Inside minimalism and tidying are the makings of a seismic shift in consumerism and home clean-ups
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Tara Latta’s 36th-floor Chicago apartment with stunning views was a complete mess.
I’m watching the 39-year-old trying to jam the contents of a storage unit into her new one bedroom and it doesn’t appear to be going well. Latta’s kitchen table is teeming with receipts, unused thank-you notes, catalogues, bills and to-do lists. Boxes are stacked halfway to the ceiling. The counters are overflowing with tea cups, mixing bowls and water bottles.
But all is not as it seems. Latta is in the middle of her second of three, five-hour sessions with tidying consultant Kristyn Ivey.
One of the first steps Ivey demands of her clients is to bare all. That means all the stuff – even old underwear – gets laid out in full sight and then she gets to work. The former chemical engineer, who charges about $100 (R1450) an hour, promises to clean up people’s homes… and much more.
“This is about confronting yourself and learning about the things that you keep around you,” Ivey said. “This is more than an organisation strategy.”
Ivey is a disciple of Marie Kondo. For the uninitiated, Kondo, also known as KonMari, is the tidying guru and best-selling author who debuted a hit Netflix show a year ago that catapulted her from cult following into the mainstream. Kondo has said she became obsessed with order as a kid, reportedly organising bookshelves during break at school and, after one freak-out over what to throw away had a breakthrough – what she really should be doing is keeping the things that make her happy.
That evolved into Kondo’s “spark joy” gospel that’s now being spread by nearly 400 certified consultants such as Ivey, who had her own come-to-Kondo moment when she parted ways with over R5000 worth of clothes that still had the tags on. She started For The Love of Tidy.
This purge is “kind of like when you go into therapy,” Latta says. “This has been giving me the tools to have a process to really face this stuff and really design a life that I enjoy.”
Latta is a convert to a growing tribe of Americans who are rejecting the post-World War II consumerism that served as the engine of the world’s biggest economy.
But there are signs everywhere of people living stripped-down lives. It’s not just KonMari: Reality TV is flooded with shows about tiny houses and saving money.
More people are convinced they can live cheaply in their 20s and 30s, and then retire in their 40s a movement that’s been dubbed “financial independence retire early”, or Fire. Instead of buying stuff, consumers are opting to rent, with entire ecosystems built to lease everything from wardrobes to camping gear to toys. Last year proved to be the year when the re-sale market mainstreamed to the point that buying used goods became okay for Christmas gifts.
Plaster all that with mounting anxiety about climate change and the environmental impact of consumption, including the packaging and kilometres from e-commerce deliveries, and you have the ingredients for a seismic shift, not just a short-lived trend. It would be more bad news for the struggling US retail sector and a potential long-term threat to consumer spending, according to Michael Solomon, a marketing professor at Saint Joseph’s University.
Americans are “moving away from pride of ownership, which has been a bedrock of our capitalist society”, Solomon says. “It becomes more like, use it and give it back, as opposed to own it forever.”
Big retail has taken notice. Macy’s is selling second-hand clothing at about 40 US locations. Neiman Marcus bought a stake in an e-commerce company that sells pre-owned luxury handbags and other accessories. Meanwhile, malls are filling spaces once occupied by department stores and apparel chains with restaurants and trampoline gyms.
I was intrigued watching Ivey help Latta achieve her goal to “eliminate as much paper as possible” and create a clear, cosy environment.
Tips from the experts
Roll socks sushi style, instead of balling them, which can stretch out the elastic.
Cut store tags from all household goods and clothing to “make them yours”. This even includes peeling those super sticky labels off storage bins.