Emily: You know Marie Kondo? […] People swear by her. She says you have to take everything you own out and put it in piles on the ground. Then you pick up each possession, and you hold it. If it brings you joy, you keep it. And if it doesn’t, out it goes.
—Gilmore Girls Revival, Episode 1
While the four Gilmore Girls revival episodes provide much fodder for debate among fans, we can probably all agree that the first moments of the first episode, “Winter,” brought us joy.
After a prolonged absence, Rory and Lorelai reunite at the Star’s Hollow gazebo. They exchange their iconic brand of brisk, witty repartee while strolling arm-in-arm through the snow-covered town. Fan insider references abound. Lorelai even smells snow. It’s just about perfect.
As the episode continues, we discover all is not right in the Gilmore girls’ worlds. Rory's forgettable boyfriend Paul brings her no joy, but she can’t remember to cut him loose. The Dragonfly’s pop-up kitchen brings Lorelai no joy, and neither does the prospect of finding a permanent replacement for Sookie. Most heartbreakingly, Emily, along with Rory and Lorelai, is mourning Richard’s death.
In addition to these, little ripples of dissatisfaction radiate through the characters’ lives. Have I mentioned Emily and Lorelai’s blow-out fight after Richard’s funeral? Also: Michel is distressed by his husband’s desire to adopt a child. Emily unwittingly commissioned a wall-sized portrait of Richard but won’t admit it’s all wrong. Rory is working with a lunatic on a memoir project she describes as “not really what I do.” Lane’s husband Zach is working at a job that’s, in his words, “not me.” And for comic relief, Taylor is vigorously campaigning to get the town off septic, and driving Luke insane in the process.*
On the whole, the characters are struggling to find joy in their lives.
Even if you haven't read Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," you might know why I keep referring to joy. It's a reference to Kondo's maxim: Purge the superfluous, and surround yourself with things that "spark joy," the phrase most often associated with her book.
Towards the end of "Winter," Lorelai goes to Hartford to check up on Emily and finds her home in upheaval. One of Emily's garden club cronies recommended Kondo to her, and Emily is perhaps characteristically taking the concept to the extreme. She's getting rid of, well, everything. Dressed, disturbingly, in a pair of Lorelai's old jeans and a ratty t-shirt, Emily oversees a battalion of workers who are packing up boxes and removing what appears to be the sum total of her home's contents.
Lorelai sits her down for a truth telling: "Mom, nothing is going to bring you joy right now. Nothing. Your husband just died." In that moment, Lorelai is right, of course. She convinces Emily to see a therapist instead. By episode’s end, Emily reports to Lorelai that the therapist has instructed her to throw away Kondo's book.
This made me sad. First of all, throwing away a book someone else might enjoy? I'm horrified. Second, even if a mass purging isn't the best idea when you're in emotional turmoil and mourning the loss of your life partner of 50 years, Kondo's books makes several worthy points.
Her premise, as you may have gathered from the title, is that decluttering can help us identify what we truly value. "Tidying is a dialogue with one's self," she writes. Forcing ourselves to confront and cull our mountains of stuff and keep only that which "sparks joy" brings focus and clarity. Kondo gives an example of one of her clients who, after paring down her book collection, realized she wanted to change her career, inspired by the similarities among the joy-sparking titles she kept.
Sure, the clutter junkies among us may find Kondo’s method extreme. Book lovers, in particular, may balk at the idea of giving away half or three quarters (or more) of their collections. Kondo's suggestion to project feelings onto objects may also seem a little ... kooky for those of us used to treating inanimate objects as, you know, inanimate, and endlessly replaceable. Though I’ve been known to whisper sweet-nothings to my Nook GlowLight Plus from time to time.
For me, the most difficult part of her method to reconcile is the philosophy underpinning it, namely the implication that the past doesn't matter as much as the present and future. Maybe I'm misreading her. Maybe it's my own limitation. Maybe it's that I find history so crucial to know, study, and respect, including our individual, family, and community histories. The idea that we can discard what is unpleasant or doesn't make us happy troubles me. History, in its various forms, has a way of lingering. Just because we rid ourselves of its tangible manifestations doesn't mean we've moved on from it. A cursory look at the world around us shows that.
Still, I found "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" wise in many ways. Kondo believes that facing up to our possessions can be painful because we have to "confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past." Does it ever! I can't argue with her belief that "[t]he question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life." Her method may not be perfect (I mean, what is?), but I'm glad I read her book. Even if I don’t go full Kondo on my stuff, reading her book gave me an opportunity to look at what I've surrounded myself with and ask that profound and difficult question, "Is this how I want to live?"
In a way, it's ironic that Kondo's book appears to serve as a comic foil in "Winter." By revival's end, Emily has cut away her old life and built a new one that is all about figuring out what nourishes her, what "sparks joy."
* Apparently, someone forgot that already happened. See Season 1, Episode 16.