Decluttering guru Marie Kondo is back with more life-changing tips
Making your life more joyful and less complicated can begin with the simple act of tidying up, says Japanese author recently named one of world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine
Just in time to make good on your New Year's vow to get organised, Marie Kondo, the self-described “crazy tidying fanatic” who has sparked the world with her joy for decluttering, has a new book to help you clean up your act.
This week, Kondo's Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organising and Tidying Up,”will be published in the United States. A sequel to her international bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, (see review) it offers a more detailed and in-depth course in her methodical programme to get rid of things that don't “spark joy”.
The new book includes illustrations of how to fold everything, including parkas, underwear and socks, as well as pictures of perfectly organised drawers. Kondo also answers some of the questions raised after her first book, such as what to do about items that don’t spark joy but are still needed. In Kondo’s case, it’s screwdrivers; she thanks them everyday for not ruining her nails.
Kondo is a celebrity in Japan – she regularly appears on television there, and her four books in Japanese have sold a total of 2.2 million copies. Her surname has become a verb – “I just kondoed my closet” – and when Time magazine named Kondo one of the 100 most influential people of 2015, actress Jamie Lee Curtis called her a “modern-day ‘Mary Poppins’”.
Video: Marie Kondo shows how to fold a T-shirt perfectly so that it stands up in your drawer
Kondo's approach of keeping only what you need and organising it in the most space-saving way seems perfectly tailored to tiny Japanese (and Hong Kong ) flats. More surprising, even to Kondo, is her popularity in places such as the US, where people typically have more space to spread out their belongings. (The Life-Changing Magic has sold more than 1.6 million copies in North America.)
“In America, people live in big houses, but they tend to have too many things, and that doesn't necessarily mean that they are happy,” Kondo says during an interview at her office in central Tokyo. (It is not kept according to the KonMari method – a dishcloth was hanging by the sink, a real no-no.) “So that's another reason I think my book translates.”
Also, the focus on clearing your head as well as your house has tapped into a global trend: mindfulness.
“I think one of the reasons it's been so popular is because I talk not only about physical decluttering but also about decluttering your mind, too,” Kondo says, sitting ramrod-straight next to a bunch of pink flowers that matches her skirt. “My method of decluttering reveals what's most important in your life. So it doesn't matter whether you're in Japan or overseas, this method shows clearly what's important to you.”
After assessing what sparks joy in their lives, two of her clients have decluttered themselves of their husbands.
These are the basic principles of the KonMari method: first, dump everything you own of a certain category – start with clothes, then move to books, etc – onto the floor to force a decluttering “shock”. Then go through them, deciding whether each item “sparks joy”.
“When deciding, it's important to touch it, and by that, I mean holding it firmly in both hands as if communing with it. Pay close attention to how your body responds when you do this,” she writes in the new book. “When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising. When you hold something that doesn't bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier.”
Anything that doesn’t meet this bar gets chucked.
Then, decide where to store each item you are keeping and always put it back in its place. Kondo has a way to fold everything – down to plastic shopping bags – so that each item can stand upright, saving space and making everything visible. (But be careful not to squeeze your underwear in too tight or they won’t be able to breathe.)
This method means you will have to declutter only once and then just maintain it, Kondo says, claiming a zero “rebound” rate.
Some of Kondo’s suggestions will make people who are already struggling to find a work-life balance sigh. Writing about infusing mealtimes with joy, Kondo notes a recent fad in Japan in which grated radish is moulded into crazy animal shapes. Who has time for that?
But, Kondo says, such efforts are worth it. Decluttering once will save busy people time over the long run. Kondo estimates that she spends 20 minutes a day folding clothes – she doesn’t watch television while folding, but concentrates on the folding and talking to the clothes – and says this is when she has some quiet time to herself.
In response to questions she received after publishing The Life-Changing Magic, Kondo says that items that are necessary but not necessarily joyful – such as funeral clothes and those screwdrivers – should be “showered with praise” and recognised for the way they make life simpler. In her home, Kondo removes the labels from her laundry detergent and wraps ribbons around it to make it more visually pleasing.
Kondo, 31, has always been a neat freak. As a child, she would pore over her mother’s magazines, reading articles on tidying and organisation, and, as a teenager, she read every book available in Japanese on the subject. She became so obsessed with decluttering, she says, that she had a nervous breakdown in high school.
That got her thinking about how to make tidying a happy process. By deciding what to keep rather than what to discard, Kondo says she can help people create a “bright and joyful future”.
Although she says she does not practise Shintoism, Kondo had a part-time job at a shrine while she was in high school, and her method incorporates Shinto ideas of order and personifying objects.
“For many people in Japan, it's natural to think that things have souls and that you should show gratitude when you use them,” she said.
When getting rid of sentimental objects such as soft toys, she recommends trying the Japanese purification rite of throwing coarse salt on them to send the spirits on their way.
In Japan, Kondo’s decluttering method has become a booming business. She used to visit clients and organise their houses, but the popularity of her method – plus the arrival last year of her first child, now five months old – has meant she has had to outsource much of her practical work.
Her business – run by her husband – has trained 122 women as certified KonMari consultants. They complete a training course that involves four day-long sessions followed by 10 supervised declutterings, a process that takes an average of six months. Kondo’s trainees pay about US$325 a year to remain accredited.
The consultants are based across Japan, and all are women who work only for female clients for safety reasons. A five-hour lesson at home with a top-rated consultant costs about US$330. Kondo says she has been asked about extending this service to the US and is considering the possibility.
Some of her trainees also run a group called the Japan Spark Joy Decluttering Association, teaching classes to those who want to learn the KonMari method or start a career as a decluttering consultant.
There’s an online KonMari Club where members can read essays about decluttering and look at photos of Kondo’s life, as well as apply for visits from Kondo. This month, Kondo will launch a smartphone app in English for KonMari devotees, a place where they can post before-and-after photos and share experiences of their decluttering.
Kondo has also just released in the US a “Spark joy every day” journal sprinkled with quotes – “Pursue ultimate simplicity,” “Things that are cherished shine” – so devotees can be inspired as they chronicle their tidying and organising. Of course, if journalling proves as challenging as folding your underwear into little origami triangles every day, you can always add it to the joyless clutter pile.
The Washington Post