Inviting Marie Kondo to your makeshift home office for an interview during a pandemic requires some damage control. I ripped the sticky notes off my laptop and readjusted my perfume bottle tray. But I soon realized that my Zoom chat with the decluttering guru would be better relocated to my tidier living room.
Kondo popped up on the screen dressed in a white sweater in a white room in her Los Angeles home, ready to talk, through an interpreter, about her latest book, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, which she wrote with Scott Sonenshein, professor of management at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.
Kondo’s name has become a verb, as in “Kondo-ing,” since her KonMari method of decluttering caught on around the globe. Her best-known work, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was translated into English in 2014 and has sold more than 10 million copies. Kondo starred in last year’s Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and is in the early stages of a new Netflix show that will follow Kondo and her team as they tidy a small U.S. town.
But for now, Kondo, like many of us, is riding out the pandemic at home. She is juggling household duties with her husband, Takumi Kawahara, cofounder and chief executive of KonMari Media, and caring for their two daughters, ages 3 and 4.
We talked about working and living at home, and how our homes can bring us joy, even in this period of self-quarantine and social isolation.
Kondo says that in this topsy-turvy time, we are all rethinking how we spend each day. “We have this very rare opportunity to reflect on how we work and work itself and how we define it,” she says.
She suggests writing down what you want to achieve professionally and what you want to achieve personally every day, so one aspect does not overpower the other. Kondo has reorganized her own calendar to make sure that she upholds her own philosophy of balancing and nurturing both work and wellness during this time at home.
Kondo begins her workday by spritzing the air with an aromatherapy spray to clear her mind. (This particular day, she used a blend of cardamom and black pepper oils, lemon and sandalwood, which she sells on her website.)
“I read somewhere that of our five senses, our sense of smell is very important and affects the brain and relaxes our mind,” Kondo says. This ritual makes her feel as if she’s “shifting gears into a work mode.”
Flowers in a small vase or a plant can bring a good vibe to your desk, she says, and she loves scented candles.
All this time at home can inspire us to consider better ways of storing our belongings, Kondo says. She realizes that most donation centers are not open now, but if you decide you don’t want something, you can set it aside to donate later.
"You should realize what kind of house you want going forward," she says. "Then, the next step you may want to take may become much more clear to you."
Kondo says photographs are the hardest thing to sort through and winnow down. Because photos are such sentimental items, you should tackle the other home decluttering projects first and go through photos when your organizing and decision-making skills are a bit more honed. Try to gather photos all in one place as you clean. “The important thing is that you should go through them one by one,” Kondo says.
If you haven’t already, this could be a good time to go through all the food in your kitchen and to reflect on what you really need and enjoy. “Take an accurate inventory, and look at the expiration dates,” she says. Making a list can help prevent panic-buying and unnecessary trips to the store.
To keep a tidy refrigerator, Kondo says, be aware of how much food you have and make sure you can see it at a glance. This way, you won’t overbuy, or let food go to waste. Toss out any items that are expired or past their prime. Next, throw out the items you never use, such as individual sauce or seasoning packets. When you have decided what to keep, organize by category. Avoid stacking items on top of one another.
Kondo recently participated in a virtual tidying of her own refrigerator with her Japanese fans. She unearthed some expired wasabi (which she tossed) but also found a treasure that she had forgotten: some “yokan,” a Japanese treat made of bean paste, agar and sugar.