We talk a lot about body hair around here, whether those are ways to help you remove it (laser hair removal, anyone?), celebrities who prefer to show it off, and this month’s #Januhairy pro-stubble movement. And we haven’t forgotten about the razor brands themselves, who have made strides to present a more inclusive attitude toward body hair, including showing it in their advertising instead of the unrealistically hairless bodies historically depicted. Women have applauded the changes, seen as both overdue and refreshing—which makes it even more of a head-scratcher that men have picked up their pitchforks and logged onto Twitter in order to voice their disdain over a new Gillette commercial.
The new commercial poses Gillette’s tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get,” as more of a question, forcing viewers to come to terms with the bullying, sexual aggression, and toxic masculinity that often accompanies “manliness.” (It’s worth noting that the American Psychological Association recently released a paper tying toxic masculinity to depression and other adverse health effects.)
Because while some men think of a sort of masculinity epitomized by the mustachioed, woodworking Ron Swanson, it often takes an insidious turn instead. The commercial depicts physical fighting, a quick but perfect demonstration of mansplaining, and catcalling—along with the usual excuses of “boys will be boys”—followed by human decency prevailing, whether it’s men breaking up said fights or intervening in sexual harassment. The ultimate lesson: Teach the next generation of boys to be a little more decent.
Doesn’t that sound nice—and sort of how you’d want to raise your kids anyway? Not really, according to certain men of the Internet. (If you’re wondering whether noted mysoginist Piers Morgan, recently owned by both Sophie Turner and Ariana Grande in recent days, has weighed in, you’re right!)
Gillette isn’t just relying on the advertisement to incite change, though. The brand will also donate $1 million every year for the next three years to organizations that help men become good role models, starting with The Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The multi-pronged effort will help keep them true to their goal.
“The heart of this effort is a desire to see men at their best and highlight the positive examples they set for the next generation,” says the brand via a spokesperson. “We believe in the best in men—and we want to show that. We believe in men as positive role models. We believe in men who lead with respect and inclusion. We believe in men who are doing everything they can to raise the next generation in the best way they can.”
We can’t argue with that. And despite the backlash and inevitable boycott, it’s nice to see a men’s shaving brand taking a stance.
Demi Lovato is living in the moment this year—that’s why she isn’t doing the 10-Year Challenge currently going viral on all your social media feeds.
Don’t know what the 10-Year Challenge is? Lucky you! It’s basically a side-by-side photo game where people are sharing one image of themselves from 2009 and another from 2019. The goal, seemingly, is to show how hot you’ve become over the last decade. The power of the “glow-up,” and all that jazz.
Except Lovato isn’t buying into it. “Sorry, I’d love to post a #10YearChallenge pic, but I’m too busy living in the moment,” the singer posted alongside the emoji of a girl holding her hand out. It’s literally the definition of “Sorry Not Sorry,” which you should stream right now as you’re reading this.
Check out her post for yourself, below:
Her fans, naturally, are living for this. “Thank you, you really always have the right words,” one of them tweeted. “Yaass Queen,” posted another.
This isn’t shade to people who’ve completed the 10-Year Challenge, of course. Some are doing it for more personal reasons, and I like to employ a “you do you” mentality when it comes to social media. But Lovato’s message is a good reminder that loving who you are right now is the most important thing.
It’s been a trying few months for Demi, who suffered from a reported overdose over the summer and quickly entered recovery. “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction,” she posted in August about the incident. “What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet.” She made her return to Instagram on Election Day in November 2018 and has posted a steady stream of updates since then.
Meghan Markle stopped by one of her new patronages, the animal charity Mayhew, on Wednesday (January 16) and met some of its staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries. One of them called her a “fat lady”—intended as a compliment, or at least in jest—but the Duchess of Sussex didn’t miss a beat.
“You’re a fat lady,” a woman at Mayhew said to Markle, pointing to her baby bump, according to People magazine. Everyone started laughing—in good nature, of course—including the duchess, who gave a cool-as-a-cucumber response.
“I’ll take it,” Markle said with a grin, before moving on to greet more people at Mayhew.
Watch this moment go down for yourself in the video, below. Start around the 29-second mark.
