Marie Kondo became a decluttering pop culture icon after the 2014 American publication of her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Since then Kondo, the founder of KonMari Media, has starred in “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” on Netflix, created a line of organizing products, offered online courses featuring her methods and written more books about how to declutter and live a life that sparks joy. She has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.
Now Americans, stuck at home during a pandemic, need her advice on decluttering more than ever. Kondo joined staff writer Jura Koncius for The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
A: Designate a set amount of space to store these clothes, such as two drawers or a shelf in a closet. Respect those boundaries, or else these items will take over your space.
Q: Which section of your home should you focus on when you’re just starting to declutter?
A: In the KonMari Method, you tidy by category, not by location. The order to follow is: clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and sentimental items. If you tidy by location, you can never truly assess how much of any certain item you own – and you will be doomed to pick away at piles of clutter forever!
Q: What advice do you have for separating your professional and personal lives as working from home continues?
A: Before you begin working, take a moment to center yourself. I strike a tuning fork at the start of each workday. I also diffuse a stimulating essential oil to signal to my body that I’m switching gears. This moment doesn’t have to be elaborate – the simpler, the better, so you’ll be more likely to do it every day. Similarly, mark the end of your workday with a simple ritual. Turn on music, turn off notifications – whatever will let you move into the next part of your day with ease.
Q: The pandemic accelerated my move from the city to the suburbs. I’m still unpacking. What recommendations do you have for creating a new home and finding the right place for your items?
A: Tidying your current home is the most important thing you can do if you are preparing to move. Don’t wait to do it until you’re in your new space, if possible. However, if you’re in your new space, imagine how you want to live in that space; allow that vision to guide you through the unpacking process – and enjoy it! This marks a new chapter. Then unpack the items that are easy and obvious to store: clothes in your drawers or closet, cooking supplies and utensils in the kitchen, etc. As you’re unpacking, you’ll come across items from the same category. Group those items together to make the process go more smoothly.
Don’t rush to fill your new space with items you think you need. Instead, live in it for a few weeks – or even months – as you learn its ins and outs. Your house will tell you what it needs and where to put those items.
Q: If you have an item that doesn’t give you joy, but you need to save money for some time until you can replace it, how do you deal with that?
A: It is sensible to hold on to the item until you can afford to replace it. Visualize your replacement as you save for it to keep you motivated and inspired. In the meantime, treat the item you do have with gratitude. It’s important to appreciate and care for the items we live with.
Q: You seem to have gained a reputation for being anti-book ownership, and I wonder whether that’s true?
A: I think there’s a misunderstanding about my thoughts on books! When I first published my book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I stated that I kept around 30 books after tidying my own home, but that was never intended to be a rule. The goal of the KonMari Method is to determine your values and to surround yourself with what you hold most dear. If books spark joy for you, keep them with confidence.
Q: In our house, we constantly have family members searching for misplaced keys, wallets, etc. Any suggestions for keeping track of such essential items?
A: The secret to defeating clutter is to give every item a home – a designated place for that object to live when it’s not in use. When it comes to objects that multiple family members use, it’s essential to tidy together, decide where these items will go and agree to always put them back where they belong.
Q: What are your top tips for organizing a small apartment kitchen?
A: First, imagine what your ideal kitchen would look like, and consider how you would live in and use the space. Go through the items in the kitchen, and create subcategories: kitchen supplies, foodstuffs, etc. Next, identify the items in those subcategories that spark joy. Keep those, and let go of the rest. Discard any expired items from the pantry and refrigerator. Use any produce that needs to be eaten, and set aside leftover vegetable scraps to make a nourishing broth. Then, maximize your storage space. I recommend storing items vertically, so they’re easy to take out, and more importantly, put back. However, if space is at a minimum, it’s OK to stack items. Just keep the towers small.
Q: My husband doesn’t want to declutter, and he doesn’t want me to, either. What should I do?
A: You can’t force another person to tidy up; the individual must want to change on their own. The most effective thing you can do to influence another person is to KonMari your own things; tidy by example. Tidying is contagious. In my experience, as my clients get on with their tidying, their family members often start tidying, too. They witness firsthand how daily life improves after organizing, and they become naturally interested in tidying. In your case, I might suggest tidying your belongings while your partner is not there. Remember, don’t encroach on your partner’s things.
Q: How can I tidy my holiday decorations? They spark joy for one month a year, but then they’re a storage issue the rest of the year. Also, how do you think about items related to traditions or passing along your family history/culture to your children? These items don’t spark joy, but they are important to my values.
A: I suggest storing holiday decorations in a way that sparks joy for you. For example, I use a clear container and place a holiday card or decoration at the top. This helps me to know what’s inside – but it also inspires a thrill of delight when I see it in my storage space. When it comes to family heirlooms and traditional holiday decorations, I strive to take good care of them. The more I do this, the more I come to cherish them.
Q: What should you do when you have a gift from someone that you’re grateful for but can’t really find a place for, and the person who gave that gift likes to see it being used?
A: I recommend trying out every gift at least one time, even those that don’t immediately spark joy. The ability to feel what truly excites you is gained only through experience. Be adventurous, and welcome things that are different. The more experience you gain, the more you’ll refine and heighten your sensitivity to joy.
But you don’t have to keep using the gift forever. If you try using the item and decide it still doesn’t suit you, thank it for the joy it brought when you first received it, and bid it farewell. The true purpose of a present is to be received, because gifts are a means of conveying someone’s feelings for you. When viewed from this perspective, there is no need to feel guilty about parting with a gift that ultimately doesn’t spark joy. That said, only you can decide what feels right for you. If you’re more comfortable keeping it out for this person to see, then do that.