Meet the woman who is helping the world get rid of clutter, one “Konvert” at a time.
By Matthew Hernon
From Vladimir Putin to Kanye West, Pope Francis to Emma Watson, Time Magazine’s list of the world’s most 100 influential people is always an eclectic mix and this year was no exception. In amongst the world leaders, celebrities, entrepreneurs and scientists there were also two Japanese names: literary giant Haruki Murakami and a soft-spoken young lady who has made a name for herself advising people how to keep their homes tidy. Step forward, Marie Kondo.
“It was a big surprise and a huge honor to be included on such a prestigious list,” Kondo tells Weekender. “My goal has always been to express the joy of tidying to people all over the world, but I certainly never expected my methods to have had the kind of impact they have on such large numbers.”
Her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” continues to fly off shelves all over the world. It’s been published in over 30 countries, translated into numerous languages and, at the time of writing, has sold more than three million copies. Fans of the lady in white call themselves “Konverts” and she has become so big her surname is even now used as a verb, as in “to Kondo” ones cupboards or drawers when decluttering the house.
“It’s not about quantities or decreasing your belongings, it’s about bringing joy to your life.”
On Instagram, “Almost Famous” actress Kate Hudson thanked the Japanese businesswoman for the book saying that it had taken “Spring cleaning to a whole new level!” Jamie Lee Curtis, meanwhile, writing for Time magazine, described her as a “modern day Mary Poppins.” Kondo doesn’t have any magical powers, though, just a passion for cleaning that she’s had since the age of five.
“It started with my mother’s house-keeping and lifestyle magazines,” she says. “They showed me a lot of different ideas – how to keep your home tidy, how to store a lot of food in a limited storage space. It was like an attractive game to conquer.
“I was also heavily influenced by my grandmother. She lived in a tiny house, but cared deeply about her furniture and belongings. She lived beautifully in a polite manner. I learned how to treat things carefully from her.”
As well as keeping her own room and home meticulously clean (she did more tidying than her mother), Kondo set about helping her teachers out at school. While other kids played outside she would stay in and organize the book shelves or keep the mop cupboards in order. This obsession with cleaning continued into her college years where she wrote a thesis entitled “How to Declutter Your Apartment – From a Sociological Perspective.”
After working part-time as a miko, – a maiden at a Shinto shrine – Kondo then put her knowledge to good use by starting her own consultancy firm, advising clients on how to declutter their homes. She soon had a backlog of customers who asked her to write a book so they could learn about her methods while waiting to see her.
Focusing on what should be kept rather than what should be thrown away she would advise people to take an item in their hands and ask whether it sparked joy. If it did then she would suggest keeping hold of it.
It sounds simple enough, but what about those who don’t feel any joy when they touch their belongings? Or at the other end of the spectrum what about those people who find joy with clutter and refuse to throw out seemingly worthless items like magazines and comics?
“If the words ‘spark joy’ don’t mean anything to clients, I’ll ask a different question, like ‘do you feel any excitement by possessing these goods? Or ‘do you think you will be wearing these clothes next year?’ Basically they need to ask themselves if they feel any positive vibes from their things.” Kondo tells us.
“It doesn’t matter what it is. I see no problem with keeping hold of magazines or comics. If a collection of papers sparks joy or is valuable to you then I’ll advise you to keep them. It’s not about quantities or decreasing your belongings, it’s about bringing joy to your life.”