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Red flag waving: Medical crowdfunding trends show the precarity of kiwis in Australia is not just a Covid-19 issue

Written by Laura Starling and Susan Wardell

Covid-19 has put an enormous strain on New Zealanders living in Australia, with the Australian government being slow to extend any sort of benefit when lockdowns began in March this year. But the precarity of this group is far from new.

New research on health crowdfunding highlights how wrong things can go, with dozens of families findings themselves reliant on the whims of ‘the crowd’ to support them through dire medical situations, when the state refuses to take responsibility.

Life, death, and the crowd

Donation-based online crowdfunding is an increasingly common way for individuals and families to seek help for various types of need. Health-related crowdfunding is the largest sector of the international platform GoFundMe (which has 80% of the global market share, and takes a tidy percent of all donations) as well as having a major presence on New Zealand’s own non-profit platform Givealittle.

New Marsden-funded research led by Dr Susan Wardell, at the University of Otago, has analysed 574 active campaigns by kiwis both within NZ and overseas, across both platforms, in order to understand who is turning to this means of support, and why. The study found a subset of 44 campaigns were created by Kiwis living in Australia.

Internationally, higher rates of crowdfunding appear in places with weaker formal safety nets; including healthcare coverage, insurance, or social security. Because of this, research into crowdfunding can reveal wider structural inequalities, and in this case the life-or-death implications of questions around benefit eligibility, and citizenship rights, for those who look for a ‘better life’ in Australia.

A better life

The stories and outcomes of the health crowdfunding campaigns in this study, were documented in June 2020 – at the end of New Zealand’s lockdown, but amidst Australia’s ongoing regional restrictions. However, most campaigns pre-dated the pandemic; which is telling in itself

72% of the donation recipients were adults and 28% were children. These are people who experiencing brain tumours, various cancers, heart disease, spinal injuries, spinal injuries, among other issues. The overwhelming majority (77%) were fundraising due to illness, with a handful fundraising due to injuries (9%) or disabilities (7%), and the remaining few campaigns categorised as elective, fertility-related, or mental illness-related. Most campaigns are organised by family members, partners, or friends, rather than the ill person themselves.

Most asked for money to cover direct medical costs, such as hospital care, outpatient medical and diagnostic services, pharmaceuticals, medical or mobility equipment, rehabilitative care and so on.

However, 34% of them also specified the need for help in meeting general living costs, such as household bills, childcare, and transport during times of illness; factors that all have flow on affects for physical health as well. This was much higher than the number of New Zealanders based in New Zealand, who were also crowdfunding, with less than 24% of these requesting help with general living costs.

Many of the people writing these campaigns shared similar stories – of jumping the ditch in search of a ‘better life’. But this may be true only while the going is good, with higher wages not always enough to compensate for unexpected illness or for the support of dependents, no matter how long the wage-earner had been living, working, and paying tax in Australia.

The lack of access to healthcare and social support, was explicitly stated in two thirds of the campaigns, as the reason for their need:

“I cannot claim Centrelink, I have tried multiple times and they have declined me every time.” (campaign 450)


“**** is a New Zealand Citizen and although he has spent most of his schooling and working life in Australia, he is not entitled to any form of financial help.” (campaign 443)

Multiple cases mentioned working and paying taxes in Australia long term and still not being able to access meaningful supports. For example, while one family had “lived and worked” in Australia for eight years, they were unable to access any social welfare when the father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Another campaign tells the story of a terminally ill man residing in Australia for 18 years but still has no access to support. In the campaign his family states he is not “allowed” to become a citizen now because of his diagnosis, but also that is unable to return to New Zealand for treatment because supports are no longer available to him after living in Australia for such a long time.

Citizenship struggles

In 2001 policy changes implemented in Australia saw that New Zealanders living there would stay on an indefinite visa, rather than gaining citizenship. While New Zealanders have access to emergency care under this system, any long term and ongoing treatments are not covered. This includes doctors visit and pharmaceuticals. It also limits access to welfare and social support.

