American Consequences - December 2017


“KonMari Method” urged followers to free themselves from the burden of having too much stuff and to embrace new rituals for the stuff they did have (like thanking their socks for their service before folding them and putting them away). Consuming little (and boasting about it on social media) is now a way of signaling one’s virtue. As a result, it’s far more socially acceptable to mock hoarders than it is to confront one’s own acquisitive tendencies. The theme of all these books might be “less is more,” but as Kondo’s experience reveals, there is a lot of money to be made helping others wrangle their Stuff. Kondo now helms an empire that includes spin-off books, online courses, tidying apps, and a certified KonMari Consultant program that trains people in her methods so that they can go out and “organize the world.” (The minimum price for entry to an upcoming two-day seminar in San Francisco is $2,000.) Our era’s enthusiastic commodification of minimalism is one of many ironies that will delight future historians. And Kondo’s army has competition. The explosion of stuff has generated entirely new fields of productive labor such as the professional organizer – the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals has 3,500 members “dedicated to helping people and organizations bring order and efficiency to their lives,” for example. Then there are the employees of organizing-focused businesses such as the Container Store and producers of the proliferating number of reality television

higher education . Our national love affair with stuff has spawned reality television shows with titles such as “Hoarders” and “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” Not everyone is pleased about this. In 1997, PBS stations nationwide aired “ Affluenza ,” a documentary celebrating Americans who had turned their back on excessive consumerism. (The message evidently didn’t catch on everywhere. In 2013, lawyers representing Texas teenager Ethan Couch, who killed four people while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, blamed “affluenza” for his behavior.) Ten years later, we still had too many things. At least that was the argument of “The Story of Stuff,” an animated short film that burgeoned into a movement. “We have a problem with Stuff,” the organization’s website says. (Notice that Stuff must be a menace, it’s capitalized.) “We use too much, too much of it is toxic, and we don’t share it very well.” Acolytes of the anti-Stuff movement praise “zero waste revolutionaries” such as Lauren, described as a “Brooklynite 20-something who fit five years’ worth of trash in a mason jar and recently launched an upscale ‘package free’ shop.” For those of us who still measure their annual waste in landfill acreage, not mason jars, the past decade has provided us with countless best-selling books about how to become more organized and streamlined about our stuff. The undisputed doyenne of de-cluttering is Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant whose combination how-to/self-help manual, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up , became an international phenomenon in 2014. Her trademarked

54 | December 2017

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