Marie Kondo is a professional organizer of international renown as well as a bestselling author and television star, perhaps most famous for asking, “Does it spark joy?” — a question she suggests we pose when deciding whether to keep each object in our homes.
She’s also a mother of three, and it was her youngest child, born in 2021, who seems to have pushed her over the precipice into the land of disarray where most of us raising children permanently reside.
The Washington Post reported that at a recent media webinar and virtual tea ceremony, Kondo said, via interpreter, that she had “kind of given up” on keeping her own home tidy.
“My home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage of my life,” she said.
Many parents, women especially, struggle with the idea that good housekeeping is a sign of good parenting. We want, foremost, for our children to grow up well-adjusted and feeling loved. Many of us are also trying to maintain a professional identity and a lifestyle that includes some sleep and self-care. It’s impossible to balance all of this, all the time, and tasks languish unfinished: the pile of unfolded laundry on the couch, the layer of gray grime on the baseboards, the half-melted orange popsicle encrusted on the bottom of the freezer.
Intellectually, I know that my worth as a parent and a human isn’t calculated with variables like the way I store my children’s socks or the fact that I’ve never defrosted the fridge. But when I open the freezer door and am confronted with that orange mess, a wave of disgust rises within me. I feel shame. Is this the sort of home I want for myself and my children? Isn’t it my job to make our apartment a calming place we all want to be in, rather than this heap of my failed intentions?
“Every woman I know is keenly aware of the fact that if someone is going to be judgmental about the state of your home, it’s the woman they are going to place that blame on, regardless of how many dads or older children are in that home,” says therapist KC Davis, author of “How To Keep House While Drowning.”
Kondo, she said, “has continued to center joy by not elevating tidiness to some moral obligation” foisted primarily on women.
While most of us agree that when the mess reaches a certain level it requires some kind of intervention, there’s no consensus on where this line should be drawn, and, as Kondo’s recent admission suggests, it moves over time.
So when our homes don’t look the way we wish they did, like the “after” images in Kondo’s books and shows, how can we learn to accept that? To find joy amid all the objects — be they freezer-burnt popsicles or freakishly doe-eyed LOL dolls — that we’d rather not have surrounding us?
HuffPost spoke with Davis and several KonMari-certified consultants about embracing the mess and ditching the shame while making a home for your family. Here are some of their thoughts.
Kondo’s method is about process, not a predetermined endpoint.
While many social media commenters were eager to characterize Kondo’s confession of messiness as a defeat for her — and simultaneously a validation for the rest of us — the experts we spoke with viewed the choice to embrace some level of mess as in line with Kondo’s philosophy.
“Marie Kondo’s priorities have changed, and that itself is part of the KonMari process,” Emi Louie, a master KonMari consultant who works with U.S. and Japan-based clients, told HuffPost. (Consultants are professional organizers certified in the KonMari method by Kondo’s company. A master-level consultant has completed at least 1,500 “tidying hours.”)
Kondo, said Louie, “was never asking us to create perfectly organized spaces. She was asking us to identify the things that truly spark joy to us on a personal level, and to commit to living a more joyful life. Those core principles haven’t changed.”
Helen Youn — a master KonMari consultant based in Calgary, Alberta — told HuffPost that she found Kondo’s remarks “relatable” and “refreshing.”
“It’s not like Marie Kondo is saying she has given up on organization altogether but instead, she has given up on keeping her house tidy all the time — which I don’t think is something she has ever preached.”
Kondo’s “messy” home, then, doesn’t represent a failure of tidiness or organization, but a shift in values. A pile of toys, mounds of play dough or finger-paint smudges can all spark joy, too.
“Family homes that are lived in are never going to be tidy all the time, because we’re busy living in them,” Sachiko Kiyooka, an organizing and feng shui consultant based in Montreal, told HuffPost.
“Having unrealistic standards is joy-killing,” she said.
The KonMari method, Louie explained, isn’t only about tidying. “What we’re really doing is shifting our relationship with our belongings, and committing to living with more joy.”
Your home will look different during different seasons of your life.
It’s not realistic to maintain the same minimalist environment in your home as before you had kids. Nor should you hold yourself to the standard of the influencer photos you see on social media, which don’t tell the full story of a home.
Davis explained: “The reality is, when you have children, centering joy just looks different. It’s a season of life where you really have to embrace the chaos a bit in order to thrive.”
The trick, according to Davis, is to approach the mess as a natural consequence of parenthood rather than a moral failing.
