Features | From Pivot Magazine

The Kondo boom

Japanese home organizer Marie Kondo has spurred a burgeoning industry determined to clear our clutter

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illustration of Marie KondoMarie Kondo’s books, led by the blockbuster The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, have sold more than 11 million copies around the world since 2011 (Photo of Kondo by Getty Images; illustrations by Leeandra Cianci)

Over the last generation, our collective hoarding habits have sparked an explosion in self-storage units. Now, instead of paying hundreds a month to store our junk, we seem to be spending money to get rid of it altogether. 

Marie Kondo might have something to do with the shift. Her books, led by the blockbuster The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, have sold more than 11 million copies around the world since 2011. The so-called “KonMari Method” is simple: people should take an inventory of everything they own, category by category (clothes, books, papers, “komono,” which is almost everything else, and sentimental items) and purge anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”

On New Year’s Day, the Japanese decluttering expert released Tidying Up, a Netflix series that nearly broke the internet. Netflix doesn’t release viewing data, but a week after the show premiered, the number of Kondo’s Instagram followers spiked by 84,700, bringing the total up to a million. Meanwhile, according to Chartbeat, the trailer and articles about Tidying Up—a wave of think pieces, testimonials and debates about the virtues of living with less—acquired more than 700,000 engaged minutes and 770,000 page views on January 9 alone. 

In the years between those major KonMari moments, new smartphone apps, books and social media stars have been stoking the home organization market, which is expected to grow from $16 billion in 2016 in the U.S. to $19.5 billion by 2021, according to a report by Research and Markets. 

At the same time, home organizing consultants are proliferating, charging upwards of $100 per hour to recreate the same, ultra-dramatic before-and-afters seen on Kondo’s show—think hoarder’s den turned minimalist art gallery. When Toronto’s Lindsay Whisen started a decluttering company called Ease Up five years ago, she was struggling to find a job as a teacher and wondered if she could use her innate organizing skills to help others live less messy lives. At the time, she was told by people in the industry not to expect full-time hours.

Ease Up now has a staff of seven people and is growing fast. Its fees are around $80 an hour and her big selling feature is that her team is quick. “We do the work two or three times faster than someone could or would on their own,” she says. “We don’t get bogged down in emotional attachments.” Kondo, says Whisen, has “made it clear that disorganization is a problem for a lot of people and that they want help with it. Almost every single house I visit, I find that book.”

Kondo also offers workshops that school organizers in her method. The $2,000 three-day courses regularly fill up within hours of being announced. For Montreal’s Sachiko Kiyooka, the investment has been worth it. She is a gold-certified KonMari expert, meaning that in addition to completing the workshop two years ago, she has also completed more than 200 consulting hours with more than 20 clients (her fees range from $80 to $100 per hour).

Of course, Kondo’s method isn’t the only approach to decluttering. “Marie Kondo is like the Keto diet,” says Linda Chu, director of marketing at the Professional Organizers in Canada (POC), an industry group that offers a $300 program that helps members launch their own organizing business. “Her approach is very hot right now. But there are other diets out there that are equally as effective.”

Of POC’s 600-plus members, only a handful are Kondo-certified. Some prefer to organize by room as opposed to category, others focusless on purging and more on systematic storing customized to the needs of the client.

Chu also notes that Kondo is hardly alone in her quest. Among the most notable organizers are Nashville’s Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, who launched their organizing company in 2015 and now have one million Instagram follows, as well as a roster of celebrity clients including Mandy Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow. Their new book, The Home Edit, was a bestseller well before its official release in March, and is popular in part because the message is more approachable than Kondo’s. Rather than purging, the magic relies on better organizing your belongings in aesthetically pleasing, colour-coded bins, primed for social media sharing.

And, of course, to meet the needs of DIYers, there is also a proliferation of organizing apps. An app called Sortly creates category-by-category or room-by-room inventories to let its users know what they have and where they have it. It’s free, though Sortly offers a premium version to business clients that has more sophisticated inventory management tools.

Decluttr, on the other hand, helps people get rid of what’s left behind. Like a digital pawn shop, it buys old computers, phones and other valuables then resells them for a markup. Since it was started in 2012, it’s been used by more than six million people and bought morethan $300 million worth of would-be waste. For a more altruistic take, there’s an app called Buengo, which not only helps people sell things, but donates the proceeds to charity. Since launching in November 2018, more than 12,000 items have been listed, benefiting more than 80 charities. “The whole decluttering movement has really helped us get attention,” says Buengo founder Fela Hughes. And it’s reminded us that our own joy isn’t always the point.

diagram of how to fold a t-shirt

Tight and tidy

How folding a T-shirt like Marie Kondo can "spark joy"

1) Lay the shirt flat. Imagine it in vertical thirds. “Get a feel for the piece. Stroke it with your hands.”

2) Fold the right third inward. “Communicate your affection through your palms.”

3) Fold the right sleeve back.

4) Repeat steps two and three for the left third. “Communicate your gratitude for its continuous support.”

5) Fold in half, then fold that half into thirds. “It’s not about making it compact. It’s about love.”

6) If you did it right, the shirt will stand up.