Pathways for Kiwis to become an Australian citizen are complicated. It can take up to 12 years of permanent residence in Australia to access the same supports immigrants from elsewhere in the world may receive after only four years, as Kiwis are the only group unable to apply for citizenship after four years. Kiwis are able to stay on a permanent visa in Australia, but this means they can never access the supports they contribute to through taxes.

Furthermore, marriage to an Australian citizen does not grant citizenship and the subsequent benefits of affordable healthcare and social support. Those married to Australian citizens still were unable to access welfare and health care assistance, while living in Australia with their partner (even if they were working themselves). This means that individuals are faced with potentially uplifting their lives back to New Zealand to receive the treatment needed, even though their lives are embedded in Australia.

Children and families

Though crowdfunding presents individual stories, designed for public attention, very few are about individuals alone. Family members are more than not implicated in the difficult sets of laws around citizenship and welfare access.

Children born in Australia to New Zealand citizens must reside in Australia for 10 years before they are citizens. This means they are ineligible for supports. For kiwi families living and working in Australia, whose young children have medical needs, this rule can have severe impacts. For example, one campaign was for an 18month old child with a serious neuromuscular disorder, who was born in Australia, to parents who are New Zealand citizens. Though he is eligible for “life-saving treatment” through the government, they explain he needs further help for costs he is not eligible for help with, including the therapies, and equipment, that might enable him to one day crawl or walk.

Crowdfunding campaigns typically involve narratives crafted to present ‘deserving’ individuals as worthy recipients of donations. Overseas studies have shown this typically takes the attention away from systemic issues. The campaigns we studied were atypical in that, to explain their situation and justify asking for help, they often went into detail about the systems they were caught within:

 “Both myself and **** are New Zealand citizens (living in Australia for 9+ years now) so even though **** was born here in Australia, because we are not Australian citizens, nor can we apply to be due to the citizenship laws being changed in 2001, we are not entitled to any funding, respite,  careers benefits, disability grants, NDIS and many more things. This makes our financial situation a real struggle.” (campaign 522)


“****’s parents, who moved from New Zealand in 2007, are considered Australian residents for tax purposes and are required the pay the increased levy to fund the scheme but can’t access it for ****’s disability supports and interventions. **** will become an Australian Citizen in 2021 when he reaches 10 years of age.” (campaign 548)

Both these examples reflect the fact that if parents of a child are New Zealand citizens, even if the child was born in Australia, they still do not have access to supports and affordable healthcare for that child. This is in stark contrast to what Australians living in New Zealand receive. It shows the high degree of awareness of the campaigners to the systems they are caught within, but have no opportunity to change or contest.

Unequal exchange

The benefits extended to New Zealanders living in Australia are vastly less than those that apply to Australians living in New Zealand. This has been the focus of an ongoing campaign by Oz Kiwi, a small team of volunteers governed by a committee, whose purpose is “campaigning for the fair treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia”. They provide the following, striking graph about the disparities…

Figure 1: ‘Rights comparison’, from the OzKiwi fact sheet, October 2016.

In 2017, in response to census data researchers also pointed to inequality and discrimination against New Zealanders living in Australia. They also suggested that these measures appear to be specifically targeting Māori and Pasifika immigrants, with less than 3% of immigrants from New Zealand who take up citizenship being Māori. OzKiwi also suggestion that single mothers are disproportionately affected by this process.

Covid19 has brought the inequalities to media attention in new ways. In March New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had to publicly and repeatedly request that the Australian Government provide supports for the Kiwis stuck in Australia during the pandemic – and struggling with job losses, and subsequent loss of incomes – in the same way that New Zealand was providing care for Australian citizens stuck in New Zealand. The eligibility of Kiwis for the Australian ‘Jobkeeper’ benefit scheme was eventually agreed. But with the scheme expiring several weeks ago, it is a better time than ever to recognise that the problem is bigger and deeper than this.

Red flag waving

Data on crowdfunding from both before and during Covid19 confirms that kiwis who seek financial assistance from online publics, while living in Australia, are overwhelmingly doing so because they have limited access to formal social supports.

Is it right that they should have to do so?

