Decluttering queen a hit worldwide

Best-selling Japanese author Marie Kondo demonstrating her folding technique.
Best-selling Japanese author Marie Kondo demonstrating her folding technique.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Last Wednesday evening, the tidy and the would-be tidy sat very still on the fourth floor of the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Union Square in Manhattan, craning to hear the soft voice of Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up, as she demonstrated her folding technique on ever more complex garments. She was balletic and masterly. When done, she received a standing ovation.

"Look at her, she's adorable," said Ms Rita Wade, 51, a director of student affairs at a language centre who was fascinated by Kondo's global reach.

The elfin Kondo, perhaps the world's only decluttering celebrity, was promoting her new book, Spark Joy, a more prescriptive manual (it comes with illustrations) than her last, which is a publishing juggernaut. Both titles are at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Kindly and self-mocking, she was already a tidy freak, as she said (assisted by an interpreter), by age five, irritating her family by throwing away their belongings and mystifying her teachers when she skipped recess to organise her classroom's bookshelves.

Now 31, KonMari, as she is known, exhorts you to ask yourself: "Do your things spark joy?" If not, you must thank them for their service and send them packing.

It is a liberating manifesto, though in practice it can take months. Handle each object to properly gauge whether it truly thrills. Kondo suggests giving your clothes a hug and mimed doing so.

Her approach to stuff is not just minimalism, said Ms Yuko DeYoung, 50, an account manager at a news agency, and one of more than 100 attendees at the book signing. "Her method is something more basic, something more humane."

Indeed, this patting and hugging of belongings, a kind of compassionate organising, has resonated beyond all reckoning.

More than five million copies of Kondo's books have been sold, along with licences to print them in 40 languages, including Mongolian. Fox and NBC are working on a sitcom inspired by her.

Last year, Time magazine named Kondo one of its 100 most influential people, in an encomium by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who proclaimed her devotion to Kondo by announcing that if she ever got a tattoo, it would say: "Spark Joy!"

Inevitably, there was a backlash, and then a backlash against the backlash. Finally, a parody appeared that was not quite parody: The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A (Expletive) by Sarah Knight, out last month, was mostly practical.

"So many books are about hoarding and clutter," said Mr Christian Freedom, 46. "It's very shaming. I like her tone and her idea that untidiness is a spectrum."

He was at Barnes & Noble with a friend, Mr Darren Rosenblum, 46, who had given him the book for Christmas and they were disputing their place on that spectrum.

Mr Freedom graded himself with a harsh nine; Mr Rosenblum clocked him at about seven.

Mr Freedom said he had already filled a large duffel bag with cast-offs, delivered to a thrift store.

"I thanked my stuff and handed it off," he said. "My therapist was really happy and said, 'Can you do that twice a week?' "


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Decluttering queen a hit worldwide'. Print Edition | Subscribe