Kondo popped up on the screen dressed in a white sweater in a white room in her Los Angeles home, ready to talk, through an interpreter, about her latest book, “Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life,” which she wrote with Scott Sonenshein, professor of management at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.
Kondo’s name has become a verb, as in “Kondo-ing,” since her KonMari method of decluttering caught on around the globe. Her best-known work, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” was published in Japan in 2011, translated into English in 2014, and has sold more than 10 million copies. Kondo starred in the eight-episode Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” that was released last year and is in the early stages of a new Netflix show (working title “Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo”) that will follow Kondo and her team as they tidy one small town in the United States.
But for now, Kondo is like many of us, riding out the pandemic at home. She’s juggling household duties with her husband, Takumi Kawahara, co-founder and chief executive of KonMari Media, and caring for their two daughters, ages 3 and 4.
Kondo likes to work at her dining room table, but for our chat, she sat in her husband’s home office, which has a better Internet connection. We talked about working and living at home, and how our homes can bring us joy, even in this period of self-quarantine and social isolation.
Reassess work-life balance
Kondo says that in the middle of this topsy-turvy time, we are all rethinking how we work and how we spend each day. “We are in a very different situation and different world than when I was writing this book,” she says. “We have this very rare opportunity to reflect on how we work and work itself and how we define it.”
She says this is a good time to reevaluate how to balance work and your personal life. Now that we aren’t spending much time outside our homes, we have the time to reflect, she says. She suggests writing down what you want to achieve professionally and what you want to achieve personally every day, so one aspect does not overpower the other. Kondo says she has reorganized her calendar to make sure that she upholds her own philosophy of balancing and nurturing both work and wellness during this time at home.
When her book tour was canceled, she quickly pivoted to Zoom for interviews, which actually takes less of her time, so she was able to do more of them. She is checking in with her community on Instagram stories, encouraging them to tidy and offering productivity tips.
Think about your senses
Kondo begins her workday by spritzing the air with an aromatherapy spray to clear her mind. (This particular day, she used a blend of cardamom and black pepper oils, lemon and sandalwood called Motivation Mist: Now or Never, which she sells on her website.) “I read somewhere that of our five senses, our sense of smell is very important and affects the brain and relaxes our mind,” Kondo says. This ritual makes her feel like she’s “shifting gears into a work mode.”
Adding a plant or a small vase of flowers to your desk can generate a good vibe, she says. “This contributes a lot to our relaxation and happiness.”
She also uses scented candles during baths or before she meditates or goes to bed.
Reevaluate storage — but don't beat yourself up over those old photos
Kondo says that all this time at home can inspire us to consider better ways of storing our belongings. “I truly recommend taking all the clothes in your drawers and taking the time to fold them properly,” she says, “and organizing everything hanging in your closet. Work with what you have in your home in your current situation.” She realizes that most donation centers are not open now and says that if you decide you don’t want something, you can set it aside to donate later.
“You should realize what kind of house you want going forward,” she says. “Then, the next step you may want to take may become much more clear to you.”
Kondo says photographs are the hardest thing for us to sort through and winnow down. Try to gather them all in one place while you’re cleaning up your drawers and closets. “Actually, in my KonMari method, photos are saved for the very last,” she says. Because photos are such sentimental items, you should tackle the other decluttering projects in your home first and go through photos when your organizing and decision-making skills are a bit more honed. “The important thing is that you should go through them one by one,” Kondo says.
Take stock of your pantry
If you haven’t already, this could be a good time to go through all the food in your kitchen and to reflect on what you really need and enjoy. “I think it’s very important to take an accurate stock of our food supplies,” Kondo says, especially because of coronavirus-related shortages in grocery stores and the guidance to stay at home as much as possible. “Take an accurate inventory, and look at the expiration dates,” she says. Making a list can help prevent panic-buying and unnecessary trips to the store.
The key to keeping a tidy refrigerator is to be aware of how much food you have and make sure you can see it at a glance, Kondo says. This way, you won’t overbuy or let food go to waste. Toss out any items that are expired or past their prime. Next, throw out the items you never use, such as individual sauce or seasoning packets. If you’re not sure whether to keep something, she says, ask yourself whether it would spark joy to eat or cook with it. When you have decided what to keep, organize by category, and use small storage containers for individually wrapped items. Storing taller items behind shorter ones will make it easier to see what you have. Avoid stacking items on top of one another.
Kondo recently participated in a virtual tidying of her own refrigerator with Japanese fans. She unearthed some expired wasabi that she tossed, but she also found a great treasure that she had forgotten: some “yokan,” a Japanese treat made of bean paste, agar and sugar, that she had been given as a present.
This, said Kondo, was a tidying gift. “I was overjoyed to eat it.”