QUEEN OF CLEAN

Ja­panese best-sell­ing author is on a mis­sion to or­ga­nize the world with her unique tidy­ing-up meth­ods

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By AN­THONY WAR­REN

an­thony@chinadaily.apac. com

Some peo­ple do not just build a brand, they are the brand.

Steve Jobs’ black turtle­necks per­son­i­fied the Ap­ple Mac user’s in­ner artist. Don­ald Trump’s larger-than-life per­son­al­ity is the bedrock for his epony­mous busi­ness em­pire. And Marie Kondo is as com­pact, min­i­mal­ist and poised as the homes ren­dered tidy by fol­low­ers of her man­i­festo.

One of the world’s top or­ga­niz­ing con­sul­tants, Kondo is a best-sell­ing author and clean­li­ness guru. Her com­pany, KonMari Me­dia, is on a mis­sion to or­ga­nize the world, one house­hold at a time, and in her home­land of Ja­pan her mes­sage has made her a celebrity. In­ter­na­tion­ally, she has gone on to “kon­vert” mil­lions to her cause.

Two of her four books on erad­i­cat­ing house­hold clut­ter have been pub­lished in English and have be­come global smash hits.

Her first, The Life-Chang­ing Magic of Tidy­ing Up, has sold al­most 6 mil­lion copies world­wide since its re­lease in 2011. In the United States, it has sold 1.5 mil­lion copies and has stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for more than two years.

On the in­ter­net, Kondo’s fans can be en­thu­si­as­tic. They form sup­port and ad­vice groups, share photos and post up­dates on their tidy­ing progress. Oth­ers dis­sect her phi­los­o­phy, in­ter­pret­ing and adapt­ing her man­i­festo to ev­ery­thing from sock fold­ing to hu­man re­la­tion­ships.

The more ex­treme fol­low­ers — self-pro­claimed Kon­verts — use her name as a verb. To “kondo” is the act of vig­or­ous, heart­felt de­clut­ter­ing, as in such phrases as: “I’m just kon­do­ing my closet.”

From Kondo’s writ­ing, her per­son­al­ity can be per­ceived as quite in­tense and forth­right.

“I think some read­ers do get that im­pres­sion of me,” she replied in Ja­panese, through an in­ter­preter, “be­cause I use a lot of declar­a­tive sen­tences in my books.”

But Kondo, in the flesh, does not come across as in­tense. Petite, charm­ing and de­mure, she seems not far re­moved from the dis­tilled, Zen-like seren­ity she por­trays in pho­to­graphs. She sits straight­backed, her hands fold­ing and re­fold­ing in her lap.

Get­ting in­for­ma­tion about her past is not easy. Out­side of what she writes about her­self in her books and blogs — an anec­dote here, a TV in­ter­view there — she val­ues her pri­vacy.

“Hav­ing al­ways been a recluse, ob­sessed with or­ga­niz­ing, such pri­vacy is im­por­tant to me,” Kondo told China Daily.

“It’s been go­ing well so far, par­tic­u­larly over­seas. I don’t get rec­og­nized in public so much just yet.” She smiled, adding: “It’s fine.”

So, not quite your typ­i­cal cult leader. And yet, ac­cord­ing to Kondo’s own story of how her life’s work be­gan, her mis­sion may in­deed be di­vinely in­spired. She was only 16 when she be­lieves a god spoke to her.

To some, the idea of a de­ity of­fer­ing clean­ing tips might be dis­con­cert­ing, but for Kondo, tidy­ing re­ally has been her life’s call­ing. At age 5 she was lead­ing her mother in tidy­ing the house. Later, in school, she pre­ferred be­ing class mon­i­tor to play­ing out­side, spend­ing re­cess or­ga­niz­ing the class­room book­shelves.

The need to tidy be­came an ob­ses­sion. She threw away fam­ily keep­sakes and palmed off un­wanted items as “gifts” to her younger sis­ter.

But the heav­ens in­ter­vened when Kondo, trash bag in hand, de­cided to throw out ev­ery­thing in her bed­room. She looked at the mess and fainted.

When she awoke two hours later, there was a voice in her head. “Look at things more care­fully,” it said.

“I don’t know whether it was an ac­tual voice or a feel­ing that came from (within) my­self,” Kondo told The Times of Lon­don in Jan­uary 2016. “I be­lieve it was the god of tidy­ing … That was the mo­ment when I had my in­spi­ra­tion.”

From that point, the tra­jec­tory of her work shifted. No longer was it about ditch­ing the bad. In­stead, the fo­cus was on cher­ish­ing the good.

