Critics Say KonMari Is Wasteful. So Where’s The Outrage About The Home Edit’s Conspicuous Consumption?
Cleaning and organizing offers a kind of catharsis. Given that we’re all feeling a bit tightly wound these days, it makes sense that we also seemingly can’t get enough of content that promises to help us figure out how to truly, finally do it right. The desire to be organized has spawned countless books, magazine articles, and companies, but few have risen to the status of Marie Kondo’s KonMari method or The Home Edit, helmed by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin. Both Kondo and the women behind The Home Edit (or THE, as it’s often short-handed by its creators and fans) have followed a similar trajectory, namely home organizing businesses that were so popular they led to books and, later, Netflix series. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo came first in 2019 while Get Organized with The Home Edit debuted this year. The fact that the show titles scan similarly is not a coincidence: In a New York Times article about the release of Get Organized, a Netflix executive noted the show would attempt to “bookend what was started with Marie Kondo.”
But while the two brands may speak to the same urge within us, their philosophies could not be more different. Marie Kondo’s mega-bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has caused much consternation and eye-rolling, even as it elevated its creator to something of a household name. While the short book manages to pack in a lot of very specific rules, like the order in which we should declutter (by category, not location) and how to fold socks, the heart of the method is only keeping that which “sparks joy.” But Kondo is also a realist: She acknowledges things we don’t love, like toilet bowl cleaner and insurance cards, also need to be kept, and she assumes readers are smart enough to figure out the distinction. But that hasn’t kept critics from calling her method kooky or claiming her goal is a sterile home devoid of personality. Indeed, the grumpy responses to KonMari have come in waves. There was the initial backlash when The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was first released in English, then the fracas after the debut of her Netflix show. Even the opening of a small web store last year led to a “gotcha” moment where critics gleefully pointed out that the woman who wanted you to simplify your life… wanted to sell you (simply made, beautiful) things.
I first read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2014, and, as you might have already guessed, feel a deep appreciation for the book. I know it isn’t perfect. References to donating and recycling often feel like an after-thought, and the KonMari method can lead to massive amounts of waste at the outset, as well as optimistically donated items that are still ultimately destined for a landfill. But Kondo can hardly be held responsible for creating modern consumer culture. Much of what you will likely toss during her process was probably already trash: torn clothes, papers that should be shredded rather than hidden away, or expired beauty products. Not to sound glib, but isn’t holding onto these unused and unnecessary things simply delaying their eventual trip to a landfill? Kondo’s method also discourages future mindless purchasing: Once your house is full of things that spark joy, you are instructed to be extra vigilant about future purchases. I can’t claim perfect adherence to her rules, but I do find myself shopping more mindfully and being less tempted towards impulse buys that will go unworn or unused. In other words, KonMari results in a lot of trash in the beginning but could actually reduce future trash overall.
The same cannot be said for The Home Edit’s methods. If KonMari can be summed up as “sparking joy,” The Home Edit only needs one word: product. The word is mentioned often on their Netflix show, as Shearer and Teplin fret over closets, basements, and TV rooms. The products in question include clear plastic bins, shelf dividers, bag shapers, lazy susans, shelving systems, and bins that go inside of other bins. The Home Edit has rules about decluttering, sure, but that is not what their empire is built on. Rather, the appeal is immaculate, often rainbow-ordered rows of things, displayed in and on product, product, and yet more product.
This works great if you have the space and disposable income to ROYGBV your pantry or playroom. Not coincidentally, many of THE’s clients are celebrities, and a few of them appear on the show, willing to fork over mostly-empty closets or garages the size of small apartments to the pair’s organizing whims. Kondo’s system espouses the benefit of a few well-placed bins or baskets. The Home Edit, on the other hand, practically demands them, and preferably from the Container Store, where Teplin and Shearer now sell everything from plastic egg containers to divided turntables to labels based on their handwriting, via an exclusive collaboration with the store. In nearly every episode of the show, an assistant will pull up in an SUV teeming with bags from the Container Store. If Kondo may produce trash from the disposal of existing possessions, The Home Edit is asking us to parade more future landfill waste into our homes.
