Inside: A guide for beginners (and those starting over) to Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up method, including a free KonMari pdf checklist.
In 2015, I decided to declutter and organize my home using Marie Kondo’s method.
I started strong. I geeked out and learned everything I could about her. I read the book. I watched every video interview. I read countless articles and blog posts. I joined a support group. I got through discarding clothes, then books, then paper.
But, I never finished. Yup, I’m a tidying up dropout. Insert embarrassed face emoji.
Now, I’m starting a KonMari “do-over”.
I’ve been craving more order in my home. After living here for 18 years, it’s time to freshen things up. We don’t have a lot of clutter, but I have that nagging feeling. The closets are stuffed. Storage is awkward. And then there’s the rented storage locker…
I’ll be sharing my journey and blogging about my “tidying festival” along the way. Whether you’re new to KonMari—or rebooting—won’t you join me? I’ll walk you through the entire process. This is the first post in the series (sign up for the Indoor Mood newsletter below to get updates).
The truth is that following the method can be overwhelming. Planning for success will help you get past the sock drawer.
This post is a beginner’s guide to KonMari. I’ll be covering
- what KonMari is
- why I recommend KonMari (hint: not just for decluttering your home)
- KonMari myths you can ignore
- steps to take before you start KonMari
- things to keep in mind when you start
- mistakes to avoid (including the “whys” of my own #konmarifail)
- my free Indoor Mood KonMari pdf printable planning checklist (jump there)
- KonMari resources I enjoy
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Who is Marie Kondo and what is KonMari?
Marie Kondo is a Japanese expert on decluttering and organization. Her 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up launched her method in North America. More recently, many people have found her via the Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.
KonMari is Marie Kondo’s method:
The KonMari Method encourages tidying by category–not by location–beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service–then let them go [konmari.com].
Why the KonMari method?
People tend to focus on the decluttering and organization aspects of KonMari. For many, this method is the one that finally helps them to get their homes in order.
But KonMari is so much more than that.
Tidying is the act of confronting yourself [Spark Joy].
On a deeper level, KonMari is a personal development program. Does this sound far-fetched?
What I learned from my #konmarifail is that figuring out what “sparks joy” is hard. And sorting through my belongings brings up a lot of emotions.
Tidying allows us to develop those discrimination skills and work through those emotions:
The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies. There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die. If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; edited for brevity].
Marie Kondo’s method is about:
- creating your ideal lifestyle
- recognizing what brings you joy
- cultivating gratitude for everyday things
- improving decision-making capacity
- becoming conscious of surroundings
- letting go of attachments to the past
- facing the future
- relieving stress and anxiety
- developing soothing rituals
- restoring balance to our home lives
As I embrace midlife, I’m looking forward to my KonMari journey. I’m ready to grow as a person. Dust off the skeletons in my closet. Hey, it’s cheaper than therapy, right?
Three myths about KonMari
First off, have you read about Marie Kondo in articles, blog posts, or social media? If so, I’ll bet you’ve come across some silly myths about her method. Don’t let these misconceptions stop you from embracing KonMari!
Myth #1: Marie Kondo promotes minimalism
Snarky articles love to portray the Marie Kondo method as promoting stark minimalism. Perhaps because North Americans associate Japan with minimalist interiors? Or maybe it’s because Kondo seems extremely enthusiastic about discarding? To the point where the result might be an empty room?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Kondo never tells anyone how much, or how little, they should own.
Kondo encourages us to reduce until we reach the point where something “clicks”. She’s very clear that the “click” point differs from one person to another:
For a shoe lover, it might be one hundred pairs of shoes, while a book lover might not need anything but books [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up].
Owning one hundred pairs of shoes isn’t exactly minimalism.
In another case, Kondo was asked about a situation that sounded like it was verging on hoarding. Even then, she did not judge the choice to own a lot of stuff:
If he is my client, I don’t think it’s important for me if he has too many items or not. I think it’s much more important to figure out if that person is happy with that amount of items. So I would probably recommend that person to imagine the ideal lifestyle for that person. I think your friend needs to figure out what kind of lifestyle he or she wants…what’s the realistic life your friend wants? So that he or she can figure out how much stuff to keep [at 34:46 in her 2015 talk at Google]
The Netflix series has helped to correct this misconception. Kondo’s non-judgemental respect for her clients’ spark-joy-meters came through. If a dizzying quantity of Christmas decorations sparks joy for you, go for it (see the Empty Nesters episode)!
