Marie Kondo’s fashion sensibilities veer toward minimalism, but she does wear many hats. She’s a best-selling author, most recently of a children’s book. She’s the star of a hugely popular Netflix show. She’s launched a program that allows consultants to be certified in the KonMari approach to home organization. And starting today, she’s adding a new title to her résumé: e-commerce entrepreneur.
Over the last few months, Kondo has been quietly building her online presence through her KonMari website, which features a blog about tidying along with details about her consultant network. Now, there’s an online shop where Kondo curates around 150 products from other brands. Everything on the site is an expression of Kondo’s philosophy and methodology, which she laid out in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was first translated into English in 2014 and became an instant hit in the United States. The book’s thesis was that decluttering our lives of possessions that aren’t meaningful to us allows us to focus on those things that “spark joy.” KonMari’s new e-commerce site is full of products designed to achieve the same goal of filling our life with meaningful objects.
I sat down with Kondo on a cold, blustery Friday morning. She had flown into New York from Los Angeles, where she’s lived for the past five years with her husband, Takumi Kawahara, and two toddler daughters. True to form, she appeared calm and serene, not a hair out of place, in a mustard-colored sweater with puffed sleeves and black A-line skirt. She moved to the United States from Japan to make it easier to connect with her American audience and film her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. (Her team says she is in talks with Netflix to do a second season.)
During our meeting, Kondo listed some of the items that she’s curated for the new shop. Some items are organizational tools, like a simple $75 leather box for keeping sundry items on your desk or glass canisters starting at $35 for storing dry goods in your kitchen. But there are many other products that aren’t related to her core mission of helping people tidy up. For instance, there’s a $180 traditional Japanese ceramic pot called a donabe in the store that is designed for steaming meat and vegetables.
“Over the years, my followers and readers reached out to me to ask about the products I use every day that spark joy,” Kondo says in Japanese, speaking scarcely over a whisper through her translator. “That’s when I first had the idea for the store. Some of the things I use every day are incense and a tuning fork, along with items for bath rituals and home purification.”
Kondo’s husband became the CEO of KonMari Media LLC in 2015. He’s been behind the scenes, helping her land book deals and produce her Netflix show. Now, Kawahara is helping to drive this new direction into online retail. “I don’t know if my husband and I have a clear division of labor,” Kondo says. “But we always have discussions about where we want to take our company. I’m good at expressing the philosophy and thoughts behind my method and my husband is extremely adept at the business strategy. It’s important for us that we never lose sight of our mission, which is whether or not the next step we take is sparking joy for us.”
By blending commerce with content, Kondo takes a page from Gwyneth Paltrow’s playbook. A decade ago, Paltrow launched Goop as a newsletter in which she curated her favorite products and experiences for her large audience of fans. This eventually evolved into a platform featuring a media site, an e-commerce store, and events. (Much like KonMari, which is a play on Kondo’s name, the name ‘Goop’ is a play on Paltrow’s initials, G.P.)
The companies are also similar because they center on each woman’s life philosophy, which often veers toward the mystical. Paltrow’s hinges on the idea of wellness, while Kondo’s is about living a life that sparks joy. Both Paltrow and Kondo are selling the promise that by adopting a particular lifestyle—and by buying the right products—the rest of us can achieve the brand of peace and happiness that each woman represents.
Part of Kondo and Kawahara’s genius has been successfully transforming the thesis of Kondo’s first book into a full-fledged, multifaceted brand. Her book came at the perfect time for the American market. In many ways, America is built on the idea that consumerism is the key to happiness: Indeed, this is one definition of the American dream. When the book landed in the United States five years ago, it came as a revelation to American readers that their massive quantities of stuff might be, in fact, making them less happy. Kondo’s point was that extraneous objects prevent us from enjoying the things, people, and experiences that really matter to us. So instead, we should really think about how much we value everything in our lives, and only hold on to the things that truly matter to us.
By 2015, the “Kondo Effect” was in full force. The New York Times reported that some consignment stores saw a 20% increase in inventory after Kondo’s book was published with people getting rid of their clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry. In recent years, as Americans have become more aware of how their consumerism negatively impacts the planet, Kondo’s philosophy resonates because it allows people to enjoy the experience of owning less.
These days, however, instead of focusing on the “owning less” part of that philosophy, Kondo highlights the “sparking joy” part. This new approach seems more conducive to building an enduring business—particularly one that now involves selling products. And Kondo doesn’t see the new e-commerce store as a pivot, but simply an opportunity to focus on a different part of her philosophy, namely, the art of conscious consumption.
“I’m not saying the fewer things you have, the better,” Kondo explains. “The emphasis is more on whether you are savoring the love you have for your belongings and taking the time to care for them. If you have a huge house with ample storage, it’s perfectly natural to have a lot of things.”
That said, Kondo is aware that some critics might see a tension at the core of her company: between encouraging people to get rid of things—including the hoarders featured on her Netflix shows—and simultaneously encouraging them to buy other things. But Kondo squares this by making it clear that people who live by her philosophy still need to occasionally buy products, and she’s helping them by offering items that are special to her. “If you choose to incorporate our products into your life, we hope you don’t just purchase it, but also go on to cherish it and use it as long as possible,” she says.
But more broadly, Kondo appears to be taking her philosophy beyond the context of home life. She believes her philosophy becomes even more meaningful outside the context of decluttering. Her next book, Joy at Work, which comes out in 2020, focuses on decluttering the workplace of unnecessary meetings, endless emails, and unnecessary tasks to improve our chances of professional success. Her blog features a post about how to rid yourself of relationships that no longer spark joy. (The solution, the article says, is to let go of some relationships with gratitude and to fully accept a person if you choose to stay in the relationship.)
Pivoting to this wider-reaching idea of sparking joy allows her to create more content—and extend her brand into other aspects of life. “Our mission is for as many people as possible to finish tidying up, so they can go on to live a life that sparks as much joy as possible,” she says.