Some books spark a cultural conversation while others spark a movement; The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up managed to do both. First released in 2011, it has been published in over 30 countries and became a runaway bestseller and phenomenon when it reached the US in 2014. It also made an instant star of its author, Marie Kondo, who started as an organizational consultant in college and has since been named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. (She’s also an Emmy-nominated TV host with her own Netflix program, but who’s counting). 

All that to say… Marie Kondo knows a thing or two about organization. With a new year finally here, we wanted to get the expert’s take on how to set ourselves up for success in 2021, along with a few other things. What does she think of vintage and antique shopping? What do you do with items in your home that don’t spark joy but you need? And does her signature KonMari Method work for maximalists (asking for a friend, of course)? We spoke directly with the source to find out.

Marie kondo poses with wood table and white ceramic carafe

First and foremost for the Chairish audience, can the KonMari Method work for maximalists? If people like to layer and display lots of possessions… does that work?

The KonMari Method is often associated with minimalism, but the philosophies are actually quite different. While both share the belief that individuals can improve the quality of their lives by taking stock of their belongings, the KonMari Method doesn’t suggest that the only way to do so is by owning fewer things. 

Instead, it encourages individuals to reflect on whether their belongings spark joy for them. Letting go of things with gratitude is another important part of the KonMari philosophy; our possessions work hard for us and it’s important to thank them — at the end of the day or when we’re ready to discard them.

The KonMari Method has been associated with minimalism because most people discover that they’ve been living with items that don’t spark joy for them — and they suddenly feel empowered to let them go with gratitude. Of course, if minimalism is a lifestyle that sparks joy for someone, that’s fine! Similarly, if having more items sparks joy, that’s fine, too. It’s far more important to adorn your home with the things you love than to keep it so bare that it lacks anything that brings you joy. The purpose of tidying is to find and keep the things you truly love, to display these proudly in your home and to live a joyful life.  

Open wood shelving with black and cream ceramics with brass jars

How do you feel about vintage and antique pieces, when it comes to sparking joy? Do you find that items with a longer history have an added significance in that sense?

Joy is personal: One person might be inspired by a piece’s long history, but another might feel bogged down by it. Regardless of an item’s provenance — whether it was passed down to you or discovered in a thrift shop — be sure to evaluate it using your own criteria for what sparks joy. While it’s important to consider an item’s history, it’s even more important to think about its future. 

If minimalism is a lifestyle that sparks joy for someone, that’s fine! Similarly, if having more items sparks joy, that’s fine, too. It’s far more important to adorn your home with the things you love.

Marie Kondo

What are some of your favorite pieces in your own home? Do you collect any vintage or antique items? 

I cherish all the cards my daughters have made for me — especially a Mother’s Day card that my husband Takumi helped them make when they were quite young. One of my favorite pieces of furniture is an antique writing desk; I also have a mug of my grandmother’s that she used exclusively for drinking hot cocoa — never coffee or tea!

Marie Kondo chops in a minimalist kitchen with wood cabinetry and gray stone countertop

Even if something doesn’t truly spark joy, sometimes it’s a necessity to have in the house – most people don’t find joy in tax records, for instance, but we need them! What’s the best way to keep things like this, even if they’re not our favorites?

Our homes are full of these sorts of objects — important papers, functional tools and cleaning supplies. My first piece of advice is to recognize that while these items may not spark joy on their own, they contribute to an environment that does. For example, a toilet bowl brush may not spark joy, but a tidy bathroom does!  Instead of keeping these items because you must, keep them with a sense of gratitude for what they allow you to accomplish. Secondly, store these belongings as you would your joy-sparking favorites: Give them each a home, make sure they’re easy to access, and thank them for their service after you’ve used them. 

What is the most common organizational mistake you see people make?

A common mistake is to jump right into storage and organization. The first step in my tidying method is to imagine your ideal lifestyle. For some, this vision might be to surround themselves with the bare essentials; for others, it could mean living in a home teeming with beloved art, books, collections, and heirlooms. Each individual’s ideal life — and space — will look different from the next. 

