Marie Kondo: Sparking joy one heart at a time

Story by Isabel Ashley, Staff Writer

For many people, the word joy is the last thing that comes to mind when cleaning. For Japanese organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo, joy is the foundation of her philosophy for sorting messes. The Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo demonstrates just how much cleaning can transform lives.

The series follows Kondo as she advises different families on how to declutter and organize their living space. Her trademarked technique, the KonMari Method, centers around the items that make us the happiest or, Kondo’s coined phrase, “spark joy.” The method encourages cleaning by category rather than location, starting with clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous items, and finally, sentimental items.

The KonMari method is more than just tossing things out and straightening up. It deeply ingrained in the Japanese Shinto belief system and Zen philosophy by treating objects as if they are living beings. Each time Kondo is brought into a new household, she greets the house and has the family join her in thanking it for providing protection. During the cleaning process, each person removes every item from where it was stored, hold it in their hands, and deciphers if it sparks joy. If not, they thank the item before discarding it.

Each episode features a unique and unkempt circumstance, from young couples with pets, to families with young children, to empty nesters. Instead of showcasing extreme cases like Hoarders, the show focuses on ordinary people who have become overwhelmed by their amount of clutter. For each situation, Kondo goes through the same ritual, such as piling every piece of clothing onto the bed to visualize the volume of their wardrobe. Once every item in the house has been assessed, Kondo shares her tricks for organizing the objects that did spark joy, like folding shirts into neat rectangles before placing them in drawers, or putting miscellaneous items in compartmentalized boxes where each object can be seen.

What is interesting is that each person struggles with a different category, whether it be the writer who is unwilling to toss his first manuscripts, or the widow who is reluctant to rid her former husband’s clothes. Deciphering what truly sparks joy is a challenge to many people featured in the series, which is why the last category of the KonMari Method is sentimental items: by that point, each person’s ability to sense joy is well practiced. Each episode ends with a reveal of the tidier living space, and although it is not as spectacular as a home remodeling reveal, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from seeing everything in its own place.