Marie Kondo instructs readers of her bestselling home organization guide The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to surround themselves only with things that spark joy. I don’t care one way or the other about tidiness, but I’ve found joy in reading this book as an autobiography of its author, who is a charming and unabashedly weird person.
Branding herself as “KonMari,” Kondo is the head of her own consulting company and the star of two miniseries on Netflix. The launch of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in January 2019 was met with a blitz of editorials, not to mention a flurry of viral tweets. Many people were upset about the prospect of tidying their personal libraries, while others expressed concern regarding the cultural generalizations applied to Kondo and her interpreter. Meanwhile, jokes about “sparking joy” became a cipher for Millennial dark humor. (One of my personal favorites is Kashana Cauley’s tweet that reads, “After a heated discussion with Marie Kondo I’ve decided to throw myself in the trash.”)
Amongst the handsomely folded shirts and gorgeously organized sock drawers, however, is a person who has wholeheartedly embraced her inner weirdo. “At school,” Kondo writes in The Life-Changing Magic, “while the other kids were playing dodgeball or skipping, I’d slip away to rearrange the bookshelves in our classroom, or check the contents of the mop cupboard, all the while muttering about the poor storage methods.” The book is a treasury of similar anecdotes, such as the time the author missed her train stop because she was engrossed in a magazine article about household storage space and the time she repeatedly called a storage item manufacturer to ask about building materials. Kondo admits that she did not have many friends when she was younger. In high school, she writes, “I would sit on the floor for hours sorting things in the cupboard until my mother called me for supper.”
The weird kids of the world can sympathize. Regardless of whether their fixation focuses on science, sports, or video games, children have a seemingly infinite capacity for learning and experimentation. Unfortunately, many of us are socialized to keep quiet about our interests and hobbies if we want to get along with other people. While she felt the pressure of this socialization and did her best to follow a “normal” path through life, Marie Kondo was thankfully unable to repress her passion for creative organization.
In the opening chapter of her 2020 co-authored business strategy guide, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, Kondo describes the rough time she had at her first corporate job out of college. She was forever at the bottom of her office sales rankings, and her performance failed to improve no matter how hard she tried or how late she stayed at work each evening. It was only after offering to help the president of a rival company clean his desk that she began to realize just how valuable her unique set of talents could be to other people.
Can Marie Kondo sell you insurance? Probably not. Is she extroverted and excited about making conversation with her colleagues during a round of after-work drinks? Again, I’m guessing the answer is no. Still, Kondo knows what she’s about, and she owns the quirkiness of her personality. I care even less about business than I do about home organization, but I love the story of Marie Kondo, the office underdog, being unable to stop herself from speaking her mind to a powerful stranger about something about which she cares deeply.
Both The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo are filled with the stories of people learning to state their minds about what does and doesn’t spark joy in their lives. To give an example, The Life-Changing Magic contains an anecdote about a young woman overwhelmed by her older sister’s hand-me-down clothing. Once she was able to admit to herself that stylish and revealing clothing isn’t her style, she could throw it away. As a result of setting firm boundaries, she was able to establish a healthier relationship with her sister. Likewise, one of my favorite episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo follows a woman who slowly gathers the courage to tell her unsympathetic husband that she doesn’t want to throw away her mother’s saris, even though she’ll probably never wear them. Kondo never tells anyone what they should throw away, but instead encourages her clients to be honest about who they are and what they want.
The secret of the person who has become famous for her neat little boxes is that she works to help people understand that they don’t have to fit into neat little boxes. I may not be rearranging my closet anytime soon, but I’m inspired by Marie Kondo’s story. I’m happy to throw out all of the rules for compartmentalizing drawers and organizing closets, because what really sparks joy is Kondo’s mission of teaching people to love themselves by embracing their own unique personalities.