I must admit, when I first heard that there was a Japanese art of decluttering, I laughed out loud. My mother, who hails from Okinawa, is one of the biggest pack rats I know, and I’m quite sure that no one else on the Okinawan side of my family has ever thrown anything away.
Enter Marie Kondo, a Japanese cleaning and organizational consultant who has reached celebrity status in her homeland. Her best-selling books have been translated into 28 different languages, and her latest, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was made into a Japanese TV drama and was recently released in English.
KonMari, as she’s known, was in New York last week and spoke to a capacity crowd at the Japanese American Association to prove that there is an actual Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Kondo has a three-month waiting list for clients in Japan, so this was a special opportunity to learn about her popular KonMari Method and how to find happiness in a home less cluttered.
The petite, sprite-like Kondo has devoted the majority of her life to cleaning. She started by tidying up her room, her siblings’ rooms, her friends’ rooms, and her classrooms since childhood. Her love of reading her mother’s lifestyle magazines began at the early age of five, and by the time she was 15, she was researching cleaning and decluttering, finding solace in the best-selling book The Art of Discarding. Her college thesis was also about cleaning, and she started her consulting business when she was 19 years old.
“I am a crazy tidy fanatic,” Kondo says.
Kondo takes a holistic approach to cleaning, saying that in order to have a clean home, you should truly want to have a clean home. Throughout her years of consulting people who have too much stuff and not enough storage, she developed her KonMari Method.
Three steps may not seem like a lot, but Kondo knows decluttering is not a task to be taken lightly. In addition to these steps, she advises following a certain order in cleaning, rather than cleaning room by room.
Gather all of the clothing in your home and place it in one pile. This gives you an accurate picture of exactly what you have, and according to Kondo, “People realize they have about three times as much as they thought.”
As you repeat this process with each category, you must distinguish between what you’d like to keep and what you’d like to discard by asking yourself “Does this spark joy?”
Don’t laugh; Kondo is serious.
In order to determine if an inanimate object could possibly “spark joy,” Kondo says you must touch each item and be aware of how your body reacts. Your body should feel uplifted when you hold something truly important to you. By contrast, you’ll feel down or have a negative reaction to the items that you no longer need. Kondo says it’s important to say “Thank you” to the items you will discard because although they no longer bring you joy, at one point in your life, they did. You need to show that you appreciated something before you discard it. The things that remain are the things that you really care about, so you’ll take better care of them.
“The point of the exercise is not so much to decide what you’re going to discard, but what you’re going to keep,” says Kondo. “If you focus on what to throw away, you don’t end up cleaning.”
Kondo says her folding technique will help create more space in your drawers for the clothes that made the cut. Kondo suggests rolling your clothes – almost like sushi – and standing them up in your drawers so you can easily see what you have. Here’s a YouTube video using the KonMari Method.
Kondo knows that “tidying in one shot” doesn’t mean one day or even one weekend. Give yourself deadlines and break down the cleaning in the order of her categories, and you’ll be on your way to having a tidy home and transform your life.
“Once you really, really clean, you won’t rebound, and you won’t have to do it again,” says Kondo.
So if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to declutter your home and your life, the KonMari Method could be for you. Make 2015 the year you find the things that spark joy.