“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” the environmental impact of wealthy nations.

low income

Low-income Ghanaians working in Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana, site of the world’s largest electronics dump. (photo: Marlenenapoli)

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” — Henry David Thoreau

Marie Kondo’s new hit show on Netflix, based on her book of the same name, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, is not peddling privilege.

Quite the contrary.

Rampant consumerism is a social disease that hurts the world’s poorest populations the most. Marie Kondo has the cure.

Marie Kondo is Bringing Balance to the Universe

Kondo has the simple, unassailable answer to what is probably the biggest and most important question facing humankind in 2019, and beyond. It is a question deeply rooted in privilege, the implications of which have the power to negatively impact every human being on Earth.

Starting with the poorest first.

How will humankind survive with a larger and larger population who must all share limited resources?

Marie Kondo knows the secret, and she is willing to share.

She can even teach you how to fold it properly.

Convincing the Wealthy to Want Less

The answer is convincing the wealthy to voluntarily consume less.

Hope for the Rich at Heart

Marie Kondo privilege detractors do have a point: Poor people do not have the luxury of surrounding themselves only with things that “spark joy.”

Poor people can’t afford to replace all the things they own that are broken, full of holes, hanging on by a thread and/or making their daily lives miserable.

Poor people have to make do with, “works ok for now please God just keep working until payday.”

That is, when they aren’t going without completely.

For the first time in history, they also have full knowledge of what they are missing.

Rich Eyes and Poor Hands

Being poor in America in 2019 is made all the more painful by a constant barrage of advertisements, mass product launches, product placements, movies, magazines, poor characters on tv in mystifyingly luxe digs.

From “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to “MTV’s CRIBS”, life in the U.S.creates a conundrum a Chinese proverb names, “Rich Eyes and Poor Hands.”

Poor people in the past might have suspected that the Rockefellers and Carnegies lived better than they did, but they never saw inside their massive houses. They never really knew how the other half lived.

Well, we do now. Thanks to advertisers.

Pandora’s Box

We opened Pandora’s Box: Advertising was inside.

Poor people in wealthy nations see tv; they read the news. They know about all the things they can’t afford; from the pad that recently sold in NYC for $238 million, to the beach house in Malibu that just went on the market for half that, to the statement-making red-soled shoes that cost more than a month’s rent in the U.S.

For the Romanian factory workers who manufacture all but the distinctive red soles in a district known as “Europe’s cheap sweatshop”, the shoes retail for more than workers earn in a year. Revealed: the Romanian site where Louis Vuitton makes its Italian shoes in what can only be described as only-just-legal base trickery.

The designer goods market also has staggering price mark ups: Something that costs $100-$200 to manufacture might retail for $2,500 or much more.

The Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) luxury group has one of the biggest advertising budgets in the world. They spent $4.4 billion in 2017 alone to make their signature LV logo a “global badge of wealth”.

How can anyone hope to reject a constant subconscious drone of buy, buy, be seen to buy, everyone is buying, buying will make you happy, buying will make others accept you?

The Cure for Conspicuous Consumerism

Marie Kondo is the equal and opposite reaction to Proctor & Gamble and LVMH. She is the inevitable blowback to a decades-long, multi-trillion dollar ad campaign run by the biggest advertisers in the world and designed exclusively to convince more people into believing they will be more happy/thin/loved/accepted/envied/fulfilled if only they buy more stuff.

And oh my, does Kondo have her work cut out for her.

The Ultimate David Versus Goliath

In one corner, we have the world’s largest advertisers: They have trillions of dollars at their disposal, decades of experience, millions of smart people, teams of psychologists, psychoanalysts, scientists of every stripe, market analysts, government-lobbying firms, the world’s most powerful computers, consumer focus-groups, and a sucker born every minute.

In the other corner we have only Kondo and the power of an idea that’s time has finally come.

A Global Goliath

The billion-dollar ad campaigns, megalithic companies and multinational conglomerates that have sold us conspicuous consumerism have a massive head start. Commercials, glossy magazine ads, celebrity product endorsements have been drilling in our dear little ears without ceasing since before most of us learned to walk.

Advertising, and it’s purpose of making us want more stuff, touches almost every aspect of our lives.

Commercials were played between your favorite cartoons. In fact, your favorite childhood cartoon might have been commissioned by advertisers as a vehicle to show commercials. Soap-operas were.

Cartoon-character commercials appeared on your cereal boxes, lunch boxes, pajamas. Merchandising! Movies, commercials. Back to school, more commercials. Hollidays mean commercials; sports events, commercials. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter: Commercials.

Advertising companies have massive budgets, spending trillions of dollars a year to influence the public to buy their products. They also have very little moral oversight; PizzaHut can sue Papa John’s for saying ‘better ingredients, better pizza,’ but milk manufacturers have been getting away with calling milk a health food for decades.

Unilever can acquire both Ben & Jerry’s and SlimFast on the same day in 2000.

The environmental and social blowback to this hijacking of the social consciousness has been a long time building, but, make no mistake, it is coming.

The Life of Things

The first generation to grow up with single-use plastics is learning the high cost of convenience. In lakes, rivers, streams; in the bellies of dead animals and on every roadside, we can’t escape seeing it everywhere we look.

The things we throw away live on, don’t they? Especially the plastics.

What Kondo teaches us is the life of things: Where the thing came from, what it means to you, what your plan is for it, it’s purpose and usefulness.

And, most importantly, what will happen to it after you are done with it.

This whole idea flies in the face of conspicuous consumerism and everything it stands for. Consumerism isn’t concerned with anything that happens after you buy a thing; getting you to buy the thing, and buy again, is The End.

Has any commercial ever advertised ease in disposal? You’re not supposed to think about that!

If buying things is supposed to make you happy, disposing of things is supposed to make you sad. The message that it doesn’t, that it is only a natural part of the whole process of responsibly owning something, is the antithesis of advertising.

Ethical Consumerism

The idea that buying something- from a new shirt to a new package of razors coated in a well-nigh impenetrable plastic layer of excessive packaging- carries a great responsibility is almost revolutionary.

But it’s true: Ownership means we have to house it, store it, clean it, maintain it, repair it, and when the time comes, we are responsible for disposing of it properly.

Even disposable things aren’t really all that disposable, as we are slowly learning to our cost.

In a globally interconnected world likes ours, it becomes increasingly difficult to pretend that the massive amounts of garbage generated by wealthy, industrialized nations disappears in a magic poof of smoke.

It doesn’t.

Pssssst…our exported garbage is hurting poor people around the world, pass it on.

Buy Less, Be Happier

Convincing people in wealthy nations to buy less, eat less, consume less; that they don’t really need all that stuff, may seem like a losing battle. That doesn’t make Marie Kondo an elitist: She’s a dreamer.

She is also the little Dutch boy with his finger in the Hoover Dam.

And, make no mistake, that dam is cracking.

Join us for Part II and a little game called “Exploitation or Commerce?”: Where Our Garbage Goes to Die

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)