Marie Kondo has, once again, taken over the internet. The Japanese decluttering specialist and best-selling author of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" is experiencing a second wave of popularity in the US thanks to her Netflix show, "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo." If the streaming leader's self-reported numbers for its biggest hits are to be believed, then there's a very good chance that Kondo's infectious positivity, thoughtful animism and A+ folding tutorials have already reached more people through Netflix than her best-sellers did in just two weeks. I have watched all of Kondo's show, but when it comes to what I hope will inform my relationship to my possessions in 2019, I am considerably more obsessed with a different Japanese import focused on all the junk that surrounds us: 2004's "Katamari Damacy," created by Keita Takahashi.
Last month, Namco reissued "Katamari Damacy" for the Nintendo Switch. I picked up the game for the first time over the holidays (I never owned a PlayStation 2, the original system it came out for), and when "Tidying Up" hit Netflix on New Year's Day my brain made the leap between Kondo's trademarked method and the Katamari series' signature "roll junk up into a massive ball" gameplay.of course, they did.Boom: Katamari KonMari, a bit of wordplay surely ripe for a few likes on Twitter. Then again, being extremely late to both Marie Kondo and the Katamari series, I did a quick search to see if others beat me to the joke and,
This is not a gag article, mind you; I am not going to frivolously extol the benefits of tidying your home by smushing all your things into an unwieldy ball. There's a lot more to "Katamari Damacy" than its gameplay mechanics, story, delightful soundtrack and bright, blocky visuals. "Katamari Damacy" and "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" both have philosophies about the multitudinous things that we surround ourselves with, and when examining those ideas you see that the contrast between the two goes a lot deeper than "messy ball" versus "minimalist aesthetic."
First, let's get into what's up with "Tidying Up." The eight half-hour episodes of the show are an attempt to mesh the KonMari method with Netflix's line of amiable, advice-peppered reality television. In each episode, Kondo meets with some Los Angeles residents — usually a couple, often with young kids, always homeowners — who feel like the clutter in their homes is negatively affecting their lives. After getting a tour of the house, Kondo walks the participants through the steps of KonMari; since these people enthusiastically volunteered, they usually nod along with Kondo's advice to keep only what "sparks joy" in their life and toss or donate the rest. The volume of stuff in these homes is never life-threatening, or even all that everyday lifestyle-threatening; Kondo is not there to judge the situation and the audience is not granted an opportunity to gawk, "Hoarders"-style, at an overflowing sea of junk. Kondo checks in with the participants' progress week after week, and a little over a month later they're all uniformly happier in their relationships and ecstatic about their organized, more harmonious homes.
On its surface, "Katamari Damacy" is about the pursuit of a different kind of harmony. The story the game provides to justify "Katamari's" unusual gameplay is appropriately goofy: The King of All Cosmos, our universe's stylish and irresponsible monarch, accidentally destroys all the stars in space while on a drunken bender — and now his son, the diminutive green Prince, must roll up objects from Earth into Katamaris so the King can turn them into new stars. As the Prince, you can only roll up things smaller than your Katamari, and you start off incredibly tiny. Over the course of the game, you go from rolling up small trinkets and rubbish in a house to rolling up Katamaris hundreds of meters in diameter, collecting everything up to and beyond entire buildings and landmasses.
Both Marie Kondo and Keita Takahashi set out to buck the trends they saw in their respective fields. In "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying," Kondo tosses out most of the conventional wisdom surrounding home organization, especially anything advocating for drawn-out tidying and complicated storage techniques. "Katamari Damacy" was Takahashi's response to the stagnation he saw in gaming, opting for accessibility over complexity, humor over violence and originality over popular tropes. It was, as Takahashi put it in a talk, "punk over rock."
Neither figure's success seems to have changed their principles much. Takahashi only agreed to work on a sequel to "Katamari Damacy" because he knew Namco would make one with or without him, and that became his last in the seriesmore "punk" projects. As Kondo's influence has grown, she hasn't really watered down the axioms of her method to reach a bigger audience.before moving on to other,
The Netflix show is giving the KonMari method a renewed cultural moment: people are flocking to used clothing stores with trash bags full of old (and hopefully duly thanked-for-service) clothing, and maybe soon they'll start forming long lines at The Container Store. The popularity of "Tidying Up" has attracted plenty of thoughtful criticism — some think the show's worst sin is being boring, some are skeptical of its too-simple framing — mixed in with some unsubtly close-minded attacks on the elements of KonMari that are more spiritually-rooted than utilitarian in nature. The backlash to KonMari is nothing new , and naturally, both passive dismissal and active disdain for KonMari grow in step with the ascent of Kondo's brand.
