There’s a tipping point that happens to almost everyone who has ever moved. They start feeling settled and, slowly, they back away from a commitment to a limited number of possessions and start accumulating crap all over again. Over the course of four years, this Brit-in-America’s apartment morphed from minimalist chic to clutter central. To address this, I read Marie Kondo’s mega-best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and then spent two weeks blitzing my space, discarding seven or so garbage bags filled with things that didn’t bring me joy — aka the KonMari method. One problem, however — only half my space was organized. I’d drunk the cleaning Kool-Aid, but my boyfriend hadn’t.
All but resigned myself to mess forever, I came across The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up — complete with adorable kawaii characters that, hopefully, would make the lessons on tidying more digestible. The manga, a Japanese style of comic book, follows 29-year-old Chiaki Suzuki, a scatterbrained sales rep from Tokyo who has a problem with hoarding. Her apartment is so out of control that trash spills onto her balcony, and her cute neighbor complains. Shamed, Chiaki hires Marie Kondo — drawn to resemble a magical pixie — to help clean her home and, by extension, her life.
“We were thinking it might appeal to a younger audience,” says Lisa Westmoreland, executive editor of Ten Speed Press, which published the manga. She says that many parents buy it for their kids and have reported success with once-messy tweens. “As culture becomes more visual, people want to get information in a visual way,” Westmoreland says.
Cartoon speech bubbles and ultracute characters make tidying up more of a game than a self-help activity.
Whereas Marie Kondo’s eight-part Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, has made “reality TV tidying” a thing, the manga allows for everyday comic book escapism, which is far more enjoyable. You’re not spying on an overwrought couple and their screaming kids, but being soothed by cartoon speech bubbles and ultracute characters that make tidying more of a game than a self-help activity. And illustrations showing just how to roll those socks and fold those shirts are easier to reference than a TV clip or text in a book.
The manga has an appeal all of its own. My boyfriend was never going to read a book or watch a TV show about tidying up, but he could get on board with a comic book. Westmoreland says that the manga appeals to “armchair cultural explorers” who revel in its detailed depictions of Tokyo life, from tatami mats to ramen bowls. Globally, interest in Japan has surged over the past decade, with 28.7 million tourists visiting in 2017, up 334 percent since 2010 — in 2018, Tokyo was the eighth-most visited city in the world.
The Japan love fest in North America has also fed the demand for manga, which has grown 400 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to manga retailer BookWalker. But can philosophy be effectively communicated in a comic? Cartoons might not be the most movitational method to get people off the couch and into purge mode.
If anything, there’s definitely interest: The first print run for Kondo’s manga was 50,000, and Westmoreland says they’ve reprinted nine times due to demand. One reason might be that the book, unlike the TV show, depicts the tidying process in full, whereas Netflix had to edit the KonMari process due to time limitations.
Tidying consultant Shannon Choudhari, founder of OrganizedWhimsy.com, suggests the popularity of the tidying movement — including sales of the manga — may have more to do with people’s desire for a better life. “We live in a culture of deep consumerism, where the things we own somehow play a vital role in our sense of self-worth,” she says. “Tidying, as opposed to spring-cleaning or organizing a single room, is aimed at bringing about change in the home and the self from the inside out.”
As for me? Well, my boyfriend is halfway through, and my fingers remain crossed. But points for trying— as Choudhari says, “To change our lives, we first need to change our mindset.” One page at a time.