I don’t want to see Marie Kondo’s sock drawer. I want to see her Netflix account. Or her Amazon Prime Video watchlist. Or her DVR queue.
Because these days, that’s where the real clutter crisis can be found.
The self-proclaimed tidying guru has, yes I’m going to say it, swept the nation. The run on trash bags following her 2014 book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” was a mere dust bunny compared to the call-the-sanitation-department response to her Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.”
Her method of rigorous possession editing represents the clash between East and West, the financially secure and the poor, the creative and the literal-minded. She is solving our problems; she is adding to our problems. As the nuns in “The Sound of Music” might sing, she’s a darling, she’s a demon she’s a … veeeerrrrbbbb.
She is also just another show on Netflix, which makes the whole thing pretty hilarious. Because there is no single space on Earth as untidy and overstuffed as Netflix, the crammed-in, piled-up garage of the ever-growing, increasingly ill-organized mansion of narrative screen culture.
Marie Kondo, heal thyself. Or at least thine media platform.
No doubt many of us experience rising anxiety levels every time we glance around the piles of kid detritus cluttering our living rooms or rip through the archaeological stratum of the hall closet because we “just need that damn green backpack which was RIGHT HERE last week.” As my mother was wont to remind me, I am a natural born slob. But with three kids, two dogs and a husband whose idea of tidying is to put weeks’ worth of newspapers and magazines into separate sliding piles, even I occasionally experience a screaming clutter-induced cortisol explosion.
But it is nothing compared with the ongoing, stomach-sinking absolute non-joy that is sparked by the ever-shifting screen of what’s new, what’s trending, what I should be watching based on what I have watched before, or what my family has watched, or what everyone else is watching that confronts me every time I venture onto the cultural streamscape of Netflix.
Or Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu, HBO Go, BritBox or any of the endless streaming platforms I can access via my Fire TV stick/smart TV/iPhone/iPad/laptop and my DirecTV subscription.
I gave up trying to control my DVR queue long ago — honestly, how many hours can a person spend deleting missed episodes of “The Blacklist” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
I don’t feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I see piled up in my house; I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff that is piling up in limitless ethers of screen culture. Series and movies and viral videos and catalyzing emotional conversations on social media that may or may not be important, shifting the culture in ways that may or may not be lasting, seeming to affect our politics, sense of identity, understanding of the human condition. Or, you know, not.
Who can tell with so many people reacting to things they haven’t actually seen, or seen in their entirety, because it is currently impossible to see everything in its entirety.
I could blame my personal culture-clutter crisis on the fact that once upon a time, not that long ago, I was a TV critic and thus felt contractually obligated to keep up with things. Things that in the last 15 years have grown in number and significance.
But it isn’t just me, and it isn’t just television. Netflix and Amazon are now in the film business, legacy news media including The Times are in the video and TV business. And don’t get me started on podcasts; fall down that rabbit hole and you just turn into Ms. Pac-Man gobbling, gobbling, gobbling until, inevitably, you miss one and simply die.
Forget the drawers and closets. We know how to make our houses tidier — get rid of the crap we don’t use and stop buying more crap just because it’s cute and on sale. (And that includes all those clever and adorable space-saving gadgets and storage bins.) It’s hard but not difficult.
What we really need help with is organizing our screen culture; simply warehousing it in ever proliferating and competing streaming platforms controlled by a few algorithms is not the answer.
If I knew what Netflix should do to make its site more navigable (if you don’t have the title being searched, could you just say that instead of throwing up 9 million “titles related to” — and how is “Grace and Frankie” related to “The Big Chill” anyway?), I would no doubt be doing something else for a living and making way more money.
Same with the more general problem. I used to be a TV critic, with all the recommendations and lists that entails, but critics’ lists are now so frequent — the best new TV shows in March! — they reflect the problem rather than solve it.
As with so many things, I’m afraid it’s an inside job. Marie Kondo repeatedly insists that she is not there to fix anything; that is up to the individual. Cultural discourse is not a competition; you don’t have to have an opinion on everything no matter what Twitter says. Approach streaming services like you do the grocery store — always better to have a list — and limit yourself to a reasonable number.
Time is just as important as space; art, like shelter, is supposed to enrich your life, not make it more addled. Ironically, all this cord-cutting has created a whole lot more cords.