Making Room with Marie Kondo
By Sara Salam
Marie Kondo makes room for meaningful objects, people, and experiences.
The organizational guru behind her #1 New York Times bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, Kondo prescribes a simplified approach to organizing space.
The intention behind her decluttering philosophy is to “end up with a clutter-free home that is better able to bring more joy and prosperity into your life.”
Her emphasis on achieving serenity and inspiration sets her apart from other approaches to organizing space, rather than organizing for organizing-sake.
How She Got Started
Kondo began her tidying consultant business as a 19-year-old university student in Tokyo, where she wrote her capstone project about tidying. For a time, she was an assistant at a Shinto shrine.
By her mid-twenties, her consulting business had a waitlist. It was these prospective clients who encouraged her to write a book, which would become The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
In 2010, Kondo’s book proposal won first prize in a publishing training course called “How to write bestsellers that will be loved for ten years.” Tomohiro Takahashi, an editor at Tokyo self-help and business publisher called Sunmark, made the winning bid.
Coupled with savvy marketing and a TV spot tidying the space of a well-known comedian, Kondo propelled herself into the hearts and minds of what are now considered her “Konverts.”
Today, she is a globally renowned tidying expert. Her journey represents a story of female empowerment, that pursuit of your passion can lead you to remarkable places.
Why is Kondo so popular?
Kondo’s approach encourages moving away from things that do not serve us, things which ultimately induce stress, in favor of a simplified, serene way of living.
Stress By Mess
Kondo knows mess causes stress in people’s lives.
She also knows there are simple things we can do to exert control over our mess, especially in areas such as our living and work spaces.
For example, the physical characteristics of living and work spaces, including features like crowding, clutter, noise, and artificial light, have been shown to affect mood and health in populations ranging from young children to senior citizens, according to a study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
In the same study, researchers found women who described their homes as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects” were more depressed, fatigued, and had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than women who felt their homes were “restful” and “restorative.”
Kondo’s KonMari Method addresses these effects head on with her emphasis on tidying and simplifying space, to maximize its manga, or magic.
“The KonMari Method is the foundation of all my work,” Kondo says. “It teaches people that the act of tidying your home will help you identify your values and what sparks joy in you. When you’re equipped with this knowledge, you will begin to improve all aspects of your life.”
Kondo’s mindful approach to organization offers six basic rules of tidying:
- Commit yourself to tidying up.
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle. Kondo asks her clients, What does the beginning and end of your day look like? Having a clear image of your ideal life will help you stay motivated and you will begin to create the life you’ve longed for.
- Finish discarding first. Before getting rid of items, sincerely thank each item for serving its purpose.
- Tidy by category, not location.
- Follow the right order. Begin with clothes, followed by books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items.
- Ask yourself if each item sparks joy. Thank them with gratitude for their service – then let them go.
Kondo reiterates the definition of what “sparks joy” varies across individuals. The KonMari Method as a practice does not require living a minimalistic lifestyle.
In an interview with Man Repeller, Kondo addresses the concept of having a lot of stuff.
“It’s not a good or a bad thing, it just stems from a difference in sensitivities and value systems,” Kondo points out. “If you’re someone who owns a lot of things and doesn’t want to let anything go, I would suggest trying to organize your drawers by folding your clothing in the correct way – just once! – and see how you feel. You might be surprised to find that having an organized space actually sparks joy.
“The ultimate goal of tidying is to discover how you’d like to live in your home.
“Less stress, more joy.”
Kondo uses a zoom-out-zoom-in approach as it relates to optimizing productivity. First, and critically, she considers how she wants to spend her time, starting with years, then narrowing in on quarters, months, week, all the way down to daily routines. This approach lends itself to aligning how she spends her time with her priorities at any given point in her life.
“Currently, my goal is to work as efficiently as possible so I can spend more time with my children,” Kondo says. She shares five tips that help balance time between family and work:
- Start your morning with good energy – Kondo’s morning rituals include opening her windows to let fresh air in and burning incense.
