. The difference between the two, other than the price, is their surroundings and marketing budget.
The opp shop second hand jar is lost in a treasure trove of mix and match items, some nice, some tacky, some dull but all second hand. You have to be able to really imagine the potential of that item in your home. You have no help to do this. There’s no matching or complimentary items to back it up or complete the look. You haven’t seen the item styled and staged in store, in a magazine or in an advert. It’s having to spruke itself 100% and is relying on you to see its potential and not be bothered that it comes in a set of two rather than the ideal three.
The brand, spanking new jar is fully supported with a team of marketeers, and is preened, styled, tweeked to make you really really ‘want’ it. Really badly. In fact you ‘need’ it. Subliminal messages start arriving in your brain as you pick up and touch the item “take me home and your home will look like this!” You love what they are showing you. The styled vignette, the calm organised homey images, the cute tag and beautiful box its comes in. Deal done. The truth is, as soon as you take the singular (or few) items out of its carefully choreographed retail setting into your own home, it looks lost. With it’s lack of presence comes your disappointment as your home doesn’t look anything like you imagined it would with the new addition. But marketing has shown you the solution, you clearly need to buy more pieces from the collection to create that look you’re after. So off you go again….
This is how we end up buying more ‘stuff’ than we need. We search for joy in items, when often this joy doesn’t even last the duration of the shopping trip. Once again being part of the solution requires a little bit more imagination and effort and doing things differently. And as Kondo has helped us all realise we can all learn new tricks when we want to.
Take Ebay for example. We seem to be getting increasingly comfortable with this third option in acquiring said French Provincial Jar. Generally it goes like this. You see said jar in the shop, scoff at the price and leap on Ebay to source it, possibly second hand, but more likely cheapily from China. You press “Buy Now” and its yours. Well it will be once its arrived. Ignoring the ramification of that action, what it does show is that we are very capable of making changes when it suits us. We can do things differently.
The two issues I have with the show are linked. They’re linked because consuming is a cycle. It’s a cycle in which we have no appreciation of the beginning or the end, even though we are the middle. We don’t see the amount of resources it takes to make an item and we don’t see where these resources go once we have finished with them. But we can no longer ignore what we don’t see. We need to start to question why we are trapped in the consuming cycle when the vast majority of the resources within it are on a one way trip. It’s happening and we’re all a part of it.
You can take this cycle philosophy into your home. Think of your home as a step in this cycle with an finite amount of space. That’s F.I.N.I.T.E. not infinite! Once you’ve tidied and de-cluttered and agreed what that volume is, then adopt a ‘one in one’ out policy. My friend who has the most lovely, cosy, organised, friendly family home has this one in one out policy. If her one of her children want to buy a new toy, then they need to donate one to charity. If she wants to buy a new top, then she need to find a new home for another one. You can apply it to practically anything. When you have to give up something to get something new it create a means in assessing your need. We have to be shifting the focus away from WANTS to NEEDS. Harsh? Brutal? Possibly. But I truly believe we’re arriving at a point where we no longer have a choice.