Crowdfunding is ultimately an unreliable form of meeting what are sometimes life-or-death needs –  shown in much existing data to fail to reach its financial goals more often than not. It is a gap-stop at best, and at worst, a red flag waving from the ditch people have fallen into, between Australia and New Zealand, and the safety nets designed not to catch them.

NZ Schooling: a case study of administrative evil against Māori?

Written by Etienne DeVilliers, for an assignment on ‘administrative evil’ in ANTH424.

‘Evil’ is a powerful and versatile word. Often when we think of evil, what comes to mind are very deliberate, sadistic or strategic actions. Yet sometimes deeply harmful actions are unintentional.

We all know the consequence of a mistimed word or unthinking act, on an intimate, personal scale. But this is also true on a wider social social scale too, in terms of the negative consequences that can result for certain people or groups, simply from the large scale bureaucratic systems we all take part in. This is what the concept of ‘administrative evil aims’ to capture, and contemporary social scholars argue that more attention needs to be paid to this in the modern, technologically and bureaucratically efficient world we live in (Adams & Balfour 2014).

How does ‘administrative evil’ apply to the NZ schooling system?

Administrative evil is a form of evil which has emerged within a world with a rapidly expanding population which has turned to rationalist systems, such as bureaucracies. Administrative evil relies not on passionate hatred and emotional connections, but rather on a more banal form of evil, characterised by disinterest or unawareness – and thus often lacking in an intentional motive. The example of this that I will be using is the disregard towards the gap in academic results between Māori students and their peers within the contemporary New Zealand schooling system (Page 2008).


I will argue that the harmful consequences of this are a result of administrative evil, where European rationalist approaches are favoured over Māori systems of knowing, resulting in this disparity in educational outcomes.

However I must stress I am not saying this is done intentionally by the vast majority of people – policy makers, teachers, and so on – but  instead that it is done because unthinkingly, by people who grow up within these systems and never stop to question them. In short, an unintentional evil – detached from the radical personalities of people like Stalin or Hitler, and embedded instead in bureaucratic systems with in-built disadvantages. There are a few key ways in which this unintentional evil is present in NZ schooling systems, that I will look at.

When bias meets bureaucracy 

People of different cultural backgrounds approach situations in different ways. One study showing this in an educational setting, compared how Chinese and American children understood stories in different ways, reflecting wider cultural norms (Wang & Leichtman, 2000). Cultural differences are also present within a New Zealand context, in ways of knowing and learning that are distinct between Māori and European systems.

Despite the country’s aspirations towards a ‘bicultural nation’, the very nature of contemporary schooling institutions in New Zealand is derived from European thought. Much of the comes from past and ongoing perceptions of the superiority of European systems and ways of knowing – the legacy of New Zealand’s past as a colonised nation. Indigenous ways of knowing have been disadvantaged and repressed in numerous systematic ways during this period of political dominance – as is seen among indigenous people in many colonised nations around the world.

Not only the methods and contexts of education, but the way of measuring the success of education, is based on a western set of values, prioritising efficiency and rationalism.

Today the question of funding is important to analysing administrative evil in any given system (Adams & Balfour 2014). Balfour & Adams argue that institutions, in their strive for greater efficiency, can be either constructive or deconstructive – and  in a world where much of the making and unmaking of things comes down to money, ventures which are prioritized for funding can become constructed and those that are not become deconstructed. In this way things that are neglected in terms of funding can become disadvantaged.


Such a case can be seen in the case of Pūhoro STEM Academy (Parahi, 2019) a learning support structure for Māori students which has been successful by many measures, but has a hard time receiving funding due to a perceived lack of efficiency and validity. This is despite it’s potential to address the sometimes large gap between cohorts of Māori students’ results and other students (Page 2008, Collins 2019). In fact another recent public discussion in New Zealand highlights that decisions regarding the funding of Māori centered educational systems are further disadvantaged by the gap between Māori students and their peers (Gerritsen, 2019) – seemingly penalising them for both the result and the cause of the inequality. What this emphasises is how these low results have become an obstacle to improvement, due to questions of efficiency, creating a cycle of administrative evil as less and less access to funding is given.