While I could criticize the pricey road to becoming a certified KonMari consultant or the slow proliferation of KonMari-branded accessories, I'm no more interested in ripping apart the Marie Kondo lifestyle brand than I am in dissecting any branding enterprise (hey, get this, they're all bad). The KonMari method has certainly helped some people achieve a happier life, so I'm not inclined to write it off. Besides, anyone who can give a simple and effective tutorial for folding fitted sheets should be eligible for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The big issue I have is that "Tidying Up" sells Kondo's method short by going too far in "tidying up" peoples' journeys through her process and their results. I think BuzzFeed's Alison Willmore is right to say that, in the show, Kondo "keeps to the more easygoing territory of having the right kind of stuff in the right place, which isn't the same thing as making do with less." This limited scope, Willmore argues, is certainly not enough of a "fix" for the participants' various relationship stressors, which are surfaced sparingly in the show despite being the most likely reason behind these people's struggles with clutter:
It's about having everything you really need to pursue what Kondo refers to several times as "your ideal life." And that term really highlights the limits of tidying up, because it doesn't make room for the idea that a mess can be a symptom of the greater issues affecting someone's life, rather than just the cause of them.
Again, I think this criticism is spot-on for the show, though not as applicable to Kondo's book; where she has space to thoughtfully address the relationship between, well, our relationships and how we tend to accumulate stuff (quote, Chapter One, "Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder") Occasionally the show's editors include clips of arguments taking place between Kondo's visits that you know might touch on something deeper than the clutter at hand, but more time is devoted to straightforward solutions instead of external causes — with one exception worth revisiting later on. Unlike some shows in the home makeover genre, "Tidying Up" doesn't check in with its participants after some time has passed. At least when it comes to keeping their homes tidy, we're supposed to believe every KonMari follower really will "banish clutter forever," just as Kondo's book promises.
Ultimately, because "Tidying Up" timidly avoids the personal causes for clutter at almost every turn, it severely downplays the major root cause of all the messes: the way unsustainable consumption is ingrained into modern society. I'm not as interested in a follow-up to see if participants back slide on staying tidy or not; I want to know how they're really thinking about what they consume afterwards.
On the flip side, unchecked consumption is core to "Katamari Damacy." The act of combining everything you see into one Katamari encourages you to shed any illusion that these objects bear no systemic relationship to one another. It could have easily taken the myriad single-use objects and the large cargo ships and factories you roll up later on out of its game world, but it doesn't. "Katamari Damacy" unambiguously wants the player to observe the mechanisms and scale of the consumption that modern life perpetuates. Takahashi has straight-up said the game is "about the consumption society," though you don't need his word for the interpretation to stand.
"Katamari Damacy" makes the player confront a profoundly absurd system that fills our world with stuff, one that's driving us to the brink of total environmental disaster, and then responds to that absurdity with absurdity of its own. Everything in the game — the jumbled Katamaris, the hilarious item descriptions and the King of All Cosmos' favorite, massive understatement ("My, Earth really is full of things!" ) — puts a silly face on an upsetting reality. In the real world, our junk can't be repurposed for populating the night sky, so why do we have so much?
In the Willmore quote above and in some other appraisals of Kondo's work, there's a line of response to KonMari that casts the method's focus on having the right things in your home, as opposed to strictly less things, as a concession to wasteful consumption. I think that's not quite accurate, and comparable to saying the end-of-level transformation in "Katamari Damacy" from junk-riddled Katamari to star in space is an endorsement of the same. The KonMari method isn't wholly incompatible with being less wasteful, but in service of getting people to actually follow through on tidying it doesn't make that mindfulness intrinsic to the method. Kondo encourages us to imbue personality into all our belongings, but as soon as we've thanked what's leaving our home we are supposed to stop thinking about their impact (quote, Chapter Two, "To throw away what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful"). That's not a concession to rampant consumerism so much as it's a denial.
There is one episode of "Tidying Up" that can only go so far in presenting a too-tidy version of reality. It follows Margie, a recent widow whose personal KonMari journey necessitates sorting through the belongings of her late husband, Rick. Like the rest of the show, the episode leans too heavily on reality TV tropes, but it stands outbecause it presents an existential challenge to Kondo's method. If we're not allowed to tidy and toss our partners' belongings while they're alive, then what should you do when they're gone? Margie can't live with all this stuff or pretend it isn't there.
In Margie's episode the best reason for KonMari-ing our things becomes clear: If we're tidy today, the burden we leave when we're gone will be less intractable. The theme pops up here and there in "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying," too.Taken to an extreme, you could see that as a philosophy that could legitimately help our world, not just our individual homes. Still, Kondo stops short of making that connection, and so instead I volunteer this: The world is our collective Katamari, and no amount of individual tidying will change the fact that our junk's still stuck to this ball here with us. If that's an uncomfortable thought, maybe it can be the push you need to actually make to do with less — and for us all to really banish clutter forever.
The game's name translates literally to "clump soul."
The success of the first game is directly invoked in the plot of the second: the King now has you rolling up Katamaris to make stars only because the fans on Earth want more (the game's Japanese cover is even a photo of fans outside of Namco's offices, holding up signs that form the title).
Taffy Brodesser-Akner spoke to several American professional organizers who were outraged over Kondo's popularity for a 2016 Times piece.
Darius Kazemi wrote a great piece on the ontology of "Katamari Damacy" back in 2012 that touches on this line.
Netflix seems to know this, having let Vulture go behind-the-scenes for Margie's KonMari experience.
Quote, Chapter Five, "There are three approaches we can take towards our possessions. Face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die."