Small Business & Startups

Home organizers ride the Kondo wave

Prospective customers knock at local organizers’ doors after seeing Netflix series 'Tidying Up.'

February 22, 2019
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Kondo Effect
Kate Wert, left, and Susie Marsh, owners of Moxie Life Organizing, say there has been an influx of inquiries since Netflix released “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Courtesy Moxie Life Organizing

Local home organization gurus are feeling an extra spark of joy these days, thanks to a Japanese consultant named Marie Kondo.

Kondo is the author of the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” and its sequel, “Spark Joy” (Ten Speed Press, 2014, 2016 U.S.).

Netflix released her eight-episode reality show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” on Jan. 1, just in time for New Year’s resolution season.

The show depicts Kondo working in one type of setting after another — in homes of parents with toddlers, empty-nesters, students, downsizers and grieving widows — helping clients learn how to clear out clutter and find meaning in what matters.

Her proprietary “KonMari method” is based on a category-by-category decluttering approach rather than room-by-room, and she is known for having clients touch each object, hold it, ask themselves if it sparks joy, and if not, thank it, and put it on the donation pile.

While home makeover books and TV shows certainly are nothing new, this show has struck a chord with millions of viewers in the 190 countries where it’s available to stream.

Local home organizers have a range of opinions about Kondo’s approach, but they all say the book and the show have provided conversation-starters, spurred customer inquiries and, in some cases, generated additional business for their firms.

Kate Wert is co-owner with Susie Marsh of Moxie Life Organizing, which serves clients in the Grand Rapids area. Wert said she “loves (Kondo’s) positivity” and the way she offers “a ray of hope” to people who feel overwhelmed and defeated by their disarray.

“With the show, we are seeing definitely an influx of inquiries of people who are getting motivated and want the help,” Wert said.

The co-owners offer “Marie Kondo Unfolded” signature talks, which can be booked on demand and examine the show’s philosophies and strategies to help clients determine whether the methods are a good fit for their circumstances.

Unrelated to the talks, several of Moxie’s existing clients have offered, unprompted, “a mixed batch of reviews” on “Tidying Up,” Wert said.

“Some are very inspired after viewing, while others find the joy factor to be a little cheesy or prefer different approaches,” she said.

Wert said she personally loves the KonMari method for its structure and simplicity.

But she and Marsh are both licensed social workers and see clients with mental health challenges that are directly related to the clutter in their home, and this method would not be the right approach for helping them.

“With compulsive hoarding, everything (in the home) sparks joy, so we know this method is not going to work,” she said.

Moxie Life Organizing instead advocates a person-centered approach that considers myriad factors for the client, such as home space, relationship status, stress levels, income, personality and mental health status.

Kathi Hughes, owner of The Organizing Angel in Jenison, said she read one of Kondo’s books and was hoping the TV show would boost business more than it has.

She said an employee of hers has posted about Kondo on social media to help build engagement with The Organizing Angel’s services, and she has had conversations with clients in their homes about the KonMari method when she happens to see they bought the book.

Hughes said she believes the show will raise awareness about what a professional organizer is and will help motivate people to seek out her services in the long term.

Melissa Fortino is owner of Organized by Melissa LLC, which serves Grand Rapids, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

She said she gets into a plethora of conversations about Kondo when she’s out and about, and she has had an uptick in new clients since the show came out. Fortino’s business got a similar bump when one of Kondo’s books first came out.

“I had a huge surge the first winter her book was out,” she said. “I called them my winter readers; they all read the book, were inspired by Marie, tried the method, came to a halt from being overwhelmed and then contacted me.”

Fortino was able to help those clients to the finish line using her own method, and she expects to see a similar effect from the TV show. But home organizing always is needed regardless of the pop culture driver, she said.

“We will be purging, reorganizing and regrouping for the rest of our lives. I always tell my clients you’re never done until you’re in the grave — which isn’t always what people want to hear,” Fortino said. “My point is that what we resist persists, and if we embrace organizing as a positive that is ongoing like breathing or basic self-care, it can become meditative and freeing. It should liberate you in a big way.”

Judy Warmington and Treva Berends are co-owners of The Organizing Specialists in Grand Rapids, which helps clients get organized and trains people to be professional organizers.

Warmington has been in the business since 1983 and Berends since 1993, and they both said they have seen a fair amount of TV shows like Kondo’s that influence viewers’ demand for organizing, dating back to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” when Oprah would host self-help gurus touting their books.

But the pair also have received calls from people who gravitate toward the show not because they need help but because they want to help others.

“It gets naturally organized people thinking about, ‘Hey, I might like to do that as a business. I can organize. I really enjoy organizing. I’d like to pursue that as a career,’” Berends said.

As a result, The Organizing Specialists has seen a spike in people coming to them for training who ultimately join their network of trained professional organizers, which currently spans 31 states.

Warmington and Berends reached out to members of their network Feb. 18 and got a flood of responses about Kondo, some adoring, some critical and many mixed.

Rose Hathaway, of Kalamazoo, said she felt the method only works in some situations and wouldn’t fit for the majority of her clients, who are seniors and have a lot of sentimental items and memorabilia they won’t part with.

In 2015, after reading Kondo’s first book, Lori Teft, of Grand Rapids, said she looked into paying for the KonMari training course, but she said it was out of her price range, so she continues to follow what she already knows about KonMari.

Susan Zomerhuis, of Rockford, said she didn’t like the book because the strict minimalism Kondo advocates is more practical in places with higher population density and smaller homes, such as Europe and Asia, rather than the U.S.

“The methods could work if people were willing to cut back very drastically on things and/or live a very minimalistic lifestyle,” she said. “The vast majority of Americans would not/cannot do so.”

Lois Pierson, of Hastings, also is a member of The Organizing Specialists’ network of organizers. She said she sees lasting power in the Kondo movement.

“Joy is something we all want to have. Whether it is marketed as a dish soap or as a way to have a cleaner, tidier home, we all want joy,” she said. “As an organizer, I use several approaches to help my clients declutter. For some, KonMari speaks to them; for others, minimalism.

“I have been using parts of the KonMari method since I first learned of it in 2012. I see it as a long-term method. Other methods will be developed and marketed over time, but KonMari will remain useful.”

Fortino said the show’s popularity can motivate people suffering from clutter-related depression to seek help.

“I want them to know there is a solution, and they’re not alone,” she said. “If Marie’s show does that for them, then it’s a win-win for the person and the entire industry.”

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