Myth #2: Marie Kondo hates books
Faux controversy. The laziest tactic of journalists and social media darlings. In early 2019, some started insisting that Marie Kondo hates books. And the whole thing gathered steam…
This tweet summarized the situation well (sorry for the profanity!):
WHAT MARIE KONDO SAYS: Think about getting rid of books you aren’t going to read or reread.
WHAT TWITTER HEARS: Let’s burn all books and slay the writers! Let the streets run red with their blood as our literary pyre’s smoke blocks out the sun! FUCK BOOKS.
— Kevin Church 🖖🏻 (@Kevin_Church) January 5, 2019
She had to set the record straight:
The most important part of this process of tidying is to always think about what you have and about the discovery of your sense of value, what you value that is important. So it’s not so much what I personally think about books. The question you should be asking is what do you think about books. If the image of someone getting rid of books or having only a few books makes you angry, that should tell you how passionate you are about books, what’s clearly so important in your life. If that riles you up, that tells you something you about that. That in itself is a very important benefit of this process [IndieWire].
Myth #3: Marie Kondo encourages us to discard important items
Does Marie Kondo tell us to discard important legal documents? Nope. Should we get rid of tools that we use regularly? Nope.
In Spark Joy, Kondo clarified how we should look at useful items:
the things we need definitely make our lives happier. Therefore, we should treat them as things that bring us joy.
She’s also blunt that we must keep some things, including contracts and important papers.
Eight things to do before you start KonMari
1. Which Marie Kondo book should I read first?
You can watch the entire Netflix series, read a summary of the method, and binge-watch YouTube videos—and still miss the point. I see this so often in KonMari support groups.
Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you don’t like reading, listen to the audiobook.
It’s the best instruction manual for KonMari. Learning the method in detail matters. The book is also very important for developing the right mindset as you tackle this huge endeavour.
Fun fact: this book was initially intended as a stopgap for Kondo’s clients. “I had so many clients—a months-long waiting list,” Kondo said. “They requested that I write a book so they could learn about my method while waiting for their consultation” [The Cut].
2. Create a vision for your ideal lifestyle
This is the most important step to take before tidying. When we embark on KonMari, it’s because we want something to change in our homes and lives.
What is your ideal lifestyle? Kondo asks you not to curb your dreams. Indulge in exploring this in detail. If you want to live in a different home, include that too.
There’s no right way to create your vision for your ideal lifestyle. You could:
- write out your vision in a notebook
- sketch out what it looks like
- create a Pinterest board with photos
- create a collage or “mood board” from printed photos or cut-outs from magazines
As a visual person, I’ll be creating a physical “mood board” that represents my ideal lifestyle. Stay tuned for a “how to” post about this.
3. Commit and set a timeline
KonMari requires commitment and a lot of time. Kondo encourages us to
start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up]
But what does she mean by that? About six months. So, what is that going to look like for you?
Be realistic about the time windows—and physical space—that you have available.
Can you take weeks or days off to tackle this? Or will you be fitting KonMari into an already-busy life? It certainly was entertaining to see the rapid progress in the Netflix series. But, I’m guessing that most of us will have to take things a bit slower.
Do you have a lot of space that you can use for sorting and discarding? If so, you might be able to take on tidying huge categories in a designated area—without disrupting the household. On the other hand, if you live in a small space, you might only have room to go through small subcategories at a time (e.g. just t-shirts).
All sorts of tidying patterns are fine. Pick what best suits your lifestyle, schedule, and space:
- add some daily tidying time to your consistent routines and get it done bit by bit
- do it ”weekend warrior”-style by devoting a full day or two every week to tidying
- if you have the freedom and stamina, take a week or two at a time to blitz through tidying
The longer the gaps between your tidying sessions, the more important it will be to boost your motivation.
In my 2015 #konmarifail, I tried to tackle large categories, too quickly. That didn’t work for me, because I got discouraged when my progress wasn’t as fast as I had hoped it would be. First, my home is small. Second, my responsibilities don’t allow me to devote huge time blocks to KonMari.
This time, I’ll be tidying smaller sub-categories. Instead of rushing the process, I’ll be satisfied with an hour or two, whenever I can manage it. This strategy is a better fit for my life. Tracking my progress with a checklist will help me maintain a sense of momentum.
4. Take “before” photos
So many regret not taking “before” photos of their spaces. People forget, or they just don’t want to immortalize the mess in photographic form.
