How Marie Kondo changed her mind about mess: ‘I realised perfect order was not my goal – it was spending time with my kids’ | Life and style

Marie Kondo became a global home-organising phenomenon when she wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up more than a decade ago. The book was published in more than 30 countries and her trademarked KonMari Method of tidying by categorising, ordering and only retaining objects that “spark joy” catapulted her on to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list in 2015, inspired two Netflix shows – Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and Sparking Joy With Marie Kondo – and amassed the Osaka-born guru 4.1 million decluttering fans on Instagram.

Three children later, the 39-year-old’s mindset has shifted radically. “As long as the living room floor is clean, then that is what the new tidying threshold becomes,” she says. Word of her embracing a “messy” home emerged last year when she explained in a webinar that she had “kind of given up” on tidying the house after the birth of her third child, a son, now two. (She also has daughters, seven and eight.)

“There were as many reactions as there were followers and fans that I have around the world,” Kondo says of the response to her revelation that kids’ toys were now strewn across her formerly immaculate home. “But the overwhelming reaction was relatability rather than shock, surprise or betrayal. More than messages saying: ‘What happened?’ were ‘Oh, I completely understand what you’re going through,’ and, ‘I thought so, too.’”

Her followers’ attitudes have evolved alongside her own. “As my life stage has shifted, perhaps the same thing has been happening with my followers,” she says. “It may not necessarily be with growing families; people may be really busy with work or they just aren’t physically able to always be tidy.”

When Kondo launched her brand, work was everything, she says. “I was focused on my book and spreading the message and the idea of sparking joy in one’s life through the act of tidying up.” Sparking joy, she says, remains core to the KonMari Method, which she reprises in New York next month, for her first in-person course for aspiring professional organisers since 2019.

Kondo in an episode of Sparking Joy – the Netflix show inspired by her hit book on tidying. Photograph: Adam Rose/Netflix

But the circumstances around her method are different now, and she is open with followers about that. “I realised always maintaining the perfect state of tidiness was not my goal, but spending time with my kids is. That’s what really sparks joy.”

Her previously stringent approach to designating spaces for items (the Marie Kondo effect triggered a transatlantic rise in sales of storage boxes) is now less rigorous in her own home. “In the past, I’ve encouraged my children to put the plush toys in the plush box and the music items in the music box and the doll house items in the doll house box, but when kids play and it comes time to return items to their designated homes or the places we agreed upon, everything just gets mixed up. Now I have shifted my mindset to the idea that everything being at least inside a box is satisfactory.” She has a temporary pile-up of “stuff” by the dining room table. “In the past, I didn’t have the idea of a temporary location for items.”

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It’s not that Kondo doesn’t enjoy the practice that made her name. “Perhaps my position is slightly unique, because I am a huge fan of tidying and I enjoy the act of tidying up,” she says. It’s just that the idea may no longer always be “attainable”.

Publicly acknowledging that change, when your name is synonymous with eliminating clutter, was a risk, although Kondo’s following is undented. “When you have a brand, the perception, or expectation, is that my life must be [the same]. If you look at the Netflix series, especially the first season, the core message is that the protagonist in each story is going through a journey of tidying,” she says. “I understand how that might project a certain image of my own lifestyle, but those two are not necessarily always equal. My own personal level or threshold is something completely separate.” And at the moment, Kondo is closer to her clients’ experience than ever.

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