It’s hard to exaggerate the influence that Marie Kondo has wrought with her blockbuster books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. The latter book takes its name, of course, from the question she urges us to ask ourselves, “Does this possession spark joy?”
Her ideas about how to create order and fight clutter have helped countless people to give themselves more energy and peace. (You might ask, “How does something paradoxically give you more energy and give you more peace?” and I would say, “That is exactly the effect of clutter-clearing.“)
The New York Times called her “perhaps the world’s only decluttering celebrity.” Absolutely!
Even I don’t agree with everything that Marie Kondo prescribes (as I write about here), I’m a huge fan of her work. It’s practical, thought-provoking, and often surprising. For most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm, and her “KonMari method” resonates with many, many people.
One thing I love is that alongside detailed instructions for how to fold a t-shirt, Marie Kondo makes observations like this: “Tidying is the act of confronting yourself; cleaning is the act of confronting nature.” Profound.
I was thrilled to get the chance to ask Marie Kondo questions about happiness and good habits.
Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Marie: In terms of tidying, I’m definitely an Upholder. I stay tidy because I feel that the effects ground me and allow my home to spark joy for my family and me. However, I’m not sure if I qualify as an Upholder in other aspects, as I’ll procrastinate submitting written work or sometimes show up late to get-togethers with friends or colleagues!
Perhaps this makes me a Questioner, as I’ll only do things if, when I ask myself: “Does it spark joy?” and the answer is “yes.” My very profession is centered on encouraging others to ask themselves: “Does it spark joy?” This must qualify me as a Questioner! [Yes, that sounds Questioner to me.]
Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits?
Marie: I usually go to bed early and wake up early with my kids, who are 18 and 5 months old. However, because I travel frequently for work, I’ll sometimes get jet-lagged. This can disrupt my sleep pattern for a couple of days after! When this happens, I get a little anxious that I am getting behind on work or missing out on time spent with my daughters while I try to catch up on rest.
Simply having children can interfere with healthy habits! For instance, before bed, I usually like to stretch and release any tension that may have developed over the course of the day. However, if one of my daughters cries or calls out for me, I’ll tend to them and, by the time they’re calmed down, I’m tempted to pass on stretching and head straight to bed.
Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Marie: When I was 15, I would continually tidy my room, only to have it become cluttered again shortly after. This cycle contributed to so much stress that one day, I fainted. This breaking point made me realize that I was approaching tidying the wrong way. Instead of focusing on discarding things and approaching tidying as the removal of negativity, I realized that I needed to focus on finding and keeping things that spark joy.
Gretchen: Do you embrace habits or resist them?
Marie: For daily life, I try to keep to routines, but for work, I prefer variety. For example, I get new ideas by traveling and exposing myself to other countries’ cultures. I enjoy giving talks in a variety of locations, because it allows me to interact with different people and learn from their diverse perspectives.
Gretchen: Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
Marie: My grandmother taught me the importance of tidying up even those places you don’t openly see, such as the insides of drawers and bureaus. She recognized the intrinsic beauty in belongings and took pride in their presentation in her home. When she dressed and accessorized, she applied the same philosophy to her personal appearance—everything mattered. I developed my initial respect for my belongings as a result of her influence.
More about Marie Kondo.
UPDATE: I wrote a new book about how to de-clutter and organize to make more room for happiness. Order Outer Order, Inner Calm here.