Cultural ‘border crossing’

Modern education systems in most settler nations are built around western systems. Indigenous forms of knowledge can be and are sometimes introduced to these – but typically in a supporting role, within the overall structures and frameworks of European schooling. This can be seen in the earlier example of the Pūhoro STEM Academy (Parahi, 2019), which is a support system present within a more mainstream system that  is western in both nature and design.

What this means is that Māori students, and particularly those who grow up with Te Ao Māori  as the basis for their way of being in the world, have to move from one system of learning to another, or be at a major disadvantage. In short they have to undergo a sort of cultural border crossing (Aikenhead 1996).

This is allowed to occur as the systems we have in place have become taken for granted as the most efficient form of educating the largest amounts of people. This relates to two characteristics of administrative evil, as proposed by Adams & Balfour (2014). The first is that the system has become taken for granted and as such has become seen as ‘natural’ rather than as a flawed institution. The second is a utilitarian logic that essentially condones a “small” evil (in the disadvantaging of Māori) to support a “greater good” (efficiently educating the largest amounts of people possible) (Balfour., et al., 2014).


When you look at the way that modern educational institutions are structured, it becomes clear that certain methods of learning are prioritized within mainstream schooling, due both to a racist history of belief in the superiority of European thought as well as the distinctive characteristic of rationalism  in the bureaucratic systems that deliver and evaluate it.

This can be seen in the way Māori education is managed in contemporary New Zealand. The emphasis on outcomes for the majority, the basis of funding decisions on these outcomes, and the placement of indigenous ways of knowing and learning as ‘supplementary’ or ‘supporting’ to the standardised western systems… all of this connects to the idea of ‘taking for granted’ the natural and beneficial nature of these systems.

In practice this means either accepting, or simply not thinking to question, the ‘small’ evils of disadvantaged Māori students, against the ‘greater’ gain of the majority. For all of these reasons, mainstream schooling in New Zealand is a fitting example of administrative evil as it can function, insidiously, in contemporary post-colonial nation.


  • Aikenhead, G.S., 1996. Science education: Border crossing into the subculture of science.
  • Wang, Q. and Leichtman, M.D., 2000
  • Page, R., 2008. Variation in storytelling style amongst New Zealand schoolchildren. Narrative Inquiry, 18(1), pp.152-179
  • Balfour, D.L., Adams, G. and Nickels, A., 2014. Unmasking administrative evil. Routledge pg 3-22.
  • Gerritsen, J., 2019. RNZ, New Zealand retrieved from:
  • Collins, S., 2019. New Zealand Herald. New Zealand., retrieved from:
  • Parahi, C., 2019. Stuff., New Zealand., retrieved from:



Dawn Raids: the terror of racism in 1970’s NZ

Written by Amy Hema, for an assignment on ‘administrative evil’ in ANTH424.

The 1970s saw some of the darkest times for New Zealand, following the economic crash of the late 1960s. With the first waves of unemployment since the Great Depression, the country was looking for someone to blame. It was was in this context that ‘overstayers’ were deemed to be burden to New Zealand [1]. These overstayers were typically Pasifika peoples who had been actively recruited for New Zealand’s booming labour market, in the early 60’s. Now their deportation was deemed a priority.

To this end in 1974 the New Zealand police began raiding houses suspected of containing overstayers, in the early hours of the morning [2]. These came to be known as the Dawn Raids. Racially motivated, and traumatising for the Polynesian population that were often the focus, this is a moment in the country’s history that largely goes undiscussed, and yet had significant impact on a people group that were marginalised, villainised and targeted by the New Zealand government and police.

A screenshot from a 2015 ‘NZ on Screen’ documentary called ‘Dawn Raids’. The image shows a Pasifika man being taken into custody by police. The documentary represents very recent attempts to acknowledge this part of New Zealand’s history. Source:

Adams and Balfour have written extensively about the relationship between administration and evil; a relationship that is often overlooked, but powerful in enforcing ‘evil’ in the sense of  harm against a particular vulnerable group [3]. The Dawn Raids are a prime example of administrative and bureaucratic authority being used to enact this harm.