Just as each of us has a different definition of what constitutes a mess and a different barometer for feelings of overwhelm, our own limits will change over time.
“I think the questions we each have to ask are: What helps me feel good in my home? What makes family life easier?” said Kiyooka.
There’s a difference, she noted, between a mess that “becomes an unnecessary stress and an energetic drag” and normal “people live here” messiness. The trick is figuring out where that line is for you during this stage of your life.
It may help to remember that a lot of kids’ behaviors and habits won’t last. Kiyooka is the mother to two grown daughters and said that, when they were teens, “I had to close my eyes when I went past their rooms” to avoid looking at the mess. But they’ve grown up into tidy adults.
Cleaning up is easier and faster when you’ve put some thought into the organization of your home.
“The key is to focus on function,” said Davis. “Things may not all be aesthetically pleasing all the time but you can strive for the house to be functional.”
Youn said that what she learned from the KonMari method was “to keep only the things that spark joy and have a home within your home for everything that you keep.”
“This was a complete game-changer because when you have less and everything has a home, it makes it so much easier to tidy up because everyone knows where everything goes.”
Youn came to the KonMari method when she was already a parent and was overwhelmed by clutter, and she credits the method with making her a better parent. “If we make a mess during the day from playing or doing activities, I am not stressed about it because I know it’ll take us five minutes to clean up at the end of the day.”
Knowing there is a system to deal with clutter can ease stress. For example, Louie notes that she doesn’t like folding all of her family’s laundry and has tried different systems, such as a clean laundry basket for each person, to manage the piles.
“Now, I let clean clothes pile up on the counter in my laundry room, and when it starts to overflow, I bring everything to the dining table and we fold it as a family while watching TV,” she explained. The piles of laundry aren’t picture-perfect, but they don’t overwhelm her because she knows how they’ll be resolved.
Involve your kids in setting up a home environment that brings joy to each member of your household.
Louie first KonMari-ed her home when her son was 4, and she intentionally involved him in the process, inviting him to “joy check” each of his items just as she did with her own.
Engaging in the process together, said Louie, “taught me so much about honoring his joy. I used to put books into his bookshelf that were aspirational for me, or clothes into his closet that I wanted him to wear. Tidying with him helped me better understand that my wants weren’t necessarily his wants, and to respect his decisions.”
She made other adjustments to accommodate her son, setting up a space for his school supplies in the dining room because he likes to do his homework at the table, and moving dishes to a low drawer so he can get them himself.
Kiyooka explained that some of the adjusting she had to do was internal. By re-framing some of the “mess” as “my girls’ creativity in action,” she changed her feelings about the way her house looked without shifting things in the house. Some messes, she found, were worth their weight to her. Her kitchen, for example, was often messy when the girls were cooking, but she valued them learning this skill more than keeping a pristine kitchen.
While the decluttering process as seen on Kondo’s show happens in “one fell swoop,” Louie noted that this timetable is not a requirement, and may not be realistic for big, busy families. You can work with your kids to attack one category (such as clothes) or one room at a time and still get results.
You may find that, with practice, kids get the hang of it. Youn’s son has grown up using Kondo’s method, and is intentional with “how he wants to use his space, how he wants to spend his time,” she said.
“He is really great at recognizing when something no longer sparks joy and has no problem letting go of items that are no longer serving him.”
Give yourself — and your family members — some grace.
It takes time to learn a new skill, and we don’t all begin from the same starting point.
“You might not know how to set boundaries on what comes into your home, or you might not know how to involve your children in a positive way because you never had that modeled to you,” explained Kiyooka.
Tidying, like exercise, is a habit rather than a one-time event. After the initial flurry of sorting and re-organizing, daily maintenance is required. As with any other lifestyle change, this will take practice.
“The more you practice, the easier it gets and it will eventually become second nature,” said Youn. “Be patient with yourself and be patient with the rest of your family in the process. Keep practicing and don’t forget to keep joy in mind.”
What definitely won’t help is more self-criticism.
“No one ever shamed themselves into better mental health or better organizational systems,” said Davis. “Start by practicing self-compassion and asking yourself how you can make your space functional for what you need.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Davis stressed that it’s OK to ask for help, even if you don’t see yourself as the kind of person who needs it. This could be from a supportive friend or family member, therapist or professional organizer.
“The baseline we are always looking for is safe, sanitary and functional. If you’re having trouble reaching that then it’s time to ask for help,” said Davis.
“I always tell people to worry less about diagnosis and more about distress,” she continued. “If you are in distress, you deserve help and support.”