Blair Tomten’s home has neutral tones in the living room and an abundance of artwork on the walls. It’s warm, inviting and full of things.
And not a single one looks out of place.
In her bedroom, she opens a drawer, and it’s a picture-perfect example of the KonMari Method — two rows of tri-folded shirts and hoodies, organized in vertical stands for added access and visibility. There’s a jacket from the 1995 Nordic World Ski Championships; a tee from the third Springer Tournee competition held in Park City.
There used to be more — bins and bins more, sentimental clothing saved from her years as one of the first U.S. women ski jumpers and her later skeleton career. Now, there are only a few dozen of her favorites, ones that “spark joy.”
It’s been nearly eight years since Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” was first published, launching a worldwide phenomenon that’s inspired millions of people like Blair to tidy their homes. With the Jan. 1 debut of “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” on Netflix, interest in Kondo and her method has surged again.
Salt Lake City KonMari consultant Elisa Albury, who helped Blair, and Provo consultant Karla Carter say more people have reached out in recent weeks about their services, typically through the konmari.com website or Instagram.
One benefit to tidying, Elisa says, is spending more time doing things you love and less time being burdened by the state of your home or belongings.
“A tidier, and subsequently cleaner, home is easier and quicker to maintain. Cleaning also becomes a method to express joy for the things you have kept,” Elisa says. “Hiking > Housework.”
Choosing the magic
Blair, a civil engineer and international ski jumping judge, first heard about “Tidying Up” from Elisa, a former coworker, shortly after the U.S. release of the book in 2014. Since she had always enjoyed organizing, Blair decided to buy the audiobook.
“I listened to it,” she says. “And I was like, oh my gosh, this is magical.”
Kondo shares her method for simplifying and organizing, breaking down the process into categories — clothes, books, papers, komono or miscellaneous items, and sentimental items. As you sort, Kondo’s website says, “keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service — then let them go.”
Blair began sorting and organizing her hats and gloves, from the ones she wore to work to the ones she needed for cross country and alpine skiing. They were stored and labeled, but all over the house. The process took two years.
Blair eventually decided to push forward with the rest of her belongings, but stopped after trying to tidy some sentimental clothing. A text exchange with Elisa put her back on track.
“One day, she was looking for rain pants, and she was like, ‘I know they're in my house. And I've looked everywhere, and I can't find them,’” Elisa recalls. “... And I said, ‘I could help you with that.’”
At the time, Elisa was collecting practice hours for her certification. She had already tidied her three-bedroom home with her husband, and had realized during the process that she wasn’t happy at her job, where she had been working ridiculous hours. She decided to quit and attend a West Coast training seminar. She earned her certification last July.
“I thought by becoming a consultant, I can help other people experience that same, just general joy,” says Elisa, who now also works full-time for the Utah Department of Transportation.
Karla, who works part-time as receptionist at a pediatric office, also earned her certification in July. After her husband suggested she start her own organizing business, she decided to become certified in Kondo’s techniques.
She started with her own home — and family. “If I’m doing this, you’re doing it, too,” she told them. “And we did the whole process, start to finish. Like the whole thing. And it took a while.”
In addition tidying their homes and providing photographic proof, Karla and Elisa had to attend a three-day seminar, practice tidying with two clients in 10 sessions, and pass an exam.
Hiring a KonMari consultant to help you tidy is optional. As of Feb. 12, 222 people had been certified, according to konmari.com. It’s an expensive ($2,200 for the seminar and $500 for the certification) and time-consuming process, as each session takes a minimum of three hours and Kondo typically offers the often-sold out seminars only once a year on each U.S. coast.
Envision your ideal
One of the most important parts of the KonMari process, Elisa and Karla say, is setting a vision for how you want your space — and your life — to look. That mental picture can help with decision-making, Elisa says.
“Especially if you get stuck on an item, if you can then revert back to that vision and say, ‘Oh, yes, here's my intention. Yes or no: This item does or does not support that ideal vision?’”
Both consultants say it’s difficult to estimate how long it will take to tidy an entire home, although the goal is to complete the process in six months. It depends on family size, house size, the ability to make decisions and more.
Because of such variables, Elisa and Karla say the number of sessions with their clients can’t be pre-determined. However, there is an optimal session length.
“It’s difficult to make significant progress in a time less than three hours. And over five hours, your brain is tired of making decisions,” Elisa says. “So the productivity rate really slows down.”
One of the goals of the process — and the order of the categories — is to develop a barometer for items that spark joy. That idea can be nuanced, Elisa says, with different definitions based on the category. Papers, for example, can provide comfort or fulfill a purpose.
When Karla’s family started tidying, her husband told her he wasn’t sure he could sort his clothes because they didn’t spark joy for him. So she laid out all his ties and told him to pick his three favorites. And they did that until he ran out of ones he liked.
Even after setting a vision or sharpening those spark-joy skills, making decisions can be challenging.
“You have to confront your feelings about why you own what you own and how much value you place on items that you own — sometimes it’s emotional value, sometimes it’s monetary value, sometimes it’s physical value, like the physical space that it occupies,” Elisa says. “Part of the joy-checking process is going through all of those elements and deciding what’s important to you and meaningful to you.”
Karla agonized over her clothes because of body image issues — which the KonMari Method helped her confront.
“It made me just wonder, so why am I so hard on myself? And why do I talk so negatively to myself all the time?” Karla says, “I am 56 years old, for heaven’s sakes, and it’s time to stop doing that.”