Discourses of Dehumanisation

Adams and Balfour argue that our daily lives are built upon are taken for granted assumptions; that we take little time to examine the way we are living and the impact it may have. Subsequently, something as fundamental as language and storytelling can make us susceptible to participating in evil without realising it[3].

The dawn raids went largely unopposed by the general public due to the language and discourse used to describe those being targeted in the raids, being unthinkingly accepted.

1970’s National Party Advertisement. Source:

In a 1975 campaign run by the National Party, Polynesians were depicted as aggressive, unwelcome pests who were taking jobs away from deserving Kiwis [4]. The ad told the story of New Zealand as a peaceful nation, one that you would want to raise your children in… until the arrival of immigrants. It claimed that these immigrants became incensed by the lack of jobs, healthcare and education, and turned angry and violent.

In these ads, the blame was being placed squarely on Polynesians; the happy compliant residents depicted were white, whilst the angry individual was brown with a large afro. As such, these ads were used to create a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – those who deserved to be in NZ and those who did not.

The ads created a strong and specific narrative that became a taken for granted ‘Truth’; that Polynesians were taking advantage of New Zealand’s resources and generosity, and that they needed to be removed. Referred to simply as ‘overstayers’, ‘illegals’, and ‘browns’ and presented to the public as over-the-top caricatures, a clear message was sent about who these people were, what they were doing to the country and how they should be dealt with[5]. These catch-all terms enable the individual to refer to a group without acknowledging they are individual humans, who came to New Zealand looking for a better life, instead they are just a collective problem.

In interviews taken at the time of the raids [5], New Zealanders were clearly holding tight to these narratives. As such, they became participants in evil – accepting and condoning through acceptance that a group of people be harmed by prejudicial policies and laws. Standing back and watching it happen.

Through social discourse one can readily observe the way in which language is used to dehumanise and separate the other to allow for the continuation of administrative evil – by actively reinforcing racial stereotypes, create to separate and privilege, New Zealand citizens became passive participants.

The Social Construction of Compliance

In the case of administrative evil, there are hierarchies. Specifically, there are the policy makers and the enforcers. Since the policy makers are a few steps removed from the site of violence, they are able to distance themselves from the reality of the situation. The enforcers however are on the ground, and are active participants.

Interviews with former police officers evidence the same position; they may have been overzealous in their attempts to identify and charge overstayers, but they believed their cause was just, and they were following orders[5]. Adams and Balfour have discussed these attitudes in what they call ‘the social construction of compliance’  – in which the an individual is pushed to perform violence under the direction of authority – whether or not they agree with the process becomes irrelevant as they are no longer acting as an individual but as a cog in a machine.

Adams and Balfour argue that as a culture that has come to place so much value on individualism, the USA has come to expect that when presented with a difficult choice, an individual will stick to their morals and refuse to comply[3]. Did the normative ‘Pakeha’ 1970’s New Zealand share a similar moral system? We know from the overzealous policing that during the dawn raids, the police force became aggressive in their pursual of overstayers. They stopped  individuals on the street and asking for identification, in what was essentially ‘stop and frisk’, since the individuals stopped were done so based on the colour of their skin. They raided homes at the crack of dawn, deliberately when individuals and families were vulnerable.

A New Zealand police officer on Lambton Quay, in 1975. Source:

The actions taken by the police and the legal system were extreme, and individuals were being persecuted for minor crimes (such as petty theft) to the fullest extent of the law, at an unprecedented rate – though this was all technically legal, functioning within the system rather than as an exception to it.

Policy makers and police officers put their own opinions and feelings aside to carry out the policies set in place – even if it meant brining harm by enforcing racist ideologies. Whilst there was some push back on the stop and frisk policies, they were ultimately widely enacted by law enforcement[5]. What one can observe from the police tactics at the time is that group morality had the capacity to overrule individualism – a fact not readily embraced by many who believe in individualism.

