Why the Konmari Netflix show 'Tidying Up' is setting people up to fail

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Marie Kondo changed the game when it comes to de-cluttering and home organisation. It was reading her book “The life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” in 2014 (together with watching The Minimalist’s TED Talk and The Story of Stuff) that started me on my path to becoming a Professional Organiser (PO). Her blend of Japanese philosophy and experience gave her the ability to develop a system which cut through with clear ideas and actions anyone could perform for peaceful relief from their excess stuff. And although with my own training and experience I choose not to use her method with my clients, her philosophies serve as a beautiful foundation for which I am deeply grateful.

So when I heard that Marie had her own Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”, I was of course both excited and curious to see her beyond the book, doing the work with real people in their homes; to see her manner, her interactions, and of course how she guides and supports her clients through the challenges of the de-cluttering and organisation process. She is after all a leader in our field, and helping to shine a light both on the common clutter and disorganisation challenges in everyday homes and showcasing how truly powerful and healing it is working with a Professional Organiser.

So it is with great pain that I say I did not love the show, and was left not only underwhelmed but may have yelled at the TV a few times during the first two episodes (I couldn’t bring myself to watch any more).

Some of these issues I will put down to editing, as I imagine that a lot of the work Marie did with her clients either weren’t filmed or were cut for the sake of fitting it into the time slot. Never the less, the lack of ‘behind the scenes’ content means that viewers are being given a significantly false impression of what doing deep declutter and organisation work is really like.

Based on my viewing of Episodes 1 & 2 here is why I think the show sets viewers up to fail:

  • Unclear goals and understanding of the client needs and challenges. Whilst of course every client working with a Professional Organiser wants to ‘get more organised’, success looks and feels different to different people, depending on their life circumstances. We don’t see Marie work with the client to set goals first or seek to understand what success will look like to them, nor what they have tried already or how they think about things. So she is unable to steer them with clarity to their best personalised outcome nor change tactics or use techniques tailored to them, using instead a stock standard process. The viewers don’t get to see the importance of goal setting, planning or thinking about the bigger picture.

  • Marie takes a tour of the home, has a quick chat, bows, tells them to pull all their clothes out and then leaves them to it. Instead of being there with them throughout the de-clutter process to provide structure and guidance, to help them to process their thoughts and feelings, and deal with often big emotions, she leaves them on their own. This means that the best potential outcome for these clients will not be met, because their support is completely missing. It’s like working with a Personal Trainer - you always get better results with you have an experienced professional working by your side, holding you to your goals, helping you through the challenges and sharing best practice skills & knowledge. The viewers think that it is normal for a Professional Organiser to leave them when they need them the most.

  • Items were de-cluttered in place amongst the chaos. It’s nearly impossible to de-clutter a category while it is on top of or surrounded by similar objects in it’s usual room of storage. For best results, it’s better to have a designated sorting area like the dining table which has been cleared and is ready to take the category being sorted. Otherwise you’re trying to process too much visual noise while making many decisions. Viewers won’t know to create a designated sorting area free from visual noise or distraction.

  • Clients were having to guess at the best storage and organisation solutions. Because Marie was not present during the actual de-cluttering, sorting and storing portions of the work, she wasn’t able to impart her years of experience on how to best to organise and store items; meaning clients were having to guess at how to put their ‘keep’ things away. Viewers only got a glimpse of Marie discussing best practice on how to organise and store things effectively.

  • Missed opportunities for better use of space. When I saw that Dad in Episode 1 was keeping his clothes in the Playroom closet because Mum was using both closets in the Master Bedroom, I knew that with a proper de-clutter and optimisation of their stuff and space, he could return his clothes to his bedroom - yay! So I was really surprised that not only did Mum not shrink her clothing collection adequately to fit the space, but that Marie celebrated Dad’s ‘after’ efforts of his clothes returned - although more neatly - to the Playroom closet. This wasn’t a real win in my opinion; merely stage 1 with more work to be done. Viewers are not introduced to the concept that they need to refine & curate their things to fit the space they have; and not to expand the space they have to fit their things.

  • It doesn’t show the number of hours it takes to do a full house de-clutter. Whilst I understand that the recordings are edited down to fit into the time slot, it deeply misrepresents how many hours it takes to do each category and room; and is setting inspired viewers up to fail because they will have misguided expectations on what they can achieve on their own in a small time frame. Viewers don’t really see what they’re getting into and are likely to experience disappointment if they don’t get the same results (or better) quickly and easily.

  • It doesn’t show the emotional and mental fatigue of de-cluttering. Decision making is hard and Decision Fatigue is a real thing that often affects us daily without us knowing it. These clients appear to be only mildly challenged by deciding what stays or goes - even the woman with the piles of clothes up to the roof in Episode 2 that Marie says is the largest she has ever seen. Yet I know from experience that she would have worked many hours and been challenged mentally and emotionally many times to get through that pile, and had to do it all alone. Viewers miss out on seeing that struggle normalised.

  • They don’t delve beyond the surface. Clutter is often a symptom of a bigger problem. As Professional Organisers we are not in a position to diagnose any mental health or relationship issues but are fully aware of how they often play a role in clutter and disorganisation and may need to suggest a client seek medical support. This is given a wide birth with no recognition or discussion of why they clutter is there to begin with, what it’s hiding or numbing or how its actually serving the client. Nor are there any strategies provided to change behaviours and prevent them from backsliding to where they started in a few years time. The viewer doesn’t get to see mental health and relationship challenges as they relate to clutter normalised and de-stigmatised.

I think that for visual learners who are highly motivated and self-driven, this is a great show to spark enthusiasm and help people get the ball rolling. But for many more people I’m concerned that it is a misrepresentation of the work, ultimately setting people up to fail.

If you need professional guidance to tackle your clutter, manage decision fatigue, and use best practice for getting organised, Professional Organisers around Australia, NZ and further afield can be found via the Institute Of Professional Organiser’s website www.iopo.com.au. If you’re in Gippsland, you can reach out to me for a free phone consultation here.