It was perhaps inevitable that Marie Kondo, the one-time Shinto shrine maiden turned tidiness guru and media powerhouse, would expand her organizing business into products.
Yet her first embrace of consumerism more than a year ago roiled the internet, which cried foul as she began selling an array of minimalist objects — housewares, decorative items and organizing supplies — that included pink suede slippers, a boar-bristle broom set and, most notably, a tuning fork presented as a “reset” tool, the ping of which one imagined was the actual sound of “sparking joy,” Kondo’s trademark phrase.
It was a spare (ish) collection, however. Her latest foray is expansive: 100 organizing objects in a collaboration with — wait for it — U.S.-based retail company, the Container Store.
This is the second blockbuster alliance between the retailer and what we might call organizing media. Last year the Container Store partnered with the Home Edit, the Tennessee-based company responsible for Khloe Kardashian’s hair extension closet — an Instagram sensation writer Amanda FitzSimons likened to an art installation about late-stage capitalism. If Kondo’s ethos of aspirational organization leans toward emotional and moral clarity — a transformative act, as she often points out — the Home Edit, which uses the colors of the rainbow as its organizing principle, is the equivalent of flashing a logo. (“Conscientious luxury” is how Pam Danziger, a marketing expert, would define both efforts, a trend on point for 2021.)
In any case, both collaborations have raised the fortunes of the Container Store, its finances further buoyed by the habits of a population still largely housebound. According to Furniture Today, its 2020 second quarter numbers were the second highest in the company’s history, and this month its stock price is triple what it was in September.
As for the items themselves, they are demure and minimalist, as befits Kondo’s affect and tastes. There are rattan boxes to corral desktop items ($9.99 to $39.99); bamboo boxes, bins and a hamper designed to look like shōji screens ($19.99 to $149.99); ceramic and glass food storage objects (starting at $9.99); labels for spice bottles and other containers ($7.99).
For a nation in quarantine fetishizing its pantries (or pantry-manques, which is to say cupboards, for those of us living in apartments) and faced on a daily basis with the fallout of material culture (like an episode of “The Good Place,” but for stuff), Kondo’s objects might be just the ticket. You may be soothed by the coherence of decanting your flour and dry goods into glass vessels, arraying your spices on tiered bamboo levels (after swathing them in those preprinted sans serif labels) and setting your eggs in a white ceramic rectangle, a practice which notably removes the branding noise of contemporary packaging.
Now your fridge, at least, can be a safe space.
Beyond the empire-building that Kondo’s Container Store collaboration represents, how has she fared this past pandemic year, and what are her thoughts, going forward, about 2021, already a very messy year indeed?
Can you tell me a little bit about what cultural traditions you bring to a new year?
Happy New Year! This is a time of rich tradition in Japan, and some of my favorite new year rituals are kakizome, hatsumōde and eating osechi ryōri. Kakizome is the ritual of writing a Japanese kanji character that captures your wish or principle for the year ahead. We did this as a family and chose the Japanese character 素 (pronounced “su”), meaning “natural” or “as you are.” My intention is to honor my truest self and remain grounded in my purpose in 2021. Writing this down serves as a helpful reminder throughout the year.
Hatsumode is the tradition of attending a local shrine at the beginning of the year to thank the land for allowing you to live upon it and use its resources. We were not able to do that this holiday, so we expressed gratitude from our home in Southern California!
Are there New Year’s rituals that are particular to you and to your family, ones you might have developed as a tidiness expert, as a partner and as a parent?
Tidying is a powerful reset, and in my experience, there is no better time to tidy up than at the start of a new year. The first step of my tidying method is to imagine your ideal lifestyle. Consider what kind of house you want to live in and how you want to live in it. By doing this, you are really clarifying why you want to tidy and envisioning your best life. Embrace the symbolic timing of the new year and use this mindset to guide you through the tidying process.
How have you stayed organized, emotionally and practically, this past year?
The world has been very chaotic this past year, but because I spent most of it at home, it served as an opportunity to confront and organize my thoughts and emotions. There was no escaping, so to speak; therefore, I used this time to reflect, reevaluate my priorities and ground myself. I experienced a heightened appreciation for all that I have.
How has the pandemic altered the way you think about tidying and organizing the home?
If anything, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of tidying and organizing the home; your home has become your office, your school, your day care, your gym, your sanctuary, your everything! My tidying method is focused on discovering what sparks joy for you, holding on to those things and designating a place for them. There has never been a more urgent time for joy and organization in the home than now.
What is the most important idea or ritual we should hold in our minds or practice in our homes that might help us through the next months or year?
My best advice is to practice mindfulness.
Use this time at home to take inventory of your possessions — and to reevaluate your relationship with them. Cultivate an awareness of what you have. On a practical level, this will prevent overbuying things, but I hope it will also bring a renewed appreciation for all that you do have.
Being mindful of your emotional state — and tending to your well-being — are also of utmost importance during these times.
Many people view your books as dogma. What do you say to your directive from your first book to only use what you have at home to organize objects — that is, to never buy organizing supplies?
“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was published 10 years ago, when I was still living in Japan, where it’s quite common for people to save boxes from items they’ve purchased. In the book, I recommend that after you fill your house only with items that spark joy, you use the empty boxes you happen to have laying around as storage solutions.
But what I’ve learned from coming to the U.S. is that you don’t have as many empty boxes! This is a big cultural difference, and it’s been a learning experience for me. But the fundamental philosophy remains unchanged: Keep the items that spark joy for you — and then assess your storage needs. You may find that the empty boxes you have in your home are sufficient — or you may need to purchase additional items.
Another reason is that after you tidy, your sensitivity to what sparks joy is razor sharp — and this extends to your storage containers. I’ve experienced this myself when opening a drawer full of mismatched boxes and realizing it would spark more joy if they had a consistent design aesthetic — and were built to last.
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