Julian Saunders on the quietly absolutist Marie Kondo.
What I think a lot of people don’t understand is that Marie Kondo’s book isn’t just about tidying up. It’s a whole philosophy and way of life. I didn’t think it was a big deal either but as I read her book, I really found myself thinking about the way my environment affects my life, health and happiness. By clearing out your environment and all the clutter and negative energies attached to that clutter, you allow yourself to bring things to your life that spark joy.
Try Googling ‘Marie Kondo’ and you will get a glimpse of the ‘Marie Kondo’ effect. She inspires many a comment just like the one above. She has found a fresh angle on one of the perennial questions of humanity – how to find calm and happiness amidst all the noise, hubbub and pressures of modern life. I am not sure if this is an entirely new problem but we like to think it is, what with social media, globalisation, Trump, climate change, not to mention ‘the black swans’; the unknown-unknowns just around the corner.
Anyway, we feel that we cannot control these things – and we are probably right. But we can dominate our immediate environment and more specifically, the rooms we live in. That sense of control satisfies a deep need not to be unmoored and merely tossed hither and thither by events and all the other people in our lives to whose tune we must dance.
But there is something else that provides deep emotional satisfaction. At the risk of sounding very pretentious, it is the process of making order out of chaos.
A word of explanation: I spent much of the 1980s studying the cleaning habits of European women for Unilever (I worked on the ads for CIF). At the end of the TV ads, there was a shot where the woman (it was always a woman in the 1980s) stands back and the camera sweeps round to appreciate the glorious shiny end result of her cleaning. It is an Olympian moment of triumph for mum. She has restored the order that is continually undermined by the mess of family life. Unlike King Canute, she has held back the tide. She can now skip off for a coffee with friends, guilt-free and with a lighter step.
That Google search also reveals something else – Marie Kondo is no amateur YouTuber who has just struck lucky. No. She is ‘multiplatform’ with four books to her name and a great PR profile in the new media (like YouTube/Netflix) and the traditional media (like CNN and The South China Morning Post). That takes dedication, funds and a professional approach. Marie Kondo is not just Marie Kondo – she has a team behind her. She partners with celebs and turns up on YouTuber channels. None of this is accidental.
She is also quietly absolutist in her light and lilting Japanese.
When helping Katie Couric – a high profile American journalist – to declutter, she says, “that should be your goal. To discard everything.” It is a tough-minded philosophy that leaves you feeling lighter and liberated.
With her words ringing in my ears, I am thinking of tackling the mayhem that is my son’s bedroom with the sediment of over a decade of abandoned socks, amongst other things.
On second thoughts, I am not sure I have the courage.
I wish Marie would come round to help out. She is bound to be both quietly charming and steely-minded.
And if I was a celeb, she would probably turn up.
Julian Saunders was CEO of Red Cell, Head of Strategy at McCann-Erickson, Planning Director at Ogilvy and worked in an innovation team at Google.