The untold truth of Marie Kondo

Japanese author Marie Kondo is the it-girl of the self-help world. While her hit Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, earned the organization expert hoards of new fans when it premiered on New Year's Day 2019, Kondo has long-been the go-to guru for sparking joy through cleaning. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has been published in more than 30 countries, selling over five million copies. Since its 2010 release, Kondo has continued to help followers of her KonMari tidying method live their best, most organized lives by publishing four follow-ups to her celebrated first book — Spark Joy, Life-Changing Magic: A Journal – Spark Joy Every DayThe Illustrated Guide to the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up. 

Based on the glowing reviews of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo from fans and critics alike, it's safe to say that 2019 is going to be the year of KonMari. Here's what you need to know about the woman responsible for sparking joy across the globe.

A lifelong love affair with tidying

When Tidying Up with Marie Kondo premiered on Netflix in January 2019, many viewers were surprised to find that Kondo was only 34 years old. It's unusual for someone in their early 30s to be able to lay claim to guru status, but then again, Kondo has been taking the road less traveled for the vast majority of her life. 

During a talk at 92nd Street Y (via Apartment Therapy), Kondo revealed that she'd often clean her childhood home while her parents were away, surprising them with a "perfectly bleached, sparkling" kitchen when they returned. By middle school, she says, she was "deep in [her] research" of tidying — and by age 15, she'd completely thrown herself into the act of tidying.

After becoming so overwhelmed with constantly searching for things to discard in an effort to have a perpetually tidy home, 15-year-old Kondo actually passed out. It was this experience, she says, that helped her to develop her famous KonMari Method, which urges people to focus not on what they want to get rid of, but what they want to keep.

Entrepreneur extraordinaire

Marie Kondo didn't waste any time in turning her lifelong passion for tidying into a viable way to make a living. 

As a student of sociology at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, Kondo wrote a thesis on tidying entitled, "How to Declutter Your Apartment," and established herself as an organization consultant among her peers. However, it wasn't long before her Tokyo-based consulting business began to take off — becoming so popular, in fact, that Kondo soon had a growing number of wait-listed clients. 

It was this outstanding popularity of her KonMari Method that inspired Kondo to write her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, for those would-be clients who wanted to learn more about the tidying guru. "They requested that I write a book so they could learn about my method while waiting for their consultation," Kondo said in a 2015 interview with The CutThe mid-20s organizational guru wrote the book in just three months, and its Japanese edition was published in December 2010. 

A tsunami kickstarted her career

Though Marie Kondo was in high-demand as an organization consultant in Japan, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — her first effort as an author — was not a runaway success. As explained by The New Yorker in a 2015 profile detailing Kondo's origin and success, the how-to book sold well after its initial release in December 2010 — but its popularity skyrocketed in March 2011 after a 9.1 magnitude earthquake hit 231 miles northeast of Tokyo, subsequently causing a devastating tsunami

In an interview with The Cut, Kondo's editor, Tomohiro Takahashi, explained how the unfortunate catastrophe helped propel Kondo to fame, saying, "The Japanese people suddenly had to ask themselves what was important in their lives. What was the true value of sentimental items? What was the meaning of the items they'd lost? What was the meaning of life?" 

Seeking answers to these questions, people flocked to the KonMari Method. In 2015, one and a half million copies of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up had been sold throughout Japan.

Her bestseller was the product of a publishing course

Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method are nothing short of revolutionary. Since its initial release in 2010, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has found international success, making its author an A-list celebrity in a category that rarely produces superstars of her caliber. While our cup runneth over with self-help books and gurus of all varieties, rarely does an expert come to know the level of success and recognition that Kondo has experienced in the past decade. 

Though Kondo could have never predicted her current level of fame, making a lasting impact with her KonMari Method has always been her goal. In early 2010, Kondo participated in a publishing training course called "How to Write Bestsellers That Will Be Loved for Ten Years," winning first prize in its book-proposal contest with her idea for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Tomohiro Takahashi — one of the contest's judges and Kondo's future editor — was immediately impressed with Kondo, and made the winning bid for her first book even though she had yet to begin the writing process. Needless to say, his hunch paid off.

Made for TV

Some people just have that thing — that ineffable sort of star quality that other people can sense from miles away. Whatever you want to call the thing, it's safe to say that Marie Kondo is one of those people who has the thing. According to Tomohiro Takahashi, this was immediately apparent to him when he first met the tidying guru.

Takahashi told The New Yorker that, while Kondo was neither an author nor well-known outside of her consulting business in Japan, he knew stardom was on the horizon. "[I thought to myself,] 'She's going to be on TV and become famous," Takahashi revealed. In the Japanese publishing journal Shin-bunka (via The New Yorker), Kondo's editor gushed, "I felt a mysterious energy around her that I had never experienced around other people."

