Q&A: Marie Kondo on organizing

Sep 20, 2018

Marie Kondo has been tidying up all her life. She began her organizing consultant business as a 19-year-old university student in Tokyo. She introduced her KonMari Method in the book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," a global phenomenon that has sold more than 10 million copies. Her method is inspired by a single question: Does this item spark joy?

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 15 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

It's a real pleasure to have Marie Kondo on my chat today. Marie and her KonMari Method have become a worldwide phenomenon. Her book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" has captured the attention of people desperate to simplify their lives. The Japanese decluttering diva is here to answer your questions about how to have perfectly organized closets, drawers and kitchens. Her mantra "Does it spark joy?" is one that has been embraced all over the world. Please send in your questions now.

Good morning everyone! I’m excited to answer your tidying questions and share ways to spark joy in your life.

How do I maintain any kind of organization in a very small house?

The basic rules of the KonMari Method also apply when organizing a very small house. I have organized houses in Japan for a long time, and in Japan, a home that is 1,000 square feet is considered very large. I myself used to live in a tidy studio apartment!

Before you begin organizing or storing things, first consider if the items in your home truly spark joy for you. Ask yourself if they are things you want to cherish.

When organizing a small house, it is important to store things in the same category together – don't scatter them in different places around the house.

In order to take full advantage of the storage systems you do have – such as the pantry or closet – make sure you store everything vertically. This will help you save space.

Help I have too much fabric but I do use it to make crafts and clothes. I need a way to store them. Currently, I have the fabric folded in plastic bins but it’s a lot of work (a mess) to find the fabric I want, of course the perfect fabric always on the bottom of the bin. I thought would buy foam cord boards, cut them in thirds lengthwise and wrap the fabric around the boards similar to the way the fabrics are on bolts in a fabric store. I would then store the bolts in a bookcase. What do you think of this idea? Or what’s the best way people have found to store fabrics? Thank you

Wrapping the fabric around the bolt sounds like a great idea, especially if it makes it look like a store display that sparks joy for you. Definitely try it out!

Another idea I have is when storing fabrics in a plastic bin, instead of piling them horizontally, try filing them vertically. This will make it much easier for you to see what's inside.

Hi Marie, since you have kids now, what are your tips for keeping the toddler chaos at bay. Our 15 month old loves pulling out his books and toys, and isn't much help at cleaning up yet.

Rather that fixate on having a perfectly tidy home all the time, I prioritize showing my children how happy I am while tidying. This encourages their interest in tidying, too.

I've never taken the time to be truly tidy, but I will be retiring soon and will have lots of time to make a positive change in my environment. What's a good first step? Massive decluttering of the whole house? Take it one room at a time? Maybe one drawer at a time?

A good first step is to imagine your ideal life after you retire – visualize what your house will look like and how you'd like to spend your time in your home. 

When tidying, I recommend tidying the whole house in one shot as much as possible. If you commit five full days to tidying, you should be able to finish it all in that period. Instead of tidying by room, try tidying by category. For example, you will tidy clothes one day and books another day.

Tidying by category allows you to learn more about yourself because it gives you an opportunity to discover what you'd like to keep in your life.

I think this is a wonderful opportunity for you, because tidying allows you to consider how you'd like to live your life going forward. 

I have tried for years *gulp* to come up with my vision for my ideal life and home. It just won’t form in my head.

You might have to pressure yourself to envision your ideal life in its entirety. Start by making a habit of writing down what you respond to when looking at interior magazines or when visiting a friend's house. You might notice particular colors that you like or plants that make you happy – try to discover these small elements that spark joy for you. When woven together, these elements will create your ideal life and home.

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When and how do I decide if a KonMari consultant could help me do the KonMari method? How do I find a consultant?

KonMari Consultants are officially certified to help you tidy your home using the KonMari Method.

We introduced the Consultant program in 2016. People had become familiar with "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and were eager to tidy their homes using the KonMari Method – but were seeking more one-on-one support. We launched the program to fill that void, and it's been very successful!

Some people decide to work with a Consultant if they're having difficulty determining what sparks joy for them. Others may have already decided what sparks joy for them, but need help organizing those cherished items. Finally, working with a Consultant is very useful if you'd like someone to keep you on a tidying schedule.

You can find a consultant on the KonMari website: https://konmari.com/pages/consultants

Hello Marie, I love your book! This is perfect timing. My mother passed away 2 months ago and while we had no problems cleaning out her stuff, I am now having problems trying to clean out my closet at home. Everything reminds me of her - For example, the shirt we bought together or the tablecloth she bought for me. How do I declutter when everything is tied to a memory of her?!

I am so sorry for your loss. I completely understand how incredibly difficult it is to lose someone who is very important to you and to tidy items that are tied to his or her memory.

Please know that you do not need to go through sentimental items before you're ready.

However, if you do feel compelled to tidy, I recommend beginning with items that aren't sentimental first like clothing, books and papers. The KonMari Method shares the categories of items you should tackle and in what order. If you encounter any item in one of these categories that brings back a memory of your mother, like the shirt she bought or the tablecloth, set it aside as part of the sentimental category.

By tidying non-sentimental items first, you will give yourself time to sort through your thoughts and emotions before going through the sentimental items you have set aside.

