Marie Kondo, the Japanese cleaning guru whose name has even become an adjective, explains in her latest book how you can turn your (home) desk into a tidy success.
Of course is Marie Kondo punctually at the appointment. It is 7:30 PM, but in Los Angeles, where the Japanese cleaning guru now has her home, it is sometime around noon when, as agreed, she appears on the screen of my laptop. She looks very relaxed, so controlled you can almost feel it. Kondo seems to have descended from another world, if you compare her to the other people on the screen: me in one corner and her translator on the other.
For Marie Kondo’s first seminary, barely… four people registered. Two of whom dropped out at the last minute.
Her hands are perfectly manicured, and clearly already well trained in these corona times: not once will she touch her face. At most, she uses her hands for some movement to make something clear, or to show that on her desk are only a notebook and her rose gold MacBook Air.
You would think for less that Kondo was made for this kind of crisis, which admittedly does not strike in her own little family – husband Takumi and two daughters, three and four years old. No rampant hoarding at her home. No chaotic self-isolation.
Her mission in life was clear from the moment Marie Kondo discovered at the age of five that she had a talent for organizing: to create peace and tranquility with order and tidiness. Only keep the things ‘that make you happy’, as she likes to put it herself.
Anyone who even flirted with her tidying up method in ‘Tidied Up!’, Her first book of which ten million copies rolled over the counter in 2011, can agree that she makes you feel happier, lighter and calmer: take a good look at your things and belongings, take care of what you need and throw away the rest. It’s more important than ever in these times, Kondo says.
“While my hands were cleaning everything, I can clear my head and meditate for a moment.”
‘There is so much fear in the world right now. I feel that we have a great need for self-reflection, that we should think about how we want to live the rest of our lives. ‘ She says it through her translator, in a soft, musical, high-pitched voice.
‘One of the solutions is to tidy up your house, because during that process you find out what is most important to you. It allows you to actually control the environment you have to control. So it does offer a solution. ‘
Kondo is now in full swing. ‘It is a process in which you make it clear what is wrong with yourself. The better you succeed in this, the more serene you view the world. Even when you feel that society is tainted with fear and restlessness, you still see what lies ahead. And when you remember the things and people you have in your life, you cherish a sense of gratitude. That has a calming effect. ‘
Clean desk policy
“The only thing that should be on your worksheet is what you really need for the job you are doing.”
Ironically, the book we want to talk to Marie Kondo about is about a place where many in these corona times cannot be: the workplace. ‘Cleaned up! At Work ‘is the fourth spin-off of her first bestseller and co-authored with American management professor Scott Sonenshein. She explains how to organize your workplace and how to deal with digital ballast. How to tidy up your smartphone, computer and even calendar.
Although the timing turns out not to be so unfortunate. Because most of us cannot go to the office, many have just now set up an office at home. To do this, we need to free up both physical and mental space, so that it is possible to stay focused, while living with all our family members under the same roof 24 hours a day.
Naturally, Kondo wrote her book long before the Covid-19 crisis broke out. Nevertheless, much of what it says can also apply to the home office. For example, the Japanese preaches three main rules for the workspace. Rule one: designate a place for each item and save everything by category. Rule two: use boxes and put everything upright to save space. Rule three: don’t keep anything on your work table itself.
“Your desktop is your workplace,” she says. ‘No cupboard to keep stuff. The only thing that should be on your worktop is what you really need for the job you are doing. ‘
With that last rule, Kondo leaves room for some flexibility. Pens can be placed in a holder on the table and do not necessarily have to be in the drawer. You can also find an item that you like. Or a plant. “That has a calming effect when you think about something,” she says. During our conversation, Kondo has a vase with a few pink flowers on her work table.
Cleaning the computer
“Cleaning your desk is a ritual that helps the mind switch smoothly to work mode.”
In addition to the clean desk policy, Kondo also uses a cleaning ritual that she retained from the time she had an office job herself and that could certainly be useful in the post-corona era. When you arrive at the office in the morning, clean not only the top of your work surface, but also your computer and mouse, keyboard and phone. On Mondays, when a new week starts, you can even do it a bit more thoroughly: you also clean the legs of your chair, the cables under your work table, and so on, ‘says Kondo.
