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A Magical Reorientation of the Modern: Professional Organizers and Thingly Care in Contemporary North America

By Katie Kilroy-Marac

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Cite As:
Kilroy-Marac, Katie. 2016. “A Magical Reorientation of the Modern: Professional Organizers and Thingly Care in Contemporary North America”. Cultural Anthropology 31 (3), 438-57. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca31.3.09.

Abstract

Within the past decade, material disorder—especially that of the domestic variety—has come to stand alternately as evidence, symptom, and potential cause of mental disorder in the North American popular and psychiatric imagination. Sources ranging from the newly defined Hoarding Disorder diagnosis in the DSM-V, to popular media, to agents of the burgeoning clutter-management industry describe disorder in terms of an irrational attachment, closeness, or overidentification with objects. At the same time, these sources imagine order to result from the cool distance and controlled passion a person is able to maintain toward his or her possessions. Drawing on more than twenty interviews and numerous fieldwork encounters with professional organizers (POs) in Toronto between 2014 and 2015, this article describes how POs aim to reorient their clients materially, morally, and affectively to relieve the disorder they report in their lives. Here, I argue, POs emerge as a species of late capitalist healer whose interventions are animated by a paradoxical double movement. For just as POs act to loosen the object attachments and disrupt the “secret sympathy” their clients share with their possessions, they operate within a realm of magical correspondence where matter and mind are imagined to reflect and affect one another, and where bringing order to a client’s possessions means also bringing order to his or her mind.

Keywords

material culture; domestic order; disorder; mental health; late capitalism; new materialism; North America