Marie Kondo is starting 2019 with a Netflix series. She’s helping people declutter. And people are talking. The first encounter with the phenomenon Marie Kondo was when I read about her in 2015 on New York Magazine’s The Cut. Kondo gave a consultation at the home of New York Magazine’s design editor, Wendy Goodman. It appealed to me. Cleaning feels good and everybody feels like they have too much stuff. I had recently moved and putting all your things in boxes is very confronting. “Do I need all this stuff?” Kondo offers help. I thought it was a good thing. But by now the encounters have left me with the feeling this might not turn out to be as rewarding a hype that I thought it would be. I get the feeling the many photos of people purging or ‘Kondoing’ their things or even food (!) doesn’t contribute to an improved self or better world at all. It creates an image of privileged people discarding what they have bought so shallowly.
The hype had reached my inner circle when a very good friend read a column from a well know writer about Marie Kondo and bought the book. I saw her toss out eight huge waste bags, and everyone was cheering. Even though I respect her tremendously, and I don’t think she is a shallow person, the feeling that something’s wrong had fully established. I am a fashion designer and have been working in the industry for 18 years now. I have been bit reluctant to write this as I myself, am far from perfect. I have a lot of clothes myself, and I too have been a victim of desire and wanted to buy that brocade dress when I saw it in runway reports. I try to buy consciously. I keep a lot of clothes and wear them until I should be ashamed. I don’t easily throw anything away. I only throw out what can’t be mended. In other words: whatever smells or falls apart . It’s in my nature. A hereditary taint I got from both my parents, as well as a lot of second hand clothes. I still wear my mother’s suede jacket from the 60s and recently have been able to repurpose a white chiffon blouse I bought when I was 17. Being in your forties teaches you that trends return. I might regret tossing something out!
In confessions of a shopaholic the main character Rebecca Bloomwood played by Isla Fisher describes a scarf as something that defines her. She also has loads of debt and I wouldn’t advocate her shopping patterns, but I do feel that for me my purchases are part of me. I love the memories. I have kept a fancy-dress gold glitter dress for about 12 years now. Not only because it is fabulous, but also because it reminds me of a great time with my friends in my hometown. I can be a wonderful thing to keep the memory but by all means toss that jeans out you now fit in twice. Nevertheless the idea that everything must bring joy is a spoilt thing to strive for. And I fear if it becomes the standard of everything it will lead to a superficial and wasteful world. Some people don’t have the luxury to think like that, or have suffered for the contents of your waste bags.
The gold glitter dress was sewn by myself and I know the effort that went into it. And this is my most important point. The effort that went into making the clothes. As the wastebags and piles of clothes, books and whatnot pose so dreadfully on my instagram feed, I feel like the effort that went into it goes to waste. Most clothes are made in sweatshops. By now we all kind of know this. We don’t always act on it, or try to find out what to do about it, but we do know that. I feel that throwing the things they suffered for out like that it is even a bigger slap in the face of the people in poorer countries that make our clothes. It is like saying: “Bangladeshi people; I know you made the pile I bought and am now throwing out because it doesn’t bring me that spark of joy. ”
But we’re not throwing it out, we’re giving it a new life, right? The hype-followers lull themselves into a false sense of miss-universe type of world-improvement with the idea that their clothes get a second life. Do you think your items really get a second life? That someone else is dying to wear your hand-me-downs, including numerous used T-shirts or endless identical polyester rubbish? They won’t go well in second hand shops. Unless you’re a socialite, wearing designer items, in your local western market people will not want your things. There are places where the poorer people can get unworn things at extremely low prices. People in other countries pay for that. And if you are thinking: “Africa!”, then also consider that these countries have some of the highest economic growth rates in the world. Also it is said that in poor areas, dumping large quantities of our free trash destroys local economic balance. Of course there are areas or awful war zones where they’d be happy to have clothes you no longer feel you can wear. But really not in the numbers that we are buying and discarding them. We also have to transport the clothes there. There is a huge amount of those items that can’t be reused or are too expensive to ship. What happens then? In the sources that I found, about 45-60% of clothing is not reused as clothing. It ends up as a rag or gets incinerated because they don’t know what to do with all those things*. Destruction of capital anyone?And what happens when that strictly functional but plain ugly paint covered jeans is tossed out and you need it later to paint the room? You will buy a cheap pair. Personally, those old shoes don’t bring me joy, but once in a while when I am gardening, I simply need them.
As for the velvet dress; I ended up buying a green oversized second hand dress that I altered. Perhaps it was Kondo’d somewhere. Whatever route it took to get to me, it was part of a mere half of the contents of all those waste bags full of carelessly bought clothing. I fear that with many internet hypes this craze will not lead to people acting differently at all. When it probably wasn’t Marie Kondo’s intention to make you think bad about your behaviour, shouldn’t those piles you scored bring you shame? Or at the least make you vow that from now on until forever you will only buy, wear and cherish what brings you joy.