Tidying Up with Marie Kondo recaps, Episode 1
On January 1st, Netflix released an eight part series based on Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering.
About me: I’m an illustrator and book designer. I share a birthday with Pamela Ribon who used to write recaps for Television Without Pity, so I’m going to try to bring some of that April 4th magic to this recap. I’ll highlight the KonMari tips. Episode 2 is here.
First, let’s greet this page of medium.com.
[peaceful music plays]
Okay, let’s begin…
I don’t really know what to expect from this series, but the opening of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is classic American reality-tv with bouncy music cues and quick cuts of future episodes. We see an overwhelmed woman crying, Marie tripping over a mound of clutter, new parents looking at each other anxiously, and stacks of items crashing down. Then the music becomes more peaceful and we cut to Marie seated in a Netflix studio surrounded by soft pink tones and various natural woods. She is seated in front of a coffee table that we used to have in our home (which we Kondo’d out of here, funnily enough). We face each other over our old coffee table. She keeps succulents, a candle, and, surprisingly, driftwood, on hers. It’s interesting to see her on video as I’ve really just heard her and read her. She’s very pretty and she kind of shimmers when she speaks. Since this establishing shot is of an ideal space, I pause it to look at the items for a sec. We also have pink cushions on our couch and a snake plant in our living room. I feel like a star pupil, although there is a juice stain and a new sharpie scribble on our couch. Behind her are more little clusters of plants and stacked framed abstract images and a blanket. I think this set is designed to communicate that Marie’s not going to go into anyone’s home to make them throw away everything they own.
The message of the intro is accessibility: life may be cluttered and stressful but Marie is here to help and it will be fun. It seems made for viewers who are American, and who are new to Marie Kondo. A big goal seems to be to establish KonMari as a lifestyle brand. There are a lot of testimonials in the intro which makes it feel a little bit like an infomercial. I am interested to see into other people’s homes and how they condense the ideas from the book into episodes. The show has a different vibe than her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (I’ll call it LCM).
Marie quickly describes the KonMari method:
Belongings are divided into 5 categories and organized in the same order each time, which are clothing, books, paper, komono (bathroom, kitchen and other small items), then sentimental items.
A few shots of autumn leaves in the rain and then Marie’s black minivan pulls up to a house in Lakewood. Marie and her translator, Iida, walk toward the house sharing an umbrella. Marie tells Iida that “Big umbrellas are really great.”
Marie and Iida are invited inside and they meet the first family: Rachel, Kevin, Jaxon and Ryan Friend (the Friends). The Friends are overwhelmed and want more time together as a family.
As they explain how they are struggling to make their home feel tidy and relaxed on top of work and kids there’s a montage of the rooms. Their home is quite clean. It’s not a hoarders-style situation, it’s just kind of basic clutter. They seem like they love each other and the kids seem happy and pretty chilled out.
Rachel says that Kevin is cleaner than she is and he mouths “a lot” behind her. Rachel defends herself as “not a super dirty person” but someone who lets laundry pile up. Laundry is a sore point with the Friends. She’s hired someone to do the laundry and Kevin thinks that’s unnecessary. Rachel is on her fourth year of breastfeeding (between two kids) which means she’s spent about 2,332 hours nursing and/or pumping. Since she’s also teaching four days a week it may be that Kevin should fold up his complaints neatly and put them away for awhile. And bring his wife an enormous glass of water. There could be more to it, though. Since I have only know the Friends for one minute. Rachel accuses herself of “wrecking his ship”, meaning his neat lifestyle and he does not disagree. Dun dun DUN!
Marie begins to tour the hellscape of unfolded laundry that Rachel has been subjecting Kevin to. They begin in the children’s room, which is also serving as Kevin’s closet. His closet is neat and not filled to capacity. Hmm. Marie wonders if the kids know how to tidy. They don’t. Kevin suggests that if they can make tidying into a game and do it on a regular basis that would help. Ryan is chilling out on Kevin’s shoulder when he says this. She looks skeptical.
Next: Rachel and Kevin’s room. Rachel has filled up two closets and they are a mess. There is a cut to Kevin in an interview saying, “We fight about laundry. And it seems silly when I say it, but really it pisses me off, like, a lot.” You can tell that it really does. This reminds me of something that Ryan Houlihan from the Outline said about the show, which is that the appeal of the show is that it is made of character studies, where there is a little darkness mixed in with the light. I think the actual words he used were “reflections of horror” but that’s maybe a bit strong. He also said, “There’s such specificity to the spaces in which we live that [these episodes] are a reflection of my own lived experiences,” where you can really see how couples are living in these spaces. I agree. It’s very revealing. I can totally imagine these two really fighting about this in private. It’s uncomfortable. But interesting and relatable. Kevin explains that he knows it’s not fair to ask Rachel to watch the kids, do the dishes, and do the laundry, but he thinks if they got organized they can do it together and not hire someone. That sounds pretty fair. Maybe I was too quick to tidy away his laundry opinions. Rachel looks unhappy. She seems hard on herself, and as the wife, especially, she might be feeling like a failure or embarrassed. I feel kind of bad for her.