Obviously, it should go without saying that making comments about people’s bodies is never OK. And, thankfully, we’re moving into a space where the word “fat” is losing its power as an insult. Markle’s exchange with the woman at Mayhew, however, was completely benign, and it’s best not to look too deeply into it. We’re sure if actual body-shaming was happening, the duchess would be the first to shut it down.
Markle told well-wishers earlier this week that she’s due in late April/early May. Kensington Palace confirmed her pregnancy in October. “Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the Spring of 2019,” the palace tweeted at the time. “Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public.”
Meghan Markle has shown off an impressive sense of style since becoming the Duchess of Sussex. Even better, that impressive sense of style includes brands her loyal followers can shop for themselves. Sure, Markle often wears custom outfits that suggest she has Givenchy on speed-dial, but she’s also been known to mix in affordable pieces by & Other Stories and Aritzia. Now, she’s added another one of our favorite wallet-friendly brands to her royal wardrobe with a dress that’s less than $35.
On Wednesday, January 16, the Duchess of Sussex visited one of her four royal patronages, Mayhew, in London. She arrived in a monochromatic outfit that included an off-white coat, maternity dress, and pumps. It didn’t take long for onlookers to ID her cozy sweater dress as H&M. The cost? Only $34.99.
This is the first time Markle has worn a piece from H&M’s in-house maternity line, MAMA. Moms-to-be who want to cop the dress are in luck: It’s still available on H&M’s website. (For now, at least.)
Lest you forget that Markle is a Duchess—and that she can spend thousands of dollars on her wardrobe—she rounded out her outfit with some pricier pieces. Specifically, an Emporio Armani coat and Paul Andrew heels.
This is the second time in a week that the Duchess of Sussex has worn under-$100 finds for her public appearances. Markle chose another fan-favorite brand, Aritzia, for a visit to Birkhead on Monday, January 14. It didn’t take long for shoppers to grab her exact outfit for themselves: Her purple Babaton dress has already sold out.
Of course, Meghan Markle’s visit wasn’t just about showing off her excellent maternity style. She stopped by Mayhew, an animal welfare charity, to meet with volunteers and service animals.
Later this evening, Markle and Prince Harry are expected to attend the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s Totem, which will be held in support of Sentebale. We aren’t expecting to see more H&M at the Royal Albert Hall event—it’s a black-tie affair—but if we know the duchess, she’ll definitely bring more of the Markle sparkle to the formal event. Personally, I’m holding out for another halter dress.
Few things are more infuriating than reading advice on how to curl your hair when the very first step is “Find the best curling iron for you.” Well, no duh. Having the right-size (and -shaped) barrel makes a world of difference in the kind of curl you’re looking for—as does how hot the iron gets, when you put on hairspray, and the way you hold the iron. But let’s forget all that for a second and assume you (a) probably aren’t coming here for pageant curls and (b) just want something easy to enhance whatever texture you’ve got—or boost what you don’t. We polled our staff to see who’s struggled to find an iron that’s both simple to use and will make a curl stay put, and sent them home with dozens to test. Here are the innovative, intuitive curling wands and irons they now swear by.
“I gave up on trying to use a curling iron with a clip years ago, because they always left dents in my hair, which is naturally thin, flat, and straight—but long. This, however, totally restored my faith. The surface of the wand made my hair really soft and shiny without frying it. And it wasn’t too heavy for a 1.25-inch barrel. Because of the size, the curls are very loose and won’t hold for a big event. But for work, it’s perfect. You’re just left with the nicest, softest waves all day.” —Alyssa Fiorentino, contributor
The season one finale of Netflix’s You was bonkers, to say the least. After nine episodes of stalking and murder, Beck finally became privy to Joe’s behavior and tried to GTFO. Of course, this didn’t happen: Joe managed to kidnap Beck and keep her locked in that weird glass box in the basement of his bookstore. She almost successfully escaped, but unfortunately evil and toxic masculinity prevailed: Joe murdered Beck, or so we think, and he framed her therapist, Dr. Nicky, for the crime. He then sent the manuscript Beck had been working on to a publisher, thus turning her into the bestselling author she always wanted to be—all posthumously, mind you.
But what if Beck isn’t really dead? After all, Joe’s ex-girlfriend Candace popped up unexpectedly in the season finale, and we were convinced she died too. Plus, we never actually saw Beck’s dead body, just a body placed inside one of those crime-scene bags. Is it possible that Joe completely staged Beck’s death and she’s still down in his God-awful cage?
