Questioning the Quantified Life   /   Summer 2020   /    Essays

To Have and To Hold

Arguing with Marie Kondo

Becca Rothfeld

A scene from Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (Netflix), 2019; Denise Crew/Album/Alamy Stock Photo.

Let the soul of a man take the whole universe for its body. Let its relation to the whole universe be like that of a collector to his collection.

—Simone Weil

As I write this, I have on or beneath my desk, to name but a few of the more prominent items, a packet of doughnut stickers; the program for a conference I organized last year; a watch, beloved in college, that ticked itself to death last month; an old tube of ChapStick, its tip gone dry and chalky; two packets of cat-shaped Post-its; a key to a forgotten door; a collection of Robert Hayden’s poetry; a stack of Goya postcards; a commentary on Kant that I have been dreading for years and have yet to crack open; a lone Christmas sock of unknown provenance; and the front cover of my disintegrating copy of Moby-Dick.

The theorist Jean Baudrillard, whose books I do not keep on my desk, accuses stockpilers and squirrelers of imposing their personalities onto their pliant belongings: “No object ever opposes the extension of the process of narcissistic projection to an unlimited number of other objects,” he writes in The System of Objects. By his lights, the collector aims to surround herself with her own image, until at last she sees herself reflected back no matter where she looks. “What you really collect,” Baudrillard concludes, “is always yourself.”11xJean Baudrillard, The System of Objects (New York, NY: Verso, 2006), 90.

It is true that we are each the crowning member of the sets that make up our collections: We alone transform a random assortment into a collection at all. What unifies a hodgepodge of correspondence is only the person who has amassed it—the person to whom the cards and letters are addressed. As Walter Benjamin notes in his famous address, “Unpacking my Library,” “The phenomenon of collecting loses meaning as it loses its personal owner.”22xWalter Benjamin, Illuminations (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1969), 59–67. The books in Benjamin’s vast collection belonged together because they were his, not because they were books, or because they happened to crowd onto adjacent shelves.

But Benjamin also acknowledges that an owner is not wholly prior to her collection. “Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them,” he writes. In other words, our collections shape us at least as much as we shape them. To see yourself in your belongings is to see a self already altered by them: If I come to reject certain ideas, I do so because of the books I stumble over and am reminded to read; if I covet more doughnut stickers, it is partially because I love the ones I already possess. Besides, it is not true that our collections cannot oppose or defy us. Physical objects are constantly thwarting our aims by proving ill suited to the tasks we try to assign them: The Post-its won’t serve as a doorstop; my old watch no longer even functions as a watch.

But perhaps the crucial truth that Baudrillard overlooks when he dismisses collectors is that we are rarely in complete control of the objects we end up with in the first place. Even the things I did in some sense select myself, like the books on the desk and the chair and the floor, move me in ways I cannot anticipate. Arguments persuade me despite myself; clumsy writing offends me; great prose grips me by the shoulders and shakes me. It is impossible to prepare for the onslaught of beauty or ugliness. In the end, your collection always ends up collecting you.

Respecting the Agency of Objects

Japanese organizational tycoon Marie Kondo, pioneer of the KonMari™ tidying method, purports to respect the agency of objects. She received part of her training at a Shinto shrine, and she imports commercialized snippets of the tradition’s animism into her how-to bestsellers. In Spark Joy, her 2015 follow-up to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014), she exhorts her readers to honor what she calls the “pathos of things.”33xMarie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Masterclass on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2016), 357. She even goes so far as to suggest blindfolding teddy bears before exiling them to the garbage heap. In both Spark Joy and Life-Changing Magic, Kondo recommends thanking all items we consign to the trash—though she nonetheless recommends that we consign them. (Whether a cursorily muttered apology is enough to console a dejected stuffed animal remains to be examined.)

