Hear me out.
Like half the Western world, I spent New Year’s Day glued to Netflix watching the Marie Kondo series. Not because I have any kind of New Year’s resolution to get organized — seriously, Marie Kondo wishes her house was as organized as mine — but out of sheer curiosity.
Known for her books and YouTube tutorials, the organizing expert has a new series on NetFlix that isn’t that far off from those old episodes of Hoarders. She drops by, gasps at people’s mountains of stuff, tells them to throw away anything that doesn’t “spark joy”, and then returns a few days later to see how they’re getting along.
We only watched one episode, one called “Empty Nesters”, a couple in late middle-age who live in a house that had belonged to one of their families and in which more than three generations worth of belongings had been amassed. But it was clear that most of the clutter actually belonged to the couple in question. Dad had walls full of boxes of baseball cards, and Mom was a collector of Christmas decorations and, like many people with shopping/hoarding habits, a good three or four closets full of clothing.
In one of the interview segments, she revealed that she indulged in “retail therapy” on occasions when she was angry at her husband; that going to the mall and spending money was her way of getting back at him for whatever transgression had occurred.
As she cleaned out her closet and piled everything together — Kondo’s system requires participants to amass everything of one type of item (clothes, books, etc.) in one place before beginning to sort — it was clear that the client had piles of clothing still bearing the original tags. As she went through the mountain of garments, she tried on recently purchased clothes that didn’t even fit her properly. Why would someone buy something that wasn’t the correct size?
She claimed to like all the clothes she had amassed, but this caused her to have a hard time organizing and disposing of items, as everything that we saw her sort through seemed to “spark joy” for her. (Psst… “spark joy” is not the same as “I like this, it’s nice.”)
But let’s go back to her comment about her shopping being some kind of revenge on her husband. Now, to be clear, there was no allusion or insinuation of her husband hiring sex workers. It wasn’t that kind of revenge. But she obviously wanted something pretty and cheap to fill some kind of void or assuage her hurt or anger. For roughly the same amount of money a man would spend on a sexual encounter, she could do a haul at the mall. She came home with clothing that didn’t fit and didn’t suit her personal style (which is mostly the case when hiring a sex worker; it’s about fantasy, not reality) and that mostly appeared to be throw-away fast fashion items — there was no evidence of some hardcore spending on Birkin bags or Dior gowns — and I suspect that once she got the things home, she felt guilty and didn’t want to face having to return them, so they got jammed into her over-packed closets and ignored or forgotten about.
The whole process was more about the actual shopping and buying than any intention of keeping and wearing. The joy, the high, the mental and emotional orgasm, as it were, occurred in the store as she was handing over the cash or credit card.
It made me joke that every mall entrance should have one of those clothing charity bins, so that people making “retail therapy”-style purchases of things that they knew they didn’t actually want or need could just shove the stuff into the donation bin on the way to their car, and never have to take the guilt-inducing garments home at all.
Note that I’m not knocking sex workers; they provide an important service. And while there are obviously sex workers with clients who visit them regularly, a lot of the encounters are fairly anonymous. There’s no commitment involved after the fact, just as with shopping addicts/clothes hoarders, there is no level of commitment to the purchases after they are bagged and taken home, especially if they carry the stigma of a purchasing high the person would rather forget.
The whole episode, although especially the clothing segments, made me wonder how we, as a society, had gotten to this point. Because this lady with her clothing hoard is not alone. The show didn’t get into any deep aspect of the why of the client’s clutter, and unlike Hoarders or similar shows where there is a therapist on site, that’s not really Kondo’s schtick, but it makes you wonder why or how it ever got that bad. Does the client have personal issues that need to be addressed by a professional, or is she just typical of a society that buys way too much stuff?
We all make the occasional bad purchase; something didn’t fit the way we thought it would, or it didn’t become as much of a go-to item as we anticipated, but I suggest that three massive closets full of cheap clothing, much of it still with the tags, is indicative that the high and release of handing over cash for a jacket might be similar to the high and release of handing over cash for sex.
Finally, with regards to Kondo’s trademark “spark joy” mantra; while it’s a fantastic catchphrase, I find it somewhat disingenuous when it comes to actual sorting and organizing. Just because you like something, or find it attractive, or even if derive joy from it, doesn’t mean that you have to keep it, or even own it in the first place. I think too many people following Kondo’s system use the sparking of joy as an excuse to keep lots of crap they’d likely be better off without.