That’s what a few fans seems to think. “For anyone who’s watched the #Netflix series You, my theory is that Beck isn’t dead and she’s still down stairs in Joe’s weird-ass box,” one fan wrote on Twitter. “Beck isn’t dead. Joe just has her in the cage, and he reads to her every night, feeds her and tells her how much of a successful writer she is,” posted another. (That’s a very…bleak image, to say the least.)
“I am so convinced Beck isn’t actually dead and is just in that horrific glass box forever now,” tweeted someone else. Check out some more reactions from viewers who are also on this train:
There are a few issues with this theory, though. For one, the world thinks Beck is dead. For her to suddenly reappear would require an ironclad explanation from the show-runners, which might not be possible. Also, Elizabeth Lail, who plays Beck, told Vulture she knew Beck was going to die before she signed on to the project.
“I thought it was gonna be some heroic justice at the end, but it’s more true to life that she does die, unfortunately. It’s more likely that someone would die in that situation,” she said.
Looks like we’ll have to wait until the season two premiere to receive any definitive answers.
This Is Us finally returned tonight with Kevin on the hunt for a very much alive Nicky, his relationship with Zoe on shaky ground, and a tense election night for Randall and the rest of the Pearsons. And that’s just the beginning—caution: spoilers ahead.
In the episode, Zoe recruits her politician ex-boyfriend to help Kevin get answers on Nicky, but in the process reveals that she dumped this ex via email. This doesn’t sit well with Kevin, who questions her choices and whether she’d do the same to him. They split, but eventually reconcile at Randall’s election headquarters and decide to move in together (complete with Zoe’s own John Stamos key ring. Long story).
Meanwhile, Randall and Beth start off the episode at odds (with Randall mainly to blame). But Beth feels bad for trying to stop her husband’s dream and gets back on board with the campaign. Randall—who was way behind in the polls—discovers some damaging information on his opponent, Sol Brown, but decides to try to win the election on his own merit. And in the end, he does.
Throughout all of this drama, Kate and Toby bond over vintage action figures—and a Three Rivers Stadium replica—but otherwise things remain status quo. Now, though, the big question is what will happen when Kate and her brothers and Rebecca find out that their uncle Nicky is alive. Plus, what’s in store for Beth and Randall’s marriage now that he’s a big city councilman (with a two hour commute)?
So we asked executive producer and co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker to tell us what to expect next week. Oh, and he has some info on an easter egg you might have missed. Read on for more.
As soon as we heard Nicky was discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center, it was clear Jack had to have known he was alive. Turns out he did—so will we see them together post-Vietnam in the weeks and months to follow?
Isaac Aptaker: Yes, next week’s episode is such a huge episode of the show. It’s a do not miss. We’re going to give all the answers people have been waiting for—about what happened to Jack and Nicky, who knew what, what went down in Vietnam. It’s an incredibly packed episode that will answer everything people are wondering about that story.
Is the entire episode just Jack and Nicky next week, or will we see other characters?
IA: There’s a present day storyline, too. We’re going to learn what happened to Nicky across all of our timelines, including him in the present day.
I was looking at the postcard Nicky sent Jack. When he wrote “last one,” that must infer it’s his last attempt at reaching out, correct?
IA: Yeah, that’s certainly what I would think. [Kevin] has this handful of artifacts of Jack’s that survived the fire, so that’s just one piece of their correspondence. That’s not the whole story, but we will dive into exactly “last one” of how many, “last one” of what, all of that, next week.
How much thought went into that particular postcard that Nicky sent Jack? If you look closely, the image on the front is described on the back as “Young brothers fishing the rivers of Pennsylvania.”
IA: Yeah, that was not an accident at all. [Laughs] We had all of these postcards to see what [the right one] would look like. They were brilliantly designed by our props department. Everything had to be [authentic to the time] period and have little hints about their story but not too on the nose. They were all very carefully designed and selected.
The postcard is also dated 1992, so…
IA: That’s when our big three are in their adorable 12-year-old period.
So if Jack died in January 1998, could we maybe see Jack and Nicky in scenes between 1992-1998?
IA: Totally possible. Totally possible.
I think that means yes.