To understand the true implications of the merciless KonMari Method™, we must start by shoving its cheerful trappings into the nearest bin. The first order of business is to strip away everything Kondo is not, so that we can end by basking in the joy of the few descriptors that stick. For one thing, she is not a cleaner. Cleaning “is the act of confronting nature”; tidying, in contrast, “is the act of confronting yourself.”44xIbid., 31. To clean is to remove dirt or dust, the buildup of which is a natural function of the indoor environment. To tidy, on the other hand, is to sort and arrange the things you are responsible for purchasing and keeping. Tidying is a matter of taking stock of your life, by way of taking stock of its accouterments. Life-Changing Magic, Spark Joy, and Kondo’s latest, Joy at Work, are all guides to tidying, not cleaning. They contain advice about folding and placing (and, I guess, self-confrontation), not advice about soaping and mopping.

The second thing Kondo is not is an ascetic. She is not even much of a minimalist. On her website, she emphasizes that she does not endorse reduction for its own sake—and still less does she aim to induce her followers to prioritize the ethereal world over the material one or, God forbid, to opt for any form of self-deprivation. On the contrary, she hopes practitioners of her method will end up surrounded solely by luxuries. (She sometimes hints that her true goal is to talk readers into augmenting their newly downsized stashes with treats from her online store, where she hawks $74 “Natural Linen Weave Waffle Towels” and $145 “Decorative Bowls.”) In a blog post titled “KonMari Is Not Minimalism,” Kondo poses in a flowing white dress and gazes off into the distance. In the accompanying text, she clarifies that she does not prefer sparsely furnished rooms to overstuffed ones. She promotes no particular sensibility; instead, she encourages her followers to cultivate their own aesthetics with care and “intentionality.” “Minimalism advocates living with less; the KonMari Method™ encourages living among items you truly cherish,” she explains. What she does advocate is joy, which she concedes to be “personal. Each individual’s ideal life—and space—will look different from the next. If minimalism is a lifestyle that sparks joy for someone, I encourage that; in the same way, if someone has determined that many items in their life spark joy, that’s okay, too!”55xMarie Kondo, “KonMari Is Not Minimalism,” Konmari.com, accessed May 8, 2020, https://konmari.com/konmari-is-not-minimalism/.

Whatever Kondo is not, she is certainly an unremitting hedonist. Her core doctrine, epitomized by her pithy “spark joy” slogan, centers on maximizing material pleasure. You don’t have to get rid of everything to be a good KonMari™ disciple, but you do have to jettison everything that is not unequivocally joy-inducing. Your life should shade more and more toward the monochrome, until everything is glossed with the giddy pastel of delight. Kondo’s greatest strength is not, as she claims, that her methods are innovative (how innovative is it to trash some of your stuff?), but rather that she distills tidying down to the barest essentials, tossing all the excess away. In her first book, she declares that “effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things.” And then there are just six “basic rules” to follow: (1) “commit yourself to tidying up”; (2) “imagine your ideal lifestyle”; (3) “finish discarding before turning to questions of storage and organization”; (4) “tidy by category, not location”; (5) “follow the right order”; and, crucially, (6) “ask yourself if it sparks joy” (where “it” refers to “everything”).66x Kondo, Spark Joy, 19–24.

Joy is the central but sketchiest concept in Kondo’s oeuvre. Instead of venturing a definition, she tells us how to elicit the sentiment in question and hopes we will catch on for ourselves. You know joy, like pornography, when you see it. The first step is to touch things. If they spark joy, “you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising.” I myself am not sure what it would feel like for my cells to rise slowly (or, for that matter, quickly), but luckily Kondo has advice for me, too. “The best way to identify what does or doesn’t bring you joy is to compare,” she writes.77xIbid., 27, 36. An uncertain Kondoer can begin her tidying journey by ranking her belongings and meditating on the effervescent feelings evoked by those she ranks the highest.

