Marie Kondo is the epitome of the word joy. And it’s become the 34-year-old Tokyo native’s mission to spread that effervescence as she helps people around the world organize their homes — by embracing what they already own. The author of three books about how to declutter is now a bona fide TV star thanks to her new Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. She’s even become a verb! (If you haven’t already, you’ll definitely be Marie Kondo-ing your own home soon.) Here, speaking to EW through an interpreter, the recent Los Angeles transplant reminisces about her first tidying client, explains how she’s had to adapt her “KonMari Method” for American culture, and reveals how this newfound fame is bringing her — what else? — joy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you know how many clients you’ve had since you started doing this 15 years ago?
MARIE KONDO: I wonder! [Laughs] I suspect I’ve been giving lessons almost every day, so prior to the show I had about a thousand clients, I would say. It was simply my hobby, so I never thought it would be this important to have kept a record, but I wish I did. It’s one of my biggest regrets that I have, actually.
When did it turn from a hobby into a profession?
When I graduated from university, I worked at a very ordinary company, and on weekends I would give tidying lessons; but it was more of a side business. This only became my main career after I left that position, and I started to become independent as an organizing consultant in 2009.
Do you recall your very first paid client and what that tidying job entailed?
The very first time I received payment for my lessons was from a friend of a friend — a young, female entrepreneur, a business owner. I went to her home and, of course, I was a little nervous. It wasn’t so much because I was teaching her, but it was more about receiving her questions. She was asking me, “What should I do about this part of the home?” I think the lesson ended up being about five hours. I’m not sure how much she paid me — it might’ve been about… $1,500.
How has life changed since the show debuted on Netflix?
I have become aware of the number of people that know me or my name. [Laughs] That has increased, which is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Especially my friends who live abroad, they know whenever they mention the name, all those people recognize that. So I’m very surprised about that.
In some episodes, you point out things that are very “American” — like kitchen size — and it’s said Americans place a lot of value on material things. Have you seen any difference in the way Americans respond to your method versus clients outside the U.S.?
I think the issues we have with tidying, that aspect is very much universal — we’re all the same, no matter where you come from. But I think Americans tend to be a little more taken aback that I greet the home and express gratitude to inanimate objects. That part is almost second nature to most Japanese people, but I think that is a very fresh thing for American people to encounter.
Have you altered your technique since moving to the U.S. in 2016?
I don’t think the pillars of what I try to teach with the KonMari Method have changed, with regard to choosing what sparks joy for you or the order that we follow [see sidebar], but in comparing Japan and the U.S., the structure of the home and the space that we’re dealing with is very different. The way we store things depends on the culture, so I have to adapt in that regard.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of your method?
When people watch the show, it makes a big impression visually, so they think the KonMari Method is all about throwing things out and the fewer items you have the better, but that’s not necessarily the case. What’s important in the method is not the number of things you throw out but rather what you’re selecting — what sparks joy for you. What’s important is what you choose to retain.
In traditional makeover shows on American TV, we usually see the designers be very hands-on. You seem to leave homeowners to do this on their own. Why is that important to the process?
I think what you see on TV might be a little deceptive because myself and my other consultants, we’re normally a little more hands-on. We do have time in which we do help choose what sparks joy, but not all the time. With the KonMari Method, it’s very important that the clients themselves confront their things and assess how they feel about their belongings. It’s very much about asking yourself what you want to do with your life going forward. I believe the answers to those questions lie inherently within the client. But if I’m there, they’ll just ask me. So what’s more important is that they ask themselves, and that’s not only about what sparks joy but also to keep their home organized, to make that part of their lifestyle.
Have you seen anyone go too far with how much they decided to get rid of?
I do have that experience, when the client is just sort of feeling a high from letting go of a lot of things. [Laughs] This is why I always urge them to express gratitude to a belonging before they let it go because it allows them to keep that calm mindset and really think about what they’re letting go of and what they’re retaining.
People are saying, “I Marie Kondo’d my house.” What’s it like to be part of the pop culture lexicon? And how do you feel hearing that places like Goodwill are seeing a significant increase in donations thanks to you?
I’m very much surprised that my name has become a verb, and the immensity of the influence the show has had. For me, it’s not so much about myself but the power and influence that tidying has and its ability to change your life. This would not have become a phenomenon had it not been for all those people who did change their lives through tidying, and then sharing episodes and their stories and how their lives changed. So it’s my earnest wish to continue doing this work so that as many people in the world can really find the values that they hold dear, and start living a life that sparks joy.
Ready to start tidying up? Here’s what Kondo advises to get you started.
The KonMari Method — outlined in her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — focuses on tidying not by location but category, five of them to be exact: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous (cooking utensils, toiletries, tools, etc.), and sentimental items. It’s important to hold each item and ask whether it’s something that brings you joy. Kondo compares feeling joy to “when you hold a puppy or wear your favorite outfit” — you’ll get a “warm and fuzzy feeling.” If you don’t, thank it and let it go.
For clothes, gather every item you own — yes, all of it! — on your bed in one big pile. It’s important to see it all in one place. Kondo also has her own method for folding to make every item easier to see and to save drawer space. For shirts, the goal is to create a rectangle by folding the item in thirds lengthwise, and then folding that in half widthwise (leaving a bit of material hanging over), and then in thirds widthwise. Now the shirt can be stored standing in a drawer. For jeans, first fold in half lengthwise, then in half widthwise, and then in thirds widthwise. Pants are stored in drawers like shirts, standing up.
Kondo received backlash after encouraging a Tidying Up couple to get rid of much of their book collection. But the organizational consultant insists her method is uniform and — though she personally keeps just 30 books at a time — any books that truly spark joy should remain in the home.
Papers should be organized into one of three categories: pending (like bills that are waiting for you to take action), important (like insurance documents and contracts you need to keep permanently), and miscellaneous (things you read often, like recipes or instructions).
For miscellaneous items, Kondo suggests using small boxes that fit in drawers to compartmentalize similar-size items within the same container.
Have a lot of photos? Put them in an album for display rather than keeping them in bulky frames or boxed up where they’ll never be seen. Other sentimental items can be stored in memory boxes.
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