Marie Kondo, Minimalism, and Stuff

Marie Kondo has been exploding across social media and the news since her Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo was released around new year. January 1st is when so many of us try to start new habits, and the timing of this show was not random. Indeed, at this time last year, I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and did implement some of the ideas there. I did a whole podcast about it (No. 32 — Tidying Up), which you can listen to here:

What I found even more useful than Ms. Kondo’s book was the 5S concept in Japanese society. Ms. Kondo makes the excellent point that many of us are not taught to keep our rooms tidy or how to clean up properly as children, so it is no wonder that we struggle to find the best way to do this as adults. Her system is one answer to this, but understanding that she comes from a society that prizes neatness and cleanliness as a baseline might inform some of the discussion of racism, cultural appropriation, and “othering” going on about this show and her.

The 5S concept (the best online example of which I found is 5S in the Japanese Workplace by Japanese Intercultural Consulting: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) stands for sorting, storing, shining, sanitizing, and striving (seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke). Many schools and businesses in Japan do not have custodians and it is incumbent on employees and students to clean (which also encourages them to keep things neat in the first place since they have to clean it up). Listen to the podcast for a fuller discussion of this concept.

While the institute generally supports the overall idea of minimalism, it might really be the concept of mindful consuming that is a better guiding principle. Around here, we need many tools to grow food, build and maintain infrastructure, and other tasks, which does not lend itself to minimalism. In being a minimalist, you would assume that whenever your shoes wear out, you can simply buy a new pair and get rid of the old, which is true for many people. But if one is self-provisioning and sustaining oneself more independently, this isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do and sometimes it makes sense to make batches of things: canned food, preserved protein, sewing repairs, etc. and to have backups in storage so when your one hammer breaks, you must stop your project until you get a replacement.

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