Marie Kondo wants to set the record straight. The 34-year-old may be known for clearing out household clutter in favor of a tidy, everything-in-its-place lifestyle. But she readily admits that the Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, Takumi Kawahara, and their two daughters (ages 3 and 4) isn't always immaculate.
"To be honest, my situation has changed since I was single," says Marie, speaking through an interpreter at the Palihouse Hotel in West Hollywood. "I've let go of needing to maintain a perfect home all the time."
This news may come as a surprise—and perhaps a relief—to the millions of people who have read her debut book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, or binge-watched her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. But managing a growing business and a growing family has shown Marie that perfection isn't always attainable. "Being pressed for time is common for all of us," she says. "You just have to accept the fact that you don't have a lot of time and that it's OK."
Obsessed with tidying since she was a child, Marie started as a consultant in Japan, helping clients organize their homes. Since the beginning, her process hasn't been about (or only about) stuffing and hauling garbage bags to thrift stores. It also has always had a spiritual component, perhaps informed by her time years ago working at a Shinto shrine. Marie kneels in her client's home to greet it then has them hold each possession in their hands, keeping the item if it "sparks joy," in her words, or thanking it and saying goodbye if it no longer serves them. The point is to make both physical and mental spaces for the life you want. "Society at large is very exhausted by how many possessions we have," she says.
Marie's home-improvement-meets-self-improvement approach made her a best-selling author in Japan in 2011 then in the United States, where the book was released in 2014. The author and her husband (also her business partner) moved their family to California nearly three years ago to build her company, KonMari Media Inc. Her Netflix show debuted earlier this year. (She's in talks for a second season.) In each episode, she gently but firmly helps a different family or individual through their tidying journey. There are emotional stories: a widow finally facing her late husband's closet, a family grappling with a move that forced them to downsize. There are triumphantly organized closets and utensil drawers. There are tears.
The show helped make Marie both a verb (as in, "I've just Kondo'd my garage") and a celebrity—something the self-described homebody doesn't seem entirely comfortable with. "When I open my bag in public and it's even a little messy, I get embarrassed," she says, laughing. She's also faced some public blowback, most notably over a rumor that she believes no one should own more than 30 books. Marie denies that she ever imposes limits on how many books—or any type of item—a person owns. "That's a complete misconception," she says, smile intact. "What's important is not necessarily quantity, but understanding what quantity works for you."
The truth is, through maturity and experience, she has softened her prescribed method. Although she still recommends that people tidy their home in one intense marathon session if they can—tackling clothes, then books and documents, miscellaneous items, and finally sentimental things—she recognized that for especially busy people, it's more realistic to purge items here and there. "Maybe do socks one day and shirts the next. Do a smaller amount when you have time," she says.
Marie's ambitions extend beyond an immaculate sock drawer. She is writing books with targeted strategies for different audiences, including a picture book for young children and one about work spaces. And she is licensing tidying consultants to take her method directly into homes around the world. Don't be surprised if a line of storage containers with a KonMari label appears in the future. "We are figuring out what we're going to do as a lifestyle brand, so we are very much in the discussion phase."
But even as her company grows, its greatest asset may be its message: the concept of choosing joy and recognizing that the source of it can be hiding in unlikely places. "I think that resonated with a lot of people," she says. "Tidying itself is not the be-all and end-all goal. It's much more introspective. It's about checking in with yourself and choosing joy in your daily life. I just show how you get there through tidying."