“I had no idea that tidying could become a job one day,” says Marie Kondo, the world-renowned organizing consultant, bestselling author and star of Netflix’s hit structured reality series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR‘s Awards Chatter podcast. The diminutive 34-year-old, a Japanese Mary Poppins, of sorts, continues, “When I entered university, I would approach any friends or any acquaintances I knew who were living on their own, and I would beg them to let me come to their apartment and tidy. I just wanted the experience of learning how to tidy other people’s spaces. Rumors spread very quickly, and people began to know that when I came to visit your house, your home would be very, very tidy and clean. And it just took off like that. Gradually, strangers — people that I didn’t know — would contact me and say, ‘If you come to my apartment and tidy, I will pay you for your services.'”
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Kondo, the daughter of a physician and housewife, was born and raised in Tokyo. Lifestyle magazines were often around her childhood home, and they piqued her interest as an introverted young girl. “I really enjoyed housework,” Kondo says — but, she notes, that is not unusual in clean and orderly Japan. “In Japan, I think there is a tendency to really take care of the places where you live, where you belong.” Kondo’s interest in tidying, however, grew to the level of obsession, to the extent, she says, that tidying-related stress once caused her to lose consciousness for two hours. As she puts it, “Every day I would tidy, but I would never be satisfied.”
Eventually, Kondo went off to Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. During her college years, she not only helped friends to tidy on the side, but also wrote her thesis on tidying and organizing from a gender perspective. “Tidying is a very introspective process,” she submits. “Through tidying and through our belongings, we can better consider how we want to live our lives.” After graduating, Kondo worked for two years at a staffing company, while earning extra money on the side by freelancing as an organizing consultant. “Gradually,” she says, “my part-time job became even busier than my full-time job,” and so she quit her day job to focus full-time on organizing consulting.
Kondo offered her services through a blog, and soon developed a long waitlist. Realizing that she could never directly help all who desired her counsel, she decided to write a book about her technique, which she coined the KonMari Method, drawing upon her childhood nickname. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing was published in Japan in 2011 and in the U.S. in 2014. It was not particularly successful until a New York Times writer came upon it and wrote a profile of Kondo, which helped to turn the book into a best-seller. “This was not something that I predicted at all,” Kondo insists. “I was quite shocked that the book was embraced in this way.”
There are numerous tenets of the KonMari Method, but its underlying message is that people would be well-advised to only hang on to belongings that “spark joy.” Explains Kondo, “When we tidy, we tend to focus on what to eliminate from our lives, what we can toss out, but this method doesn’t really fulfill your heart. The reason is because you’re constantly looking at the negative aspect of your things when you’re looking for things to eliminate from your life. Rather than that, I knew that by asking ourselves, ‘Does this item spark joy?,’ it allows you to naturally focus on the positive aspects of your belongings and it also allows you to cherish the things that you’ve decided to keep.”
In 2016, Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, was published, and Kondo, with her family, relocated to Los Angeles. Did Americans’ infamous materialism rub off on even her? “Yes, even myself,” she chuckles. “When I moved to the U.S., now that I have a bigger storage space, there has been a bit of an increase in the number of things that I keep, especially food products. I think I have about twice as much as I used to in Japan.”
But the main thing that Kondo has been collecting since she moved to America are new fans. Gail Berman approached her about doing a scripted show on which Kondo would be played by an actress, an idea eventually abandoned in favor of putting Kondo herself at the center of a reality show on which, each episode, she would help a different couple to tidy their home and, in so doing, better their lives. The show’s eight-episode first season dropped on Netflix six months ago, on New Year’s Day, when many had made or were making New Year’s resolutions about improving their lives. The show proved a phenomenon, and made overnight sensations of Kondo and her KonMari technique. “I was amazed at the speed at which [viewers] implemented the method,” she says. “That was just so incredible to see.”