When I turn to my desk, I find Robert Hayden and my Goya postcards at the top of the pecking order—while the Kant commentary makes me feel like soda water gone flat. Still, I need to read the Kant in order to pursue my academic research responsibly. In Spark Joy, Kondo briefly addresses the question of what to do with things we need but do not especially like. Her unsparing answer is that you should probably still ditch them. She takes this uncompromising line in part because her examples do not involve items that people truly cannot do without, such as tax returns or medications, but things that might be convenient to have lying around, such as stereos or hammers. “After discarding a hammer because the handle was worn out,” she reports, “I used my frying pan to pound in any nails. Since getting rid of my stereo speakers, which had sharp corners and simply didn’t bring me any joy, I’ve used my headphones as speakers.” Still, she is willing to stretch her conception of joy a little in an effort to accommodate the inevitable vacuum cleaners and dishrags. When it comes to household necessities, Kondo stresses that you can talk yourself into feeling joyful about them if you try hard enough. In the end, “feelings of fascination, excitement, or attraction are not the only indications of joy. A simple design that puts you at ease, a high degree of functionality that makes life simpler, a sense of rightness, or the recognition that a possession is useful in our daily lives—these, too, indicate joy.”88xIbid., 40, 43. So much for your cells fizzing gleefully.

Supposedly, we become better at detecting joy as we progress through the tidying program, which is why we are supposed to tackle sentimental items last. According to Kondo, “the best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos.” Within each category, there are further suborders. We are supposed to proceed through “komono,” a Japanese term for “small articles,” by sorting first DVDs, then CDs, then “skincare products,” and so on and on, all the way to “other” (“spare change, figurines, etc.”).99xMarie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2014), 46, 105. In each category, the proper procedure is to gather all the relevant items into one pile, so that we can be appalled by just how many of them we have. By the time we reach “mementos,” we are supposed to be sufficiently finely tuned to talk ourselves into disposing of old yearbooks or correspondence from high school lovers without a moment’s hesitation. We may feel a small internal clutch, but by now we have grown sage enough to refrain from mistaking nostalgia for cell-raising rapture. “If you hope to develop a relationship with someone new,” Kondo admonishes, “the basic approach is to get rid of everything” that recalls a past dalliance.1010xKondo, Spark Joy, 295. “When you think about your future, is it worth keeping mementos of things that you would otherwise forget? We live in the present.”1111xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 114.

In Kondo’s 2019 Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, the guru talks a woman into parting with a dress her dead grandmother bought her as a present. The woman initially protests that the dress reminds her of her grandmother’s bursts of extravagant kindness. But ultimately, she reasons that it no longer fits.1212xTidying Up with Marie Kondo, episode eight, “When Two Messes Become One,” January 1, 2019, Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/title/80209379. Why keep a relic? After all, we live in the present.

Activate the Magic

For the most part, Kondo reasons that anyone who buys her book is already on board with her project, for which reason she makes little effort to defend her approach. But she does offer one insight by way of justification: Tidying, she emphasizes repeatedly, is a spiritual enterprise. We should tidy because tidying fixes more—much more, it turns out—than just your house or apartment. “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective”—though the mechanism by which these radical changes are effected often remains hazy.1313xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 3. Many of the benefits Kondo advertises are downright outlandish. She claims, among other things, that once you clean your current residence, you will become more likely to stumble upon your dream home and move there;1414xKondo, Spark Joy, 28. that you will lose weight rapidly;1515xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 193. that your complexion will improve;1616xIbid., 194. that you will inspire others around you to take up tidying, too, because organization invariably proves contagious; and finally, that you will never relapse into messiness, because not one person (according to Kondo) who has ever completed the KonMari program has gone recidivist.

At times, Kondo strings together a slightly more plausible story. Because our possessions “relate the history of the decisions we have made in life,” we cannot grapple with them without grappling with what we have chosen to spend our time doing.1717xIbid., 177. Her books are full of uplifting anecdotes about her days as a “tidying consultant,” when she witnessed client after client making important discoveries about their dreams and ambitions as they reflected upon what they had ended up keeping and what they had opted to toss. Upon noticing that she only kept books about entrepreneurship, for instance, one client decided that she wanted to quit her job and start a business herself. Needless to say, her new venture was a coup. The magic had been activated; the lives were duly changed.1818xIbid., 121–22.