All items kept or dis­posed of would be thanked — even socks, be­fore be­ing folded, must be con­grat­u­lated for their hard work. But only those things which are used or “spark joy” ( tokimeku) are al­lowed to stay: Be it clothes or sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers.

“I be­lieve (the method) ap­plies to all as­pects of real life,” Kondo said, “be­cause by clean­ing your phys­i­cal space you’re hon­ing your sen­si­tiv­ity in un­der­stand­ing your sit­u­a­tion. This also ap­plies to hu­man re­la­tion­ships.

“A lot of my clients have re­ally trans­formed the way they re­late to their friends — and one of my clients broke up with a part­ner who wasn’t quite work­ing out.”

To­day, mar­ried and with a 1-year-old daugh­ter, the idea of cast­ing off peo­ple who fail to in­spire joy per­haps has less ap­peal than when she was 19 and had just started mak­ing money tidy­ing for clients. That was while study­ing at Tokyo Woman’s Chris­tian Univer­sity.

The Life-Chang­ing Magic of Tidy­ing Up be­gan as a stop­gap: With so many cus­tomers need­ing her ex­per­tise, Kondo thought that she could help them go it alone with a sim­ple guide­book.

“My method was pretty much es­tab­lished by the time I be­gan writ­ing the books,” she said. “You could say it was 12

Be­cause by clean­ing your phys­i­cal space you’re hon­ing your sen­si­tiv­ity in un­der­stand­ing your sit­u­a­tion. This also ap­plies to hu­man re­la­tion­ships” or­ga­niz­ing con­sul­tant

years in the mak­ing.”

Writ­ing that book took just three months.

“What hap­pened was, I went to a sem­i­nar to learn book writ­ing. And at the end of the sem­i­nar there was a pre­sen­ta­tion where you needed to pitch an idea for a book. There were about eight ed­i­tors present. In fact, I won the com­pe­ti­tion, so that gar­nered a lot of in­ter­est.”

When the book was launched in Ja­pan, it was the right time — but for the wrong rea­sons. It was dur­ing the af­ter­math of the dev­as­tat­ing nu­clear ac­ci­dent and tsunami that struck Ja­pan in March 2011.

The book beat all ex­pec­ta­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Kondo’s edi­tor, a prof­itable, pop­u­lar book on the art of tidy­ing-up might sell 300,000 copies. When it sold more than 1 mil­lion in Ja­pan, she was “very sur­prised”. Peo­ple, it seemed, were look­ing to find or­der amid the chaos.

In the US, the English­language trans­la­tion was pub­lished in 2014. It was lost in ob­scu­rity un­til a jour­nal­ist from The New York Times wrote how she used the book’s meth­ods to clean her apart­ment. Al­most overnight, Kondo crossed the Pa­cific.

Other trans­la­tions fol­lowed, in­clud­ing Czech, Ro­ma­nian, Korean and Viet­namese. And a Chi­nese-lan­guage edi­tion was pub­lished re­cently.

“In Tai­wan there has been re­ally great feed­back and my book has been do­ing re­ally well,” Kondo said. “But when it comes to the Chi­nese main­land, rel­a­tive to the pop­u­la­tion, I think it could be do­ing much bet­ter.”

In Ja­pan, the busi­ness of train­ing pro­fes­sional KonMari con­sul­tants be­gan in 2014 and is well es­tab­lished. A roll-out in the US is now un­der way.

Be­com­ing a con­sul­tant in­volves an in­ten­sive three­month course of sem­i­nars. That is fol­lowed “by an ac­tual mon­i­tored test where you go to a client’s home and write a re­port based on the ex­pe­ri­ence. Then there will be a fi­nal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion exam,” Kondo said.

The price of the course in Ja­pan is 350,000 yen ($3,000). And even with a 30 per­cent fail­ure rate, it has proved pop­u­lar: Cur­rently around 120 KonMari con­sul­tants work in the coun­try.

Kondo an­tic­i­pates that over the next year or so, cour­ses will be ex­tended to other English-speak­ing coun­tries where her book sales have been high.

The next step is tech­nol­ogy. A re­cently re­leased KonMari app helps users check off what they have ti­died, then share it with the global com­mu­nity. “Sort of a guide­line to keep you on track,” she ex­plained.

“I am very much in­spired by Uber and Airbnb,” Kondo said, re­fer­ring to the ride­hail­ing gi­ant and home-stay net­work.

“I’ve al­ways been in­spired by peo­ple en­gaged in star­tups and new ven­tures be­cause they’re launch­ing what in­spires joy for them, so their en­ergy al­ways in­spires me.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Marie Kon­don of­fers clean­ing tips to the whole world through her books.

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