Concluding Thoughts

Women performing at a Pacifica conference in 1975. Source:

What is made evident by examining the history of the Dawn Raids in New Zealand, is that administrative evil relies on both passive and active participation. By sharing narratives of harmful individuals who are taking away jobs from more deserving individuals, and upholding policies that allowed law enforcement to act on racism and stereotypes, a culture was created that allowed evil to continue in a way that was accepted by the mainstream populace.

Adams and Balfour stress that administrative evil flourishes under conditions in which people believe in the cause or adopt the ideologies as taken for granted facts – the success of administrative evil then rests in the failure to identify the evil nature of the act until it’s too late.


[1] ‘Dawn Raids’. nd.

[2] New Zealand History. ‘The 1970’s.

[3] Adams, G. & Balfour, D.L. (2014). Unmasking Administrative Evil: the dynamics of evil and administrative evil. Sage Publications.

[4] Te Ara (1975) ‘National Party Election Campaign Ad’

[5] ‘NZ/Samoan Dawn Raids’ Documentary New Zealand.

Speaking to Socks: An Anthropologist gets KonMari-ed

Marie Kondo’s 2014 book, which was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, is reaching new fame through a Netflix TV series in 2019.

Three years ago, I (an anthropologist, feminist, mother, and wife) bought a book. The book was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying.  

I read it. I loved it. I sorted my entire house and started folding things for the first time in years. Then I tucked the book into the far corner of a bookshelf and quietly kept folding.

Now suddenly it is cool, and I can come out of the (miraculously tidy) closet as a fan of Marie Kondo.

An image of my husband’s socks and undies drawer, which I ‘Kondo-ed’ last weekend. Am I a bad feminist, or a good wife? No idea, but it sure was satisfying. NB. Marie recommends folding socks and storing upright… ‘balled up’ socks are angsty socks!



On the electric updraft from the Netflix ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ special, there has been a frenzy of decluttering across New Zealand. There are reports of op-shops closing under a flood of donated goods.  Kitchens cupboards across the country have never been so organised. Garages have never seemed so spacious. Folding is at an all-time high. 

Having run out of drawers to tidy myself, I thought it was time to put on my anthropology hat for a moment and ask: Does this craze mean anything? What is it about a small cheerful Japanese woman who speaks to socks, that is also resonating so deeply in the USA, and NZ, at this moment?

Decluttering the context: gender, class, and the ‘spirit’ of things

Let’s be clear, there is a gendered component to this trend: and I’ll admit the amount of thought I give to stratagizing about the organisation and maintenance of my home gives me mixed feelings as a feminist. The burden of both physical and mental labour to do with the house is typically female. There is also a classed component: the ability to buy, the types of things we buy, and how we view material possessions in relation to both identity and security, in socioeconomic categories and inequalities. Not to mention where and how we are housed. It’s fair to view the success of KonMarie as a largely middle-class female phenomena.

It is interesting too though, how a method that in many ways relates to Asian apartment-style living became so successfully exportable to the USA, NZ, and many other western nations. The geographic component seems no obstacle, but is there a something deeper: a cultural component? And how does it translate?

It seems to me that Marie’s method draws on distinctly Japanese (or at very least, non-European) ways of seeing the world. Particularly what could be broadly called ‘animism’, which is a belief in the aliveness, the ‘essence’ of both sentient and non-sentient things. Animism allows that animals, trees, rocks, mountains, rivers… and yes, socks… all have a ‘spirit’.

This approach to paves the way for a holism that sees our material life as entangled with our own physical, spiritual, and social wellbeing and success.

“What I’d like you to remember as you go through this process is that you’re not alone, the house itself and all your belongings are there to support you and go with you”  – Marie to recently-widowed Margie (from ‘Sparking Joy after a loss: episode * in ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ (Netflix 2019).

So I’m interested to ask now more than ever: in the traditionally dualist or materialist ‘West’, what is drawing us to (or driving us to?) this more animist way of understanding material life?

Joy! (and the dogs of dread on its heels)

Marie Kondo’s central mantra is to surround yourself with only things that ‘spark joy’. Doesn’t that sound delightful? But I think it’s uptake makes most sense when we recognise that material things in many people’s homes, in their amount if not their nature, sparks not joy but shame, anger, dread and exhaustion.

