How much is enough? The question seems unlikely to trouble Ken Griffin, the hedge fund founder who has reportedly bought America’s most expensive home for $238m. His purchase of the 24,000 sq ft New York penthouse is said to have come days after he spent $122m on a London mansion, and a few months after he acquired his fourth luxury property in Chicago. He is said to own nine more in the US.
Meanwhile Marie Kondo, who urges people to discard anything which does not “spark joy” (so much for tea towels and ice scrapers), is surfing a fresh wave of popularity thanks to her Netflix series. US thrift stores report a surge in donations. Yet while her message is of elegant sufficiency, the success of her $8m empire seems an equally potent symbol of late capitalism. Upwards of £250 will buy you an introductory session with a certified KonMari consultant, to help you throw out things you heedlessly bought. As critics point out, this is a first-world solution to a first-world problem: it’s easy to discard possessions if you can afford to replace them at any time. And some see such “home detox” programmes as encouraging an unsustainable, throwaway mindset.
The show’s appeal may reflect shrinking home sizes (at least for non-billionaires) and the rise of Instagram, with its unrealistic, but envy-inducing, Scandi-style white spaces. But above all, it has been perfectly timed to capture the “new year, new you” impulse for self-improvement: “Tidy your space, transform your life,” her website promises.
For some, watching may be a displacement activity for tidying rather than a spur to it. For others, decluttering stands in for a greater change: having established carefully folded order in their sock drawer, they may not feel the need to tackle deeper-rooted confusion elsewhere in their life. Some of her clients may just make space for fresh purchases, in an endless binge-purge cycle.
But an apparently trivial reassertion of control can pave the way for more substantive shifts. In an overwhelming world, where we are encouraged to measure ourselves by belongings and projects, letting go can be liberating. Some feel it more keenly than others. Research suggests that women are more likely to be stressed by clutter than men, probably because they are more likely to deal with it, since they shoulder a greater share of household chores.
Few, thankfully, are as anxious as Ms Kondo about the state of their homes. There is serenity to be found in accepting that life itself is messy. But her central message is of mindful possession and appreciation: focusing on what truly matters to us. Those who seem to heed it least are those who have acquired most. There is something strangely joyless about the shopping lists of the super-rich and their aspiration inflation, though no violin is required for them as the gulf between the haves and have-nots yawns larger and more conspicuous by the day. If they cannot see the excess, it is glaring to the rest of us. Enough is enough.