Japanese tidying guru sparks joy with cluttered Americans

Marie Kondo is small of stature, but her tidying philosophy has reached stratospheric heights. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Japanese tidying guru sparks joy with cluttered Americans

  • Kondo's book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up," has earned a cult following since its publication in the United States in 2014
  • "I love mess," Kondo proclaims in her Netflix show, which sees her visit American homes to implement her trademarked "KonMari" method

WASHINGTON: After experiencing homelessness in 2011, Sarah Eby found herself constantly collecting things so she would never again feel she had nothing to call her own.
"When I moved into my apartment, it just felt empty," the mother-of-one from Arvada, Colorado told AFP. "I got everything I could to try and make it feel like I had a home."
But as Eby moved house over the years, the clutter built up. Now, inspired by the Japanese home organizing guru Marie Kondo, the 27-year-old says she has banished the chaos for good.
And she's hardly the only one.
Kondo is small in stature, but her tidying philosophy has reached stratospheric heights.
Her book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up," has earned a cult following since its publication in the United States in 2014, with millions adopting her suggestions for a neater, happier existence.
But it is the 34-year-old's new Netflix show, "Tidying up with Marie Kondo" -- released on New Year's Day, when everyone is keen to reinvent themselves and motivated by their resolutions -- that has everyone talking.
"I love mess," Kondo proclaims in the show, which sees her visit American homes -- flanked by her interpreter -- to implement her trademarked "KonMari" method.
The idea is simple: gather your things one Kondo-defined category at a time and go through them one by one, keeping only those that "spark joy," and giving them a place in your home.
As for the rest, a KonMari convert thanks his or her used items and tags them for donation or the garbage pail.
At the end, most converts find they have far fewer possessions, and a happier outlook.
"I think it plays an integral role with my relationship to things," said Eby, who watched one episode of the show before diving into the book.
"I was never messy or unclean or untidy -- I just had too many things. And so the part that I connected with most would be the letting go of the things that don't bring me joy."
Almost overnight, Kondo has emerged as a cultural icon -- she is the subject of countless viral tweets and memes, and a flurry of think pieces unpacking the show in surprising, somewhat disconcerting depth.
Her method however is not without controversy: advice to donate old books has infuriated bibliophiles on social media.
But for Den Kovacs, a video games journalist and KonMari disciple, Kondo -- with her gentle, judgment-free encouragement -- is a welcome antidote to harsh reality TV, not to mention American chaos.
"People really do feel ... chaotic, they feel overwhelmed," said the 23-year-old from Livonia, Michigan.
"So when they see someone who comes in, and she's like, 'I can fix this! We got this!' ... people are like 'Yes, I need this in my life.'"
Social media users have already reported a "Kondo effect" at local thrift stores, with more goods pouring in for resale -- although a national spokesperson for Goodwill told AFP it is "too soon to tell."
And as viral trends go, KonMari-mania is one that could actually be good for people: according to a 2016 study, too much clutter can be bad news for wellbeing.
"The more clutter you have ... the less your sense of home, the less your sense of life satisfaction," explained DePaul University psychologist Joseph Ferrari, a co-author of the study.
"That's contrary to what people might think. They think that you have to have more, and people with abundance are happier people. No."
Kondo's fans are earnestly reporting the benefits of going clutter-free.
"It feels really good," says Kovacs, who explored other tidying approaches, but found KonMari to be the most effective.
"I really decluttered my mind. It felt like I had less stress, less to focus on ... I could focus on myself."
Meanwhile, for Olguyne Fernandez-Fraga, a 27-year-old nutritionist from Miami, Kondo has boosted her social life.
"Before it would be like 'Oh, can we invite so and so over?', and it was like 'No, look at the house'," Fernandez-Fraga explained.
"Whereas now, it's like yeah, they could come in the next 10 minutes if they want to."
And in the digital age, it turns out even email inboxes and social media friends can be "KonMaried."
"I just went down the (Facebook) list and asked myself, 'Does this person spark joy?'" Kovacs explained.
"As soon as you start to ask that about someone, you suddenly realize the people that add value to you," he said.
"You certainly appreciate them a lot more than you did before."


The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

Updated 21 April 2019
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The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

  • Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output
  • Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations

PARIS: Forget how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewellers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.
Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations.
The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.
Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.
They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar.
Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners.
Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.
Concerned jewellers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain.
RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.
“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’,” says Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelry and watches.
Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi told AFP, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelry or part of a high-tech product.
Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet, a brand launched just last spring.
“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” says Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director.
She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.
“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain five grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister says.
“Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear,” she adds.
“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” adds Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelry firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.
The company is RJC-certified and uses only recycled gold.
“There is a logic to that — if we want to do our work well, then let’s go the whole hog and respect nature. That can be done today because the entire chain has become standardised.
“Studios such as ours that work for major names on Place Vendome are all certified,” Lemaire says, referring to an upscale square in Paris.
He represents the fifth generation of family firm Ponce, which produces 45,000 gold rings a year from recycled gold.
Working in a pungent atmosphere of heated metal, refiners sit hunched over polishing machines, a large leather hide slung over their knees to catch the tiniest shaving.
“Every Friday, we have a great clearout and go over the workshop with a fine-tooth comb to pick up little bits of (gold) dust and shavings,” Lemaire says.
“Nothing is lost, it’s a truly virtuous chain.”