January 16, 2016

KonMari: A Look At 'Decluttering Queen' Marie Kondo’s Tidy Mind


The younger you start,the easier it will be. The young man in the video appears to be single and still living at home.Being a female, and married with children will take quite an effort but it can still be done.

Marie Kondo may be the biggest Japanese export since miso soup, but her wild international popularity is mysterious and no one, least of all the superstar herself, is convincingly able to explain it.

Since the English-language publication of her first book, a guide to keeping things tidy, she has achieved the kind of sales usually associated with teenage wizards and middle-class mum-porn. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying has spent more than a year on The New York Times bestseller list, and achieved similar status in Russia, France and Brazil. Kondo has drawn crowds in New York and San Francisco, Paris, Warsaw and Milan. But at the core of her books are ideas that, to most of her foreign readers at least, can only come across as utterly bizarre.

“It’s when I explain that things have souls,” she says. “For Japanese people, that’s perfectly natural. In Japan, people feel that inanimate things are their equals. But people in Europe, for example, find it difficult to understand.”

Kondo’s books are not just about folding and packing and shelving and storing (although they include useful and original advice on all of these matters). They are about achieving an intimate personal relationship with the spirit immanent in your humblest possessions — and talking to them. “Dear old screwdriver,” begins a soliloquy in her new book.

 “I may not use you much, but when I need you, why, you’re a genius. Thanks to you, I put this shelf together in no time. You saved my fingernails, too. I would have ruined them if I had used them to turn the screws. And what a design! Strong, ­vigorous and cool to the touch, with a modern air that makes you really stand out.”



This, it becomes clear, is a dimension beyond Prince Charles-style mumbling to your pot plants. True disciples of Kondo thank their ­earrings, salute their jackets and high-five their handbags. No household item is too mundane to be the object of empathy and indulgence. “Have you ever had the experience where you thought that what you were doing was a good thing but later learnt that it hurt someone?” she asks in her first book, with the raw anguish of personal experience. “This is somewhat similar to the way many of us treat our socks.”

Even to find a publisher for this sort of stuff might be regarded as a lucky break, but The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying has gone a great deal further than that. It has been published in 21 countries, from Romania to Thailand, with 17 more in the pipeline; Arabic and Lithuanian are the newest languages to be added to the list, alongside Hebrew, Bulgarian and Vietnamese. The KonMari method, as it is known in ­Japanese, is brilliant, singular and bonkers, and it has sold 4.8 million copies around the world.


Kondo’s name — often in the form of the hashtag #kondoed — has even entered the ­English language. Twitter users speak of ­kondoing their bedrooms, their email inboxes, even the excess apps on their iPhones.

I’d like to say that I knew Marie Kondo before she was famous, but that would be true only in a relative sense. The first time I met her, early last year, she was merely a bestseller in Japan, ­Germany and South Korea. I invited her to my Tokyo flat to perform an abbreviated version of the six-month-long, multi-session tidying consultations — a kind of psychotherapy for the home — that she has conducted over the years with hundreds of clients, and which served as the laboratory in which she developed her ideas.

Like all the best mental revolutions, it is disarmingly simple. Forget about finding the perfect drawers or cupboards. The first and most important step is simply to take your possessions, starting with clothes of the same type, tip them out on the floor, hold each one individually to the light and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If joy is indeed kindled, the item must be retained, carefully assigned a place of storage, folded in the regulation Kondo style, and regularly and lavishly praised. Objects that fail to spark joy are to be thanked, stroked, apologised to and then ruthlessly consigned to the rubbish. The result, Kondo insists, is not only a tidier home, but a life enhanced.


Kondo’s clients report profound consequences from the simple act of having uncluttered their homes. Some have lost weight, or finally walked out of dead-end jobs. Some have found the ­conviction to get married; others the strength to divorce. “If you feel anxious all the time but are not sure why, try putting your things in order,” Kondo writes in her new book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying. 

I enjoyed my brief encounter with Kondo — the underwear drawer on which she worked her magic remains the most orderly part of my home. I have no interest in conventional self-help, but I completely saw the point of her distinctive method and her observation that external clutter can be a symptom of inner unhappiness. But neither I, nor anyone else, imagined that, barely a year later, she would be ranked alongside Angela Merkel, Pope Francis and Kim Jong-un in Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. And so I went to see Kondo again to try to work out who she is, and how on Earth all of this happened.

In Japan, people often become remoter and less interesting the more famous they become — and at first I feared this had happened to Kondo. Setting up our meeting required 39 emails, relayed from my office in Tokyo, through a ­publicist in London, an agent in New York, to a publisher in Tokyo — with the answers returning from Japan to Japan via the reverse route. 

I had assumed that since she had not only been to my flat but run her hands over my underwear, this time I could expect to visit Kondo’s place and have a nose around the home of the world’s tidiest person — but this, it was firmly explained, was out of the question. Having negotiated these obstacles and found my way to her office, however, Kondo was just as I remembered — sweet, self-deprecating, unpompous and faintly mysterious.

