It’s rare, even among celebrities and mega-influencers, that a person manages to carve out a niche so well-defined that their name becomes a symbol of their singular ideology. Think Gwyneth Paltrow, Sophia Amoruso, or unfortunate as it is, Donald Trump. Perhaps Marie Kondo isn’t a household name of that magnitude, but she certainly belongs on the same list. Since releasing her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, in 2012, the Japanese organisation guru and her KonMari method have changed the way people approach material possessions. Her name is sometimes used as a verb: As in, “I’m going to Marie Kondo the shit out of my flat this weekend.” If that’s not proof of an icon, what is?
Both the book and her new Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, which premiered on 1st January (prime time for New Year’s Resolutions) espouse Kondo’s deep belief in the art of decluttering. She’s big on getting rid of stuff, and her suggestion that one should toss anything that does not “spark joy” is the most widely-known facet of her ideology. It’s also the most misunderstood.
If you’ve only read about KonMari without examining the original source material, it may seem like yet another gimmick marketed to a generation (or is it a whole nation?) of people forever flitting between different means of shallow, ineffective self-improvement. It even scored a passing mention in Anne Helen Peterson’s now-infamous Buzzfeed piece on millennial burnout. And like all things that reach a critical mass of popularity, KonMari has become the butt of a few (objectively quite joy-sparking) internet memes and tweets like: “marie kondo is holding me hostage until i fold the clothes piled on my designated clothes holding chair.”
But on the show, as well as in real life, Kondo really isn’t some hard-liner who barges into people’s homes and demands they rid themselves of half their possessions. She’s also not an idealistic flake who thinks no one should own practical objects.
Instead, Kondo, who is 34, soft-spoken, and charismatic (she couldn’t even walk down a short hallway at Refinery29's New York office without being gushed over), challenges her clients to be hard on themselves. One could argue that what the Queer Eye reboot did for fashion and grooming, Tidying Up aims to do for organisation. But whereas the Queer Eye cast encourages their proteges to worship at the altar of consumerism, KonMari is all about appreciating what you have, parting with what you don’t need, and coming up with a plan for how to properly store it all (Kondo urges clients to sort things into specific categories, as opposed to approaching things room-by-room). All you have to do is watch Kondo’s wizard-like techniques for folding and storing everything from bras to boiler suits to see that the woman knows what she’s talking about.
We caught up with Kondo to ask her all our most burning questions, including whether or not Americans are the biggest pack-rats, how men and women differ when it comes to purging stuff, and how to balance being both a minimalist and a die-hard clotheshorse. Yep, turns out, in Marie Kondo’s world, even that is possible.
Refinery29: Is there anything that has surprised you while working with the people featured on the show?
Marie Kondo: Homes in the United States are far bigger than in other parts of the world. That sheer amount of space made it a challenge. As you saw in Episode 2, she had a lot, a lot of clothes. I would say she probably had the most things of all the clients that I’ve had, in terms of clothes. So that was unique.
I think a lot of fashion-conscious women (and also men!) struggle with balancing a love of clothing and a desire to keep up with the trends, with that more minimalist lifestyle that they also crave. What advice do you have for people like that?
So, the important thing is that you don’t have to deny yourself. The point of KonMari method is not to have fewer items but rather to learn to cherish the items that you do have and that you truly love. So it’s very important to get an accurate grasp on how many clothes you actually love — touch them, piece by piece, and really see if they truly raise your joy.
What do you say to people who argue that clutter does actually bring them joy?
It’s no problem at all. I think if you're truly comfortable with clutter in your home, then that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that, but I will recommend that you still have a designated spot for each item, and also to understand how much quantity of each category of things you have and need. I think that's an important awareness to have.
Some people seem to really struggle with the concept of assessing items based on whether or not they bring them joy, because then, what do you do with things that you need — like, say, a hammer — but that don’t necessarily make you feel joyful?
I often get this question, and I think when it comes to things that you find necessary or useful but doesn't necessarily spark joy, I recommend changing your perspective a little bit, when it comes to the things that are useful to them. What do you make happen with them?
Because for instance, with a hammer, it helps you build things or tongs, they help you cook. So when you look at it that way, they do contribute to the overall happiness in your life and so it's very important to give a value them.
Do you find that, in terms of the process of purging things and deciding what to get rid of, that men and women have very different reactions? Or is gender not a factor?
There is a difference when it comes to gender, but more than anything, it has to do with a person’s personality, how they relate to purging or letting things go. But if I were to say there’s a general difference, I’d say it’s harder for women, because women aren’t good at letting go of clothes.
What’s the best way for parents to impart some of the KonMari philosophy on young children?
I think the process is very much the same. What’s most important about the method is to select what you cherish most. So for something like toys, we can ask the children to order them from best to least. In this way, you're kind of teaching them to really think about their connection to things. Or when you teach children to fold clothes, it's a very effective way to get them to start thinking about what clothes actually do for you, and that it's not something that we just put on without thinking.
Do you think that tidying up, like learning a new language, is one of those things that’s easier when you learn it as a young person?
Of course it's great to start when you're young, because then it becomes a habitual action of your daily life. It becomes part of your life much sooner. But in regards to KonMari method, I want to emphasise that it’s really an opportunity for self-reflection and self-discovery. So it's a great thing to do as a grown-up, once you have a certain amount of possessions in your life, because it gives you an opportunity to really reflect how you want to live your life, and what you want to have in it.
It’s New Year’s Resolution time, and a lot of people resolve to use your book, and now probably the show, as inspiration for being cleaner and more organised in the new year. Do you believe it’s possible to turn these kind of resolutions into a way of life?
If your resolution for the new year is to be tidier, that’s great, and I think it’s something that is possible [to maintain]. But speaking strictly about the KonMari method, the way we do it is that you conduct it within a set period of time and the point is to completely tidy all at once, so once you do that, it’s great, because you can shift to thinking about always returning everything, every item in your house, to its designated spot. Once you know where everything belongs, it becomes all about putting them back every time.
Have you always been someone who approached the world this way, or was that something that you kind of grew into later in life?
It’s not that I was born tidy, but rather that, through trial and error that I developed the method. Much trial and error!
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