Last year viewers first saw Jack and teenage Randall in Washington D.C. Tonight, we saw more of their dialogue there. Had you shot all of that at the same time last year, or did you have to go back and film the part where Jack tells Randall it’s too sad for him to look at Nicky’s name on the war memorial?
IA: We shot part of it [last year] because we had to plan for Nicky back then, so we knew we had that piece of it. Part of it we were able to recreate with some very clever green screens and angles to fill in the rest. But we knew the part of the war memorial back then.
That’s just frightening how much you guys have planned out that far in advance.
IA: Well, we have a really big writers room with so many things on the wall. We’re always putting in these little easter eggs that we know we can go back to.
Let’s talk about Randall and the election. As soon as he got the call with the results, I knew he won based on the look of disbelief that washed over him. But before he told Beth, I wondered if he would say “I won” or “We won.” He says, “I won,” but was that even a conversation in the writers room?
IA: That’s really interesting. I can’t remember a particular conversation about that, but I love that you brought that up. He’s been trying so hard to include Beth in this and for her to find her place in his campaign, but also as her own person in this marriage. When someone wins a job like that, the whole family’s life is going to change. It’s not like he’s the president, but he’s going to be a public figure in a big way. He’s going to be working hard from home, and their whole lives are about to change. What I love about that scene is the look on both of their faces. Neither one was entirely expecting this, and they are having a million thoughts at once. What does this mean for their marriage? What does this mean for their three children? What does this mean for their finances? He got what he wanted in one sense, but also this huge bomb has just been dropped on this home that’s had a pretty rocky year.
And he has this two hour commute between his district and his home.
IA: Right. The logistical problems alone of this new job are just tremendous.
Randall will obviously change as he takes on this new role, but will he change for the better or the worse?
IA: I think the immediate storyline we’ll be tackling—because it’s a bit of a slow burn—is once you’re in this position, you’re not actually sworn into office for a little while. There’s a period of time when you’re assembling your staff and applying for committees and such before you begin your work as a city councilman. So the immediate stories are that he won, he wasn’t really expecting that, and what does that mean for him and his family? There are much more family-focused and marriage-focused stories coming. He’s beginning this new job as his wife is at this total crossroads in her life and coming to terms with what she wants as a career woman outside of being a mom and now a political wife. The immediate stories coming up are everything’s changing; how do we continue to be amazing parents to these three amazing daughters who are also going through [things]? Deja wants to see her biological mom, Tess has just come out. Everyone in this family, except for stable, wonderful Annie, is sort of in crisis and in flux, and how do we maintain that amazing family unit that we love when everyone’s in crisis?
By the way, it was such a Randall thing to do when Randall ordered Ellen DeGeneres’ mom’s book on her daughter’s coming out. How much more will we see in the coming weeks and months of Tess’s journey now that she’s opened up to her parents?
IA: I love that scene, too, but at first I was like, “This is too broad, you can’t just make up books.” Our writer Laura Kenar was like, “No, no, look!” She pulled up the Amazon page and was like, “Ellen’s mom really wrote this book.” I was like, “That’s amazing, we’ll keep it in the script!” As far as Tess’s coming out storyline, that’s a slower burn, sort of like a bigger picture through the whole series. It’s not like next week we’re going to be jumping into a dating story for Tess, but it’s something that we’re going to see play out over the course of the rest of the series as Tess struggles when to tell her sisters and her friends at school. Of course, we’ll also see what comes of her romantic relationships in the future storyline as we get to know more about adult Tess. It’s now part of the fabric of our show.
Creator Dan Fogelman recently teased that the cast gathered for a rare table read for episode 15 and that it’s “so intense that our cast called for it. These guys are not messing around right now.” Explain what that means.
IA: I think it was Sterling K. Brown who rallied the troops [to get everyone together for the table read]. Bekah Brunstetter, who is one of our writers and also a very established playwright, wrote this script. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but it’s very contained and sort of all our characters in one space in almost real time. It’s almost an extended version of that season two, episode 11 rehab family scene we did last year. We just started shooting it today. When Sterling first read the script he was so excited that he said, “Guys, we have to read this through together so we can all hear it out loud before we start.” We hadn’t done that since the fifth episode of season one since it’s so impossible with our production schedule to get everyone in the same place at the same time. But we made it happen and hearing that group of actors perform this incredible script that Bekah wrote was just so exciting. It’s a special one. The episode takes place in the present, and it’s all of our adult siblings and Miguel and Rebecca. It’s a bunch of amazing actors thrown into a situation, and they’re just going to act their faces off.
