“Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship” is a picture book that tells the story of two best friends: Kiki (a squirrel), who enjoys collecting, and Jax (an owl), who likes sorting. Jax even knows the KonMari fold! (The book, co-written and illustrated by Salina Yoon, ends with a diagram in case your kids don’t.) When Kiki’s surfeit of stuff threatens their relationship, Jax unleashes his inner Kondo and turns cleaning into a game: Kiki and Jax make piles; they hug clothes; they fold and organize and spark joy. Kiki realizes she has room not just for her things, but also her friend. It’s very tidy indeed.
Kondo, 35, who has two daughters, ages 4 and 3, says that though her book is marketed to children, its message is for everyone. “Tidying up and friendship are very important aspects of our lives at any age,” she said in a video interview from her home in Los Angeles. Kondo — sleekly dressed in a checkered top and white cardigan and holding a stuffed Kiki toy — discussed her new book and why she believes kids can find joy in being neat, or at least in cleaning up.
(A translator participated in the interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: Are your children like Kiki and Jax?
A: Actually, they both resemble Jax because they like tidying up.
Q: So neither of your kids is messy?
A: Well, they are not always organized. Sometimes they make messes, but usually they are tidy. Anyway, when they are messy, they don’t dislike tidying up.
Q: I saw a sweet photo of your kids folding clothes on Instagram; they were 3 and 2 at the time. At what age do you think kids should start trying to be tidy?
A: As soon as they can walk, like maybe when they are 1 year old, you can start having them put things back where they belong.They don’t mind that so much — so maybe little by little you can start getting them to clean up.
Q: What if they say, “No, no, no!”
A: Of course, sometimes they say, “No, no, no!” But in our case, because our daughters see their parents having fun tidying up, they don’t have a bad image of it. They feel like it’s fun.
Q: How do you have fun when you’re tidying up? Do you sing or whistle?
A: Actually, naturally I just smile, I keep smiling when I’m tidying up.
Q: Your husband too?
A: No, he’s just neutral, but he just cleans up so fast.
Q: When are children old enough to try the KonMari fold?
A: Maybe around age 3, I think kids would be old enough to try the task of folding.
Q: How old do you think you have to be to master it?
A: It’s different from child to child. So for example, my older daughter, she was actually mastering the fold when she was 2 and putting things away really nice and neatly. However, my younger one, who is now 3, she does it really roughly and squeezes things into the drawers.
Q: How do you involve your whole family in tidying up?
A: For example, when we all get together and tidy up, that might be after dinner. We say, “Okay, now it’s tidy-up time, and when we’re all done, we’re going to have dessert!” So if you achieve the goal, you will get the reward.
Q: How can tidiness bring people — friends and family — together?
A: I feel strongly that tidying up together brings a family or group together — because you have to cooperate. You have to make the home a place where every single person feels the spark of joy.
Q: A lot of kids feel very attached to things — blankies, clothes, dolls. Sometimes they really like to hang onto these items for a while. Is there a point at which parents should take these objects from their kids? How do you handle that?
A: It’s all up to the particular child and the item. With the KonMari method, we emphasize that whatever sparks joy in your heart, you keep. When we clean out the toys, the kids decide what to keep. Up to this point, I haven’t experienced having to take anything away from my daughters — yet.
Q: So there hasn’t been anything that your daughters really wanted, and you had to say, “No more”?
A: Actually, one of my daughters was not be able to let go of a pair of shoes. The pair was so old and falling apart and didn’t fit her. She cried, but I had to tell her that “okay, you have grown out of these shoes and you are going to say ‘thank you’ ” — that’s a very important thing to ask the children to thank the item that they really love and explain why you have to throw it away. My daughter cried a bit and was hesitant, but in the end, she said thank you and we already had new shoes for her that fit.
Q: I understand that you now live in Los Angeles. Why did you move, and how are you finding it there?
A: Before Los Angeles, we lived in San Francisco. The reason we moved to the U.S. is because when my book became a bestseller here, I was asked to go to so many places to give seminars in the United States — more than in Japan. Wherever I’m needed, I want to be! . . . I really love being here, the weather is beautiful and the people I work with have the same goal — spreading the KonMari message. So I am really enjoying my life here.
Q: How are your tidying-up clients different here than they are in Japan?
A: The concerns are very similar — a person has too many things and doesn’t know how to organize them. The difference is that in Japan, it is very popular to organize and simplify the home — there are lifestyle magazines, books and TV specials on this — entire sections of bookstores devoted to it. They are not all my books, but I must say my book was the bestseller. In the West, this is just starting now; it’s a blank slate.
Q: Are you making more of the episodes of your Netflix show?
A: We are actually in discussions about the next season.
Q: After this book, you will publish another, your fifth book published in the U.S, “Joy at Work,” about the value of a clean workspace. Once people have finished reading your books, where do you suggest that they keep them?
A: If you are still in the middle of tidying up, then you want to keep the book on your bookshelf. But if you are totally and completely done cleaning, then you can let go of it.
Q: Give it away?
A: Yes, of course, you can give it away!
Nora Krug is an editor and writer in Book World.