EVERETT — Tidy up.
Those are the new magic words that are sparking joy — or misery — nationwide.
It started with a little book in Japan, then gained momentum through a zeitgeist-defining Netflix series with its author, organizing oracle Marie Kondo.
That 34-year-old soft-spoken Japanese woman with bangs is rearranging the way we live.
Now, it seems, people everywhere are converting to Kondo-ism.
Kondo addresses the obvious: Americans have too much stuff. It clutters our homes and our heads.
Her KonMari Method, as it’s branded, groups possessions into five categories: Clothing. Books. Papers. Komono (miscellany, including garage, kitchen, bathroom). Mementos (sentimental).
Focus on one category at a time. Put everything in a pile. Then, hold each item. If it sparks joy, keep it.
No chemistry? No problem. Oust it — after you thank it for its service.
That’s right, Kondo wants us to talk to our socks.
It all sounds pretty weird, and maybe that’s why it works.
Her three books have sold 11 million copies, cluttering houses worldwide. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy” are how-to guides. The graphic novel “The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up” is a visual tale. The 5-by-7 inch books list for $14.99 t0 $18.99.
Kondo is gracious and nonjudgmental in her eight-episode Netflix season, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.”
She greets homeowners with a hug and kneels down with them to express gratitude for the house. She smiles, not scolds.
“I think her sweetness is tempering the anger you feel when you start in on this job,” said Jackie Noble, who read the books and watched the show.
Noble’s Everett split-level home of more than 40 years is crammed with good deals, must-haves, trappings and treasures. Her two kids don’t want any of it, and she doesn’t want to burden them after she’s gone.
“I have a hard time letting go,” said Noble, 72, a retired home day-care provider.
She isn’t parting with the 7-foot wooden giraffe in her living room that she scored for $14 from a thrift store. Or the two pairs of black knit stirrup pants from high school. Those still fit and spark joy.
But she’s made progress. Using Kondo’s tidying-up tactics, Noble started with her clothes, which she piled, filtered through and then crisply folded “origami”-style.
In the dresser, capri pants stand upright in classic Kondo vertical formation. Another drawer has sections labeled “Built-in bra tanks” and “Spaghetti tanks” and so on.
“My friend said I reek of OCD,” she said.
Noble has five rooms and a garage of work ahead. “It is going to happen this year. Marie has shamed me into it.”
So far, she has one regret. A hot pink sweater that, in her KonMari mania, went into the donate bag.
She wants it back.
“It’s nubby with a big cowl neck,” she said. “Could you keep a lookout?”
Marie Kondo, a married mother of two young children, was named as one of Time’s “100 most influential people” in 2015.
That was four years before her binge-worthy television series debuted on New Year’s Day, just in time for people to resolve to dissolve their holiday clutter.
Jackie Parker, head of readers’ services at Sno-Isle Libraries, said demand for Kondo’s books is up.
There were 88 holds on 41 copies of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” “Spark Joy” had 74 holds on 28 books. The graphic novel had 42 holds on 15. Ebooks and audio books also are available.
The library has Kondo’s titles in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean.
The powers of getting people to purge is a bonanza for thrift shops and shoppers.
Sara Gaugl, Value Village spokeswoman, confirmed by email an uptick in clothing and household donations in early 2019. “Donating clothing and household goods is a great way to ensure unwanted items end up in the reuse stream, rather than contributing to the 26 billion pounds of textiles that North Americans send to the landfill each year,” she wrote.
The boon of new stuff to acquire is no doubt causing some people to relapse into clutter, especially with that coupon Value Village gives when you donate.
Paul Schoenfeld, director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health and a Daily Herald columnist, sees Kondo’s impact as positive.
“Our lives have become increasingly cluttered with too much stuff, too much information, too many choices, and too little time,” he said. “The recent decluttering craze is a healthy response to the ‘too much of everything’ that we suffer from in the 21st century. We are all trying to find ways of simplifying our lives so that we can find more peace and joy — which doesn’t come from having too much ‘stuff.’ ”
The Netflix show is not a happy version of “Hoarders.”
“Hoarding is entirely another problem,” Schoenfeld said. “It’s not about acquiring too much stuff. It’s about extreme anxiety over throwing anything out. The result — a health hazard.”
Kondo’s infiltration can be a marital hazard, especially for bibliophiles.
Herald local news editor Eric Stevick can attest to this. After his wife became a KonMari convert, some of his dusty old friends and never-read tomes got booted off the shelves. The cute books by Kondo occupy the space of three of his four copies of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. Stevick got to keep one.
Kondo has been chided as a book hater in some social media circles.
The Washington Post book writer Ron Charles tweeted: “Keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off my book piles, Marie Kondo.”
For those who need a stern hand, there are Kondo surrogates for hire, including several in the Seattle area. Certification includes a three-day schooling of the KonMari Method.
Renton-based Sue Bollinger, of Tidy Up with Sue, will come to your home to help you systematically clean up your mess. She used to work at Microsoft.
Most people do it themselves, using a virtual or textual title from Kondo.
The Netflix show was the spark for Lynnwood mother-daughter duo, Diane Bradford and 11-year-old Sierra Lindenstein.
“My mom forced me to watch the first episode,” Sierra said.
After that, she was hooked on the idea of giving to others what no longer sparks joy in you.
Sierra stayed up until after midnight decluttering her room. She filled six bags.
“I had to make tough decisions,” Sierra said. “The hardest thing was a little baby doll I used to play with and have so many fond memories. Sometimes I miss it and sometimes I’m glad. It was clutter and I know somebody else would really like it.”
The process is “cathartic,” said Bradford, an Everett Public Schools communications coordinator.
It’s also empowering.
“It gives me a sense of control over my space,” she said. “It gives me a feeling of pleasure, especially when I open it up later on and it’s all organized. It has been several weeks. I still get that sense of ‘Yay’ when I open those drawers.”
The duo followed KonMari to a T.
“My daughter handed me something and said, ‘This is going to go,’” Bradford said. “I took it and she said, ‘Thank you’ and I said, ‘You’re welcome.’ And she said, ‘I was talking to the clothes, not you, Mom.’ And she was being serious.”
As for Jackie Noble, who tossed that pink sweater she wants back, her Everett home remains a work in progress.
Though devoted to ridding her home of excess baggage, she draws the line at some Kondo-isms.
“I do not thank my clothes for their service,” she said.
Maybe she should. Clothes, after all, don’t talk back.
“Being pretty proud of myself, I took photos of my underwear drawers and sent them to my daughter, who is a minimalist,” Noble said. “She said, ‘Mom, you only have one butt. Why do you need so many pairs of underwear?’ ”