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Marie Kondo, meet my mother

/ 05:14 AM February 08, 2019

Marie Kondo is a cultural phenomenon that oddly keeps popping up on my news feed. I say “oddly” because she is a Japanese “decluttering guru”—someone who teaches people how to tidy up their homes—and I quite can’t grasp how that is a “thing” in the Filipino context. We don’t really need an P800 book and a Netflix show to teach us how to tidy up. We learned that from our mothers.

My mother at least tried to teach me. She was a homemaker who showed me and my sister how to fold clothes long before the internet enshrined Kondo’s folding techniques. Mama tended her domain well. By 10 a.m. every day, our floors would gleam from all her sweeping and floor waxing (with a coconut husk lampaso, no less). The only clutter in our house would be the crackling sound of the AM radio.

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It helped that our neighborhood wasn’t exactly the shopping type. In our household, nothing was bought without a reason, and everything bought was maximized. Everything you put on your plate must be eaten, down to the last grain of rice. Everything usable must be used; everything fixable must be fixed. Kids wore hand-me-downs. There was a period in my childhood where I used mismatched slippers, one of which was worn at the heel. They were excellent for street games.

I was already 26 and living on my own when I first heard of Kondo’s “KonMari” method and her sunshiny brand of minimalism. It struck me as odd that people would need help managing so much accrued waste. How could anyone have so much of what they don’t use or don’t like? And how do they not know what to do with their own things?

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In fairness to Kondo, her organizing lessons are grounded in a philosophy that addresses those questions. In a nutshell, you must keep only the things that “spark joy” in your life. It’s a mentality that can apply not only to practical home-keeping, but everywhere else—in spending, in habits, in relationships, in inner self.

But we Pinoys already know this. We’ve already been taught to be orderly and practical, warned against frivolous spending, raised with little material heirloom to tuck away in a box. Our lifestyles have already been streamlined from the day we slept in a hand-me-down crib.

It’s a wonder, then, how KonMari still resonates with Pinoy audiences, when its tenets are already ingrained in us.

Perhaps it’s because of how they’re marketed as a “life-changing magic” sweeping the West. Author Christopher Harding worded this best in his New York Times column: the trend is “packaging inspirational but fairly universal lifestyle advice as the special product of Japanese soil and soul, from which Westerners might usefully learn.”

And, almost naturally, anything Westerners embrace, Filipinos embrace, too. One could even trace back to say that the consumerist attitude that necessitated decluttering gurus in the first place is an attitude we adopted from our Western darlings. We Pinoy kids didn’t grow up with gadgets that became obsolete in six months or coffee-shop planners that piled up unused. We played with the same toys for years, even after their limbs fell off.

In this context, Kondo is an inadvertent throwback to our roots. She is a reminder for us to make our beds and fold our shirts and mind our belongings as our mothers have always nagged us to do. Only, our mothers are spartan and simple, whereas Kondo is sweet and elegant and thus compelling.

Kondo’s Netflix series that premiered last month shows homes with incredible closets bursting with neglected clothes. She says that if you are having a tough time letting go of things, especially when they have sentimental value, you can thank each item as a form of closure before eliminating it. Literally say “thank you” to a nonliving thing you never use.

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Any Filipino mother wouldn’t have wasted a second to take all those forgotten clothes and distribute them to relatives, no “thank you” required.

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TAGS: childhood, KonMari, Marie Kondo
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