The author gets candid about her early struggles and the pressures of fame in her new book, Joy at Work

By Mackenzie Schmidt
April 10, 2020 01:29 PM
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Marie Kondo/Instagram

Marie Kondo is a beacon of orderliness — and now more than ever, a reminder to spark joy — but that wasn’t alway the case for the tidying guru.

Countless followers have tried the author’s KonMari method of organization to clear their homes of clutter and, according to Kondo, transform their lives. (Her bestselling book, 2011’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold more than 10 million copies and been translated into 40 languages. Her 2019 Netflix series Tidying Up was a viral hit.)

But the entrepreneur and mom of two little girls didn’t always have it all together.

In her new book, Joy at Work, coauthored with organizational psychologist Scott Sonenshein, Kondo gives a candid look at her path to finding joy — and accepting imperfection.

“I used to be a perfectionist,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, “but it became difficult to maintain that standard after having my children. So much was out of my control. I hope my openness on the subject will help others to ease up on impossible standards. I gave up on perfectionism a while ago!”

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Kondo started her tidying business at 19 in her native Japan, but still worked a corporate sales job for years before breaking out on her own. After hours, she helped grateful colleagues tidy their desks for fun.

She did such a good job convincing her boss to get rid of unnecessary papers as soon as he received them, when she finally decided to leave the company, he accidentally shredded her resignation letter.

When Life-Changing Magic was first published, she was in her twenties, and found herself struggling to make the sunny outlook of her book match up with her newly pressured life. “I believed that because my message was all about sparking joy through tidying, I had to be Happy Marie, always full of joy,” she writes.

Even after she gained global fame —she was named to the Time 100 in 2015 — she writes, the work and the spotlight tested her.

“There was a time when my schedule was so packed, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I also happened to be pregnant with my first child, and the pressure took a toll on my mind and body,” she explains. “Sometimes I couldn’t control my emotions and would burst into tears at the end of the day.”

It took just as much time and dedication to find a balance in her life as it did to perfect her tidying techniques, she says, but slowly she began building routines and schedules, saying “no” to some opportunities and keeping herself grounded with her family.

The chaos of parenting was an unexpected hurdle for Kondo, who herself had an early predilection for orderliness — she often says she started tidying at age 5 and in school, preferred organizing the bookshelves in her classroom to goofing around at recess. But after the birth of her first daughter, she writes, “My expectations and aspirations dropped to the level of being satisfied if I was able to brush my teeth before I went to bed.”

These days, she’s found her balance and her joy.

She’s cooking with her girls and teaching them about organization while social distancing at home in Los Angeles. She’s sharing an office with Kawahara and, since her book tour has been canceled due to coronavirus, doing remote video interviews and press.

Marie Kondo/Instagram

In times of trouble, Kondo still turns to tidying.

When her children are making a mess in the house, she finds solace in organizing little mom-only spaces, like her closet and desk drawers. When her work life is overwhelming, she takes a minute to refocus on herself by making tea or brightening up her home with a bunch of flowers.

“When life changes dramatically, as it is right now, I think it’s very important to keep a calm mind,” she says, “and the process of tidying can give you a sense of calm.”