- Make a daily to-do list – She includes everything on this list, including laundry and email correspondence.
- Coordinate with your partner – Sharing what each person undertakes helps you realize the number of tasks necessary to live comfortably together, and what kinds of tasks are best suited for each person, Kondo believes.
- Clear your mind – When she needs to reorganize her thoughts, Kondo writes down everything that’s on her mind using a blank sheet of paper. She identifies what she calls tangled feelings, and clarifies which issues she can and can’t control.
- Create a nighttime routine – Kondo’s nighttime routine consists of spending time with her children, returning items to their designated home, thanking them for their work that day.
“For me,” Kondo says, “work-life balance is about being aware of what you’re currently working toward and communicating that with your loved ones.”
Kondo has two young children and is married to Takumi Kawahara, whom she met during his college years. They married in 2013. Together, they established KonMari Media, Inc. in 2015, of which Kawahara assumed the role of CEO. He led the global expansion of the business, including the distribution of books, media channels, and the KonMari Consultant program, which is active in over 30 countries. He’s also an executive producer of their Netflix show.
Kondo and Kawahara blend their personal and professional relationship in such a way that balance and happiness are at the center: their kids.
Even their kids participate in tidying.
On her website, Kondo explains using the KonMari Method to expose children early on to the concept of tidying. She suggests to narrate as you tidy, so that the children can learn from you as they’re taking part. Show the children that tidying and playing go together, than after you play, everything has a home to return to. Don’t forget to be mindful that space is finite, so be aware of new toys, diapers, etc.
Applying the KonMari Method
The KonMari Method can be applied to many aspects of life, such as your finances, your career, and your mind.
The common theme? Imagining what you want your life to look like, making a plan, prioritizing, and forgoing anything that doesn’t spark joy.
“After tidying, my clients are more mindful about what they purchase, and they avoid buying in excess,” Kondo said in a special with NBC News. “I do believe it is important to use this self-awareness to guide your spending habits and let go of any tendencies or habits that are hindering you from meeting your financial goals (and your ideal lifestyle, overall).”
In a piece with Her Money, the KonMari Method is applied to streamlining your career trajectory. Some tips include being mindful of taking off-time from your devices, learning to say no to projects or tasks that add stress, making to-do lists, and finally, finding a way of doing more of what brings you joy at work, and off-loading or delegating the things that aren’t consistent with your career goals.
Kondo sat down for a conversation with best-selling author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic Liz Gilbert about tidying the mind. Kondo asked Gilbert to share any advice she has for people who want to come to terms with difficult realizations related to living a life you don’t want for yourself.
“You can’t do work on yourself and not do work on the space you live,” Gilbert said. “And you can’t do work on the space you live and not do work on yourself. So, if you’re too afraid to look into the scary attic in your mind, look into the scary attic in your home. It will be a portal, a doorway, that will take you into the parts of yourself that you’ve been afraid to look at.”
Gilbert believes your home is a portrait of yourself; it needs to be treated accordingly.
Kondo has garnered over three million followers on Instagram, where she shares “tidy hacks” that help optimize the use of space. One such hack: emptying your dishwasher before guests arrive, so clean-up following their departure is more efficient.
She has nearly 400,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel. Her Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo was viewed over one million times within two weeks of its launch in January 2019. She also has a free app her fans can utilize.
Kondo recently launched The Shop at KonMari, which includes products ranging from décor and living, tidying and organization, tabletop and entertaining, cooking and kitchen, bath essentials, aromatherapy, and books.
In response to her rise in popularity, Kondo’s company employs over 200 consultants – all certified in the KonMari Method – to meet the demands of clients who seek her organizational expertise. She herself is no longer available for hire due to her commitments running the business.
Ultimately, Kondo believes expressions of gratitude will lead to a joy-filled life.
“I think you should always be honing your sensitivity to joy and letting go with gratitude of anything that doesn’t contribute to your happiness.