TV Review: “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”

Marie Kondo “sparks joy” for viewers in her recent Netflix series.

“Tidying Up” follows the typical home makeover structure. First, we meet the unhappy homeowners — beleaguered young couples unable to deal with adulthood or toddlers, nuclear families with nuclear closets, senior citizens coming to terms with an empty nest. We hear their stories, understand who they are: children hoping to prove to their parents that they’ve grown up, couples who live with much stress that the romance is dead, frazzled mothers adjusting to a smaller home, a grieving widow unsure of how clean up her departed husband’s things. Enter Marie Kondo: the tiny force of nature about to change their lives with some tips and tricks, an appreciation for lots of cute little boxes, and some good old-fashioned sweetness.

Some background, just in case you’ve been living under a rock until recently (and probably a poorly organized rock indeed): Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant whose organization tips, her popular KonMari method, have revolutionized the way people approach tidying up. As we see in her Netflix show “Tidying Up,” some of her methods have their roots in the Shinto tradition; she greets each house by kneeling and closing her eyes for a quiet moment before getting into organizing, and she encourages her clients to verbally thank everything they get rid of. The key element of the KonMari method is whether or not something “sparks joy.” It’s a sensation that she does her best to explain to each of her clients throughout the show, some catching on quicker than others in trying to identify the little voice inside them that shouts whether something is worth holding onto or not.

This is where “Tidying Up” stops being “Hoarders” or “Extreme Home Makeover.” This is where it happily joins the ranks of more positive reality shows alongside “Queer Eye” and “The Great British Baking Show.” The people Kondo meets are not there to be judged or marveled at; their mess is understandable, the kind even the neatest person might have if they have too much on their plate. It’s very easy to see yourself in the people Kondo visits. So easy, that chances are you’re going to find yourself stacking your clothes vertically so you can stop rifling through your drawers and stacking all your clothes onto your bed wondering which of them “spark joy.” You may even find yourself following along and thanking the pieces of clothing that don’t before tossing them in the “donate” pile.

This is the other key part of Kondo’s charm and what differentiates “Tidying Up” from its contemporaries. Despite that we are “tidying up with” Marie Kondo, Kondo herself hardly lifts so much as a finger, and neither does a team of professionals behind her. The families chosen for the show are not whisked away for a fabulous vacation, returning to find a refurbished house. Instead, Kondo walks them through the steps of what they need to do, teaching them to fold their socks and let go of what they no longer need, and then disappears for days at a time, checking in a few times over the course of a month to check on their progress and impart some more wisdom. The result of watching “Tidying Up” isn’t wishing that Kondo would come clean up your own house; it’s feeling motivated enough to apply these techniques to your own life.

The one critique of “Tidying Up” is that, after a point, Kondo’s strategies can begin to feel a bit redundant. Pile your closet on the bed, fold your clothes vertically, organize miscellaneous items in boxes — we quickly learn the drill. And unlike many other shows, “Tidying Up” doesn’t try to compensate by digging deeper into the people’s lives. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain any compelling human elements. The show actually reaches out to people from many walks of life and hits some genuinely touching notes as well: couples reconnecting, one man wanting his parents to feel proud of him, and even a widow moving on from her husband’s death. You just might feel like you’ve heard about the KonMari method one too many times if you decide to binge it in a single sitting.

Both wholesome and genuinely helpful, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” happily tackles the messy parts of life without judgement. From cleaning the closet to bookshelves to the garage, it’s a show that’s sure to “spark joy.”

Grade: A
Created by: Marie Kondo
Release Date: Jan. 1, 2019
Rating: TV-PG