‘It seems like a lot of work, but it actually takes no more than a minute,’ she writes. ‘And it means that everything is very neat: for me that was a world of difference. Not only was the atmosphere more relaxed, it also made it easier to get started. While my hands were cleaning everything, I was able to clear my head and meditate for a moment: a ritual that helped my mind switch smoothly into work mode. ‘
Nobody would have dared to predict that the Marie Kondo cleaning method would become such a phenomenon worldwide. Although Marie Kondo herself seems to have been born with a tidying up. She once told about her childhood, how her parents forbade her to tidy up at one point, because she kept throwing too much stuff away.
Ironically, it was her mother who taught her that maniacal tidying up: “She was always busy with her housework, and she always seemed to enjoy doing it,” laughs Kondo. Then there are those stories about how tidying up, and especially throwing things away, was a form of spiritual awakening for her. For example, Kondo once said that every day when she came home from school, she took a plastic bag and looked for things to throw away.
“You shouldn’t look for things to throw away, but rather for things you really want to keep.”
But one day I opened the door to my room, and everything looked gloomy and confused. I thought, I hate everything in this room, I’ll throw it all away because I never want to clean up again. And then I fell to the ground. When I woke up two hours later, it turned out not to be so bad. On the contrary, a lot of the stuff looked neat and shiny. And then I realized: you shouldn’t look for things to throw away, but rather for things you really want to keep. ‘
That is perhaps the biggest misconception about the KonMari Method: you are not supposed to throw away most of your belongings. Her belief also has a more spiritual aspect: Before you dump something, Kondo wants you to … thank the thing for what it all did or meant. For example, she thanks her wallet every evening when she puts it away.
Marie Kondo was still studying at university when she started her business specializing in tidying up. ‘I went to tidy up with friends, put some order in the house, and things quickly went like wildfire. “I would give you money to teach me how to organize my home,” said people I didn’t even know. It made me realize that I might be able to reach a wider audience, which is why I started that company. ‘
She soon got so many customers that she had to work with a waiting list. After which the waiting begged her to write a book, so that they could at least turn to it for advice. Kondo settled in behind her laptop and “three months later,” she says, the book was ready.
Kondo was in her mid-20s when she quit her job at an employment agency to pursue her business full-time. Although her business also had some growing pains. For her first seminary, barely… four people registered. Two of whom dropped out at the last minute.
A fortune in an accident, because during her first workshop she did not really succeed in conveying her message and was mainly confronted with her own inexperience. A painful moment, but it also made her see that she needed to look at the issue rationally. That she had to learn to market herself better, fine-tune her method and gain experience, first with small groups and then with larger ones.
The toll of fame
The pressure increased along with her first book. “The pressure to always be that happy, cheerful Marie,” she says. “I started creating my own… obstacles, constantly telling myself to be cheerful because otherwise I had no right to spread that message in the world.”
In 2015, when sales of her books went past ten million, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. The offers poured in from all over the world, and she took as many as she could. She was also pregnant with her first child, and it was all too much for her. In ‘Tidy! At work, “she writes about how she realized that” I couldn’t go on like this. “
Today she masters it all seamlessly. Whether her husband, whom she met in college, ever worried when fame grew so quickly? The man who is now CEO of KonMari Media comes into the picture, and says: “I was a bit worried about how she would handle the attention, always being recognized like this. Even now that keeps me busy, right. Marie is someone who likes to sit at home, she is even a bit introverted. ‘
‘We try to spend as much time together as possible, so that she never gets the feeling that she is on her own here. I also always want to know how she feels, how she experiences things. She has not only created a method, she must also be able to communicate it to the world. To be able to do that, she has to be protected, I notice. ‘
It’s time to wrap up. When I ask her how much it would cost me to bring her to Europe for some tips, I get a surprising answer. Shrugging her shoulder, she replies, “I don’t really know, because I don’t teach private lessons anymore.” To which husband Takumi puts his head in front of the camera again and quickly takes over: “She is priceless.”
‘Cleaned up! At work ‘, Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, from Lev., 20.99 euros.