Kondo’s Netflix series is designed to illustrate that such epiphanies are often emotionally fruitful. In one episode, a woman comes to terms with the death of her husband by asking herself why she has yet to clear out his closet; in another, a wife confronts her husband about how often she finds herself saddled with a disproportionate share of the chores.1919xTidying Up with Marie Kondo, episode three, “The Downsizers.” At the end of each installment, once-bickering families beam at their spartan pantries, then grin lovingly at each other. Gloomy photos of crammed closets are juxtaposed with neat interiors that are somehow always sunlit. The widow dabs at her eyes and confesses that she could never have moved on if she hadn’t surrendered her erstwhile husband’s clothing. The woman with the chore-evading husband makes touching comments about how much her spouse has grown. Apparently, it takes no wide-scale feminist intervention to chasten a man who refuses to help with the housework: It only takes the life-changing magic of tidying up.

Of course, Kondo is not the first to observe that tidying can be spiritually salutary. Cleanliness, which is at least cousin to tidiness, is famously next to godliness—and plenty of secular thinkers have opined on the harms of excessive accumulation. William James wrote in 1893 that “the miser” is “mentally deranged.” Although “his intellect may in matters be clear…his instincts, especially that of ownership, are insane, and their insanity has no more to do with the association of ideas than the precession of the equinoxes.”2020xWilliam James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 2 (New York, NY: Dover, 1950), 424–25. First published 1918.

Others have theorized that there is a warped logic undergirding the collector’s impulse. Freudians, for instance, have speculated that collectors are haunted by the specter of childhood losses and are therefore motivated to stockpile as insurance against future abandonment. In Collecting: An Unruly Passion (1993), the psychoanalyst and art historian Werner Muensterberger proposes that collecting is an antidote to privations precisely because it is a kind of keeping par excellence. The collector’s “unrelenting need, even hunger, for acquisitions…turns out to be a tendency which derives from a not immediately discernible sense memory of deprivation or loss or vulnerability and a subsequent longing for substitution,” he writes.2121xWerner Muensterberger, Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 3. Thus, the adult collector clings to his treasures as a child clings to his toys.

Like Kondo, Muensterberger acknowledges that fervent ownership can breed a belief in the secret lives of things—but while Kondo purports to honor the inclinations of the objects she organizes, Muensterberger inveighs against what he regards as a dangerous delusion. When the collector begins to see her possessions as talismanic, she becomes a slave to her things. It is undeniable that many incorrigible collectors lose the battles they wage against their possessions. The Collyer brothers, the first hoarders to receive widespread national publicity, died beneath mountains of trash. Although nineteen tons of pianos, cans, clocks, and shredded newspapers were removed from the Harlem brownstone where their corpses were uncovered in 1947, the refuse sold for a mere $2,000 at auction.2222xRandy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), 22.

No one could contrast more sharply with the Collyer brothers than perennially smiling Marie Kondo. Dressed in a crisp cardigan, she kneels on the floor of a room as impersonal as a hotel lobby. “Folding fitted sheets…seems to trouble many people,” she says. Behind her, the furniture looms ominously. Even the bed is all angles. She begins to explain how to wrangle fitted sheets into razor-sharp rectangles.2323xTidying Up with Marie Kondo, episode three, “The Downsizers.” Whether or not the objects Kondo wrestles into shape have “pathos,” they always capitulate. The Collyer brothers were collected—and literally crushed—by their collection, but Kondo folds all threats—even the dreaded fitted sheets—into submission and impounds them in their designated drawers.

Kondo the Imperialist

For people who care about being neat—and I confess I am not one of them—Kondo has helpful advice. It would be crafty to store a smaller purse inside a larger one; it would be cute to decorate your closet so that you can muster more enthusiasm about putting your sweaters away. I am offended not by Kondo’s practical recommendations about how to sort through clutter, many of which are perfectly useful, but by the extension of her method to every last crevice of life. Her goal, as she states in Joy at Work, is nothing short of imperialistic: She aims “to organize the world” and all its contents, including, apparently, people.2424xMarie Kondo, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life (New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2020), 205.

At one point, she relates that she went through an address book, looking at “each name” and keeping “only those that sparked joy.”2525xIbid., 138. Out went most of her contacts. A testimonial from one satisfied client reads, “Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce.”2626xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 3. One of the blog posts on her website is headed “What to Do When a Relationship No Longer Sparks Joy.”