Rachel defends herself: she’s home with the kids more and she says it’s chaos. Fighting with your spouse on camera is kind of embarrassing, so they are both trying to stay calm but they are mad. Kevin turns a little bit pink and Rachel starts gesticulating. They are calling each other “Babe” a lot. In season 1 of The Larry Sanders Show, Larry and his wife, Jeannie, are fighting over how much time he spends at work in front of other people (which is their laundry) and they act exactly like this, except they say “Honey” instead of “Babe”. I thought it was kind of bad improv or something, but I owe an apology to Garry Shandling and Megan Gallagher because I guess this is a fighting style I just didn’t know about and it turns out they captured it perfectly!
Hahaha, my son just wandered in and I absentmindedly called him, “Babe,” which I never, ever have said. Ever! I’ve been Friendsed! He didn’t notice (he’s very focused on a yoghurt-related goal) but, he has informed me that Rachel says “like” too much. Well, Californians get some extra complimentary likes, right?
We cut away from the laundry fight, back to touring the house with Marie. This time, the children’s bedroom. They share a bedroom and a playroom instead of each having their own rooms. It’s a cozy arrangement for when they’re little. The kids have bins under their beds for extra storage. The closet is quite messy. There’s a little pair of little teeny tiny sneakers hanging behind the door *sob*. In the closet is a plastic bag with the handles tied in a bow. A popular storage tool. All of a sudden Rachel trips over one of Ryan’s under-the-bed bins, which was sticking out from under the bed. She completely wipes out, securing herself a permanent spot in the opening title sequence. Marie runs over to help and then she trips and falls, too. They both laugh. Kevin yells, “We have too much stuff, it’s official.” After narrowly escaping her own storage system, Rachel tries to finish whatever she was saying, when Ryan toddles into the frame and asks for “Boobies.” Marie askes Iida what is “boobies” and Iida explains she wants to breastfeed. “Oh, oh!” says Marie, laughing, and then Ryan walks over and sits on Marie.
While Ryan is relaxing on Marie, Rachel explains that she teaches Intercultural Communication “a few days a week” and then is home with the kids most of the time. A few days a week of teaching is probably close to full time with grading and class prep, right? Kevin, a sales manage for a restaurant supply company, works 50–60 hours per week “and then sometimes on the weekends”. They feel drained of energy and fight about money and cleaning. So, I think it’s clear what’s going on with the Friends. No one told them life was going to be this way. Their jobs’ a joke. They’re broke. Their love life’s DOA. They’re always stuck in…okay, I’m sorry. I’ve never recapped before. I’m trying. Kevin criticizes himself for not giving his family “the best of himself” and a desaturated clip shows him carrying Jaxon while grumpily complaining to Rachel, who’s carrying Ryan, about her untidyness. It’s implied that he is often kind of cranky.
Which…no wonder. They are working about three jobs between them plus caring for two kids under five. And maybe this is one small issue I have. The book, I read the KonMari as being about acquiring a general life skill and a philosphy about what it means to own things. The way the show is structured, it is presented as a solution to their problem, it’s a stronger self-help angle. Learning how to manage your home is empowering, but here it does reframe a problem that’s bigger than bad habits. If the goal is to obtain a more relaxing lifestyle and to have more time with their kids, then imagine if Rachel had had two of the past four years on maternity leave and Kevin had a 40 hour work week and free weekends. Tidying aside, they would have something like 20–30 hours a week extra to fold laundry. Please don’t misunderstand! A tidying system will help and make things more manageable. I’m cheering them on! But! There is a social problem underlying the unfolded laundry. Run wild in the streets, the Friends! Or downsize a little? TL;DR overwork is an elephant in the room this episode. American parents have a lot to carry, I think.
Even Marie Kondo, the most powerful and loveliest woman on my bookshelf, cannot fix the American social safety net, so, instead she touches Rachel’s arm and reassures her. “I’ll be there for you,” she says. Her exact words are “I completely understand.” She swears that even her house gets messy sometimes (Marie has two babies). They all kind of re-energize as a group and move on with the house tour. This time to kitchen (“American kitchens are so large!”) and then to the living room where Marie greets the home.