Once again, Takahashi's hunch was spot-on. It wasn't long before Kondo became a TV hit in Japan, stepping into the spotlight by tidying the home of a famous Japanese comedian. The author would go on to make several televised appearances as a tidying expert in both Japan and America before landing her hit Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

Her husband is super supportive

Marie Kondo's level of success does not come without incredible amounts of dedication and hard work, and likely countless late nights and early mornings. Fortunately for Kondo, if ever saving us all from becoming full-on hoarders becomes too great a burden to bear, she has a shoulder to lean on in her husband, Takumi Kawahara.

Married in 2012, Kawahara and Kondo have been husband and wife throughout her whirlwind journey of becoming a celebrated Japanese author-turned-world-famous-celebrity. As Good Housekeeping reports, once the KonMari Method surged in popularity, Kawahara left his job as a sales support and marketing specialist to work as his wife's manager. Since being promoted to CEO of Konmari Media in 2015, Kondo's husband has been hard at work behind the scenes of her career — helping secure book deals, managing her social media accounts, and producing Tidying Up with Marie Kondo alongside his wife. Kondo told Good Housekeeping that her husband is even a follower of her KonMari Method — because, duh. Who isn't? 

"Fundamentally speaking, we're in the same groove," Kondo revealed. Groovy!

She can't throw away these two items

Holding each of your items individually to see if they spark a feeling of joy within you — a central component of the KonMari Method — is how Marie Kondo suggests her followers discern between items they should keep and items they should discard. It's easier said than done, as sentimental value is often attached to items that don't necessarily "spark joy," resulting in items being tucked away in a box simply because a person can't bring themselves to part with them.

If this sounds like you, you're not alone — even Kondo herself has fallen victim to nostalgia and sentiment. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (via Good Housekeeping), Kondo revealed that she still owns a T-shirt she received at a 2005 expo that she just can't get rid of, even though she wrote that it "sticks out like a sore thumb among all my graceful, feminine clothes." But wait, there's more. In a Good Housekeeping interview, Kondo was reminded by her husband of another sentimental item collecting dust on a shelf — a stuffed seal. "It was a gift from my father," Kondo revealed. "I can't part with it!" 

She doesn't want to take your books

The KonMari Method gained hoards of new followers when Marie Kondo made her Netflix debut in January 2019. Variety critic Daniel D'Addario likened Kondo to Mary Poppins, writing that the author is an "amiable presence on the show" who "makes decluttering seem within reach, and appealing, too." However, impossible as it may seem, the lovable tidying guru managed to anger some viewers of her Netflix show. As part of her KonMari Method, Kondo urges the people she helps on her show to discard or donate items that no longer spark joy — including books. 

Understandably, book lovers everywhere were appalled at the suggestion they get rid of their books, taking to social media to express their disagreement. However, as Kondo explained to IndieWire, she's not suggesting that KonMari followers rid themselves of the majority of their personal libraries. "If the image of someone getting rid of books or having only a few books makes you angry, that should tell you how passionate you are about books, what's so clearly important in your life." Kondo said. "That in itself is a very important benefit of this process."

These items spark joy for her

In Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, many of Kondo's messy mentees find themselves unsure of what it actually feels like for an item to spark joy — and they're not alone. Plenty of Kondo fans, both old and new, have often wondered the same thing. How will you know if the well-loved pair of leggings you scored on sale four years ago spark joy inside you? Kondo insists that your body has a certain reaction to items that spark joy, adorably describing the feeling with a sing-songy "ting," like that of a chime. 

So, what gives Kondo that joy-sparking ting? In fall 2018, Kondo took to her blog to list the items in her life that were currently sparking the most joy for her — crystals, notebooks, rose water, cozy socks, and an antique sewing box she received as a gift when she was a child. She also urged readers to take time to make a list of their own, writing: "Identifying the tiny details that spark joy will add a little more magic in your day." 

She knows her brand

Sharing a carefully curated record of our lives online has created a sense of urgency in some people to set themselves apart from others by knowing — and showing — their "brand." As any company will tell you, crafting and maintaining a brand is a labor of love. However, as usual, Marie Kondo makes it look like a perfectly iced piece of cake. 

For starters, Kondo's Instagram looks like an extension of her poised, calm, and airy personality showcased on Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The tidying guru uses the social media platform to share adorable family photos of her husband and two children, as well as photos of closets, drawers, and suitcases organized using her KonMari Method. It's a sight for sore eyes, and builds a compelling case for Kondo to branch into the social media tidying business. 

Kondo definitely knows her brand, and it shows in all that she does — as well as the clothes she chooses to wear. In an interview with The New Yorker, Kondo explained why she's often seen wearing white. "It is part of my brand [...] my image color," she revealed. "It is easy to recognize me."