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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A life of order: Widow Angela Johnstone of Spokane finds silver lining as Kondo organizer

When Angela Johnstone first read books on a popular household tidying system, they captured her beyond the how-to of organization.

For her, it was cathartic to use author Marie Kondo’s methods for discarding some items, yet categorizing and storing other possessions based on meaning, workflow and goals.

A retired special-education program director, Johnstone always liked order. She grew up mostly in Spokane as the eldest of 10 and learned early to keep track of her belongings. But life overwhelmed in 2015, when her husband Ian died unexpectedly, and then a few months later, a tree crushed her house north of Spokane in the region’s November windstorm.

“At this time, I was physically paralyzed and suffocating with all the things I had and needed to take care of,” said Johnstone, 60. It took about two years to go through her husband’s items.

Her sister suggested two books by Kondo, including “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and Johnstone was hooked. Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, author and TV host with popular Netflix shows, now lives in California. She’s famous for asking people if a possession “sparks joy” to be kept.

In reorganizing her home, Johnstone found a silver lining and her next career, as Spokane’s sole certified KonMari consultant. It inspired the business name, Silver Lining Tidying Artist, after finishing a fall 2019 KonMari course in L.A., then other benchmarks to launch in spring 2020.

When Johnstone’s KonMari journey began, she had temporarily moved out of her damaged home and had to box everything up. It took a while to find a contractor for repairs. She tackled her end with the mindset to apply for the Kondo certification.

“I read all the requirements of becoming a consultant and thought, ‘Wow, that is right up my alley,’ ” she said.

For clients, she’ll work side-by-side with them, discuss goals and provide tasks based on the KonMari methods. She checks in to see how tasks are going and to answer questions. People work through Kondo’s five categories, and their sequencing is important, Johnstone said.

“You really attend to them in the order that they’re sequenced, which is incredibly beneficial to your honing the technique of discarding because it’s looking at things, making that decision, touching these things and determining does it spark joy?”

Tidying up clothing is the first category. The next categories are books, paperwork and “komono,” or the miscellaneous in spaces, “like a living room, dining room,” Johnstone said.

“They recommend the kitchen being the last space you work in because it’s probably the most used outside of a bathroom and a laundry room.”

The last category is sentimental, such as photos, children’s artwork and heirloom dishware.

Johnstone thought she’d have the toughest time herself with clothes. But she said the decisions became easier in touching and trying on items with certain goals, asking yourself if it expresses who you are, how you feel and whether the fit and colors work.

She’s found that some people prefer to have her side-by-side for all tidying, while others just want to learn at first and then do her assignments with Johnstone following up a bit later.

Although there’s discarding, the approach isn’t minimalism, she said. “If you see my home, I’m not a minimalist,” Johnstone added. “I have things, but I know where things are. I’m not overwhelmed by my things.”

As an example, she uses shoe boxes or containers to create spaces within drawers. Kondo’s folding techniques help people better see items such as T-shirts and jeans along with their designs, and items can stand upright in drawers to be more visible.

After the certification course, Johnstone had three practice clients, including one who finished a tidying festival in six months. From that, Johnstone submitted hours, paperwork and photos to the Kondo organization for review, then took an exam to be named a consultant in April 2020.

Because of COVID-19, she kept working with practice clients and two people who had hired her before pandemic restrictions. Some work had to be virtual, although during the summer as people were vaccinated, Johnstone did more home visits.

She and the homeowner scan a room, where to put things and how to complete tasks. She’ll return or call to check on flow and any questions.

Johnstone talks about progress around positives and challenges while breaking down barriers. Some people with busy households need different staging and smaller subcategories to see results. Others need to be able to shut a door and walk away for a bit.

On the Netflix shows, families work with a whole team of consultants, she said. “It’s not just Marie.”

The methods – once learned – do stick with people after she’s gone, Johnstone added, though the upfront work usually takes more than three hours. “It depends on the amount of possessions you have in any one category,” she said. Two clients had a significant number of books, and for one, it required about three sessions.

“They felt wonderful afterwards because they knew where all their books were. They kept the hall of famers, what sparks joy and the medal of honors. They were able to discard a significant number of books. Every person is going to be unique. The part I love that’s incredible is I don’t tell anyone they have to discard anything, but we talk about the item and does it have meaning?”

She charges an hourly rate of $65, but also offers packages on her website. She’s also saved people money previously spent on storage units. In larger metro areas, KonMari consultants might charge $75 to $150 per hour, she said.

“So, I’m roughly the cost of a house cleaner, but I’m definitely not a house cleaner. I’m a KonMari certified consultant.” For the packages, she works within a set number of hours side-by-side with someone, then gives them tidying tasks and calls later. “I’m not charging for those calls; I’m charging for the time I’m there with you face-to-face.”

After jobs get done, she’s had people cry, be ecstatic or just enjoy opening a pantry to stare at it.

“You’re no longer overwhelmed trying to locate something. You know you have 15 potato peelers, but you can’t find one. I talk to my clients about their flow, how do they like to work in their space? I help to Tetris the contents of their space so they can see everything when they open that drawer.”

One family of avid skiers had equipment scattered throughout the house. They cleared a former office to stage the ski collection and clothes, which streamlined their departures. Another client reignited her quilting creativity in an organized craft room.

“I call it, you’re going to tidy with intention, so what is your goal? What is your ideal lifestyle? What do you wish to gain?

“It is not easy, but it will be rewarding. Your thinking shifts regarding what is important and meaningful to live your life fully.”