Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

‘Tidying Up’ is a Netflix Original reality show hosted by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, first released January 2019.  The method requires that you go through 5 categories of things.  For each category, gather everything into one place, and ask ‘Does it Spark Joy’.  If it does, arrange it so that it is visible and accessible.  The 5 categories are:

  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Paper
  4. Komono (kitchen, bathroom, garage and miscellaneous etc.)
  5. Sentimental Items


There is a lot of clever stuff going on in this method, which is definitely in the category of ‘self-help’ and ‘wellbeing’.  The method taps into our emotional power by carefully constructing simple frameworks of change.  Many of the secret sauce ingredients of the method should be transferable by a skilled Coach into a Lean/Agile environment.

Highlights of the Konmari Method

There are several great things I appreciate about the “Konmari” method that is very applicable to change management in general.  Here is a quick round-up of some of the things I noticed.

  1. Convening. Marie always starts each project with a short meditation – “Have an image of the kind of life you’d like to lead from now on in your home.  Tell your home your hopes for it.”
  2. Thanking possessions before throwing them away.  Crazy, right?  But it’s true – we actually feel guilt when we throw things away.  I don’t know why, but I can definitely attest to this phenomenon – even for things which don’t have sentimental value – such as a potato peeler.
  3. Coaching.  Unlike many expert-driven reality shows, Marie hardly does any work herself.  She explains the five-step method, and then disappears for weeks at a time, leaving the participants ‘homework’ to do.
  4. There is no ‘number’.  The objective is never to throw things away, or reduce the amount of clutter.  The objective is simply to confirm how you feel about each object, realizing that you don’t need to feel it for everything.  It’s about letting go.
  5. Inner transformation.  Marie explains that her method is not a simple method to clean your house.  Tidying up always leads to profound attitude and outlook changes in those doing the tidying.  Watching the series you quickly understand that it is not about the ‘things’ at all.
  6. Sparking Joy.  This I understand as the ‘secret sauce’ of the method, and is what leads to attitude and outlook changes.  For each item in turn – does it ‘spark joy’ – is there an emotional attachment that makes you want to continue with this item into the future.  Coupled with ‘thanking’ (see above), I believe this creates a powerful emotional response.  Clutter ‘feels’ heavy.  Removing it removes a weight from us.
  7. Smiling!  Whatever nasty mess awaits her, Marie always accepts it with a huge smile!  ‘I love mess!’.  I believe this unconditional, unjudging acceptance is what makes her coaching method particularly unthreatening.
  8. Make visible.  From a practical perspective there are some great Lean elements in how she approaches tidying.  Clothes are folded and then stacked upright, so that everything can be seen.  For this reason, categorizing by size and/or type can help visibility.  Also, use clear containers
  9. A place for everything.  Straight out of Lean, the method calls for a place for everything, and everything in its place.  Use smaller boxes inside drawers to create such places.  ‘It looks more tidy’ as Marie puts it.
  10. Make a big pile.  For each category the method calls for piling everything in one place.  This allows for a holistic perspective and direct comparison of similar things.  I’m sure there is some complex psychology involved…and it certainly works!
  11. Everybody has their reasons.  Marie is acting on an invitation, so the participants all have their own reasons and motivations to tidy up.  The show spends a lot of time exploring those reasons, reminding us that it is really not about a ‘number’.
  12. It’s in Japanese.  Marie does have a translator and can speak probably better English than she lets on, but she speaks almost exclusively on the show in Japanese.  I’m sure this helps her maintain a ‘coaching’ mode.

Get Certified!

Yes, unfortunately they offer certifications in the method, but don’t let that put you off….

Paul Osborn

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