Fast Company



- Declutteri­ng doyenne MARIE KONDO is poised to build the next lifestyle empire, but will it spark joy?

She’s wearing a white bathrobe and standing next to a bouquet of pink cherry blossoms. She has asked for soft instrument­al music to be piped into the room. It appears to calm her on this February morning in Los Angeles as a dozen production workers mill about, capturing footage that will show Kondo’s 2.5 million Instagram followers how to dry brush their faces. Kondo closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and starts making small circular motions on her forehead. When she opens her eyes, she has conjured up a euphoric expression for the camera.

Kawahara isn’t buying it. He taps me on the shoulder to show me his phone, on which he has pulled up the word ticklish in large letters on Google Translate. “Doesn’t that brush look ticklish to you?” he whispers to me, saying the word in English for the first time. He proceeds to wiggle as if someone is tickling him, giggling so much that his dapper gray fedora threatens to tip over onto his glasses. “There’s no way I would put that thing on my face.”

Kawahara, CEO of Konmari Media, which he cofounded with his wife in 2015 and which is headquarte­red in Hollywood, California, is a fixture at Kondo’s photo and video shoots, like the one today showcasing products sold on the Konmari website. The production crew often turns to him expectantl­y, waiting for him to exclaim, “Beautiful!” or “Excellent!,” a signal that they have nailed the shot and can move on to the next one.

He’s also the life of the set. His goofiness is a foil for Kondo’s quiet spirituali­ty, which is central to her mission, something she describes to me as “helping others to choose what sparks joy.” Kawahara punc

Takumi Kawahara is watching his wife, Marie Kondo, massage her face with a brush.

any seriousnes­s, making funny faces, telling jokes, and putting everyone at ease. It’s partly his personalit­y, but it’s also a strategic effort to relax his wife. Kondo has been in the public eye since 2011, when she published The Life-changing, Pulsing Magic of Tidying Up in Japan, but she’s still happiest at home, with her daughters, ages 3 and 4.

“The time that I spend with my family sparks joy for me,” she says, in a voice so quiet that only her interprete­r seems able to hear it. (She speaks English but is less comfortabl­e doing so than Kawahara.) “I have to be a public figure so I can spread this message. But it’s much harder for me than for people who naturally excel at being in front of a lot of people. Takumi has really helped me.”

Over the past year, Kondo has been forced to negotiate the tension between her introverte­d personalit­y and her desire to introduce her philosophy to larger audiences.

Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, her Netflix series that launched in January 2019, went on to become the global streaming service’s most-watched nonfiction show of the year. Suddenly, Kondo was vaulted into a new constellat­ion of stardom, alongside other goddesses of wellness and domesticit­y such as Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, and Gwyneth Paltrow. By the end of 2019, she had establishe­d an e-commerce site, a blog, and a newsletter. She had also increased the size of her consultant network—people whom Kondo personally instructs in her declutteri­ng method—to 40 countries.

Now, Kondo is bringing her method to the workplace, backed by the $12 billion Japanese e-commerce conglomera­te Rakuten, which acquired a majority stake in Konmari Media in August. In April 2020, Kondo released a new book, coauthored with Rice University business school professor Scott Sonenshein, called Joy at Work: Organizing Your Profession­al Life, which opens the door to selling organizing products and services to business types. “Tidying your workplace gives you an opportunit­y to reflect on how you are working and what you like about the job,” she says.

As she goes after the corporate world, Kondo appears to be wrestling with the question of what kind of work makes her happy. For several years, it seemed like she was following the playbook of other celebrity entreprene­urs. But now she has clearly decided to throw that strategy out the window. Apparently, it no longer sparked joy. Perhaps it never did. ONDO WAS A 21-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE student when she first met Kawahara, who was also 21. They were in Tokyo, waiting for an elevator. Kondo retures

1. San Jose

In 2015, Kondo partners with ebay on a backto-school declutteri­ng guide—including downloadab­le flash cards—for parents and kids.

8. Stockholm

Margareta Magnusson is dubbed “the next Kondo” with her 2018 book,

designed to “spark joy” in recipients of passed-down items.

What’s at the heart of Konmari is that there are no wrong answers,” says Kawahara.

By far, the most effective conduit for spreading the Konmari method has been TV. Kondo’s book was made into a Japanese drama in 2013. (NBC commission­ed an American sitcom based on it in 2015, but the show wasn’t picked up.) In 2016, Kondo starred in a two-part English-language documentar­y special called Tidy Up With Konmari, for the Japanese network NHK, in which she helped New Yorkers tidy up their homes.

In some ways, that was a dry run. Gail Berman, the veteran TV and movie producer who had acquired rights to the book and sold the sitcom idea to NBC, and even fielded offers for a Tidying Up movie, put together a presentati­on for “how this unscripted reality show might work with her at the center of it dealing with families in the U.S. We pitched that, and ultimately there was an interest from Amazon and from Netflix,” she says, with Netflix winning

PULSATING STAR “People say, ‘Wow, you became famous all of a sudden,’ but that’s not how I see it.”

the deal by doing a straight-to-series order. The key difference in this project was casting Kondo herself, not just her concept. “She is the real thing. She is delicate and beautiful and committed,” Berman says. “Showing that was very, very important for succeeding with the show.” When the eight-episode series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo debuted on Netflix on New Year’s Day in 2019, the response was staggering. Google searches for “Marie Kondo” were 100 times what they were when the book went on sale in the U.S. The Container Store, which had been struggling (and is unaffiliat­ed with the show), saw a nearly 9% sales increase. Circular-economy apparel company Thredup saw an 80% year-over-year increase in people ordering “closet clean-out kits” in the show’s first three weeks. Netflix ordered a second season immediatel­y, as it had done with the reality hits Nailed It! and Queer Eye. Then, Kondo did something unusual for someone with aspiration­s to expand her business: She sat on the offer. In fact, she has still not signed on for a second season of her Netflix show. When asked about the status of season 2, Brandon Riegg, Netflix’s VP of unscripted originals, who was involved with the acquisitio­n and creation of the show, says, “We’re excited to continue working with Marie, and we’re still discussing what the next steps would be.” By all accounts, the rigors of Tv-making took their toll on Kondo. “This opportunit­y became a source of enormous stress to her,” says Kawahara. “We struggled to maintain a balance between our private life and business.” Netflix was aware of this, Riegg says, and worked to accommodat­e her needs. “What she does takes a ton of focus and energy, and when you add a layer of TV production, it becomes a different demand on her,” he says. Multiple sources indicate that the production schedule was modified to give Kondo more time off set. “I wasn’t used to the process at all, so I became really physically exhausted,” Kondo says. “But I think at those points in life, it’s very important to take a moment to sit down and ask yourself, ‘What do I need to change here? How can I prioritize better?’ ” When I ask Berman about the show’s plans for a second season, she says, “No, Marie is not ready for

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 ??  ?? TWOFER “We’re two people, but working as one,” Kawahara says of himself and Kondo.
TWOFER “We’re two people, but working as one,” Kawahara says of himself and Kondo.
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