I have all Marie Kondo’s books. Somewhere. Alas, while I yield to no one in my adoration of the bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and creator of the KonMari method of decluttering, I have not yet got round to implementing all – or indeed a single one – of her strictures and so cannot lay my hands on them. It matters not. Marie knows what is in my heart and that I will start one day. Or intend to. Or, at least, I would like to.
Such is the key to the organisational guru’s success (over 10m books sold, a popular homeware line, massive cultural penetration round the world, a hit makeover show in 2019); her method and her brand hit the sweet psychological spot of blending practicality, aspiration and nonjudgmental kindness. Her first Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, reinforced it all. She was so tiny, so neat, so disciplined yet understanding – she was the method made flesh. She could have talked you into a burning car, never mind storing T-shirts vertically in colour order.
Now she is back with a new series on Netflix – Sparking Joy With Marie Kondo, named after her second bestseller. This was like the first bestseller but with added pictures, and we all bought it because we will buy anything that brings us closer to our god. (Ditto Joy at Work, which is somewhere on my desk but I cannot find it).
Sparking Joy has followed the principle of the book by not messing with the original TV formula. This time, instead of homes, Marie (accompanied again by her Japanese translator Marie Iida) goes into businesses and sorts them out – and their owners – stage by calm, thorough, satisfying stage. She creates order out of chaos, efficiency out of inefficiency, instituting systems, eliminating redundancies and giving us all a glimpse of a better, brighter life the other side of 42 bin bags of crap.
The first episode is one of the most charming. Logan’s Garden is a plant nursery in Los Angeles run by Jimmy, who has been gardening since he was four under the aegis of his grandmother, and his 35-year-old son, Logan, who has been gardening since he was 16 but into whose hands Jimmy is still reluctant to pass the business.
Like any small business built up over years, its workings are piecemeal. Jimmy has a mental map of where everything is, but nobody else does and so work gets done despite the disorganisation rather than riding smoothly along the rails Marie knows she can lay down. In she comes, in delicate neutrals (I want her wardrobe as well as her face, hair, body, serene disposition and core of steel), to thank the family and honour the place she is about to set to rights. Then she starts to usher them through the process of sifting through the detritus of years. Going by category (seeds, tools, stationery and so on), anything that doesn’t “spark joy” must be thanked for its service – Kondo worked for three years as a Shinto shrine maiden and a mild animism suffuses her outlook – and binned. Anything that does spark joy can be kept. In a slight work-around, this includes all items that make you happy by performing a valuable service – so Jimmy and Logan don’t have to chuck every plant pot that doesn’t make them fibrillate with delight. Think of it as a Shinto-inflected version of the William Morris dictum: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
In the process of her process, the family (father and son are joined by their daughter/sister Porter) start to bond over their hopes for the business, each other and the lack of time they have made to get together. The dynamic changes – not dramatically, but touchingly and without straining credulity.
The main narrative is interspersed with little scenes of Kondo family life and bits where she sits at a very tidy desk or side table and makes it even tidier, while advice captions like “List the day’s activities and schedule them accordingly” fade in and out.
Everything is soothing and hopeful in Kondo world and I will move there some day. For now I must away and “Set aside time for things that spark joy” in my day. It will not be Marie’s “Slowly sip some tea and play with my children”, but she does say that joy is individual and the MangLu method is clear that gin is a system all of its own.