It’s hard to imagine a world before Marie Kondo’s style of extreme tidying up.
But way before her books (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy) became best-sellers—or her name became a verb for decluttering anything from your mind to your diet—there was a young girl who loved to organize.
Kondo’s perfectly minimalist past is uncovered, and the future of her empire is explored, in a new New York Times Magazine story that managed to dig up a few surprises about the uber-private author and organization guru whose fame launched a zillion profiles earlier this year.
From the inspiration for her KonMari method to what her competitors in the organizing world really think of her, here are six surprising things about the super-tidy superstar.
1. The method has been around for longer than people know
Although The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is now a massive hit with over 6 million copies sold (hello, NYT best-seller list for 86 weeks and counting), the book was originally published in October 2014 to almost no fanfare or acclaim. It wasn’t until a Times reporter happened upon the book and wrote about the method that the tidiness frenzy was unleashed.
2. And it’s been around even longer in Kondo’s personal life
Kondo says she’s had a lifelong obsession with carefully curating her belongings. In fact, it started when she was just a little girl and would scour through any and all of her mother’s homemaking magazines, researching other tidying methods as much as she could. She also explained how in her home country of Japan, while there was a large collection of tidying, decluttering, and organizing books in the national library, she wasn’t allowed in until age 18—so she spent her 18th birthday there. By the time she was 19, friends were paying her to declutter their rooms and houses while she was studying sociology at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.
3. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to throw everything away
Although Kondo describes it as a “once-in-a-lifetime tidying marathon,” the final result won’t necessarily turn everyone into a minimalist. Part of her method is to sort all of your possessions into categories—clothes, books, papers, etc.—and then determine whether each item brings you joy. Kondo’s method is often mistaken as one that makes you clear out everything you’ve ever owned, but she actually believes you can own as much or as little as you like, as long as each possession truly brings you joy.
4. You can now train to be a “Konvert”
The majority of the Times article centers around the writer’s experience at the Japan Society in New York, taking part in a “formal training program for her KonMari method, certifying her acolytes to bring the joy, weightlessness, and upward-pointing trajectory of a clutter-free life to others.” Sounds like Kondo-like decluttering isn’t going away any time soon.
5. Most professional organizers are Kondo haters
Although Kondo can be credited with bringing more attention to the industry of professional organizers, most of her peers aren’t exactly impressed. In the Times article, the writer also attended the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) annual meeting in Atlanta, a group that is almost unanimously anti-Kondo, complaining that she’s getting credit for doing a lot of things that all pro organizers do—she’s just doing them with better marketing. They also say her method is too strict, and most of their clients wouldn’t be able to live in a Kondo-approved world. (For one, she offers no advice on what to do with the tons of stuff that accumulates when you have kids, they say.)
6. However, Kondo is the first to admit that her method isn’t for everyone
Not only is Kondo completely shocked by her success, she will be the first to tell you that other methods are just as good. In fact, at an appearance on Rachael Ray, Kondo commended the show’s in-house organizer, Peter Walsh, on his methods, even after he threw some shade her way. She later explained, “I think it’s good to have different types of organizing methods,” she continued, “because my method might not spark joy with some people, but his method might.”
If Kondo’s method sounds like something that will work for you, check out the complete guide to decluttering every room in your house. And once your house is in tip-top shape, break in the tidy haven with one of these four-ingredient nice cream recipes.