Marie Kondo was already a global phenomenon before her Netflix reality series debuted in January, thanks to her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which has sold more than 8.5 million copies and been translated into 40 languages. But her hit show has made the Japanese superstar of de-cluttering a household name—and her trademarked KonMari method of organizing part of the language.
Thinking of deploying some of her methods at home? Media’s Amanda Jefferson is a professional organizer who became one of the world’s first certified KonMari consultants. She shares her insights on how to pare down your belongings to only those that “spark joy.”
MLT: How do you work with a client with a stuffed, disorganized clothes closet?
AJ: The first step is to take everything out and pile it on to the bed. That is really important for two reasons. One, it’s easier for us to go through it all. Second, we want you to have a visceral reaction to the amount of clothes you own. I plan for five hours of uninterrupted time, if possible. We divide it up by category—tops, bottoms, etc.—and we go through, item by item, making decisions about what sparks joy. Those are the items you want to keep.
MLT: What does “sparking joy” really mean?
AJ: When people pick up that first T-shirt, they usually have no idea, but you’re looking for that sensation of, “Oh, this is my favorite! If I could wear this every day, I would.” When something doesn’t spark joy, people are frowning. They’re struggling to come up with words. Often, early on, we’ll create a “maybe” pile when people are feeling stuck, but as they get in the groove, they start to feel the difference between “I love this” and “Eh.” You’re trying to decide what makes you happy and what weighs you down.
MLT: What happens after the winnowing down?
AJ: Putting what you’ve decided to keep back in the closet. In KonMari, we like to have longer, heavier items on the left and then lighter items on the right. I usually try to color code within that, too. You end up having a nice, light feeling in the closet, and then you can also better see what you have. Then you’re also ready to do the beautiful KonMari fold, which allows you to put things like T-shirts in your drawers vertically—like in a file drawer. This prevents the rummaging around that leads to drawers being disheveled.
MLT: How else does KonMari differ from other organizing methods?
AJ: It begins with asking the question: What kind of life do I envision for myself? What’s also different is that we work with categories, instead of going room by room. We start with clothes, then move to books, then paper, then komono—miscellaneous items in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and garages—and, finally, to things with sentimental value and mementos. The big fundamental difference is that question: “Does it spark joy?” That creates a totally different way of thinking about our things and often moves people toward simplifying their life. After they experience the KonMari method, they start applying that question to their relationships, to their careers and more.
MLT: How do we accumulate so much?
AJ: In the past two or three decades, we’ve all gotten access to really cheap stuff that is readily available at the click of a button. I also think we’re a more stressed out and anxious society than we’ve ever been before, and we’ve found a way to soothe that by buying things. But I think that trend is turning, and that people—particularly millennials—are starting to embrace the idea that we’ve gone overboard and maybe less is more.
MLT: On the show, people express feelings of peace and joy after KonMari. Have you seen this firsthand?
AJ: Absolutely. Clutter can create a lot of resentment. A lot of times, it falls on women’s shoulders. It’s up to them to clean around the clutter, or to know where things are. And it causes an enormous amount of stress and tension.
MLT: Can people KonMari on their own?
AJ: What’s different from what you see on the show is that, when you work with a KonMari consultant, there’s significantly more one-on-one support. When I work with a client, I’m not saying, “Good luck with your garage. See you in three weeks.” There’s a lot of handholding that takes place. Usually we’ll work together, and then they’ll have homework based on what they think they can handle.
MLT: What’s the long-term impact of KonMari?
AJ: It is life-changing magic, and you shouldn’t have to do a major de-cluttering event again. But this is also about making a major behavior change. Keeping your home tidy is about a daily practice. It’s something that you have to keep up with every single day. I give my clients tools. I give them a process. When you come home, you do this, then you do this, and then you do that—and then you sit down and have your tea or your wine and watch your show.
Eils Lotozo is the former Home & Design writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She now writes about home transformations on her blog (TrulyHomeRedesign.com) and does feng shui consulting for homes and businesses with her company, Truly Home.