Of course, it is not always sinful to treat people the way we treat objects. After all, there are some objects—namely, artworks—that we regard as precious to the point of irreplaceability. As Stanley Cavell has it, “The answer to the question ‘What is art?’ will in part be an answer that explains why it is we treat certain objects, or how we can treat certain objects, in ways normally reserved for treating persons.”2727xStanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say?, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 175. The problem is not that Kondo treats people the way she treats things, but that she regards everything she encounters as no more than a potential repository of joy. In her much-maligned discussion of how to tidy books, for instance, she asks her readers to “stop and think about what purpose” their books “serve.”2828xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 89. A book, she continues, is for reading. If you won’t read or re-read it, you should get rid of it. (This is not a surprising attitude in someone who wrote her first book in a course titled “How to write bestsellers that will be loved for ten years.”2929xBarry Yourgrau, “The Origin Story of Marie Kondo’s Decluttering Empire,” The New Yorker, December 8, 2015, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origin-story-of-marie-kondos-decluttering-empire. We live in the present, and apparently the present spans a decade at most.) What about papers from classes? “A seminar’s value begins the moment we start attending, and the key to extracting the full value is putting what we learn there into practice the moment the course ends.”3030xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 101. And gifts? “The true purpose of a present is to be received.”3131x Ibid., 108.

To Kondo, it is inconceivable that worth could derive from anything but fairly immediate gratification. Books and seminar papers are like lollipops with dollops of chocolate at the center. Once you have licked your way to the reward, the remnants become meaningless. And if it is too difficult for you to wrest the fun out of something in the first place—if you have to read a commentary on Kant to appreciate what he’s saying, if your boyfriend’s early-morning moodiness does not make your cells froth jubilantly—then you shouldn’t bother at all.

Where’s the Art?

There is a lot to hate about Marie Kondo’s fetishization of order. For one thing, the assumption that we exercise total control over the spaces we chance to inhabit is false. In 2020, your purchases reflect much more than “the decisions you have made.” You don’t choose what you can afford, what is available, or how it is manufactured. Even your desires are the product, to some extent, of what there is to buy. Tidying does not stage a confrontation with the self so much as a confrontation with a society that allocates resources arbitrarily at best and unfairly at worst. Kondo’s books contain no discussion of how the goods we sort through were produced, no examination of whether it is sustainable—to say nothing of morally acceptable—for us to throw away perfectly serviceable items, and no nod to the possibility of apportioning goods more justly. Instead, Kondo goes so far as to discourage her readers from distributing their rejects to others. Her rule is that you have to trash anything you don’t get around to donating within three days, lest you continue hanging on to it and relapse into chaos.

Predictably enough, Kondo never so much as acknowledges that many people cannot afford to throw away a perfectly good stereo just because it doesn’t make their cells churn. Instead, she takes for granted that all her readers are wealthy enough to buy the requisite replacements once they’ve dumped what they have. On Tidying Up, a woman who dares to protest that she wants to recycle her children’s old clothing when she has another baby is represented as an unhinged clinger who has trouble letting go.3232xTidying Up with Marie Kondo, episode six, “Breaking Free from a Mountain of Stuff.” That she is thus chastised reveals what was so obvious already—namely, that part of Kondo’s true agenda is peddling her own wares. The more you throw away, the more space you can populate with outrageously overpriced Waffle Towels; the clearer the coffee table, the more room there is for Kondo’s thousandth bestseller.

I suspect not only that Kondo is disingenuous but also that she would remain misguided even if she were sincere. It is not an accident that artworks appear nowhere on Kondo’s list of categories, at least beyond her brutal dismissal of books. Artworks pose an insuperable challenge to her instrumentalist worldview because they are manifestly not joy machines. As Walter Benjamin writes, the collector’s world is one in which “things are liberated from the drudgery of usefulness.”3333xBenjamin, Illuminations, 42. We don’t read books or gaze at paintings in order to mine them for units of utility, or because we wish to stimulate joy receptors in the brain.

