I was just reading this New York Times article about Marie Kondo and her plans to help us all keep decluttering our post-pandemic lives. It’s a bit hard to think about my post-pandemic life while taking rapid tests every morning for five days and counting because one of my kids brought COVID home from school, but more broadly, the article got me to thinking about why I have never paid much attention to Kondo and the whole decluttering craze she ignited a few years ago when her book came out.
Decluttering seems fine to me. I like to keep my workspace clear, I hate having a bunch of saved files and shortcuts on my computer desktop, and generally, I feel like we would all be better off if we weren’t constantly accumulating so much stuff.
I think my issue with Kondo is the cottage industry that she has built up around her. It is not anything unique to her or her ideas; it is a problem I have with bullet journalling, business consultants, The Happiness Project, Agile software development, any number of creativity gurus—basically anyone who has started with a book (or a YouTube video, or a blog post, or a Twitter thread) and then cultivated it into a brand that cranks out streams of media properties and merch.
It feels ungenerous to say that. I know that people need to make money, and for a lot of these folks, there is no ill intent. They think they’ve got a good idea that could help other people, and they are trying to get it out into the world and support themselves by doing it.
The problem is that it is not easy to tell where where the line is between helping and making money. Once the creativity guru has made the leap from posting a few interesting or inspirational ideas on the side to making it their full-time gig with a podcast, a newsletter every Friday, and two books with a third one on the way, I find myself growing suspicious of everything they say. It all seems like content that they are pushing out to grow the brand.
Again, I am not trying to criticize the individual people who are just trying to make a living doing something they believe in. They are operating within an economic and labor system that offers us only the the binary choice between working long hours for someone else or trying to make a go of it entirely on our own. Choose the first path, and you are likely have no time, energy, or money for doing the things you like. Choose the second, and you have to turn the thing you like into something that makes money.