My friends online will be familiar with the phrase “late-stage capitalism” and its associated examples, including Tesco’s festive mulled wine-scented toilet paper (delightful) and the mammoth black iPhone advertising hoardings (less so) installed over the windows of low-income flats in east London – the landlord had sold their tenants’ daylight.
It is one of those useful phrases that encompasses the discomfort and farce of modern life, at a time when inequality rises like sea levels, competition is sewn into everyday life, stability and security in work are fairy tales, yet the handful of corporations that control the textures of our life play our political fears back to us in jingles, co-opting politics to sell us Pepsi. On my desk I have packages containing 1 x “empowering” sheet-mask for the vulva, another containing a £50 eco-friendly water bottle that jangles with “cleansing crystals” and, stuck in a notebook, a photo ripped from a magazine of a pair of jeans that came ready-muddied, to show its wearer can “get down and dirty”, £350. Here we are, broken.
The phrase was originally used by Marxist theorists in the 20th century, but popularised online about two years ago, with thousands of memes and Reddit posts competing to share examples of feverish marketing attempts and evidence of pitiless choices by those controlling the cash. And so it was this phrase that rolled, marble-like into my mind when I was sent news of Marie Kondo’s new online shop. Yes, this is the same Marie Kondo whose 2015 book on decluttering I read closely, like many others, in order to improve my life, and whose international success led to a Netflix show and status as a celebrity tidying consultant, and a doubling of contributions to charity shops across the world.
By inviting us to hold each of our shirts, each of our books, our photographs, the small chipped heirlooms of past relationships in our hands and asking us to keep it only if it “sparked joy”, she ushered in the possibility of pure control. While not inherently minimalist (a trigger word for me, a person who, after half a glass of wine will happily burn down the superiority that comes with a “capsule wardrobe” and expensive asceticism) her teachings leaned heavily towards the “stuff is bad; bin all your crap” school of thought.
Still, it should be no surprise that as 2019 crawls bloodily to a close, whispering hoarsely to the year ahead, “Leave me behind, I’ll only slow you down”, that a Kondo shop, selling new crap to those whose homes echo nakedly since she first entered their lives, should open. And right before Christmas, too.
This is Kondo II: Back in the Habit, where she reveals the masterplan, her very own economy, a cycle of buying and binning in search of true happiness. The shop itself is Goop-like in its ambitions of expensive wellness, with joy-sparking products, such as a crumb brush ($24), 4,096hz tuning fork with smoky quartz crystal ($75) and “computer brush” ($35). There are five different sizes of octagonal plates to organise your emptinesses. The sponge ($16) and tea scoop ($54) are already out of stock, some gentle mums surely due, on Boxing Day, to quietly ask their offspring if they kept the receipts.
Late-stage capitalism sits in these colourful octagonal plates, smiling its thin grin. There is something reassuring, though, about the predictability of a tidying guru asking you to clear just enough space to house a range of her own branded products.
Elsewhere, across a single day, I watch “clean eating” influencers sell cookery books passing on diet advice gleaned from a lifetime of eating disorders, monetising guilt and shame and adorable little energy balls. On the train I stare at an ad from property developers for new-builds in Wembley using language and a logo inspired by Extinction Rebellion to market their “hotel-inspired service” for renting millennials. I write this as culture secretary Nicky Morgan defends the Conservative pledge to deliver 50,000 more nurses by offering, I think, the fact that if you’re a nurse, then if we vote the Tories in again, next year you’ll be two nurses? Maths is hard.
And yet, beyond the reassuring awfulness, there is potential for change. It’s in the fact that there is a phrase for it, that this bruising feeling is so universal and ominous it can be packaged in sarcastic memes, named, dissected. The fact that the phrase contains the word “late”, as in, nearing the end. Is a revolution coming?
Such optimism is new for me, a person more used to sifting through a pastel-coloured website at 3am muttering ragefully when I wake having hate-purchased a $16 sponge. Therefore I am more inclined to keep monitoring these examples of late-stage capitalism in my small notebook, awaiting the day Apple or Amazon co-opt the phrase, printing it on a billboard pasted across the windows of an inner-city tower block. In its own starless way, such horror may spark joy.