But before and after photos are a great way to see progress along the way. Many say that they can hardly remember the “before”—it feels like their post-KonMari home has always been that way.
Kondo believes that photos can boost your motivation—she calls it the “clutter-photo shock treatment”:
The trick is to turn the current mess, which will soon be gone for good, into a source of entertainment. How? By taking photos while each room is still a mess. That’s right. I encourage you to click away, taking panoramas of each room in its entirety as well as close-ups of the contents of each drawer. A look at these photos will likely show you that your place is even messier than you thought [Spark Joy].
I didn’t take before photos when I started KonMari in 2015, but I’ll be careful to document my progress this time around. Stay tuned to find out if I decide to post them here!
5. Do the Mt. Vesuvius Method if your home is too messy or small
Sometimes we don’t have enough space to do KonMari tidying. Or we cannot even grasp categories because everything is mixed up. But you have to start somewhere, right?
Do any of these apply to your home?
- you have “that room” full of unsorted stuff (or garage, basement, or storage locker)
- it’s hard to manoeuvre around because there’s stuff everywhere (no judgement here!)
- your home is small and there’s not a lot of space to work with
- you have “panic boxes” from when you stuffed things away quickly
The Mt. Vesuvius Method might help. It was developed by Sandra Felton, a home organization guru who really gets the messy home predicament. Here’s how to do it:
- buy a large number of office storage boxes (like these) and assemble them as necessary
- pick a messy room or space (basement, garage, storage locker)
- in the room you are tackling, position six or more boxes, plus a trash can and recycling bin
- begin filling boxes rapidly with similar groups of things
- label each box with the KonMari category name (clothes, books, paper, komono/miscellany, sentimental), labelling sub-categories as necessary (e.g. komono/sport equipment or komono/craft materials)
- for papers, note where the papers came from on the outside of the box
- look for trash/recycling in the room, put items in the trash can/recycling bin, and discard immediately
- put the tops on the boxes and stack them against the wall or out of the way
- continue to the next room or space
It’s amazing how this process can clear areas and reduce overwhelm!
I did the Vesuvius Method in 2015 before I started KonMari. My home is small, my kids were younger, and the family’s belongings were more mixed up. Sorting items into categories helped me get a handle on my stuff.
Once you start your tidying festival, it’s super convenient to have items boxed up by category.
6. Create a discarding plan
Plan time (and help if needed) for getting rid of discards on a regular basis. When bags, boxes, and items to be discarded pile up, we feel overwhelmed because it’s hard to see the progress.
Almost nothing belongs in the landfill these days. Research where you can take discarded items. Find out what organizations will pick up items.
Figure out how you will discard:
- nice clothing
- stained or ripped clothing (some thrift stores accept these as materials for rag making)
- books (second-hand books stores often accept donations)
- confidential papers (shredding recommended)
- other papers
- household items
- recyclables (including electronics, scrap metal, etc.)
- computers and parts that are still usable
- old paint and other controlled materials
- valuable items
Grab my printable below—it includes a list of items to discard that you can fill in for your situation.
At one point in my previous KonMari attempt, I had a list that looked like this:
- take items to thrift store donation centre
- take box of old paint to depot that accepts it
- take wooden studs from renovation to the wood recycling center
- sell old filing cabinet on Craigslist
- sell kids’ tall toy organizer on Craigslist
- take refundables to depot
- take kitchen renovation cast-offs to Habitat for Humanity ReStore
You can bet it took quite a while to check off that list!
Make sure that you have bags and boxes on hand for discarding. I recommend clear, heavy-duty plastic bags for donations. That allows both you and the recipients to see what items are inside. Recycled cardboard wine boxes are a convenient size for breakables.
7. Join a support group
KonMari support groups can be a lot of fun—Facebook has many. Share your progress with others. Get some cheerleading when you’re discouraged. Look for an active group that follows the KonMari method strictly.
8. Have a plan for when you feel like quitting
At some point, you’ll feel like quitting. KonMari is a huge undertaking done over a long period of time (for most). Keep some strategies in your back pocket to overcome the urge to quit:
- Kondo’s remedy for this is spending 10-30 minutes making an inventory of storage spaces. Get a general grasp of categories of where things are stored. Seeing the big picture can help reduce anxiety and get you back on track with tidying [Spark Joy].
- Look at your “before” photos and notice the progress that you’re making.
