The aestheticization of restraint: The popular appeal of de-cluttering after the global financial crisis

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Journal Article
Journal of Consumer Culture, 2019, 19 (4), pp. 513 - 531
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© The Author(s) 2019. The concept of consumer restraint has had a popular makeover. This is seen in the worldwide popularity of books, video tutorials and online discussion groups devoted to de-cluttering, and specifically the stunning success of professional organizer Marie Kondo and her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. De-cluttering sits on a broad continuum of alternative consumption that champions the benefits of consumer restraint, on multiple fronts: economic, environmental, psychological, and so on. Through Kondo, this is framed in positive, uplifting ways. This is distinct from the more critical, nuanced, or anti-consumerist rhetoric associated with more subversive advocates of alternative consumption, such as voluntary simplifiers or Occupy Wall Street. That said, just as the Occupy movement channeled growing frustration with how the reigning tenets of capitalist culture had shackled and misled the “99%,” de-cluttering finds cultural traction in the midst and wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Unlike Occupy though, Kondo’s appeal rests less on the logic and language of political economy than the more emotive vernacular of pop psychology. In this way, de-cluttering positions restraint as reflective of a highly developed and sophisticated sensibility, whereby individuals “own” their consumption choices and in turn craft carefully curated spaces. Therein lies the aestheticization of restraint: freed of any negative connotations (dour, miserly or miserable), the de-cluttered subject is autonomous, self-aware, and chic. Crucially, it also pivots on the slippery assumptions of the (new) neo liberal economy, which requires individuals to be agile, creative, and empowered.
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