Dan said it’s an intense episode, but is it shocking as well?
IA: I’d say it’s all of that. It’s also really funny! Jon Huertas (Miguel) was so funny at the table read. He would tell a joke and it would be a minute of laughter before someone could tell their next line.
Finally, let’s talk about Kate. Will we see her give birth this season?
IA: That I cannot answer without giving too much away, but our show progresses pretty much in real time. So if you look when she got pregnant, there’s a good chance that will happen over the course of our year. We try to stick to a normal schedule aside from little [time] jumps here and there.
A few months ago, at a family gathering, we took a group photo of all the cousins and our kids. As my cousin’s wife examined the picture on her phone and got ready to post it, my cousin slapped—literally, slapped—the phone out of his wife’s hand. We’re living in an era in which using social media has become an instinct. The assumption whatever happens—to us, near us—is fair game for #content. But that cousin knew that my husband and I don’t post pictures of our daughter on social media and he didn’t think he’d be able to communicate that to his wife in time to stop her from hitting “upload.” (His wife was fine, if rattled.) His reflexes kicked in. Around us, people in the restaurant stared at him until he sheepishly handed his wife her phone back.
When I was pregnant with our daughter, my husband told me he’d like to keep her off our—well, my—social media. The request surprised me. As a writer, I’m always mining my personal life for stories, and my social media accounts (while hardly well-followed) reflect how open I am. I am a sharer. My husband uses Facebook maybe once a fiscal quarter and doesn’t have Instagram, so I wasn’t sure why he cared what I was or wasn’t posting. I’m used to scrolling past newborn after newborn in my feed, and I expected mine to be among them. So I said as much, pushing back. But he made a kind, convincing argument, telling me he was concerned about her privacy and the digital footprint she might have before she could even consent to being photographed. It’s a significant concern—not just for our family, but socially, as our culture reckons with everything from revenge porn to whether countries should allow individuals to erase unwanted digital content. (France seems to think the answer is “yes.”)
Even at the start, there were parts of the idea I liked: She’ll never get mad at us for showing a photo of her in the bathtub to dozens of strangers. But there were parts I didn’t like: Like, what if she does something really, insanely cute and I want everyone to see? “Just text it to people you actually know,” he said. I sighed. I wasn’t sold on the fix—I didn’t want to assume people cared enough to see her unprompted. (Whereas scrolling past her in their feed seemed much more passive.) Still it didn’t strike me as an immediate problem. “Fine. We can reassess when she starts doing really, insanely cute things,” I said. He rarely asks for anything like this, and really he was asking me to not do something. I decided I could handle it.
Sharing baby stories is the currency of the new mom.
Once she entered the world, I began to feel some regret about the decision. I was spending more hours than ever plugged in to social media, filling late nights and endless afternoons on my phone while I was home alone with an infant. I was desperate to connect to people with whom I could relate. Sharing baby stories is the currency of the new mom. I tried to participate while following the rule we came up with: no face photos, don’t share her full name. But obscuring her while trying to post about her started to seem pointless. I felt like I was missing out on opportunities to bond with other moms. I was DMing women posting about their babies just to feel less alone.
I had to make sure not to grow resentful towards my husband, since it hadn’t been my rule. Erin, a mom of one in New York City, a model, and a doula who is building her business on Instagram, told me she could relate—her husband also asked her not to post their son. “I’m super public and my husband is super private,” she explains. “Since the internet is forever, my husband doesn’t want our son to have his image out before he chooses. Which I get, but I’m also like—this is what I do!” She also doesn’t post face photos but has found a lot of work-arounds. I get it. But for me, it became easier just to retreat.
After a few months of feeling left out of social media #mom culture, I decided to post about how I wasn’t going to be showing my daughter’s face.
I felt kind of like I had been lying by omission by not coming right out and saying that we wouldn’t be sharing her, and it was oddly cleansing to make the declaration. Instantly, I saw positive comments populate: “love this!” “yes!” and applause emojis. I started to feel empowered by the decision rather than restricted. In fact, once I went public with it, it became something I felt proud of.