A relatively small pile compared to some of the mountains features in the Netflix show. Image source:

Indeed the ‘pile it all up’ part of Marie’s method is designed to confront, and motivate. It certainly highlights the troubling excesses of capitalist consumer society (though that is hopefully news to no-one). This is where the Netflix show grabs me. Watching the mothers, the widows, the retirees – their struggle, their suffocation. Then eventually, their relief.

Honestly I am myself light-years from being a minimalist, before OR after Marie Kondo upends my home. In fact it  is the persistence and constancy of clutter in my life brings, it’s crushing weight, that most draws me to KonMari.

One of iteration of memes emerging around Marie Kondo. Source:

I believe that the way ‘we’ (middle-class folk in developed countries) experience this material crisis of clutter in our homes is in its own way, as an existential crisis. I think that the frustration and paralysis about stuff, and what to do with it, goes far beyond being a practical concern. Rather it embodies deep uncertainties about moral ways of living and being; of relating between both present and absent family members; of reconciling past, present, and imagined futures, in our homes and our lives. It is in this context that KonMari method appears as such a shining salvation… a gently charted path (with a cheerful guide) through a minefield of shame, uncertainty, and kitchen appliances.

Certainly when I think about it, it’s not the meaningless-ness of the stuff in my home that bothers me, it’s its meaningfulness. In fact it makes me question the taken-for-granted connection between materialism and individualism. So much of the stuff that entangles us is not because of any innate qualities of the things themselves. It’s not only stuff we bought, but stuff we were given. Stuff we inherited, or hope to pass on. Things that represent who we were, or who we want to be. Things we like to show off, things we want to forget are even there. It’s about social relationships, and identities, memories and hopes and connections. It’s not really material at all. Or individual.  

The KonMari method simply lets us acknowledge that. It asks us to feel that, in fact –   intimately, as we hold each item in our hands. It reminds us that our homes and our possessions have a history: a social quality and an experiential one. Why not call it a ‘spirit’? Why not speak to it when we want to make a change? It might just work, and here is why…

Why it works: Ritual, emotion, and behaviour

Ritual is a powerful tool for dealing with emotion, and it is sprinkled all throughout the KonMari method: Greeting a house. Feeling a casserole dish. Waking up piles of books. Thanking a pair of socks.

Rituals by definition are actions that carry shared meaning. But they don’t just solidify existing meanings – they can also change them. Rituals are often used to transition things (and people) between different categories.  So even a small moment of saying ‘thank you’ to used items can make it easier to mentally move them from the category of ‘possession’ to that of ‘donation’ or ‘trash’, which in turns makes it easier to change our behaviour towards it. To let it go. This works for items we keep as well – rituals of holding, feeling joy, and even folding can and do have the ability to change and how those items will be treated and experienced by their owners.

As an avid second-hand shopper, my wardrobe has always been particularly out of control, but I enjoy my clothes more now not only because I have less and can actually see them in the wardrobe, but because I value them more. They don’t just have functional value, but each one is deliberately chosen, treasured. I find I also think twice before I buy more because I know and value what I have. Also when I do farewell an item I can recognise what it has already given me, rather than feeling guilty.

In this way the KonMarie method is not ‘anti-stuff’ at all. Quite the opposite… it teaches a love, connection, and attachment to material life that seems antithetical to goals of decluttering, but isn’t. It opens a space that paradoxically begins to bring an almost hedonism, to minimalism – but one distinct from the excesses of consumerism.

Image result for marie kondo netflix

Marie Kondo. Image source:!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/marie-kondo.jpg

When a drawer closes, a window opens…

A summary of these brief anthropological thoughts would be this: Emerging from a Japanese context, the KonMari method is somehow also a timely response to western existential crises of clutter (that are moral, as well as material). Yes it is practical, but it is more than that.

With a persistent cheer and a handful of quiet rituals, Marie is opening a small window in the stuffy room of western rationality. Her methods let us acknowledge our relationship to places and things at the level of affect and being. To both hold on, and let go, with joy.

And with happier socks.