Can Netflix Star Marie Kondo Fix the Israeli-Palestinian Mess?

With her unfailing ability to help people get their own houses in order, it’s time for the star of Netflix's ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ to attempt the world’s biggest challenge

Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
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Marie Kondo and translator Marie Iida in Netflix's “Tidying Up.”
Marie Kondo and translator Marie Iida in Netflix's “Tidying Up.” Credit: Denise Crew/Netflix
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

I caught my 14-year-old daughter watching something age-inappropriate on Netflix last week: “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” – the unlikely Netflix hit in which a diminutive Japanese woman who only looks about 14 herself goes into American houses and helps the occupants turn their horribly cluttered abodes into charming homes.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 17Credit: Haaretz

It’s the kind of show the parental lock was invented for: After all, which mom or dad living in a really messy apartment – one that looks like the Ikea showroom from hell – wants their kids to discover it doesn’t have to be like this; that there is another way?

Not me. I think the floordrobe is the greatest invention of the 21st century; that the only good place for an iron is on a golf course; that the sloth is an unfairly maligned creature; and that a person should be measured not by their achievements in life but by the amount of flotsam and jetsam they have accumulated over the years.

But I’m beginning to realize I may be in a minority here. After all, there is an entire industry out there dedicated to that most decadently Western of things: lifestyle.

A few years ago, it was the Danish concept of Hygge that promised to make our lives cozier. After that there was the Swedish Lagom, saying that the secret to domestic bliss lay in moderation. And then came Japan’s Ikigai, preaching that we can live to 100 if only we learn to appreciate the smaller things in life. It’s such a common phenomenon that AOC is probably only hours away from dropping her own ecologically sound version on Twitter.

If you haven’t done so already, devotees of the concept should add “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” to that pile – as long as you promise to clean it away later.

I can only imagine that the show found its participants by placing online ads asking Californians: “Would Donald Trump call your home a shithole?” To be honest, when I first saw the trailer for “Tidying Up” in January, I scoffed, happy that at least there was one show in this cluttered TV landscape I wouldn’t need to waste my time on.

And then I watched it with my daughter … and devoured the whole series in a weekend. I must also confess to welling up during the episodes that featured the more mature participants (although if anyone asks, I’ll blame it on the dreadful dust problem in my apartment).

This undated photo provided by Ten Speed Press shows Marie Kondo working at a client’s home to clear away everything that is unneeded and fails to "spark joy," in Tokyo, Japan.Credit: Ten Speed Press / AP

This eight-parter is yet another of those shows that shouldn’t really work but ends up being a huge hit around the globe. In “Friends” parlance, this is the one with clothes being neatly folded. Previous similar hits included the one with Brits baking cakes; the one with rednecks being rednecks; and the one with the nanny putting toddlers on a naughty step.

This burgeoning genre needs a name, but until anything better comes along, I’m going with “Ordinary people doing ordinary things that previous generations did automatically without needing a film crew.” That’s the short version, anyway.

Marie Kondo is like a Japanese Mary Poppins, except her mode of transport is a sleek MPV rather than an umbrella, and she comes armed with a trusty sidekick in the shape of translator Marie Iida. (One of the many quirks of “Tidying Up” is that Kondo is far from fluent in English. Of course, this is not a barrier to any show’s success, as previously demonstrated by “Jersey Shore” and “The Only Way is Essex.”)

Just like that do-gooder British nanny before her, Kondo has a credo by which she invites people to live: the KonMari method. Like some ultra-domesticated samurai, she uses her simple program to declutter, organize and simplify people’s lives — with, it must be said, impressive results.

Talk to your clothes

Maybe it’s the shame of their unkempt beds and obscene mountains of clothing being seen around the world, but over the course of a month (or two in severe cases), Kondo helps the participants literally put their houses in order. This show won’t do much for how the world views millennials (and just when they were getting their lives back on track after the Fyre Festival fiasco), but it may make you view your wardrobe differently.

“When folding, it’s important to convey love to your clothes from the palms of your hands,” Kondo tells viewers. “It’s actually an important opportunity to talk to your clothes and thank them.” Actually, I nearly folded at that point too, but not my clothes.

Kondo’s trick – and I still haven’t worked out how she does it – is to get these people to enjoy mundane tidying and organizing tasks, whether they’re doing it with partners, kids or simply alone. She turns something as prosaic as folding a pair of jeans into a sacred act. It’s actually quite disarming to see the transformation it has on people who were previously as domesticated as a Siberian tiger, such as baseball card-collecting patriarch Ron in the second episode.

Marie Kondo in Netflix's “Tidying Up.” Credit: Denise Crew/Netflix

I do wonder how many viewers’ homes will ultimately be improved after watching “Tidying Up” (mine certainly isn’t), although a look on Google suggests it is having an impact: Business Insider reported last week that the show “is boosting sales of shredders and organizing supplies,” while Mashable claimed that “thrift store donations have surged” thanks to viewers discarding some of that vast pile of stuff they have hoarded over the years. And of course, “to Marie Kondo” or to “Kondo-ize” has now become a verb du jour on Twitter.

I imagine the magic only really works, though, when you’re in the presence of the two Maries (and their film crew). And let’s not forget that all of these participants are willing volunteers who recognized they had a clutter problem.

Still, hearing Kondo say that her mission is to “spark joy” – her key phrase about personal possessions – “in the world through tidying” and that she “loves mess” gave me an idea. We need to give her a far bigger challenge for season two than rearranging millennials’ sock draws: Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Given her obvious skills at getting people to do things they never previously wanted to, who better than Kondo to drag Israeli and Palestinian leaders into the same room and get them working together on cleaning up this mess?

I can already imagine her talking to them about compartmentalizing Jerusalem by keeping similar items (you know, Jews, Arabs) in separate areas; uncluttering the West Bank by removing some settlements; and then finally getting around to sorting out that neglected storage space down in Gaza.

“Mahmoud, Benjamin,” I see her saying (let’s just assume Messrs. Abbas and Netanyahu are still in charge at this point). “I want you to touch the map of the Holy Land and identify only the parts that spark joy. When you feel the item that sparks joy to you, you feel ‘Ching!’ Mahmoud, did you really feel that when you touched Ra’anana?” Or “Benjamin, I want you to put pictures of all the settlements on the bed. All of them, including those hard-to-reach outposts. Only when you are confronted with exactly how much you have will you start to realize what you need to do.”

So, Marie, up for a challenge? We’ll even let you bring Marie Iida with you. Just two things: You may need to rethink some of your more radical ideas on book disposal for the People of the Book, and let us know in advance if we should categorize our gas masks as clothing, komono (miscellaneous) or sentimental according to your KonMari method.

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