Beacon’s Closet, the used-clothing emporium with several locations in New York City, is a site of ritual humiliation. Perhaps you know the drill. You haul your bags of old sweaters, shoes, or slacks to the counter in the back of the store, where a team of stylish buyers (perpetually twenty-seven years old, with Bauhaus haircuts) awaits. As you look on, they pick through the piles of clothing that you once considered fashionable and determine whether any of it is worthy of being purchased and resold in the store.
Inevitably, most of it is not. That pricey Saks coat with a bubble hem that cost half your paycheck? No longer “in season.” The patent-leather wing-tip brogues you purchased when men’s shoes for women were all the rage? Not really “moving on the floor” at the moment. Any items they do decide to purchase will earn you a small amount of cash or a (marginally larger) store credit. The rest you can lug back home, or deposit in the in-house donation bin, to clear space in your closet for a fresh round of fashion mistakes.
On the first Sunday of 2019, when I arrived at Beacon’s cavernous Greenpoint location for my annual closet purge, I discovered a line to drop off clothing snaking through the store. We trundled past the rows of musty garments with our trash bags and battered duffels, like we were auditioning for the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof.” As we waited in the queue, a name could be heard rippling through the store.
“I bet all these people saw the show,” a male clerk, sporting an Errol Flynn mustache, said to his colleague, a woman with spiky bangs. He turned to an unsuspecting customer: “Have you seen the Kondo show? Is that why everyone is here?”
The show is “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” the new reality series from the famed Japanese organizational expert, which was released on Netflix on New Year’s Day. A kindly sprite in ballet flats and boxy cardigans, Kondo flutters through the homes of harried Angelenos and, with the help of a translator, advises them on how to declutter. Like a “Great British Bake Off” episode that inspires viewers to attempt their own pavlova, “Tidying Up” has emboldened its audience members to clean. On social media last weekend, visitors to libraries, Goodwill stores, and consignment shops across the country noted a surge in donations that seemed to exceed the usual New Year bump. The mustachioed clerk at Beacon’s Closet said that he hadn’t seen the store so crowded in five years.
“Oh, yes, I totally saw the show,” a tall woman in Beacon’s, with long blond hair poking out of a wooly beanie, told me. She was waiting with her boyfriend and advancing heavy IKEA bags full of old sweaters by kicking them rather than picking them up. Kondo’s KonMari method advocates keeping only items that “spark joy” and thanking any possessions that you are getting rid of for the time they served you. A curly-haired woman nearby in line said that she’d read Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” when it first came out in English, in 2014, and watched the show over the weekend, which prompted her urge to purge. “But it’s not like I kissed these items before I gave them away or anything,” she said.
In the show’s first episode, a stressed-out married couple with two young kids hope that Kondo’s methods might help relieve the tension in their household. “My husband’s gonna question why he married me now,” the wife, Rachel, says, as Kondo pulls unruly stacks of clothing from her dresser drawers and heaps them onto the bed for sorting. A thirtysomething couple at Beacon’s, Becky and Will, who have shared an apartment in Brooklyn for four years, said that they don’t fight over clutter. But they had “pre-gamed” for their trek to the store by watching “Tidying Up” over their morning coffee. “I guess we watched it to get pumped up,” Will said.
As part of their tidying efforts, he added, they had hired a moving service to clear out an old, unused bed frame from their apartment. When the mover arrived, they struck up a conversation about Kondo.
“He told us that, as a moving guy, he sees a lot of people getting rid of things, and he doesn’t think that it makes them any happier,” Will said. “But then he added that he was a sneakerhead, and he really didn’t want to have to get rid of all his shoes.”
“Tidying Up” is a gentle, soothing program. It’s not about rubbernecking at other people’s pain or shortcomings, as in a show like “Hoarders.” Kondo doesn’t judge her subjects for filling their homes with useless objects. (“I love mess!” she exclaims at one point, and you almost believe her.) In a recent BuzzFeed story, Anne Helen Petersen wrote about the condition of millennial burn out, the kind of anxious overextension that can make today’s young adults feel that even minor household chores are insurmountable. The promise of the Kondo method is that getting rid of physical clutter might clear mental and spiritual clutter as well.
“It gives me the chills a little bit,” the husband in Episode 1 says, after the Kondo-ing is complete. “We are, like, happier. We are more at ease. There’s less tension. When we are doing things in the kitchen, or doing the laundry, we’re talking, we are having a conversation about our day. It’s not something that takes away from our life anymore; it adds to our life.”
Any sane viewer knows that it’s too good to be true—that you cannot solve all your problems by simply shoving them under the rug (or throwing the rug away). But that doesn’t mean your overstuffed closet couldn’t use a good sorting. When I arrived at the front of the Beacon’s line, a sales clerk in chunky black-framed eyeglasses and a Vidal Sassoon bob took my bags. She was surrounded by mountains of old clothes. “I honestly never want to hear the name Marie Kondo again,” she said.