Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Marie Kondo: The Queen of Clean

Marie Kondo and baby

Marie Kondo and baby.

They had gotten only as far as her underwear drawer, and already Marie Kondo’s client was a convert. As Kondo explained her tidying method—hugging each and every belonging to see if it “sparks joy” and tossing it if it doesn’t—the young woman stopped, stripped off her top and tossed the bra she was wearing into a garbage bag. “This bra doesn’t spark joy!” she exclaimed.

That kind of ecstatic unburdening, a story Kondo, 31, shares in her new book Spark Joy, is all in a day’s work for Japan’s queen of tidying. Or it was—until the huge success of her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, made her famous and too busy for personal consultations. Published in 2014, Magic has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, spawned a slew of Facebook tidying groups and made Kondo a heroine to former clutterbugs everywhere. With her second book, which includes specific clothes-folding methods and other tips, she hopes to win over even more of the messy, and not just because she’s a neat freak. “My tidying method isn’t just about cleaning your house but also your life,” she says. “You tidy what’s within your heart as well.” She has seen confidence boosted, love lives improved and skin rejuvenated by the “clean air” of a clean house. Some clients have even jettisoned husbands. (Joy? That schlub? Not so much.)

Kondo says her interest in keeping things organized began when she was 5. Her parents were only “average in their tidying ability,” so Marie whipped things into shape—though she admits her overzealous purging sometimes led to “huge fights,” and she now advises tidiers to stick to their own belongings.

In high school Kondo pored over de-cluttering books and was so “consumed with what I should throw out” that she had a nervous breakdown. “I got very stressed out, and I collapsed.” She says she recovered without therapy, aided by the realization that “it’s not about throwing out, it’s about choosing the things you want to keep.” She wrote her college thesis on decluttering, and a job at a Shinto shrine helped shape her belief that “you should feel gratitude toward everything, all your belongings.”

Kondo’s Top Tidying Tips

1/ Start by discarding and tidying in

one shot, as quickly as possible.

2/ Tidy bycategory, not location.

3/ Start with clothes, end with mementos.

4/ Keep only things

that spark joy.

5/ Make it a festival,

not a chore

Kondo and husband

Kondo being honored at last year’s Time 100 gala with her husband. 

‘He was good at tidying even before we met.

I can’t tell which of us is tidier!’

—MARIE KONDO ON HER HUSBAND

Photo Image Press/Barcroft Med/Getty

It’s a belief that’s central to her method. Kondo writes of gasping in alarm over a drawer of stockings that resembled “potato-like lumps that roll about.” She told that client, “Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” The hardworking stockings, she explained, “are essentially on holiday” and should be pampered.

She decided to write her first book so a broader public could benefit from her techniques. But she says she is “shocked” by the extent of her success, which she sees partly as a reaction against the materialism encouraged by “fast fashion and online buying” and a “feeling of anxiety” over the excess: “People have accumulated far more things than they need.”

Keeping order in her own antique-filled Tokyo home recently got a little tougher: She and husband Takumi Kawahara, who’s also her manager and  business partner, had a daughter in July. Luckily Kawahara never required much training. “His tidying is his strong point!” Kondo says. And she has high hopes for their daughter (whose name she prefers not to share). “When she’s a little older, of course, I’ll teach her how to tidy,” Kondo says. “When a child is over 3, it’s possible to start. Even now when I’m folding clothes, she watches how it’s done.”

In her native Japan Kondo is such a celebrity that both a TV drama based on her life and a documentary film about her have aired. Her consulting business offers classes on her methods. An English-language app, filled with organizational tips and checklists, is due out this spring, and Kondo is conducting an international survey that will help her tailor her message to different cultures. Her latest activities are part of a plan—details of which are still under wraps—to achieve her next goal. Which is? In a rare burst of English, she says firmly, “To organize the world!”

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