The first thing that strikes you is how little of her there is. Even by local standards, she is elfin, almost childlike, in stature and build. She is 30 years old and, like many Japanese women, could pass for eight years younger. It is no ­surprise to find that she is neatly turned out, but there is a quality about her beyond mere tidiness, an air of deep restraint and conservatism. 

This immaculate exterior is all the more remarkable for the other transformation, apart from international bestsellerdom, that has come over Kondo. After marrying last year, in July she gave birth to a baby girl, Satsuki. “It’s a drastic change,” she says, “because my life is not my own any more. Until I had a daughter, my life was devoted to the work of tidying. I was totally focused on my work. So this way of life is quite new. Now my happiness is her, and looking after her, and watching her grow up.”

Kondo’s husband, Takumi Kawahara, was her university boyfriend, and now serves as her manager and photographer. Not surprisingly, she says, he is an orderly fellow; indeed, this seems to have been a central part of his attraction. “After we married, when we moved in together, he brought only five cardboard boxes with him.” Five boxes: in the Kondo universe, such asceticism is as thrilling as a rippling six-pack or a powerful sports car.

“It was a surprise,” she says of her huge ­international sales. “My publisher warned me that it’s rare for a Japanese bestseller to become a bestseller overseas, particularly in America. But it’s difficult to say what has changed, really.” What, after all, is a woman whose life is dedicated to uncluttering to spend her riches on? A new home — a humble-sounding two-bedroom apartment in central Tokyo.

The beginnings of all this can be precisely pinpointed to an afternoon in 2001, when Kondo was 16. She grew up in a middle-class home, the second of three children. Her father is a salaryman, her mother a housewife, and an avid reader of women’s magazines. By the age of five, Marie was already poring over them for their housekeeping techniques. “As far as everything else went — cleaning, washing, sewing — I could do it,” she says. “The only thing I couldn’t do was tidying up.” The failure became an obsession. “At school, while other kids were playing dodgeball or skipping,” she wrote, “I’d slip away to arrange the bookshelves in our classroom, or check the contents of the mop cupboard … I had begun to see my things and even my house as an adversary that I had to beat.”

One day, without warning or consultation, she threw out one of her father’s suits and her mother’s handbag. Her defence — that they were never used — went unheard: Marie’s tidying activities were banned. “I thought that tidying up meant throwing things out — I saw it only in negative terms,” she says. “That was what led to my nervous breakdown. One day, I came home from school. There was no one else at home. I still had my uniform on. I was already looking for something I could get rid of. I walked into my room with the rubbish bag in my hand. And I looked at my room, and felt that I wanted to throw out everything in it. That was the ­climax of my stress, and at that moment I ­collapsed unconscious.”

Two hours passed before young Marie came round. “I stood up and in my mind came the words, ‘Look at things more carefully.’ I don’t know if it was an actual voice, or a feeling that came from myself. I believe it was the god of tidying.” It came to her that she had been looking at things the wrong way round — rather than seeking out unneeded objects to throw out, she should be identifying the things she loved and wanted to keep. “That was the moment when I had my inspiration,” she said. “That was when the KonMari method was born.”

I can’t be alone in suspecting that there must be more to this story. For a 16-year-old girl to feel irritable about clutter in her bedroom is one thing, but to fall unconscious suggests much deeper unhappiness. “I can say that when I collapsed I was unhappy,” she agrees. “I didn’t like anything I had — the clothes, the odds and ends in my room.” But was she unhappy in other ways? “I don’t remember clearly, but I didn’t feel unhappy in relationships, including my parents and friends. I just wanted to tidy up.” Surely there must have been something else going wrong in her life, apart from mess? “I’d say that I had lost the balance in myself, balance of any kind, because all I was interested in was tidying up. I didn’t like any of my things. I thought about them in a mean way. That’s why I collapsed.”

A period of anguish. A moment of spiritual crisis and breakdown. 

Then rebirth, divine ­revelation and enlightenment. Even if this doesn’t make sense as a story about a teenager in her bedroom, it makes one thing clear — the ­KonMari method has as much to do with religion as it does with spring cleaning. As a young woman, Kondo served as an attendant “maiden” in a shrine dedicated to Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan.

 Shinto has no scripture, no commandments, no code of ethics or system of philosophical speculation. Its deities are to be found in mountains, trees, rocks and man-made objects such as cooking stoves and individual grains of rice. Its rituals are concerned not with morality but with purification; the contrast between clean and unclean is as strong in Shinto as the dualism of right and wrong in other religions. Kondo’s white blouse, her love of cleansing hot springs, and her insistence on the souls of socks all derive from this source.


“Japan has many earthquakes,” Kondo says. “The earthquakes cause fires, and traditionally houses were all made of wood, which burnt so easily. In the past, many Japanese have had the experience of destruction in which they lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch. So I think that Japanese find it easier to get rid of things than Westerners do. They can accept that what they possess now will not be with them always, because that kind of thinking is part of their DNA.” Few of them will be aware of it, but the inhabitants of city lofts and suburban townhouses who excitedly kondo their closets are acting out a secular version of an ancient nature religion, rooted in thousands of years of catastrophic Japanese history.

By Richard Lloyd Parry

With Many thanks to The Australian
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