But there is a reason we sometimes opt to read instead of downing tablets of ecstasy. Consider Mrs. Gereth, the protagonist of Henry James’s 1897 novella The Spoils of Poynton. Mrs. Gereth displays antique ornaments and furniture to stunning effect at Poynton, an estate so gorgeously decorated that “the beauty of the place throbbed out like music.” The pieces Mrs. Gereth gathers—the sofas, the lamps, the sets of china—are not merely her belongings. “It was absolutely unselfish—she cared nothing for mere possession. She thought solely and incorruptibly of what was best for the things.” Poynton does not admit of owners so much as it demands stewards. The beautiful objects that populate it “were nobody’s at all—too proud, unlike base animals and humans, to be reducible to anything so narrow. It was Poynton that was theirs; they had simply recovered their own.”3434xHenry James, The Spoils of Poynton (New York, NY: Penguin, 1988), 50, 179, 194. First published 1897. Mrs. Gereth collects beautiful objects not because she can be certain that they will afford her happiness unmitigated by the faintest touch of discomfort, but because she treasures them in their own right—and craves contact with something outside herself.

Of course, she thereby renders herself vulnerable to whatever tortures the spoils of Poynton care to inflict. To surrender to something alien is of necessity to yield to the pangs of unpredictability. Like a reader of any book or a viewer of any painting, Mrs. Gereth is unsure in advance of whether the works she reveres will dismay or dismantle her. Often, artworks do wound us. The Goya postcards rattle me every time I look at them. In The Dog, a small black head bobs atop a mysterious brown wave. The torrent threatens to submerge the dog of the title, but his expression is enigmatic. It could be plaintive or anxious, but it could equally well be euphoric. The Dog is a work that makes me wince with something between fear and exaltation, though it is one of my favorite paintings. We risk suffering in part because joy, at least as Kondo conceives of it, is far from the only thing worth seeking. And we risk it in part because true exchange with alterity requires real receptivity, which by definition does not prejudge what it will receive. Submission—to the painting, to the pain—is the entire point. The dog can only wait for the wave to crash down and crush him.

This conclusion generalizes beyond artworks. True joy is very rarely up to us. As C.S. Lewis remarks in his exquisite autobiography, Surprised by Joy, “Joy is never in our power,” though “pleasure often is.” By “joy,” Lewis means not pat contentment but “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”3535xC.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2017), 19. First published 1955. It has little in common with the plodding positivities Kondo has in mind. By Lewis’s religious lights, joy cannot be forced because it must be bestowed by God. Still, his observation can be modified to resonate with even with the most sacrilegious. God or no, we do not get to pick what wrenches rapture out of us.

And it is not just a fact but also a blessing that our lives are not entirely within our power. Mrs. Gereth could not exist without Poynton—“the mind’s eye” could see her “only in her thick, coloured air; it took all the light of her treasures to make her concrete and distinct”—but she also would not want to.3636xJames, The Spoils of Poynton, 132. To exist without Poynton would be to preside over a solipsistic empire. It would be to “organize the world,” as Kondo aspires to, in Mrs. Gereth’s own image. It would be to collect—and encounter—nothing but the same thing, the solitary self, over and over again.

My favorite part of Kondo’s books is the section of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up titled “Astounding Stockpiles I Have Seen,” in which she recalls a woman with sixty toothbrushes and another with “thirty boxes of plastic kitchen wrap.” Kondo wishes her clients would “relieve” themselves of “the burden of excess” and mockingly ponders whether the toothbrush connoisseur used a different one to clean each tooth.3737xKondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 120.

There are real reasons to be concerned by compulsive hoarding, as Muensterberger’s analysis illustrates. But for the most part these exorbitant inventories, records not of needs but of demented wants, enthrall me. What Kondo misses is that the toothbrushes are not for brushing but merely for having. It turns out that even plastic wrap can be recovered from the economy of usefulness and delivered back over to the antieconomy of wonder.

Kondo may not be antimaterialist, but she is staunchly antiappetitive. If successful alumni of her program gloat that they have “succeeded in losing ten pounds,” and if Kondo writes with surprisingly harsh evocativeness that one client had “clothes [that] oozed from the set of drawers inside like the stuffing in a hamburger,” it is because appetites strike us despite our best attempts at restraint.3838x Ibid., 3, 38. If they are acute enough, we may not be able to resist them. Their edges are far too irregular, far too exquisite, to admit of even folding.