For one, I love that people interested in my kid actually ask me about her. As it turns out, it’s much more gratifying to get texts saying, “I need to see a picture of C!” than it is to watch likes roll in. It also avoids that awkward dance of telling an anecdote when you meet up with someone in real life and trying to suss out if that person already saw it on social media. I know for a fact that no stories about my child are boring repeats for anyone who’s watched the stories I post on Instagram. An unexpected twist? It’s reinforced some friendships—the people getting the “content” that I would have posted are the people I really care about and who really care about me and my daughter.
On a more serious note, it’s also forced me to make social media a reprieve from being “C’s mommy.” With next to no child content on my account, I have to highlight other things going on in my life. I have to take more stock of the non-mom activities I do and share those moments, reminding me that I’m a person outside of this role. I love being a mom, but it doesn’t consume me. And it matters that the world sees it doesn’t appear to be consuming me either, as it does so many new parents who suddenly flip from posting beers to posting bassinets. Some friends have made half-joking comments that they haven’t had to mute me or tune me out, that I’m one less poster of endless kiddie spam. On some level I get that, too: Even though I have a kid and like knowing what other parents are up to, there are a few children I see so often on my feed that I’ve memorized their bath-time routine. Keeping C off social media, as trivial as it might seem, has given me a stronger sense of my identity, post-baby.
Of course in the end this is about her, and it’s a relief to know that posting her is not a habit I’ll have to wean myself off of when I become like, soembarrassing as her mom. And I loved a point made by Lisa, a mom of one in Los Angeles who I spoke to who also doesn’t post her baby. She does it for her child’s privacy, but she had one additional reason: “I feel like when I was struggling to get pregnant it killed me to see images of happy families and bouncing babies. The comparisons felt so awful,” she says. “I try and remember how that felt to see an image of perfection, regardless of what was really going on behind the scenes.” I was comforted to think I wasn’t adding to anyone’s pain like that, too.
There are still moments it’s not easy. I hate having to police others’ behavior—I’ve had to explain at big family gatherings that the group photo can only be posted if you can’t see my daughter’s face, and once had to ask a good friend to take something down after it had gone up. Personally, I haven’t faced any backlash over that, but Lisa told me she has been pressured to share more about her family by moms in her circle. “I have been getting a fair amount of pushback from my friends who take lots of pics of our babies [together] and post them all over,” she says. I’ve seen comments like this directed at celebs like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kristen Bell who don’t post pics of their kids, too. It surprises me, because who cares? And also: We’re gong to bully people for what they do post and what they don’t? When I want to hit upload, I scratch the itch in the ways I know how: I send it to a group text, or to my dad. Or I’ll stick an emoji on her face and just go ahead and post. But I know we made the right decision for us. At some point, I hope she’s grateful. But even if she never expresses appreciation for her digital blank slate, I know I am. And besides, I’ll find plenty of un-grammable ways to embarrass her in the meantime.
Sara Gaynes Levy is a writer and editor in New York City.
The mess has to increase before it decreases. Any organizing expert will attest to that. In Marie Kondo’s playbook, for example, a person who’s serious about de-cluttering has to first take stock of what she owns in all of its voluminous bounty. That means creating mountains of personal stuff in categorical heaps and owning up to mankind’s extraordinary ability to accumulate. As Kondo says in her book as well as her hit Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, “It is so important to see everything you have and hold each item in your hands.”
Kondo’s wildly popular self-help guide The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, published in 2012, endorses that approach. By taking stock of what you own all at once, you can more easily select the items worth saving—or in Kondo’s terms, things that “spark joy.” Creating a joyful home is the nexus of a happy life, she believes, and in Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, the de-cluttering guru visits the homes of everyday people to guide them through that arduous but purposeful task.
For those who have yet to check it out, the show will remind you strongly of Queer Eye—another Netflix reality series centered on self-improvement. Both rely on experts who are skilled in their fields and embody the enthusiastic optimism of life coaches. Kondo understands that to emerge from a life rut, you often need to start with the physical and work your way in toward self-awareness. As Kondo sees it, de-cluttering is inevitably an emotional endeavor. She knows that humans have an inexplicable attachment to old belongings, and she creates space—both literally and figuratively—for those possessions to be honored.
I left behind belongings that sparked the most joy in general, like artwork and photo albums, and packed only the things that sparked joy right now.