Then there’s the question about how easy it all is to maintain. I am sure there are fastidiously neat people out there who, once their pens are rainbow-fied and shirts stacked in free-standing piles, will maintain it. But it’s not a stretch to say that, for many of us, these systems will quickly fall apart. The party line from the Home Edit is the system is set up so that won’t happen. It’s so beautiful, you’ll maintain it! But when they revealed to a hard-working doctor her closet makeover, I looked at the stack of sweaters precariously piled as if in a store display and thought, will she though?
It’s easy to point out that wealth makes The Home Edit’s systems implementable, and that lack thereof makes them more difficult, if not practically impossible. And, after all, if you have the space, why not have a Costco’s worth of snacks and cleaning supplies neatly arrayed in a rainbow? But while watching the show, I also thought about the wealth required to keep it up. In each celebrity’s nearly immaculate home, I thought of the unseen labor that will be required to keep it that way: the paid nannies, housekeepers, chefs, and assistants who will be tasked with maintaining it. Their organization systems also seem to resist any addition or subtraction of possessions. In Khloe Kardashian’s episode, they joked that she couldn’t release any more jeans because her display of products she’s created solo and with her sisters was already filled. Rachel Zoe’s appearance on the show was to fix a closet they had already been paid to organize.
When I saw the previews for Get Organized, I wondered briefly if The Home Edit would be put on trial again and again in various think-pieces the way KonMari has been over the years. And by “briefly,” I mean for about half a second. Because I knew, of course not. While two white women can get a pass to run an absurdist home organization company, a Japanese woman offering her own quiet solution to clutter and chaos is met with disdain. That racism plays a role in our reaction to Kondo has been pointed out for years, but two events in the past year brought more attention to it. The vitriol around the online store in late 2019 led to a crop of articles pointing out the level of scrutiny and criticism Kondo is placed under. Then, in the spring, still fixated on the online store, cookbook author Alison Roman infamously mocked it as the move of a sell-out, nevermind the fact that Roman herself was promoting a line of kitchen products at the time. (Roman has since apologized for the comment.)
Aside from the general xenophobia, many articles that came out following the debut of Kondo’s Netflix show also dove into the ways in which her approach — influenced by her Shinto faith — run so counter to so-called “American” ways of doing things. The way Kondo talks about objects certainly feels unfamiliar to us. In KonMari, books are tapped to be woken up, the house is paid gratitude to, clothes are thanked for their service before being disposed of. But if Kondo’s method elevates objects in a uniquely Japanese way, allowing us to consider and value them, The Home Edit elevates objects in a uniquely American way: by putting them on display. Here, of course, is where the product is necessary. Our many things, from Clorox wipes to designer purses, go on display. Their closets and drawers and pantries become their own sort of shrine to consumption.
By asking us to radically reconsider our possessions, Kondo is actually giving us a gift: The ability to choose, in a clear-headed manner, what we actually want to fill our homes with. It puts us fully in charge. The Home Edit’s method, on the other hand, just further ties us to our things, and even gives us more things to be tied to.
When Tidying Up was released on Netflix, I only watched part of the first episode. Since I was already familiar with the KonMari method, I didn’t feel like I was learning much. (Emotional makeover shows are also not something I enjoy — I white-knuckled it through one episode of Queer Eye before feeling too uncomfortable to continue.) But after watching several episodes of Get Organized back to back, I needed a palette cleanser and decided to give it another go. Both shows feature the stock ‘before and after’ shots popular in every kind of makeover show. But after the bright, hyper-organized spaces of The Home Edit, Tidying Up’s actually felt a bit drab at first. Yes, there was less stuff, but the spaces felt like the same uncool suburban homes that they were before. It made me think of my own house. If you were to stop by (or, I guess, get a tour on Zoom), I doubt you’d say that it's particularly clean. There's a sink full of dishes, shoes under my desk and bed, and piles of unfolded clothes (both clean and dirty) are regular fixtures. The difference for me, at this point, feels internal. Cleaning up, whether it’s a dirty kitchen or a pile of important papers, feels, for the most part, effortless. I am freed from the anxiety of wanting to hold onto everything. I appreciate my home more as I look around at the things I have chosen, carefully and intentionally, for it. There isn’t a big, sexy “after” reveal, or even a moment of catharsis. But finding out I no longer need that, as it turns out, is its own kind of release.