A new Netflix show, starring the best-selling Japanese author Marie Kondo has caused quite a bit of controversy lately. Kondo is an organizing consultant with her own method of tidying up called the KonMari method, which states you should only keep those objects that „spark joy” in you, throwing away the rest – but not before thanking them for their service. The method is deeply rooted in Shintoism and the belief that everything, even inanimate objects have some kind of spirit (kami).
These spirits are believed to be able to get a soul after 100 years of service, so every object is treated with utmost respect. This means that even the most mundane objects are cared for in a way most Westerners would find strange and maybe even a bit silly. We would never thank a used phone charger that we don’t need anymore, we would probably just throw it out with the rest of our trash.
Not Kondo, whose way of tidying up can be a daunting task for anyone in the Western world. Finding everything that brings us joy and throwing out the rest is something that is very uncommon in our society. Most of us keep too many things around, and we don’t really want to get rid of them, even if it means there’s a lot of clutter everywhere we look. The KonMari method teaches that people should not hoard too many things, but the things they keep need to be respected and loved, even put to special places in our homes for us to look at.
This in itself can be controversial for Westerners, but the main reason for the backlash against the show was a statement from Kondo about keeping only 30 books or less in a home. Kondo, however, isn’t against books: this was a misunderstanding rooted in ignorance and racism. The Japanese organizer did not say that people should throw away their books or to keep only 30 around, she was talking specifically to someone, to whom books hadn’t caused much joy. If you love books, you can keep as many of them as you want in your home, even if you live by the KonMari method, but the internet has decided she was a book-hating woman even before she could explain herself. Although by now, many people who actually know the culture she was brought up in, are stepping up to defend her.
Shinto is a great – although minimalistic – way of living, which can be a great source of joy for everyone who feels stuck in the world of consumerism and commercialism. Honoring the objects by cleaning and storing them properly might sound strange but is a great way of getting to know yourself and getting to know why you buy the things you buy. It is not for everyone though, so if you like your clutter and chaos (which some of us actually do), then you shouldn’t feel obligated to follow this path.