I have nothing against Marie Kondo. She seems like a nice person, and I agree wholeheartedly with the minimalist lifestyle that she advocates. A less materialistic approach is desperately needed at a time when the planet is being suffocated by endless waste from our throw-away society.
But minimalism is not enough, and I fear that as the problems get too big and frightening people have turned inwards to focus on things they can control. This has been happening for over a decade, as seen in the explosion of home improvement shows which send the message that happiness can be found in soft furnishings and open-plan living spaces.
It’s also evident in the decline in people going out to socialize, a trend which is particularly marked in millennial's. These days many prefer to order in and spend the evening chilling with Netflix rather than brave the public in restaurants, theaters and clubs. While technology has played a large part in this change, I feel there are other forces at work too.
Molly Young put it perfectly in her New York Times article Is Staying in the New Going Out?
We no longer dismiss the urge to remain warm, hidden, fed, cushioned and entertained indoors as a lamentable womblike regression…..On some weekends I feel like a character in “My Ántonia,” buried in a sod house and peeping timidly at the hostile landscape outside. Life in 19th-century Nebraska was fraught with peril in a way that life in 21st-century Manhattan is not — there, you could die from dropsy or fall into a wheat thresher — but our modern horrors — terrorism, global warming, presidential campaigns — are documented so thoroughly that a voyage outdoors can feel just as dire.
The Appeal of Tidiness
The turn towards domestic order in the face of global turmoil may have reached its peak with Netflix’s ‘Tidying Up.’ The people on this show have comparatively tidy homes, but they are seeking the help of a tidying-up expert to overcome their niggling problems with clutter in the garage and unruly Christmas decorations. It’s the epitome of ‘first world problems.’ At the end of the show, their homes look essentially the same, just a bit tidier.
At least with shows like ‘Hoarders’, there’s a feeling that people’s lives have been transformed by clearing out all the unneeded stuff and confronting their emotional demons, and there’s a ‘wow factor’ with the final reveal. What’s the appeal with watching people clean out their garage and talk about which of their personal objects ‘spark joy?’
As others have eloquently pointed out, ‘Tidying Up’ focuses on middle-class families with middle-class problems, and it’s designed to appeal to the same demographic. The target audience can see themselves and their issues reflected in the families on the show, and by extension, they get a sense of control over their own domestic lives which they don’t get from the more extreme cases in ‘Hoarders.’
The appeal of this shouldn’t be underestimated in the face of global warming, war, terrorism, and political turmoil, not to mention economic anxiety. If you can’t do anything to stop fossil fuel emissions or kick the current clown out of the White House, at least you can make sure that your smalls are folded properly, and your Christmas decorations are stacked neatly in boxes. Then you can stay home and enjoy your oasis of peace and order in a chaotic world.
Feeling the Heat
The problem with ‘Tidying Up’ and similar shows is that they act as panaceas to numb people’s minds and alleviate anxiety, providing the modern equivalent of ‘bread and circuses’ to distract and pacify the masses. It’s true that the same criticism can be made of most popular entertainment, but there’s something insidious about self-improvement shows that claim to help transform lives when in reality they are exacerbating the problems.
‘Tidying Up’ may have led to an increase in charity stores donations in the UK, but these types of changes will take years to make a difference, and climate change requires urgent action now.
According to the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° C released by IPCC in October, we have a mere 12 years left to limit global warming to 1.5°C. It’s too late to stop it altogether because that train has already left the station, but by putting the brakes on now, we can minimize the impact on hundreds of millions of lives by reducing food and water shortages and preventing sea levels rising higher. We can also save precious habitats and ecosystems, alleviating the flow-on effects which will result from their destruction.
The exciting yet intensely frustrating thing about all of this is that the changes needed to limit warming are ambitious, but according to scientists, affordable and achievable. All that’s required is the political will to put them in place. And this is where the plan comes unstuck.
A Political Impasse
Rather than taking the urgent steps required to save the planet, the political class worldwide seem determined to do everything they can to destroy it. Instead of adopting alternative energy sources on a mass scale, they are opening more coal mines, and pushing ahead with fracking and coal and oil explorations. In Brazil there has been talk of opening the Amazon rain forest up to agribusiness. Politicians have shown repeatedly that they are willing to sacrifice the survival of the entire human race and every living creature on the planet for short-term economic gain.
Silicon Valley billionaires have given up on solving the problem of climate change collectively and are holding talks on how to harness technology to protect their interests and even escape into space, leaving the rest of us to deal with the consequences. It’s like something out of a dystopian novel, but this is our reality.
The media have a lot to answer for too. Instead of shouting from the rooftops that we need urgent change and we need it now, they publish a few articles when a new and ever-more dire report on climate change is released, and then go back to producing click-bait. The frog in boiling water analogy has been used many times in relation to global warming but it is particularly apt.
Fortunately, you cannot fool all the people all the time. According to a recent study from Yale University, a record number of Americans are worried about climate change, with the majority now believing that global warming is real, despite the best efforts of politicians to bury the truth. In Australia, where I live, the country is sweating through one of the hottest summers on record, and we are in the midst of a prolonged and devastating drought. These issues are no longer theoretical.
Support for action to address climate change is strong in Australia, but there’s no political outlet for it. The major parties are beholden to their corporate masters and the minor parties are wracked by internal conflicts. One thing is clear, we can’t leave it to politicians to do the right thing and act before it’s too late. How about instead of worrying about cluttered wardrobes and messy garages, we focus on tidying up the planet for future generations? The solutions are there, they just need to be implemented, and saving the planet might spark enough joy to set the world on fire.