Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Advice from a skeptic: Marie Kondo’s guide to tidying up is best read as an eccentric memoir tucked inside a self-help book.

Author info

Marie Kondo(近藤 麻理恵) is a #1 New York Times bestselling author whose first book sold over three million copies worldwide, was translated into 35 languages and was made into a Japanese television show.

Cathy Hirano is a Canadian-Japanese translator whose work has won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. She lives with her family in Shikoku, Japan.

Japanese author and self-help “It Girl” Marie Kondo recently released a sequel to her international bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Last year Kondo was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people after her English debut sold over 1.6 million copies in North America. Her philosophy, the “KonMari Method,” has amassed a stunning amount of attention: she’s been featured in the New York Times and The Washington Post, she’s a popular TV personality, she’s got an army of “KonMari” certified consultants, and now, with Spark Joy, there’s an adorably illustrated follow-up to her English debut. As a functionally messy person with organizational aspirations, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Is her method really magic? Do her tips really “spark joy”?

The answer? Kind of. Kondo has a pragmatic and weirdly compassionate approach to owning objects. Her advice is to go through your life in a specific order: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous objects) and sentimental items. First, commune with the objects in each category through touch. Does this T-shirt spark joy when you hold it? Does this skirt? If not, toss it—into the donation pile, one hopes. But before doing so, express your gratitude with a kind word, like, “You did a good job, shirt.” Every item needs this level of personal attention in relatively quick succession, and she warns that excuses like “it might come in handy” are a major no-no. The average woman reportedly wears less than half the clothes she owns, so Kondo might be on to something here, particularly for those “it doesn’t fit now, but….” wardrobe staples.

Similarly, Kondo claims that “the average person spends about thirty minutes a day searching for things” at the office, which adds up to more than 40 hours of monthly searching. Thus, she tells us to put aside just six hours to clean the office for a dramatic rise in work efficiency.

But take her advice with a grain of salt, because such quirky, common-sense gems are set next to wildly overzealous purges, like when Kondo threw out a joyless screwdriver, then later tried to tighten a loose bolt with a joyful ruler. She nearly cried when the ruler broke. Her solution: create joy by showering these useful but shrug-worthy objects with praise: “Dear old screwdriver, I may not use you much, but when I need you, why, you’re a genius.”

Kondo’s concrete organizing advice is peppered with personal anecdotes that paint a sometimes hilarious, sometimes maddening picture of living life with a compulsive mind. A self-proclaimed “tidying freak,” when she was a schoolgirl Kondo would sneak into the kitchen at 4 am to reorganize the dishes, stacking and restacking them in a futile search for the perfect equation. She seems to have turned what might otherwise be classified as a disorder into a formula to resist our mindless culture of consumption. It’s a lovely thought, especially given Kondo’s conviction that, through tidying, “you will learn to like yourself.” But there’s also something bittersweet about her epilogue: after the mega-success of her first book, she cancelled a planned vacation in order to answer a potential client’s surprising email request, which read: “Dear KonMari, please teach me how to tidy.” That message came from her father.

Tips from the tidying queen

A tidy house is a happy house. Here’s a sneak peek at some of Marie Kondo’s tips for permanently reorganizing your life.

Don’t be a librarian.

Books are only valuable when you first read them, no matter how many notes you take or pages you dog-ear. Once you’ve read them through once, say goodbye.

Treat your bras and cutlery like royalty.
Put these intimate objects into joyful formation: colour-code your bras so they look like a candy display, and put silverware in a soft rattan drawer to avoid unpleasant rattling.

Don’t look sentiment in the eye.
Sentimental items are the toughest to tidy, so slowly work your way up to them. If you’re still struggling to toss your childhood teddy bear, try covering his forlorn gaze.