Marie chooses a spot next to the coffee table and closes her eyes, kneels and kinds of sweeps her hands over the carpet. Kevin & Rachel close their eyes. They look suspiciously like they taking little one minute naps. The closed captioning says that peaceful music is playing. Kevin enjoys greeting the home and says he wants to “do better by it.” Rachel bursts into tears. She really wants to do better, too.
Back in the bedroom, Marie asks Rachel and Kevin to stack their clothes in (separate) piles and to hold each one to see if it makes them feel like they are holding a puppy or feeling a chiming *Ching* sound inside. Marie gestures a sweeping motion over her heart and we’re into the sparking joy portion of the episode.
For some people, this idea of sparking joy is very irritating. They get really, really mad and have big tweetstorms about it. I’m actually fascinated by how mad people get about it. I think it’s a lack of logical or consistent explanation that makes a certain type of person frustrated. It’s very different than a measurable system like: throw away any clothing item not worn in x amount of months (which is not a good system, imo).
The key is in what Marie says next: you might not know what brings you joy, but this practice hones your ability to recognize it. Brilliant. Designers have to develop a similar kind of snap-decision-making connected to their intuition to produce good work quickly and since I teach design and design students struggle with this, this is what first caught my attention about her. I included her in a recent essay about the form of the book in the 21st Century because she has a unique point of view about design and consumption.
So, for me, the key concept of LCM was strengthening this decision-making ability and learning how to emotionally focus in order to harness that intuition. You prioritize what is working by setting aside unproductive angst. For example, if you bought an expensive outfit in a sale but never wore it, it wasn’t a waste because you learned from buying it that it didn’t really suit you. Or maybe you realize that you spent your money on the “thrill” of the purchase. Without the incentive to justify the purchase by keeping an unwanted item to assuage anxiety or guilt you are able to make an honest assessment, learn a lesson for future purchasing, and move forward. That’s it. A workout for developing decision-making skills. It’s completely brilliant.
I can see here, having never recapped before, that this is going to be a 45-minute read if I don’t speed it up here. So the next bit is Kevin & Rachel sorting through all their clothes. Rachel seems very, very anxious and is biting her nails, hating folding, and, uh, joking that Kevin regrets marrying her. This process is really stressing her out. Kevin is getting A+++s on his folding skills. His old Orange Crush T-shirt that Rachel hates is chiming *Ching! Ching!* and Marie is happy for him. Everything is coming up Kevin until Jaxon tootles over and dumps all of Kevin’s (not-hot) coffee all over himself, sits down, and casually asks for a napkin. Jaxon, which is decluttered for Jackson, is probably relaxed because he’s such a KonMari natural. He’s creating storage spaces in coffee cups with a flick of his wrist. And it’s not easy to spill coffee all over yourself and remain effortlessly charming and handsome the whole time, but Jaxon has it figured out. He’s really sweet. Rachel tries to convince Kevin to keep the leftover hangers from decluttering by arguing that they don’t not spark joy. Kevin misses a perfect chance to yell, “No! Wire! Hangers! EVVVEEER!” Also, stop being such a Monica, Rachel. You know, I feel like she’s really getting the short end of the stick so far, so just as an aside, she has great arms and very shiny, lovely hair and she’s working her bum off. Hang in here, Babe!
New day. Sun shines through some flowers and birds are chirping. Marie pulls up with a boxed up gift for the Friends. Inside the box is: surprise! More boxes! Marie loves boxes and she has just begun selling KonMari branded boxes which are (a) lovely and (b) not cheap. She poached her box designer from Apple, which makes sense because she has mentioned Apple product boxes by name as being great choices for storage. However, these boxes are not her brand name boxes, they are just repurposed boxes from previous purchases. I’m relieved that this isn’t a product plug. Better that it’s accessible, free, and not wasteful.
There’s an interstitial on komono 小物 (small items) and the helpfulness of boxes for compartmentalizing small items. This is the third location we see Marie in, and also the third one with pale pink cushions. I wonder if this is a branding choice like her white tops.
It’s time for kitchen and garage. Marie and Kevin go to the garage and they sort items into categories. Kevin wonders how simply organized Marie’s garage is at home. She says she keeps Christmas decorations in it. Kevin’s like, “that’s it?” It turns out she also has a section for items which are on their way to being stored, a temporary space. She doesn’t mention a pink cushion section in her garage, but I have my suspicions. Marie sets out a basket for any photos they come across as they go. She and Kevin agree it would be nice to have more photos and personal items displayed in the home rather than stored in the garage. She’s really impressed with how beautiful their wedding photos and video are and says she feels a little jealous since she is away from home and it’s her wedding anniversary that day. Kevin gets kind of misty about how he and Rachel have been growing apart as a couple. The metric of success for this episode is definitely whether tidying will bring them closer.
