Marie Kondo Hoarding
Credit: Netflix

For years, the thought of anyone coming into my two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment filled me with dread. Every single surface of my place was covered in stuff — from clothes to papers to magazines to electronics cords.

If it looked like a hoarder’s apartment, that’s because it was.

My accumulation of belongings happened gradually. When I had roommates, the mess was mostly confined to my bedroom. When I started living alone, I let it build and spread and sprawl until I had trouble getting from one room to the next. During the worst of my hoarding years, I could barely open my apartment’s front door — and not just because I didn’t want anyone to come in, but because there was so much shit in front of it.

Sometimes, I mentioned how bad my apartment was. Well-meaning friends offered to stop by and “help.” Despite their good intentions, that was the last thing I would have let happen — I was too scared of their reactions. I’d seen how people reacted to someone like me — on TV, anyways. On TLC’s reality show Hoarders, for example, the prospect of interacting with a hoarder and cleaning out their home is framed in the harshest way possible; the apartment is always a “nightmare” and the hoarder is a freak.

VIDEO: Travel Tidy With Marie Kondo

Perhaps that’s why I was so skeptical to watch organizing guru Marie Kondo tackle people’s messes on her new Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Would she react with cautious horror to the messes she encountered? Would she yell and scream and make people cry? Would she make it look totally easy, and then leave troubled clients on their own to figure out how to maintain her professional results?

Fortunately, Kondo’s level of empathy is actually deeply refreshing. On her show, the diminutive and enthusiastic organizer never once shames or sensationalizes any of the people whose homes she helps get in shape over the course of eight episodes. No matter how much clutter someone has, there is no moment of horror. Instead, she focuses on the different reasons people accumulate clutter, like the death of a loved one, moving to a smaller home, expecting a baby, or plain old sentimentality. By doing so, she makes the mess feel less like a problem, and more like the detritus of a real human being’s existence.

Kondo also does a great job of being sensitive to how extreme amounts of clutter can affect our relationships. In the first episode, the harried parents of two young, loud toddlers are given what feels like a mini therapy session. Kondo gives each of them room to air their grievances and issues, before diving into her organizing methods. In another episode, one of Kondo’s clients confesses to the camera that he’s been nervous about what his parents will think of the clutter. He tears up; he, like most people, wants his parents to be proud of him. Kondo begins addressing his concerns by having him and his partner each picture their vision for their home. This ritual only takes a few seconds per episode, but has a clearly calming effect. Kondo never questions whether or not her subjects are capable of accomplishing their goals — she seems assured that they can, if everyone is willing to work at it.

And, unlike your other straightforward home reorganization shows, Kondo doesn’t swoop in and offer a magic, clean-your-apartment-and-go kind of solution to clutter. Instead, she approaches each home and mess with absolute respect and understanding. In fact, demonstrates an almost spiritual reverence for people’s belongings. While shows like Hoarders make the process scary, grim and traumatizing, Kondo makes it seem like a mix of fun and fruitful. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the show, though, was the genuine laughter throughout. Humor is definitely not something I associate with throwing out objects; in fact, it terrifies me. Seeing the process depicted that way was pretty revolutionary for my hoarder’s mind.

In fact, it was enough to inspire me to try and do it myself.

I live with my boyfriend now, and his minimalist ways directly contradict my impulses — still, I let my spaces get out of hand. After watching Tidying Up, I decided to confront one of those spaces. I picked the bathroom to start because I falsely assumed I could ruthlessly sort through the random clay masks and lotions that have been there for so long I don’t even remember acquiring them. But a hard truth about decluttering, one that Tidying Up doesn’t shy away from, is that it’s an emotional and extremely difficult process. Seeing that truth acknowledged in such a non-judgmental way made all the difference — so I kept at it. And eventually? I cleaned out my bathroom.