In episode three, Kondo visits the Mersier family, who moved from a large house in Michigan to a smaller apartment in Los Angeles but never downsized their things in the process. The father, Douglas, feels remorseful about discarding sentimental objects like an engraved cup his godmother gave him years ago. His wife Katrina, inclined to roll her eyes at such vestiges of childhood, comes around when she sees Marie’s sensitivity to it, ultimately saying, “I love the way [Marie] doesn’t make any of the family members feel bad about what they want to keep. I’m learning.”
Because Kondo’s goal is sparking joy—and not, say, improving utility—she facilitates a personal path toward home improvement. A blender in excellent condition serves no purpose to someone who hates cooking, while an heirloom with no ostensible function might fill a room with warmth.
For my own part, I have a decently healthy relationship to stuff. I have a habit of buying cookware and books, but I keep countertops clear and shelves organized. I’m allergic to all forms of tchotchke. My only hoarding vice is saving birthday cards, letters, and ticket stubs that live in disorganized splendor in my night table drawer. So because my clutter levels are on the lower end of the spectrum, I never thought I needed a thorough assessment of possessions in the manner Marie Kondo prescribes.
It took a fire to change my perspective.
The blaze ignited on the third floor of my Brooklyn building; though the flames never reached my first floor apartment, the water certainly did. It was New Years Eve 2017. I rushed home from a family gathering soon after the fire department left, feeling nervous and uncertain about what I’d find. No one in the building was hurt, luckily, and the fire was extinguished, but copious amounts of water had seeped through the walls. Inside my apartment, the hardwood floors undulated like waves from the water buildup. The walls were bulbous from moisture which signified the likelihood of mold. Everything smelled. Adding to the situation was the timing of it all: My husband and I were planning to put our place on the market that week in pursuit of a bigger home for ourselves and our two little boys. That was an absurd prospect now. We would have to find a temporary place to live. We were grateful for home insurance.
Soon after, we packed up and moved to an Airbnb while repairs started in our home. Most of our possessions were left to collect dust under plastic covers, and I packed a couple suitcases with a few essentials. I left behind belongings that sparked the most joy in general, like artwork and photo albums, and packed only the things that sparked joy right now: my winter boots, the sweaters I wore on repeat, a couple dresses, jeans, the book I had started reading, and another book in case I finished the first. For my boys, I packed a selection of clothes and a tiny assortment of toys: a Lego set, puzzles, picture books. Traveling lightly triumphed over abundance.
We stayed at our temporary lodging for two months. It was a tight space, and we only had a few personal things with us, but we felt so lucky the fire had not been more damaging. More so, living with less made us feel thankful for the comforts we usually enjoyed, like having the space and seating to host friends for meals. Even the ability to say “this is temporary” is a luxury.
It’s funny how the more you have, the more you’re accustomed to having.
When we moved back home, our floors were brand new and our possessions suddenly looked more plentiful than ever. Look at all this stuff I owned. A KitchenAid! Serving platters! Extra bedding and pillowcases. Dozens of shirts. I barely missed most of these items, or even acknowledged their absence. (OK, I did miss the KitchenAid.) The difference between beloved possessions and excess stuff had never seemed starker. I donated a lot that week—baby gear we didn’t need, clothes, books, kitchen supplies—and felt more appreciative of the items I kept.
We finally put our home on the market and bought a new place, coincidentally down the block from the little Airbnb. As we got settled in our new place, I bought Marie Kondo’s book so this home would feel light and peaceful. I didn’t want to take the extra space for granted.
It’s funny how the more you have, the more you’re accustomed to having. Much of Kondo’s cleverness, therefore, is homing in on the inverse relationship between bounty and gratitude. To enhance the latter, you need to confront the former and assess its value. Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo may have ridiculously banal content—watching people clean out their closets and drawers—but the emotional toll of letting go is a surprisingly moving experience. The episode where Frank and Matt, two writers with an attachment to old books and papers, host Frank’s parents for the first time in their shared home was genuinely emotional to watch. And I laughed knowingly as the two of them read old birthday cards at their table and agreed to discard most of them. It even inspired me to crack open my night table drawer and, in true Marie Kondo style, greet the mess.
Lonnie Firestone has written for Departures, Vanity Fair, and Playbill.