Marie checks in on Rachel, who is organizing tupperware.
Marie praises Rachel and shows her how stacking them upright in one drawer means you can see everything you’ve got and lets you take it out without rummaging around.
I’m jealous of their big drawers because our kitchen is quite tiny. Marie tells Rachel there’s no need to be perfect, but to have a designated spot for everything so it’s easier to tidy up.
Rachel and Kevin take the week to tidy their kitchen and garage and Rachel reveals that they’re staying up late to do it. Yikes, they must be exhausted.
A new day. Bees are visiting the flowers, and Marie and Iida are visiting the Friends! As Rachel opens the door I notice that there’s an enormous decorative “F” on the wall. Rachel tells Marie really, really, really, really enthusiastically that she’s tired but she’s feeling good, she is feeling great, she is excited. I believe her but I also think the way she’s talking a mile a minute is how I sound when I am running entirely on coffee and fumes. She’s tirredddd. It’s Day twenty-fiiiivvvveeee. Let her sleep! She confides in Marie and Iida that Kevin has been more romantic and “cute” lately. Kevin has told her that “the whole cleaning thing is sexy.” Well, laundry time, ladies. Marie closes her eyes, pauses, and and says, “That is a very American way of looking at it.” They all laugh. This scene is actually one of my favourite scenes in the series. “That is a very American way of looking at it.” I could talk about this scene for an hour. I want to peek into Marie’s mind! When she’s an old lady, she would make a great detective. Her job is looking at x-rays of people’s entire lives. I bet she could detect a murderer in under a minute based on their shoe storage.
Rachel gets good marks on the kitchen. Marie tells her to keep things together in drawer compartments by size and to use boxes for tiny items. Marie explains that Rachel & Kevin have a strong grasp of what it means to spark joy and are ready for the last category: sentimental items. They head to the garage and bring in all the sentimental items into the house.
Marie stops to demonstrate how to store items in groups in clear bins, so that everything can easily be seen at a glance. That prevents buying duplicates of things you already own.
Rachel and Kevin look through their wedding photos and call each other “Babe” a lot more, but affectionately this time. In the Friends’ vernacular “Babe” has a dual meaning. Kevin and Rachel both feel like they’re happier, more at ease, and able to have time together instead of tidying. Ryan walks out in her diaper and tells Kevin that he’s pretty and gives him a kiss. Then marches out of the frame. Look out, Marie.
Final Marie visit. She tours the house we see before and after shots of each room. It does look less cluttered and more organized. They use the reality TV trick of showing the “befores” in grey tones and from worse angles. I’d prefer to see the progress presented simply. The book feels really elegant, transparent, and simple in its design, and this feels a little bit…cheaper somehow. However, they do have to tell a story quickly and with clarity and that probably won out. Rachel says she’s inspired not to get lazy and keep “the feeling going”. Huh. Ideally, she should be finding it’s less work than before to keep it up, or the system that they have might not be tailored to her yet. Design only works if it fits with the grain of your natural habits. It will build resentment if it’s customized to Kevin, for example, since she’s at home the most. I hope that gets figured out over time. I think it took me a few months to have KonMari muscle memory for folding and everyday tidying. I’m probably forgetting that transition that Rachel’s going through.
Rachel has learned the importance of all items having a home. Kevin has become a master folder. The biggest change is in the kitchen. That’s where our biggest change was, too, I think, and it’s the easiest space to keep organized, imo. The Friends get good marks on their tidying and Marie praises them for finishing. The Friends feel happier, calmer, and tell Marie that they have more family time. They do seem way less tense with each other and happy. Everybody thanks everybody. Marie, back among the pink cushions at Netflix summarizes that couples can strengthen their ties through tidying.
End credits. The music is kind of…grunge? I wonder if it reflects Marie’s taste in music or there’s some other reason they chose this song for the credits. The credits are all caps, heavy weighted purple type on a black background. It seems so different than all the other elements of the KonMari aesthetic which are very airy and light, lots of pale colours and lowercase type. I’m so curious how they arrived at this decision and if it was a Netflix decision or a Kondo one. If you know any gossip, please let me know!
It was fun writing this out and the next episode is one of my favourites of the season, so maybe I’ll try to do that one, too.
Thank-you for reading! ありがとうございます!