If the item no longer sparks joy and you are trying to sell it to at least gain some money back, at what point do you just donate the item so things don't pile up in the house in hopes that they will sell?

With items that you plan to sell or donate, it is very important that you set a clear schedule and assign a date. For example, tell yourself that in one month, you will have a garage sale or go to a specific donation center. If something does not sell within a specific window of time, it is time to donate it. Give yourself a strict deadline and stick to it!

While you are completing your tidying marathon, store the items that you are planning to sell or donate in an area that does not interfere with your daily life, such as a garage or shed. 

That comment reminds me of Marie's recommendation to be like the sun to influence people in the family to be tidy. And to show happiness and not stress while tidying.

I know Marie only speaks Japanese, so I'm wondering if presubmitted questions were answered/translated in advance & who's answering the ones as they come in live.

I am answering questions in real time, working with my interpreter :)

Hi Ms. Kondo, I loved your book! It helped me get rid of a lot of guilt-filled clutter gifted to me by my mother. Now that you're an international sensation, have you found a difference in attitudes between America and Japan (and other countries) towards clutter or things? Do you approach clients' issues differently based on cultures?

I was surprised to learn that no matter the country, everyone has trouble tidying. We're all the same in that sense.

What is different, however, is that people from different countries have attachments to unique things. For example, I learned that in Poland, books have an elite status and are not something that you just throw out. In the United States, I learned that family heirlooms are common and treasured – in Japan, it's rare that large items are passed on through the generations.  It has been so interesting for me to learn about each country's values and attachments!

How many pjs do you think women should have? Summer and winter....thank you!

That's a very fun question! I would first consider what it is about pajamas that sparks joy for you. I think the quantity of pajamas you should have depends on your answer to that question.

If you're the type of person who takes joy in a variety of types of pajamas, then you'll have a larger number. However, if you're a person who prefers a specific type or brand of pajamas, you will likely have fewer that spark joy.

The KonMari Method does not set a numerical limit on the number of items you should own. Rather, it is about learning what items spark joy for you.

For me personally, I own 15 sets of pajamas in total – both summer and winter. Clearly, pajamas spark a lot of joy for me!

Hi Marie, my parents keep giving me presents i do not love because it’s not my style. I keep them for a long time and feel guilty to let them go. What should i do?

The purpose of a gift is to be received. Remember that the very act of receiving it is what should spark joy, so you should express gratitude even if you decide to let the item go.

In order to prevent this kind of thing from happening again and again, it is important to clarify what sparks joy for you in your everyday life. By discussing your favorite things with your parents, the gifts that you want can become the gifts that you get!

How can I downsize 20 years of souvenirs from our military life travels? And our children's childhood treasures? When I want to get rid some souvenirs, my husband reminds me how much we paid for them. And with my children's items, I get tears in my eyes thinking about how time has gone by so fast, I can't get rid of them. Help, please. Thank you.

It seems to me that souvenirs belong to both you and your husband, and your husband has a strong attachment to those souvenirs. In the KonMari Method, it is very important to first organize the things that belong to you before you tidy the things that belong to the whole family, so make sure you take care of your personal items first. 

As for your children's childhood treasures, if they make you happy every time you look at them, then keep them proudly. Remember that the KonMari Method of tidying is not about looking for things to eliminate, but about choosing the things that spark joy for you and cherishing them in your life.

 

When working with small budgets, what do you suggest people spend their organizational budget towards? Especially if they can’t afford new closet configurations.

For the KonMari Method, you do not need to purchase anything in particular to get started. The first step is to reconsider your belongings, select the items that bring you joy and let go of the items that don't spark joy. So the only item you really need is a donation bag!

The second step is to consider your storage. Once you have paired down your belongings to only those that spark joy, decide what needs to be addressed in your home in order for you to get closer to your ideal vision and focus on the spaces that are important to you. If your kitchen is your favorite space in your home, that might be an area worth spending a little money to upgrade your organization.

Always keep your ideal vision for your home in mind and only spend money on the organizational items that will help you achieve that vision.

So many great questions for Marie today on the chat. I think she gave some wonderful advice. And I love knowing that one of her personal "spark joy" items is pajamas! This was a great opportunity and we are thankful to Marie and her translator for answering so many questions today. Next week: We will be chatting about changing up your laundry routine with Brian Sansoni from the American Cleaning Institute. Until then, may joy come to your household.

I have everything else done but just can’t face my 6 large trunks of photographs. How can I get started? Thank you!

If you have gone through the KonMari Method – which it sounds like you have – then trust in your sensitivity to joy which you've honed during this process. Believe in yourself! 

Going through six trunks of photographs is a monumental task, but you just have to get started. It will take a while to go through them all – maybe three full days – but I think you will be surprised that it's not as difficult as you think. Continue on with the same process of letting go with gratitude those photos that do not spark joy.

I want to congratulate you for going through all the other categories. You've come so far – remember to relax and enjoy this last part of the process!

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions – and thanks to the Washington Post for having me! I wish I was able to answer all of them. I hope you will all discover what sparks joy in your life by using the KonMari Merthod. 

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius or follow her on Instagram @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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