how i get it done

How I Get It Done: Organizational Guru Marie Kondo

Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Marie “KonMari” Kondo is the Japanese author of four best-selling books about the art of organization, including The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which propelled her to superstar status in America. She is also a verb: to kondo is to radically declutter; her philosophy is to only hold on to possessions that “spark joy.” Millions of “konverts” around the world swear by her methods. So what’s the daily life of a celebrity domestic purger? Kondo lives in California with her husband and two daughters. Here, she shares how she gets it done.

On starting the day I wake up naturally around 6 or 6:30 a.m. I rarely use an alarm clock. After waking up, I open all of the windows, let the breeze in, and then burn incense. At home we have a Japanese-style kamidana [Shinto household altar]. On the shelf there is some salt, some rice, and some evergreen fronds, and I’ll give this a once-over, freshening things up. Then I’ll pray for the health of my family and friends, and also for myself to get done as much as possible what needs to be done. This is not a religious thing really at all. It’s just for me to take this time every morning to feel gratitude. It’s a practice I started when I was still single, maybe about seven years ago.

On shared responsibilities By mid-morning, my girls are usually getting up. I’ll get them dressed and change their diapers, all that normal stuff. While I’m doing this, my husband will be making breakfast. We have a very clear division of labor at home. My husband is in charge of the cooking and I’m in charge of the cleaning. So my husband will do breakfast and I’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher, put things away, set and clear the table. My husband is a good cook. He’ll make a Japanese-style breakfast, with rice, miso soup, dried radish, and fermented soybeans, or we might have toast or even just fruit. It really depends on what else is planned for the day.

On getting organized When my husband and I got married, we sat down and talked about the kind of home life we wanted and what it would take to achieve that. We put all of this on a shared Google spreadsheet. When one of us completed a task we’d mark it as done and then the other one might leave a message saying “Thank you,” or something like that. It was all very systematic. By doing this we got a very clear sense of what needed to be done. And from this we developed a natural division of labor and now we have a good rhythm in place. We still use an online calendar to coordinate our schedules. So I can see if my husband has a meeting and know that I’ll need to be watching the kids then, or the other way around.

On setting priorities The structure of my day really depends on what I’m focusing on at that particular point in time. I might reassess my priorities at the start of a new year or on my birthday, but it’s not fixed like that. My husband and I will talk about where we’re at now and ask ourselves, “How much do we need to be working? How much time can we devote to family?” Right now I’m focusing on work. I’m starting this new project. This is where I’m at now, so I’m looking ahead to making that happen. Until recently though, I was putting all of my energy into family.

On juggling work and kids After breakfast, I’ll take a shower and get dressed. I don’t have an office. I work remotely. Unless I’m on a business trip, I’m usually at home. But I always dress for the day, in clothes that are suitable for going out of the house. Nothing too dressy, of course. If there’s still time before the nanny comes, I’ll play with the kids. We have a nanny who comes in about four days a week, who will take the kids out to play. My daughters are just 1 and 2 years old, so they’re not in preschool yet. I usually work from around 9 or 9:30 in the morning until about 6 in the evening. But we often have online meetings with people in Japan and because of the time difference those usually happen in the evening. So my husband and I will take turns with the kids then.

On adjusting to life with kids When the kids were born, things were rather hectic. They’d wake up crying in the middle of the night and I’d have to get up to go soothe them. This was something that I had no control over, and that was a bit stressful for me. I’d be tired the next day. But since my youngest turned 1, I feel like I’m finally getting my equilibrium back. That was just very recently actually. The girls and I will clean up the toys together. I’m teaching them bit by bit about tidying. They’ll watch me folding clothes and now my eldest will help with that. Of course they’re not up to my level. They’re still young and I just have to accept that they will clutter things for the time being.

On working from home I don’t have a separate room that I use as an office, but I do have my corner, with an antique desk and chair, that I use for work. When I sit down to work, I pull out what I need for the day, usually my laptop. I’m always drinking tea while I work, so I’ll have my favorite mug, a coaster, a small flower vase and maybe some aroma spray on the edge of my desk, too. For work, I like a scent with a mint or a grapefruit base. So I’ll spray some of that and then get started writing down the day’s tasks on a notepad.

On tasks I make a very detailed to-do list: finish that article, reply to this email, do the laundry, and so on. If there are things that need to be picked up at the store for the house, that goes on a list shared over the cloud with my husband. I don’t have a set method for getting through the day’s tasks, but I usually start with the ones that can be finished easily, without much thinking. I do one thing at a time and then move on to the next thing. For tasks that require more thought, like writing an article or newsletter, I’ll block out time in advance. Things like writing articles and talking to the media, I do myself. I leave the day-to-day back and forth, like responding to online requests, et cetera, to my team.

On tea breaks I drink multiple cups of tea a day. So that will be my break. After I’ve accomplished a few things or start to feel tired, I’ll get up and make another cup. I probably have about 15 different kinds of tea in my cupboard at any given time. I usually have herb tea when I wake up in the morning, green tea with breakfast, black tea in the afternoon, and herb tea again in the evening.

On resetting In the evening, I’ll get the kids into the bath and read to them until they fall asleep. Before I go to bed, I’ll go around the house and change the water in the flower vases. I have flowers all over the place. Then I’ll tidy up the kids’ toys and the kitchen. Anything that is left out goes back into its proper place. As I’m tidying, I’ll give each item a heartfelt “Thank you” for helping with the day. Everything has a set place so it’s a smooth process. And, like that, the house is reset, which makes me happy. I’m not someone who obsesses about how much sleep I get. I go to bed when things are in order and I start to feel sleepy, which is usually around 11 or 12.

On the significance of things Ask yourself this, often: Is what I’m doing connected to the kind of life that will spark joy for me? By thinking through this, the steps required to have that kind of life become clearer. I really do recommend tidying. Make sure all the things in your home spark joy and that all the things have their proper place. Just getting your home in order can really make your life clearer. It can make your head clearer.

How I Get It Done: Marie Kondo