OPINION: Marie Kondo’s New Online Store Represents Everything That’s Wrong With Our Consumer Culture
Marie Kondo selling useless things online sparks no joy for our planet.
Marie Kondo, the pint-sized Japanese personality that achieved global fame including a New York Times bestselling book and a Netflix show, has launched an online store selling branded lifestyle products. After becoming a global phenomenon thanks to KonMari, her decluttering philosophy that advocates ditching everything in your home that does not “spark joy,” Kondo is now hawking a line of housewares and home accessories on her new webstore. The Twitterverse is ablaze about the news, and while the memes and bon mots are highly entertaining, the blowback reflects a deeply problematic paradox, namely that our obsession with constant consumption is at the core of our global climate crisis. Telling people to buy more is not going to save our planet, which continues to bleed from our reckless, irresponsible and unsustainable habits.
First of all, despite being idolised by many as the “answer” to our materialist obsession, Marie Kondo is far from a leader in sustainability. In 2015, Kondo rose to fame with her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She went onto become even more viral when her Netflix series debuted earlier this year, a show which involved Kondo visiting the overcrowded home of Americans with hoarding tendencies, with the goal of inspiring viewers to initiate their own home clear-outs. Rather than promoting a circular economy, the Japanese cleaning guru never delved into the possibility of recycling, upcycling or repurposing items, instead advising followers to fill up garbage bags full of unnecessary ‘stuff’ to send straight to the trash – aka the landfill. Nor did she address the question of how to responsibly deal with different types of waste, a missed opportunity given that mismanagement is one of the leading reasons why our land, water, soil and air are becoming more polluted than ever before.
Further, since 2018 Kondo has been shipping a collection of storage boxes from her original webstore under the guise of offering her followers bins and containers that are specifically designed for her KonMari tidying method. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe, just maybe, her grey-toned food bins, bath linens and storage containers are incredibly efficient and the only option to go for when organising your home to minimalist perfection.
However, the lifestyle venture she debuted earlier this week – an online store selling a massive range of homewares, accessories and fashion items – reaches a new level of capitalist irony. The woman who told you to throw away almost everything you own and who prompted thousands of fans to actually do so, now wants you to fill up your home with brand new, minimalist-looking “junk”, as one disbelieving Twitter user wrote.
Some of the highlights of her 150+ items collection, which at first glance look like a more gendered copy of Muji’s entire catalogue for ten times the price, include a pair of leather “room shoes” (to walk-in rooms?) for US$ 206, a tote with a flower bouquet design for US$ 42, a brass kitchen utensil holder for US$ 275 and a US$ 12 wooden Shiatsu stick. A stick – just let that sink in for a minute.
When compared to another much-maligned online doyenne of superfluous lifestyle products, aka Gwyneth Paltrow and her site Goop, Kondo’s pricing feels all the more outrageous. Paltrow is regularly ridiculed for the outrageous prices of items like a water bottle containing crystals that exudes “good vibes” (US$ 80) but even that pales in comparison to Kondo’s gemstone version, which retails for the ridiculous sum of US$ 98, and that’s before even mentioning the serious ethical concerns of crystal mining.
In response to the criticism she has received, Kondo defended her venture saying that “once you’ve completed your tidying, there is room to welcome meaningful objects, people and experiences into your life.” I’m sure the Shiatsu stick, which has apparently been vetted personally by Kondo for meaningfulness (!), will spark some much-needed joy into my life. Cue vomit emoji.
Beyond the eye-rolling, the realisation that the blatant consumerist agenda behind Kondo and her KonMari ‘brand’ is exactly what is so wrong with our capitalistic society. Here is a woman whose entire ethos revolves around clearing out your personal space, and yet, just a few years into her influencer journey, she has been commoditised (no doubt by growth-obsessed suits salivating at the earning potential of her captive audience) into selling us useless crap.
Her store launch could not be more tone-deaf, coming the same week that Oxford Dictionaries named ‘Climate Emergency’ 2019’s word of the year. We are getting closer to a point of no return when it comes to the climate. The last thing we need is powerful online personalities with mass followings using their fame to profit from the unnecessary manufacturing of practically useless trendy objects, thus generating more waste into an already over-polluted world, spewing more carbon emissions into the atmosphere and further degrading our environment.
It’s almost as ironic as British oil multinational BP, who tweeted recently that the “first step to reducing your emissions is to know where you stand” as a part of promoting their new carbon calculator tool. This from the company basically responsible for the world’s energy, environmental and emissions crisis. Ok, boomer.
This blatant consumerism cloaked behind a load of pseudo-minimalist feel-good, green-washy messaging is exactly why progress towards sustainability targets such as the Paris Agreement to the United Nations Global Goals has stalled. Consumers are made to feel good from meaningless social media shares instead of taking on the hard work of altering our behaviour and our values.
Asia in particular, a region poised to bear the brunt of climate change, is currently regressing on many of the SDGs and emissions goals and there will be no change in sight if we as Asian consumers don’t fundamentally alter our mindsets, especially given that we will account for more than half of the world’s middle-class consumption by 2030.
Come on Asia, let’s do better. Oh, and say NO to joy sparking.
Lead image courtesy of AP.