It was a cold, snowy January many years ago when I first visited the northern island of Japan in the city of Sapporo as a college student doing a long-term study abroad. As a native of Los Angeles, I was shocked living in an icy, winter paradise mostly covered in white fluffy snow -- sometimes up to the rooftops -- in a tiny apartment that felt like a million miles away from home.
I was determined to make the best use of my time and worked hard while I studied Japanese every day with anyone who would help me practice speaking. I remember chatting up Mori san, who without a doubt ran the best Sapporo ramen restaurant in the world. It was a tiny little hole in the wall place, but it was always packed and no gaijin (foreigners). "No gaijin" usually meant the place was popular among locals and in my opinion had the best food. I would eat there almost every day for months, making my way through Mori's menu of ramen dishes, udon, gyosa, (veggie/meat dumplings), katsu curry (curry with pork), and more, perfectly suited to beat the frigid night temperatures.
All these years later I have the best memories of living in Japan and it holds a special place in my heart. After a wrestle with the language, it really became my second home. That natsukashi (nostalgic) feeling came rushing back when I learned I would be going Behind the Brand of the amazing Marie Kondo.
When I think of Marie and her life-changing philosophy, there are two words that come to mind: joy and magic. Magic has many connotations. For some, it evokes the image of a mystical world, but there's one idea that many people would never have associated with the word magic and that is the act of cleaning and organizing home and workspaces. I will also admit that I take no joy in cleaning up after myself. But Marie sheds new light on both of these terms which deserve another look. Hear me out.
Marie Kondo became a household name back in 2011 when she released her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and for those who have practiced the KonMari Method since that time, the magic has become tangible.
Kondo's method is simple. You go through the items in your home by category, you hold each one and if it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling that Kondo describes as "sparking joy," then you keep it. If you feel no joy while touching the item, you thank it (recommended to state out loud) and let it go. Marie explains, "At KonMari, we believe that if you tidy your space, you can transform your life. We offer a suite of products, services, and content designed to help organize your home and bring joy to your life. We're also a platform for connecting and supporting one another on our tidying journeys."
Kondo's method includes other techniques such as the most efficient ways to fold difficult items like socks, and to organize and store your belongings, but the joy element may be what she's become most famous for. In our interview she told me, "Part of the magic [to my method] is that having an uncluttered space creates a sense of calm and peace that can reduce stress. The idea is to create your own personal sanctuary."
Born and raised in Tokyo, Kondo has had a love and interest in organization since she was a young child. She has said that her mother was a homemaker who always worked hard to create a calm, happy atmosphere in the house for the family.
Kondo started taking a real interest in tidying around age 5 and admits she might be hardwired a little differently than most kids. "Cleaning and organizing was like a puzzle to solve or like playing a game. I just loved doing it and it made me feel happy," she told me. Kondo often took to organizing her school's bookshelves during her free time there, and even took a job during her teenage years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto Shrine.
In college, Kondo became known among friends as the person to invite over, as she'd leave your house organized and beautiful and her reputation spread quickly. Before she knew it, she was being asked by strangers to come organize their homes and they were offering to pay her. Thus, at age 19, Kondo's consulting business was born.
The idea of having only those items in the home that spark joy wasn't something that came naturally to Kondo. When she first got really into decluttering and organizing, she became obsessed with what she could get rid of. On one occasion, the obsession spiraled out of control and Kondo had a self-described breakdown of sorts from over-tidying. Kondo has said she passed out for two hours and upon waking she had a grand epiphany. She has joked that the idea must have come to her from the gods of tidying, but she realized that it wasn't just about looking for what you could throw away; keeping items that sparked joy was the most important part of decluttering. Kondo's philosophy is not about minimalism. It has no rules about how much of any one thing you can have in your home, but her belief is to only surround yourself with things you love, not items that bog you down.
After some time running her business, it made sense for Kondo to take everything she had learned and used with clients and put it into a book, allowing her KonMari Method to spread far beyond the scope of where she could be at any given time.
Since its 2011 international debut, Kondo's method has struck a chord with people all over the world who have said that KonMari has changed their lives. Netflix even gave her own show in 2019. Her book has been published in more than 30 countries and has been translated from Japanese into more than 10 different languages. There are more than 17,000 five-star reviews on Amazon alone and the book has been featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Vogue, just to name a few.
One of the reasons Kondo's book may be so popular is its no-fuss strategy to declutter and organize your home. Her method is easy to understand and to put into practice. Kondo has six simple rules for tidying and decluttering. The first is to commit yourself to tidying your space, fully. She believes that if you properly declutter and organize, it's something you may have to do only once.
The second is to imagine your ideal lifestyle. Having an idea of the kind of life you want to life allows you to zero in on what's important to you when it comes to your belongings. The third rule is to finish discarding items you no longer desire before organizing the ones you're holding on to. Her fourth rule is to tidy by category, not rooms. She even has a specific order for sorting and discarding items, and her fifth rule is to sort and discard items in this order: clothes, books, files and important papers, miscellaneous items, and then sentimental items.
Why this order? Kondo feels that clothing items are the easiest items to part with, while sentimental items are the most challenging. Kondo believes that learning what sparks joy for you is a muscle that one must condition and starting with items like socks is far easier practice for that muscle than, say, cleaning out your garage with over 20 years' worth of memories and life stacked high to the ceiling.
Kondo believes you will hone your decision-making skills as you move along the hierarchy of importance with items you're choosing to keep or toss. The final rule of Kondo's is asking yourself if the item sparks joy for you. In Kondo's mind, when you are in an environment where you love everything you own, that energy permeates the rest of your life and can help you to be even more productive and successful in whatever tasks you're engaged in.
The most unique element of Kondo's method may be her insistence that you thank each item you're letting go of before you discard it. She's firm that this is an important part of her method. She says that when we let things go, especially if they were expensive, or sentimental, there can be a lot of accompanying guilt. She suggests that thanking the item for its service, so to speak, allows the person to move on without guilt or second guessing their decision.
Kondo treats items almost as if they have little spirits. She has a reverence for physical belongings and it's charming. There's always a temptation, especially when items are lost, to say to yourself, "Oh, it's just stuff," but if you treasure everything you have, Kondo believes the joy your stuff gives you elevates your overall existence.
For more of my interview with Marie Kondo, visit: