Joy Meets World

Decluttering doyenne
Marie Kondo is poised to build the next lifestyle empire,
but will it spark joy?

 

“There’s a lot of clutter, not just on the desk, but in our minds, in the conference room, and on our computers,”

Kondo’s Netflix show was at its peak, Kawahara weighed his options for how to grow KonMari. In March 2019, The Information reported that KonMari had been shopping for investment capital, perhaps seeking up to $40 million. (At the time, a KonMari spokesperson would only confirm that it was meeting with investors.)

Then, in August, KonMari announced that Rakuten had taken a majority stake in the company for an undisclosed sum, burying it in a press release that sounded like an endorsement deal between Kondo and the e-commerce giant. For a woman at the height of her celebrity and whose moves are intensely followed, this development – on par with Amazon acquiring Goop, for example – somehow eluded public attention.

Kawahara explains that Rakuten understands the Japanese philosophy that undergirds the KonMari method and also has global scale. “Rakuten is even bigger than Amazon in Japan,” Kawahara says, pointing out that it owns banks and mortgage brokerage services. “It touches every person’s life there. I actually wish it had made bigger news, but I think the Japanese media doesn’t pay that much attention to us anymore since we haven’t lived there for (many) years.” And most of the US media doesn’t know what Rakuten is.

The Rakuten acquisition might also explain why KonMari has not yet re-signed with Netflix. It has its own streaming service, Rakuten TV, which is currently available in many countries, although not in the US. When I ask Kawahara if Rakuten TV is Kondo’s next stop, he says, “We’re still in discussions with Rakuten about how we will partner on entertainment content.” (Rakuten declined interview requests for this story.)

In the months after the Rakuten investment, KonMari began unveiling new dimensions to its business that aligned with its parent company’s strengths. In November 2019, KonMari launched an e-commerce store, where Kondo curates products that “spark joy” in her own life. The website includes a $75 tuning fork that you’re supposed to strike against a crystal to create a sound meant to restore balance. There’s a $180 earthenware steamer called a Donabe. And there’s that $22 dry brush.

Then came the new book, Joy at Work, which Kondo sold in an auction in the spring of 2018 to a division of Little Brown, but as it happens, the initiative to bring her methods to the office melded with values cherished by her new benefactor, according to Kawahara. “We had already been working on the book, but when Mickey (Mikitani, Rakuten’s chief executive) heard about it, he said, ‘This is what I’ve been telling my employees for years!’ Maybe, if they won’t listen to me, they’ll listen to Marie.” After the deal became public, Mikitani wrote on LinkedIn, “Everyone in the Rakuten family cleans his or her work space, each week. You will find all of us – myself included – one morning a week, tidying up our work areas.”

Unlike The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Joy at Work features two voices. Kondo writes the first part, in which she provides tips on how to organise your desk and declutter your digital work space. “In the workplace, there are things we just need to do in the present moment or that might be beneficial for our career in the future,” she says.

Sonenshein, the organisational behaviour professor at Rice University’s business school, writes the other half, about how the KonMari method applies to decision-making, time management, and professional relationships. (See “Tidy Your Tasks,” page 49.) “There’s a lot of clutter, not just on the desk, but in our minds, in the conference room, and on our computers,” he says. “All these distractions get in the way of doing the job that we might otherwise love.”

This expansion into the workplace means KonMari Media can ramp-up content and products related to work life. Now, in addition to $119 aromatherapy diffusers, the KonMari store sells a $75 cube for storing paper clips and a $175 leather-wrapped phone-charging station. And KonMari is poised to expand into the lucrative field of professional coaching. “KonMari consultants just work in homes right now,” Kondo says. “Introducing them into the workplace is something we’re thinking about.” Hundreds of KonMari consultants could joyfully descend upon companies to teach workers how to better manage their emails and meetings. Home decluttering tends to be a one-time opportunity for consultants, but business consulting can be ongoing – and each consultant can potentially serve thousands.

In February, when I mentioned that my 4-year-old struggles to keep her room tidy, she lit up. She had noticed that I’d stepped off the set for a few minutes to FaceTime with my daughter earlier in the day, and she can relate to moments like these, as a mother who also finds it hard to be away from her girls when she’s working. As much as Kondo loves helping couples and workers, she’s most passionate about children embracing her ideals. By introducing decluttering techniques early in life, Kondo hopes that children will avoid the problem in the first place.

Five years ago, just as Kondo was becoming popular in the US, she partnered with eBay to offer flash cards to help kids declutter before returning to school, and last fall, Kondo published Kiki and Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship. The picture book for preschoolers tells the story of a squirrel and an owl whose friendship is put to the test because of the squirrel’s hoarding tendencies. The story is designed to show kids how to sort through their toys and organise them. Kawahara says that KonMari is also working on a game that will teach kids how to tidy that could be ready as early as this year.

After a long day of filming, Kondo and Kawahara walk to their car, which is parked in a residential neighbourhood in Los Angeles. They stumble across a mother and her 3-year-old daughter heading to the playground, and the toddler instantly recognises Kondo from her TV show. “I like to KonMari my toys,” the child tells her.

Kondo beams and gives the child a little hug, and then resumes walking, eager to get back to her two children, who have spent the day with their nanny. “She likes being at home,” Kawahara says, before they depart. “That’s why she likes to tidy.”

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