A KonMari Expert Shares Her Secrets

When tidying expert Marie Kondo published her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organization, she became an international sensation. Now, with a hit Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, that debuted late last year, she’s cemented her place in pop culture.

Kondo’s decluttering technique, known as the KonMari method, has six simple rules that are supposed to help you get your home—and your life—in order. Another benefit: Decluttering can help you catch more Z’s, as we pointed out in our post about surprising things that can improve your sleep.

One of the reasons why the KonMari method is so appealing, Kondo claims, is that you only have to do it once—if you do it right. So to help you get a jump start on spring cleaning, we called up Michelle Shinagawa, a New York City-based certified KonMari consultant, for advice on putting the KonMari method to use in your own life.

Q: So, how does the KonMari method actually work?

You start out with creating a vision—the vision for your ideal lifestyle, or the vision of how you want to spend time after you’re done with this once-in-a-lifetime “tidying festival,” which is what Marie Kondo calls it. That vision is what’s going to hold you up when you’re like, “I just can’t do this anymore.” With clients, I first ask them what their vision is and then suggest they greet their home to give thanks to it.

Next, you’ll separate your belongings into the following five categories: clothing, books, paper, komono (which can be translated to miscellaneous items), and sentimental items. The KonMari method is done by category, not location. That’s because people often clear out a closet or just clear out their bedroom, but then they have things like clothing and books in different rooms—and then they’re back to square one.

Start with your clothing. Gather all of your clothes in one place, then hold each item in your hand and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you send it off with gratitude and discard it in a way that sparks joy for you. Some people donate these items, some people sell them. There’s no right way to do it.

After you’re done going through each category and discarding what you don’t want, you decide on permanent spots for the items you plan on keeping. Each item should have a home or place that it goes. That makes tidying so much easier.

Q: How does that make tidying easier?

Now you can actually put things away because you know where each item belongs. I used to shove things in drawers or in the corner of my room. But now, if I’m busy but my living room looks a little messy, I just have to spend 10 minutes at the end of the night putting things in their rightful place and then everything is back to being tidy. It’s pretty amazing.

Related: 4 reasons to make your bed every morning

Q: Once you’ve discarded anything that doesn’t spark joy, what’s the best way to organize what’s left?

The biggest thing is keeping items in the same category together. Often pens and scissors go all over the place, and then you can’t find them anymore. Marie Kondo doesn’t recommend buying too many backups or stocking up on multiples of the same item—but if you do that, you want to keep them all in the same place. That way, you’ll make a habit of checking that place before you go out and buy some more. I’ve noticed many clients have bought all these things, and they put them somewhere in the closet they can never find—but then they find them as they’re going through the KonMari method. Putting like items together saves space, and it also saves time. (Here’s a good primer on Marie Kondo’s folding technique.)

Q: Can you declutter your entire home in one day?

It depends on how many items you own because you need to touch each one. It also depends on how quickly you can make decisions. Some of my clients want to do it all at once, but it really depends on the individual. If you have kids or live with other people, you probably have a lot more stuff—but if you’re a single woman in New York City, maybe you don’t have as much.

Related: How to feng shui your bedroom for better sleep

Q: How did you first discover the KonMari method?

I used to be very messy. I acquired a lot of things that I had a hard time letting go of—and I could never find anything in my apartment. I thought I’d never be able to live in an organized home. I would clean up one weekend, and then the next thing I knew, everything was a mess again. I was like, “OK, this is just how it’s going to be.”

Then, in the summer of 2016, a friend, who’s also Japanese, came over to my apartment. She likes to tidy things, and she said she’d be happy to help me go through my kitchen, so we did that. When she was leaving, she said to me, “Oh, by the way, there’s this woman named Marie Kondo. She has this method, you may want to check it out.”

As soon as I looked her up, I thought to myself, “Oh my God, this is it,” because you only have to do the KonMari method once in your lifetime. Plus, I’m a Reiki teacher, so I liked that the KonMari method was about more than just decluttering—it’s all about life transformation. In September 2017, I went to a KonMari consultant seminar. Since then, I’ve been seeing clients here and there. I’m at the last phase of certification in the program.

Q: Why do you think KonMari has resonated with so many people around the world?

The tactical side is that you can find things more easily and your productivity goes up—but it also helps to build a muscle to find what sparks joy for you. So often people are lost living daily life, but when you do this method and keep checking, “does this spark joy, does this spark joy,” you’re often able to use that with people in your life, or your job, or anything outside of material items. You’re more focused on choosing things to do that spark joy.

For more spring cleaning tips, read our guide to getting any stain out of a mattress.