The Japanese approach to objects is on centre stage now that Netflix is presenting a reality television format for Marie Kondo’s decluttering method.
The KonMari approach involves assessing whether individual things “spark joy” (ときめく tokimeku – to flutter, throb, palpate). If yes, then they are carefully folded and stored in an appropriate place. If not, then they are thanked for their service and “let go”.
The first episode follows the Friend nuclear suburban family in California as they welcome this ever-smiling petite Japanese angel into their lives. The stresses of maintaining a home with two young children eventually dissipate as she helps them bring order and simplicity to their lives. We witness a conventional makeover story of domestic salvation, accompanied by tears and hugs.
KonMari reflects a number of themes found in this issue. The ritual of thanking the home then the objects within it resonates with the Tsukumogami online exhibition, where artists acknowledge the service provided by faithful implements in the workshop.
But at the same time, it is at odds with the value of repair that pervades so many of our stories. A Guardian article questioned the hyper-consumerism that underlies the problems. Rather than purchase fewer things, the KonMari solution is to shorten their life, filling mountains of black plastic bags in the meantime. The alternative value of mottainai, which involves a respect for things is most evident in the practice of kintsugi, which is also referenced in our issue.
The “spark joy” test seems suited to an individualistic society like the USA (or Australia). It is a very narrow measure of worth. The value of an object is not only the pleasure it gives us but also its place in a web of responsibilities to whoever gave it to us, the environment it was extracted from and memories attached. This is something recognised in cultures such as the Māori which give value to taonga as treasures to be honoured and passed down generations.
The key to methods such as KonMari and its Danish equivalent (hygge) is the ritual they bring into everyday life. Tidying up is transformed from drudgery to precious time out from the business of the day. The constant connection afforded by smartphones makes the availability of these mental spaces increasingly important. This is a value that underpins the experience economy which is now eclipsing shopping as a form of tourist engagement with craft.
Rather than the pulse of joy, we should judge objects instead by the glow of meaning they provide. Fewer, better, older things.