Although Elisa found it easy to sort through her clothes, she says she struggled to let go of a worn-out sweater she had bought with her father about 20 years ago, before he died.
“But in the end, I decided that by getting rid of it, I'm not losing the memory,” Elisa says. “I still have those things in my brain, and I could let that item go.”
Sentimental items can be the most difficult to tidy, and Kondo suggests leaving them until the end. Elisa says she tries to be gentle and supportive in helping her clients work through those attachments, and she’s found being an observer can be just as exhausting — physically, mentally and emotionally.
“It’s not uncommon for people, when they tidy, to come across something that’s emotional. And then they start telling their story, and they are sobbing and I start crying,” Elisa says. “... Sometimes I take on the emotional burden of other people’s things.”
‘What you really want out of life’
Those who swear by the KonMari Method say it has had a profound impact on their lives.
After tidying her home, Elisa discovered she loved her space more, and the sense of calm it now brings her. After discarding so many items and knowing how much each cost, she no longer shops mindlessly, which has saved her “a ton of money.” And she’s improved her relationships with loved ones.
Karla says she started to examine how she and her husband were spending their time, money and energy, eventually realizing that those things didn’t always align with mattered to them most. “KonMari is about what you really want out of life,” she says. “It's not stuff.”
Blair found the method exhausting, she says, “because you’re having to make a lot of decisions and you’re bringing up a lot of emotions.” But Elisa helped guide her through the process, at times encouraging her to set sentimental items aside and come back to them later.
“It definitely helped get through, literally, my entire house,” Blair says. “… And she never passed any sort of judgment on whether or not I should keep something or not keep something because it was what mattered to me.”
In a hope chest her grandfather made, Blair had stored a magenta, white and turquoise blanket her great-grandmother knitted, or maybe crocheted. But when she pulled it out, she realized, “it doesn't make me think of great-grandma.”
Instead, Blair says, “I have great-grandma’s cookie recipe that I absolutely adore. She used to make them for me, for my birthday, and give them to me in a coffee tin with a $2 bill in a card. And that’s what sparks joy, is that recipe, and that’s when I think of great-grandma.”
Blair put a lot of thought into what would happen to items she discarded, researching the best organizations to receive them. Work clothes went to the Junior League of Salt Lake City, winter clothes and accessories to The Road Home, and housewares to Deseret Industries.
She too now looks at stuff differently. She’s better about saying no when people are handing things out for free, because if she brings it home, she has to process it. Instead of buying a dress for a one-time event, she’ll rent one. Plus, she doesn’t find more things to fill the empty spaces created by her decluttering.
Admittedly, she’s still a jacket hoarder — she needs a specific kind for various types of outdoor activities, she says. Her first-floor closet remains somewhat of a catch-all for papers until she processes them. And she hasn’t finished her basement — which she calls an 1980s man cave.
She treasures the sentimental things she has kept — an original 1936 Vanity Fair ski-jumping cover hanging on her wall, the swirled blue-green bowl she bought with $200 from her first real paycheck, tickets from her cheering on the first women’s ski jumping event at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, and so much more.
She also enjoyed telling Elisa about many of the items she didn’t keep, as part of saying goodbye.
“It’s maybe not something that sparked joy any longer, but it was something I really enjoyed having,” she said. “... [And] it was just fun getting to tell its story before it was released.”
WATCHING ‘TIDYING UP’
Utah KonMari consultants Karla Carter and Elisa Albury give mixed reviews to “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” now streaming on Netflix.
Karla, who watched all six episodes the day they premiered, calls the show eye-opening. Many people who contacted her before it debuted weren’t familiar with the KonMari Method, she says, and wanted her to organize for them, instead of guiding them through the process.
Both consultants note the families shown on Netflix didn’t do their sorting alone, as it may appear. When Kondo wasn’t there, other certified consultants helped them. The method “tends to be more complex than it is portrayed on the show,” Elisa says. “Viewers don’t get to see the full process captured in a single episode.”
Kondo is shown greeting the homes of clients, encouraging them to touch each item before making a decision about keeping it, and suggesting they thank the ones going into the discard pile. The practice is rooted in the Shinto religion, specifically “kami,” or the belief “that the essence of existence or beingness which is found in everything,” according to the BBC.
Elisa and Karla, who’ve both spent time in Japan, say they understand and respect Kondo’s process but do things a bit differently. Karla says she’s never knelt in greeting a home. Instead, she tries to find a harmony with each client or family.
Elisa greets homes in her own way. She also encourages her clients to do a short meditation to clear their minds and get centered before they dive in.
As for thanking items, Elisa notes that every item plays a role — good, bad or otherwise — so it’s important to thank it for its service before passing it on. She believes “it lessens the physical and emotional burden, which makes your heart lighter.”
Wondering where to start? These are the six basic rules of tidying, according to www.konmari.com.
• Commit yourself to tidying up.
• Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
• Finish discarding first.
• Tidy by category, not by location.
• Follow the right order.
• Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
If you’d like support, three KonMari consultants currently serve Utah:
• Karla Carter of Provo: https://www.karlaanncarter.com and https://www.instagram.com/karlaanncarter/?hl=en
• Elisa Albury of Salt Lake City: https://www.instagram.com/sparkjoymission/?hl=en
• Jessica Louie of California, who serves Salt Lake City: https://clarifysimplifyalign.com and https://www.instagram.com/drjessicalouie/?hl=en
For more information about the consultants, KonMari Method, Marie Kondo, and her books and Neflix series, visit www.konmari.com.