- Get inspiration from the vision for your ideal lifestyle that you created. If it isn’t inspiring you, make a new one.
- If you’re feeling burned out, Kondo also recommends taking photos partway through. Photos boost motivation by reminding you of why you’re doing KonMari [Spark Joy].
- When she feels like she’s in a rut, Kondo says she crosses her legs and goes into zazen, or meditation [Fast Company].
- Remember that “no matter how much stuff you may own, the amount is always finite” [Spark Joy].
Three KonMari habits and rituals
Habits and rituals can help us with mindset. I’ll be paying more to the details during my festival this time around.
1. Remove distractions
Marie Kondo wants us to look at tidying as a special occasion, or “festival”, separate from everyday life. She recommends avoiding music, TV, and distractions while we’re tidying. As we evaluate each item, we need mental space to experience our feelings.
2. Greet your home
Viewers of the TV series will notice that Marie Kondo always greets her clients’ homes:
The first thing I do when I visit a client’s home is to greet their house. I kneel formally on the floor in the center of the house and address the house in my mind. After giving a brief self-introduction, including my name, address, and occupation, I ask for help in creating a space where the family can enjoy a happier life. Then I bow. It is a silent ritual that only takes about two minutes [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up].
Does this seem strange? This ritual helps to align us with our goal of pursuing our ideal lifestyle.
Kondo also advises that you start greeting your home every time you return: “Hello! I’m home!” You can even talk to your home while tidying. Again, cheaper than therapy!
3. Dress nicely when you tidy
When we plan a big decluttering session, our first instinct is to grab our grubbiest clothes. After all, we know that we will be going into closets and dark corners, and who knows what lurks there? Cue the skeletons and spiders. Neglected objects will be dusty. We will be lifting things and need ease of movement.
As usual, the KonMari method is counterintuitive. Believe it or not, Marie Kondo wears a dress and blazer for her tidying sessions! Sometimes she dons an apron when it’s called for. This relates to her tidying philosophy:
This is my way of showing respect for the house and its contents. I believe that tidying is a celebration, a special send-off for those things that will be departing from the house, and therefore I dress accordingly. I am confident that when I show respect by the clothes I choose to wear and begin the work of tidying by greeting the house, it will in turn be happy to tell me what the family no longer needs and where to put the things remaining so that the family can be comfortable and happy in this space [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up].
You won’t find me wearing a dress and blazer, but I will be mindful of my appearance as I launch into my tidying festival.
Seven mistakes to avoid when you start KonMari
Any of these mistakes can derail your progress, so beware!
1. Don’t skip over creating a vision for your ideal lifestyle
This was the number one cause of my #konmarifail in 2015. I wrote a brief and vague statement as my vision statement before starting my festival. Looking back, it wasn’t detailed, specific, or inspiring enough.
If you skip this step, not only will it delay the whole process, but it will also put you at higher risk for rebound. Goals like “I want to live clutter-free” or “I want to be able to put things away” are too broad. You need to think much more deeply than that. Think in concrete terms so that you can vividly picture what it would be like to live in a clutter-free space [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up].
Clarifying why you want to tidy is the key to success!
2. Don’t tell everyone you’re doing KonMari
I’m telling my readers that I’m starting my KonMari festival, but I won’t be telling my friends and family. Why?
According to more than 80 years’ worth of research on the psychology of goal pursuit, people who talk a lot about how they’re going to achieve some goal end up being less likely to put actual work into achieving that goal [The Cut].
In fact, Kondo even advises against telling your spouse about your tidying festival:
You do not say anything to your husband. You don’t say “I’m over here cleaning and what are you doing over there watching TV?” You just do it. Basically you let the actions speak for themselves [at 46:43 in a 2015 interview with 92Y].
This is especially good advice if you’ve gotten the spousal eye-roll when you mention your latest decluttering or organizing project.
Most of us can get started tidying our own possessions by category without advertising it to everyone. If you want to share your progress, join a support group and get the benefit of “Konverts” who “get it”. And trust that family members will be receptive once we’ve become KonMari grads with our own stuff.
Of course, this is not what we saw on the Netflix TV series. But, it makes sense. You couldn’t exactly do secret KonMari…with a TV crew in your home filming it. Obviously, all household members had to buy into the process for filming to be possible.
3. Don’t terrorize your family with KonMari
So many KonMari beginners say things like this:
My kids and spouse are messy and they want to keep their piles of useless stuff. They are trashing my joy!