Then, begin tidying by category — not by location — in this order: clothes, books, paper, komono (miscellaneous items) and sentimental items. For each category, choose what to keep based on whether or not it sparks joy — and give it a designated home. Store possessions so they’re easy to take out and even easier to put back. Complicated storage and organization systems are just that — complicated. Organize items by type, store them upright, and ask your house for guidance if you’re not sure where to put something.

Glass jars with wood tops filled with peas and beans on natural wood open shelving

Are there particular colors that you think create a sense of calm at home? Any particular materials?

The most important thing is that you’re aware of the kind of environment that brings you joy. Tidying up is one of the best ways to know your own criteria for joy; often, it’s only after tidying that people realize what kind of environment sparks joy for them. Once you know what colors, textures, and materials bring you joy, use them with confidence! A power spot — a personal space filled only with things you love — is the perfect place to express yourself. Change it up to reflect the season, your mood, or a favorite palette.

When I want to add a touch of color to a room, I use flowers or potted plants, which is something I’ve been doing since high school. Back then, I used a single daisy, which only cost about a dollar but made my room feel special. 

Separately, I recommend grouping clothes by color. This way, you can not only see how much you have in a given palette, but you also create a soothing visual display. When hanging clothes in a closet, arrange them so they rise to the right — put darker, heavier and longer garments on the left and lighter, softer and shorter on the right. 

Marie Kondo with her minimalist closet with white wire closet organizers

You have KonMari Consultants, who guide people in the process on a one-on-one basis. How do they become experts, and what are some of the things they most often help clients with? 

When I was a full-time tidier in Japan, I often received outreach from clients who had completed their tidying festivals and wanted to help others do the same. Inspired by their passion, I began offering trainings in the KonMari Method, planting the seeds for what would grow into the Consultant Program. We currently have over 500 certified Consultants in more than 40 countries. 

To be certified as a KonMari Consultant, you must attend a Consultant Certification Course, practice tidying with two clients, and then take a written exam. In the Consultant Certification Course, we expand on the KonMari Method and why it’s essential to adhere to its principles and categories. We also teach candidates what it’s like working with clients. There’s a big difference between applying the KonMari Method in your own home and applying it in someone else’s. This is where “soft skills” come in. We coach CITs on how to listen better, remove judgement, and guide constructively. 

Often, it’s only after tidying that people realize what kind of environment sparks joy for them. Once you know what colors, textures, and materials bring you joy, use them with confidence!

Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo sits on a natural fiber rug with cream floor pillows and pedestal side table

This year has obviously seen the world working in new ways, with many people still at home. What is your best advice for setting up a home office area that works, especially if space is at a premium?

No matter where you work, it’s important to create an environment that helps you focus. Identify the items that are crucial to getting your work done, and designate a clear spot for them — a box or portable carrier will do. Move all unrelated items off of your workspace and add one thing that sparks joy when you look at it — I always keep a crystal or small vase of fresh flowers on my desk. Creating a calm, uncluttered environment will enhance both productivity and joy. 

As the new year is beginning, what are some simple organizational ideas or products that can help people set themselves up for success in 2021?

I recommend creating a schedule each morning — and sticking to it! This will help you to be fully present throughout the day. I also recommend taking breaks to move — exercise sparks joy! Finally, a regular gratitude practice helps me to connect with what sparks joy — write down or say aloud a few things you’re grateful for at the end or beginning of each day. It’s a simple practice with powerful results.

Two of my favorite organizers are the Stacking Storage Box With 9 Compartments and The Very Important Papers Vault. The first is ideal for intimates, socks, and accessories — it allows you to store items by type and see everything at a glance. The latter, the paper vault, is one of the most popular items in the shop at KonMari; it has multiple compartments, stoppered drawers, and vertical file folders that make it easy to elegantly keep track of important documents and files.

All images courtesy of KonMari

January 7, 2021

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.