The World Loves Marie Kondo, But It Was America That Needed Her

Surprise! Netflix’s decluttering guru isn’t a minimalist, and she is totally okay with shopping at Costco.
Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo
KonMari Media, Inc.

In 2016, two years after the English translation of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” became a best-seller, Marie Kondo moved to Los Angeles to establish her home organization consultancy in America. Amidst her culture shock, the Japanese native soon realized her new country also provided something that her homeland did not: unprecedented levels of clutter on which to practice her art.

On Netflix’s “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” we see her gently guide clients to confront years of accumulation: towering stacks of baseball cards, never-worn athletic shoes literally decaying in the box. Kondo admits that one client, an empty-nester obsessed with collecting Christmas nutcracker dolls, has more clothes than she has ever encountered.

“Japanese homes are much smaller than American homes,” Kondo said through her interpreter, Marie Iida, who also appears on the show. “American homes have ample space so that it’s a difference of quantity. There’s a tendency to want to have more things when you have a bigger space.”

Kondo’s tidy takeover of America began with that understanding, and now the release of her Netflix reality series has made her, and the KonMari Method, a household name. “Americans do tend to buy more in bulk. That’s a cultural difference,” Kondo said. “Speaking from the KonMari Method point of view, there’s nothing wrong with buying things in bulk.” The key is in how one stores those Costco items in a pleasing and accessible way.

“Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”Denise Crew/Netflix

While social media backlash likes to portray Kondo as a strict minimalist, she doesn’t oppose consumerism, or even clutter — as long as those things “spark joy” in you. The KonMari Method instructs clients to sort through household items in a specific order — clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and sentimental items — and discard what doesn’t pass the joy litmus test.

Clients learn to awaken that sensitivity at their own pace. “[On the show,] I’d say the shortest time was for a person who’d immediately get it with the first category,” said Kondo. “When they touched their clothes, they’d understand what it is to mean for something to spark joy. So [learning in] one day would be the shortest. For the longest, I’d say about a week. If they started with clothes, it’d take them all the way to the category of books or even paper for them to understand it.”

Once they master that skill, however, Kondo found Americans to be more decisive than the Japanese. “It’s hard to generalize because it all depends on the person,” she said. “But I would say that on average, Japanese people tend to need more time to deeply think about what it is that may spark joy because they’re not as confident in their feelings or their thoughts.”

Kondo must pivot when one “Tidying Up” client proves remarkably adept. When recent widow Margie plows through her clothes in no time, she’s eager to tackle her husband’s clothes – a painful reminder in their shared closet of his passing. Initially Kondo tells her that sentimental items should be left at the end. Eventually, Kondo relents and tweaks the process for Margie.

“In Margie’s case, while she was tidying her own clothes, she already felt that she was ready to start sorting her husband’s clothes. She was ready to have that resolved,” said Kondo. “Of course, there are guidelines to the KonMari Method, but it’s always important to listen.”

“Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”Denise Crew/Netflix

That need for empathy initially gave her concerns about producing the show in America. “I have been conducting tidying lessons in Japan and communication is important obviously in understanding what my clients are thinking and fostering a deep relationship,” she said. “But this time, I knew I had to do that with an interpreter, so I was a little worried how deeply I would be able to communicate with them and build a relationship with my clients.” Netflix bridges that gap with a mix of subtitles and Iida’s on-the-spot interpretations, which are borne from a three-year working relationship with Kondo.

As much as possible, Kondo also wanted the show to provide an accurate portrayal of the extensive process. “Usually it takes an incredibly long time to go through this process at the client’s home,” she said. “Of course, for a TV show, you’ll only see one piece of that segment. So it was important to capture that moment when the client understands what it means for something to spark that joy for them and having them express that verbally on their own. It was something I was careful about.”

Ultimately, the lasting impact of Kondo’s strategies lies in the promise of a better life. Kondo posits that a home that only makes room for joyful objects eliminates stress. As the head of a multi-billion dollar company who leads a picture-perfect life complete with husband, KonMari Media CEO Takumi Kawahara, and two adorable daughters (who have already begun to fold their clothes, KonMari-style), she is the ultimate brand ambassador.

Kondo exudes a serene charisma that Iida understood should be conveyed faithfully, down to the tone, pauses, and movements. “In a TV show like this, it was very integral that I pay attention not only to what everyone was saying … but I also paid a lot of attention to her tone of voice, her posture, hand gestures, and so on,” said Iida. “I didn’t want her personality and character to get lost in translation.”

"Tidying Up With Marie Kondo"
“Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”Netflix

Kondo inspires clients to try some of the more conceptually foreign aspects of KonMari. Although Kondo doesn’t consider herself religious, her technique is inspired by Shinto, a Japanese folk religion that believes all things have a spiritual essence. This is why each object is thought to have the ability to spark joy, and why Kondo suggests thanking each discarded item for its service.

Kondo also takes the time to “greet” each house she is about to help, kneeling in a central spot and closing her eyes to commune with the home and set an intention for an end result. On “Tidying Up,” she eventually tweaks this practice to include her clients.

“When I was doing my lessons in Japan, I loved greeting the house myself. I did it alone,” she said. “But during the shooting, it dawned on me that ‘Oh, why aren’t I asking the families to do this?’ That was something that I started in the middle of the shooting. Greeting a home is not something that I enforce, but I ask if it’s something that the family would like to try.”

Those who participate in this KonMari Method to decluttering madness often find themselves becoming sentimental in front of the cameras. In fact, an outpouring of emotion is a common occurrence on the show as each client confides their feelings of frustration, sadness, or shame to Kondo. One client even remarks on how his marriage has improved now that the clutter is gone.

“It’s not myself so much, but the effect of the tidying process,” Kondo said. “There’s something therapeutic about it.” KonMari mission accomplished.

Season 1 of ”Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” is currently sparking joy on Netflix.

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