Marie Kondo’s message is simple enough: go through your home and throw away anything that doesn’t spark joy. Her book and accompanying Netflix special has sent thousands of Americans rummaging through their closets, decluttering piles, and donating bags of stuff to Goodwill. And on face value, the message has been a good one. We all have way too many things from years of thoughtless accumulation.
But hidden somewhere in that message is also the age-old idea that Japan can act as some spiritual foil to the West. The appeal of Konmari is about more than just living in a tidier home — it’s about enjoying a kind of clear-mindedness. In the popular imagination, the West is often seen as having been corrupted by the vices of capitalism, modernism, and advanced technology. Japan, on the other hand, is thought of as being more balanced, mindful, and free of the meaningless noise Europeans and Americans use to complicate their existences. The Japanese ideas that take the strongest hold in the West — wabi-sabi, ikigai, and kintsugi among them — often feel like they’re being presented as some salutary tonic for consumer excesses. Just try this, and you’ll feel better!
But these ideas about mindful living somehow always spur new modes of consumerism. In 2016, my home state of California passed regulations on single-use plastic bags as a way to curb environmental waste. Fair enough. However, since then, canvas totes have also become a way for people to advertise businesses, seem fashionable, and signal their identity. Ironically, this has led to an even greater proliferation of canvas bags. Given the amount of water and energy needed to create each tote, some people would have been better off if they just stuck to the flimsy plastic ones. Minimalism and mindful living often feel like they’re just a new marketing message for even more consumerism.
So it’s both a surprise and not a surprise at all to see Marie Kondo now has merch. And her stuff has the same generic minimalist aesthetic that’s come to define every startup business and “new modern luxury” lifestyle brand in the last ten years. Today’s minimalism is about photos of clear blue skies and green succulents on Instagram to give the viewer a sense of friendly calm. It’s about products made in earthy greyish hues of white, soft pastel pinks, and blueish tinted blacks, to make you feel like this could be the only thing you’ll ever own. It’s about suggesting free time and empty space as new forms of luxury, but also encouraging you to buy more, more, and more.
KonMari isn’t necessarily about minimalism, per se — she’s about mindful consumerism. So ask yourself, does this stuff from her new merch line spark joy?
Shiatsu Stick ($12): Shiatsu sticks are used to help you relax (it’s like a form of massage). You’ll buy this with the best of intentions, but it’ll likely sit next to your dusty FitBit and on top of your unused exercise bike.
Paper Crane Apothecary Aromatherapy ($27): I kid you not, this is called “Now or Never Motivation Mist.” The product description says this is infused with gemstones and “formulated to enhance motivation by promoting feelings of determination and capability with every spray.” Spray this three times in your face and get ready to declutter, motherfucker.
Tea Container ($200): Let me tell you something. If I spend $200 on a container, it is absolutely going to hold illegal drugs.
Compost Bin ($175): A $175 receptacle designed to hold things that will wind up next to your pile of garbage that doesn’t spark joy.
Water Bottle With Gemstone Inside ($98): Tidying is exhausting! Refresh yourself with electrolytes sloughed off from this fair-trade gemstone. The product description says the icy blue pod of sodalite, chalcedony, and clear quartz is designed to bring the mind, body, and spirit into harmony. I’m pretty sure this is just a repackaged science kit originally made for children. If you pour water inside, you can see crystal spikes grow.
Brass Ladle ($96): Nothing says clear-mindedness like having to constantly polish a $96 brass ladle.
Tuning Fork and Quartz Crystal ($75): On a Venn diagram of Konmari and Goop, a photo of this sits in the middle.