Sometimes we feel so enthusiastic about a new approach that we go overboard. Armed with contractor-grade garbage bags, we’re going to solve this for once and for all.
But Marie Kondo warns us not to be overzealous when it comes to converting our families. So…
- don’t decide that your entire family has to be “on board”
- don’t throw a royal fit and order a dumpster
- don’t get your spouse worried that you will “disappear” their stuff
- don’t drive your family crazy talking about KonMari
- don’t force your kids to get rid of their treasures
Be fair to the innocent bystanders. Lead by example and let the KonMari magic work in your home…before offering to help family members with their stuff. We follow Marie Kondo’s advice because we deserve the KonMari magic!
4. Don’t let sentimental items bog you down
Sentimental is the last category of items to tackle in the KonMari method. But sentimental items can crop up in any category, and it’s important to be prepared for that from the start.
Whether you’re tidying clothing, books, papers, or miscellaneous, sometimes you pick something up…and experience waves of emotion.
We don’t always expect to find sentimental items where we do. For example, a box of old academic articles that I came across brought back a flood of memories of my grad school years. Oddly, they belong in the sentimental category for me.
Marie Kondo is clear about this: if an item in any category has sentimental value, put it aside and for when you tackle the sentimental category. Determining what sparks joy is a skill. Tidying sentimental items is an advanced skill. If you try to do this too early in your festival, you risk stalling out.
Getting distracted by sentimental items definitely contributed to my #konmarifail. My plan is to have a box labelled “sentimental” handy as I sort through other categories.
5. Don’t start planning storage before finishing discarding
Focusing on storage too early in the process can cause us to get sidetracked.
It’s inevitable. The minute we start decluttering, we start fussing over storage solutions. Once we have our joy sparkers, we want to organize them. But the KonMari method asks us to organize and store things at the end of the tidying festival.
We need to exercise self-control and resist storing our belongings until we have finished identifying what we really want and need to keep [The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up].
Of course, it’s okay to put things away in a simple way in the meanwhile.
Organizing happens after your festival is complete. Planning storage solutions will make so much more sense then. In the meanwhile, the Container Store, IKEA, and Muji will have to wait.
6. Don’t plan on selling everything
Selling used items seems like a great plan. Who doesn’t want to earn money by getting rid of stuff?
Unfortunately, selling stuff is very time-consuming and can become overwhelming. If you’ve never done it before, you might be surprised by how time-consuming it can be to photograph, describe, and price items. Not to mention: storing items in the meanwhile, monitoring queries, and generally dealing with flakey potential buyers.
I’ve had some success selling on Craigslist, but I’ve had many more failures. My worst experience was selling a functioning Volvo car for $400. The parts were worth more than that! But my ad attracted men who were into sniffing engines and generally wasting my time. Who knows what they were looking for?
Unless you have a lot of experience with selling, reserve this for very few items—ones that you know have high resale value.
7. Don’t decide that nothing sparks joy and go on a shopping spree looking for “joy sparking” replacements
Although Marie Kondo can teach us how to shop, this should mostly wait until the end of our KonMari festival. As we tidy, we may want to keep a list of items that we would like to replace with better versions. But there is no rush to do so.
Free! Grab your Getting Started With KonMari pdf printable planning checklist
I’ve thrown a lot of advice at you in this post. I’ve covered everything I’ve learned from reading, watching, participating in support groups, and my own #konmarifail.
Whether you’re a beginner or a reboot-er, let’s do this right, together. Get my free planning checklist and start your KonMari festival! To get the password to access exclusive content, just fill out the form below.
Here’s more KonMari goodness:
- the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is a great way to internalize her gentle and wise mindset (episode summaries)
- 92Y did a great video interview with Kondo that focused on a lot of areas where people struggle (she’s adorably pregnant in the video!)
- Tim Ferriss also had an in-depth podcast interview with Marie Kondo, exploring her background, spirituality and details about her method
- KonMari consultants Karin and Kristyn chat about planning your tidying journey
- Kiki & Jax: Marie Kondo’s new book for 3-7-year-old children
- cute KonMari for Kids printable cards
Over to you…
Are you thinking of starting KonMari from scratch? Or have you already started or completed your festival? Maybe you’re a skeptic? Do you need free therapy like I do? Let me know in the comments.
Note: Marie Kondo’s words have been translated as she’s not an English speaker.