Marie Kondo has seen your efforts. The Mount Everest-sized heap of clothes that’s taken over your bed, the drawers of T-shirts neatly folded and lined upright, that once-chaotic kitchen pantry that now looks ready for the pages of “Real Simple” magazine.
The de-cluttering guru, whose organizational philosophy has drawn global attention since 2011 with her best-selling books, including “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” has reached a new level of influence and notoriety – and criticism – since the launch of her home makeover show for Netflix, now streaming in 190 countries.
With the debut of “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” cleverly released on Jan. 1 for those seeking a reset in the new year, she has quickly emerged as a cultural and social media sensation. Good luck trying to evade the before-and-after Instagram photos of newly organized sock drawers. The buzz has lifted Kondo to meme-level celebrity, the modern marker of relevancy. Her “spark joy” concept even appeared on posters at last week’s women’s marches.
“My team has shared a great many photos and memes with me,” Kondo, 34, says through her interpreter, Marie Iida, who has become a celebrity in her own right since appearing on the show.
“I’m very surprised by the very huge reaction,” Kondo adds, “but what makes me especially happy is that so many people who watch the show have implemented the KonMari method of tidying.”
Her method’s hallmark can be summed up as such: Keep items that “spark joy” when held – a concept she designed to help determine which things to carry into your future. Items that don’t spark joy should be thanked and discarded. It’s a concept repeated time and again in the series as Kondo helps American families find the joy in tidying.
By now, everyone wants to roam the aisles of the Container Store with Kondo or peek inside her Los Angeles home, which she moved into last fall and shares with her husband and two daughters. Instead, we are, in a minimalist West Hollywood residence that serves as the office of KonMari’s creative agency, the Outset. Kondo stands out in a black-and-white gingham dress, looking even more petite and dainty than she appears on TV.
She speaks softly but quickly, with graceful hand movements for emphasis, while Iida listens carefully and scribbles onto a notepad to serve up a translation. Kondo says that, when tidying at home, she wears hoodies just like us. She doesn’t have a junk drawer or a secret messy closet, but admits she sometimes lets the laundry pile up.
“I think one of the reasons tidying and cleaning are considered tedious is it’s imposed upon us as a duty. But that’s the mind-set I would like to change. By tidying, we’re allowed to reorient ourselves; we’re able to discover our sense of value. I’d like to pinpoint the positive aspects of tidying.”
It’s an undertaking she’s been preparing for since she was a kid.
Kondo grew up in Tokyo. Her father was a physician, her mother a homemaker. While other kids enjoyed recess, Kondo preferred to clean up lockers. The middle child of three – she has an older brother and a younger sister – Kondo willingly took on her siblings’ chores. Her zealous efforts sometimes got her in trouble – like the time she threw away one of her dad’s suits.
Her early ideas of tidying focused on elimination – “I would come home from school and even before I took off my uniform, I would start rummaging for things to throw out. There was never peace in my heart. I was always just stressed out until one day I just completely passed out.”
The episode brought her to shift her philosophy – to focus on retaining “things that spark joy.”
She never thought she could turn her hobby into a career. But when she was in college at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, she started an organizational consulting business as a side gig to her full-time job at an HR company. Within a few years, as word-of-mouth spread, Kondo quit her job. Then came the books, which have sold more than 11 million copies in 40 countries and helped fashion her name into a verb.
TV was a logical next step.
Gail Berman, chairman and CEO of the Jackal Group, which produces the Netflix series, says there were discussions about developing Kondo’s book as a scripted series or movie.
“Ultimately, we just came back to the same thing: It’s really all about Marie,” Berman says by phone. “It’s all about people and their interactions with Marie and what she has to say. That message was a simple one: Spark joy, spark joy, spark joy. Once we fully understood that, it really became clear to us what the show was.”
That it made its home on the content-hoarding platform Netflix is fitting. The streaming giant has steadily been building its bench of binge-worthy unscripted programming – its reboot of “Queer Eye” was last year’s success story.
“In some of our unscripted shows, people love to connect with relatable, emotional stories and see some kind of transformation,” says Netflix’s vice president of content Bela Bajaria. “This was in that vein of being able to follow people’s journeys. And there’s also a real joyfulness to Marie – and that element shares DNA with some of our other unscripted shows like ‘Nailed It’ and ‘Queer Eye.’”
Last spring, Kondo visited eight Los Angeles-area families looking to reduce their domestic chaos: There was the empty-nest couple with too many Christmas decorations and baseball cards; a family of four transitioning from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment; a couple expecting their first baby but overwhelmed by a bounty of shoes and clothing.
In this makeover show, the participants do the work. Kondo sets each family on their journey before leaving them on their own – checking in roughly seven times throughout the process.
Recent widow Margie Hodges, who appears in the fourth episode, was living in a two-story Culver City home filled with belongings of her three grown children and late husband before Kondo arrived. She found the process to be enlightening, if a little daunting.
“Before the show, I regularly went through my clothes – or so I thought,” Hodges says. “When I started making the mountain of clothes on my bed, I was mortified. You can’t believe it when you see it that way … I did have a little bit of a low point when they left me alone for 10 days to work on the junk bedroom, the one with boxes and photographs and all my craft supplies. But it sort of becomes this challenge you don’t want to fail.”
Kondo’s technique can be jarring to those who feel overwhelmed, or bound, by their possessions. It’s why the chatter about the show is so fervent. While Kondo’s methods led to criticism and analysis long before the show premiered, a new wave of think pieces has trickled in. Some focus on the way the show reveals a gender imbalance on domestic expectations. Kondo coincidentally wrote a college thesis on gender and tidying in Japan. “I was actually surprised after the show came out that the same discussions were happening in the U.S. because from a Japanese standpoint, we see America as far more progressive,” she says.
And then there was the book controversy. Word spread over social media that the Kondo method allowed you to keep just 30 books.
“I do think there are misconceptions,” Kondo says. “I was quite surprised because some things that I’ve never said before are being talked about as part of my method. I think this occurred because in one of my books I said that when I was going through my books I had about 30 books left. Maybe misreading there.”
Kondo clarifies her stance, in case there remains any confusion.
“The important concept of my method is that you focus not on what you want to discard but what you want to retain, what you want to keep in your life. So if you love books, if you’re passionate about books, go ahead and keep them with every confidence.”
“The show has done well – and it has done well globally,” Bajaria says. “We’re sparking joy everywhere. It’s too soon to talk about numbers. But we love to see the cultural conversation it’s sparked.”
Will that spark of joy stay strong beyond these initial eight episodes?
“If a great many people express that hope,” she says, “and if I am given the amazing opportunity, then yes, that is a challenge I’d love to welcome.”
Closets and pantries everywhere are bracing for impact.
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