Sat on my bed, looking at the floor, I am disgusted with myself. My bedroom is what my mother would describe as a 'pigsty', with clothes, makeup, half-read books and chargers for phones long dropped down toilets strewn across the carpet. I’m not dirty – the knickers are all fresh from the washing machine and I’m militant about washing up plates once I've eaten – but I am, without a doubt, untidy. Some would say that’s a symptom of my laziness; I would argue quite the opposite: I’m far too busy to concern myself with something so trivial as putting things in drawers. And what am I busy doing? Watching Netflix, obviously. More specifically, I’m watching Marie Kondo tidy other people’s houses.
We’re a generation of Netflix-bingers, watching other people be better, do better and, well, live better than us.
The irony is almost too much to bear. While I watch Kondo burst with delight at the chance to teach someone how to fold a tie, I’m horizontal in my pyjamas at 11am on a Saturday, and – depending how much I drank last night – most likely have a Deliveroo on the way. Across the country, if not the world, others are playing out the exact same scenario, their flats in various states of disarray while the scenes on their screens become more and more spotless. We’re a generation of Netflix-bingers, watching other people be better, do better and, well, live better than us. It’s enough to make you cancel your subscription – except we don’t.
Netflix doesn’t release viewing figures for all its shows, but if Twitter’s reaction is a good litmus test – and it usually is – then millions of us have seen Kondo rearrange books and enthuse over a misplaced sock. She is an extension of our society’s obsession with wellness and self-care and when it comes to the telly, she is by no means alone. Sticking with Netflix, Queer Eye’s Fab Five are all missionaries of the self-improvement crusade, each bringing their own expertise to those in desperate need of a little 'zhuzz', whether your hair is long overdue a trim, your cooking skills don’t extend beyond pasta or, like me, your house needs an overhaul. They’re here not only to help the hapless men (and one woman, shout out to Tammye) but also to inspire us, the viewers.
Joining them soon will be none other than Gwyneth Paltrow, when her wellness brand Goop makes its television debut on the same streaming platform. It doesn’t even have a name yet, but according to Variety, Goop The TV Show will take the form of 30-minute episodes examining "issues relating to physical and spiritual wellness". For many, Goop’s increasing influence in pseudoscience and frankly dangerous products are more than enough already, and they would rather not have Paltrow beamed into their own living room. I tend to agree with them, but also know that I will most likely end a lazy day on the sofa wondering whether I do need to steam my vagina after bingeing the whole lot in one go. (Note: You really, really don’t need to steam your vagina.)
When you’re lying in bed, crying over your fourth viewing of the Tom and Abby reunion from the very first episode of Queer Eye’s reboot or marvelling over the way Kondo folds baby clothes (vertically, because they’re so small), you don’t even realize how the programme is supposed to affect you. For all my hours of watching the love of my life, Antoni Porowski recoil at the sight of someone’s empty fridge, my own has never contained more than wine and a bag of sad spinach. Which begs the question: Why are we all so on board with self-care on TV, but reluctant to actually practise what Kondo and the Queer Eye boys are teaching us?
Why are we all so on board with self-care on TV, but reluctant to actually practise what Kondo and the Queer Eye boys are teaching us?
Perhaps it is because we are grossly misled about what self-care actually is or can be. Mental health charity Mind defines the act of self-care as anything from practising mindfulness to working on your relationships, to spending time outside in nature. There’s no arguing that four hours of Netflix on a Sunday afternoon can equal the bounty of vitamin D and serotonin even a lick of sunlight can offer, so I’m happy to concede on that one.
Mindfulness, however? Yes, watching Marie Kondo makes me feel mindful. I know, now I’m the one who sounds like a Goop editor, but I’m standing by it. Watching Kondo help a widow rearrange her house to get rid of, but still remember, her late husband’s possessions is a humbling experience, and one that the meme-makers refuse to recognize. As with Queer Eye, this isn’t about folding pillowcases or getting rid of books, it’s about people and the curveballs of crap life throws at them. Maybe that isn’t mindfulness in the meditative sense of the word, but I am personally more aware of my thoughts while watching and, probably most crucially, none of them is about my own messy bedroom.
Does wellness TV designed to inspire us belong on platforms that lock us to our sofas, defying the very lessons Kondo is so excited to teach us? Netflix, iPlayer and the like want us to stay inside. They make it easy to watch episode after episode without lifting a finger, only asking us (somewhat sarcastically) if we want to continue watching after we’ve already consumed six episodes. Yes, we do want to continue watching…mainly because the alternative is tidying the house.