Spring cleaning started early this year, with the January release of the Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” initiating something of a national closet-clearing frenzy.

Charities have been inundated with donations, and Instagram feeds have overflowed with tidying hash tags like #sparkjoy and #konmari, nods to the Japanese organizer’s method of keeping only items that bring you joy.

Kondo, who leapt into the American consciousness in 2014 with the release of her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” is not alone in her fascination with order. Three new books also grapple with the topic, offering clutter-weary readers various perspectives, and strategies, on managing their stuff.

There’s “Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness,” by Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling book “The Happiness Project.” And “The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals,” by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, a home-organizing duo with 1 million Instagram followers. And also Joshua Becker’s “The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life.”

The books hit shelves at a moment when Americans are collectively looking into their closets and wondering what could go.

When Kondo’s show first aired on Netflix, thredUP, the online consignment shop, reported an 80 percent surge in requests for Clean Out kits, the bags customers fill with everything they want to sell. And Housing Works saw a 15 percent increase in donations to its New York City thrift stores.

Even Kondo seems caught off guard by the response. “I am very surprised by the immensity of the reaction,” she said, speaking through an interpreter over Google Chat. “But in regards to the impact that tidying can have on people’s lives, that’s something that I knew and I believed in from the beginning.”

No longer a mundane household chore, home organizing now falls squarely into the wellness category, another step on the endless road to self-improvement. Clean up your living room and you can clean up your life.

Each of the recently released books espouses the need for a more streamlined approach to life, but with slightly different recommendations on how to get there, and different expectations for how much stuff you need in your home.

Where “The Minimalist Home” champions a life with as few possessions as possible, offering a room-by-room guide on how to get there, “The Home Edit” focuses on categorizing possessions in stylish containers, turning drawers and closets into whimsical storage systems, offering various solutions depending on the size and style of your pantry.

And Rubin, in “Outer Order, Inner Calm,” sees power in organizing specific places, like the coat closet (or the kitchen or the sock drawer). If you know where to put your hat and gloves when you walk in the door, and where to find them when you’re ready to leave, you can focus on bigger life hurdles. “When you feel more in control of yourself, when you feel like you have more self-command, it can help you do harder things,” she said. “Feeling like your coat closet is under control could help you eat more healthfully or exercise better.”

Rubin does not suggest any one way to organize that closet. Instead, she suggested, “Do it in a way that works for you. You may want to do it all in one Saturday.” Or perhaps you’d rather spend 10 minutes a day tidying up for a year.

The goal, she argues--with headings like “Are you a counter-filler or a counter-clearer?”--is to figure out what motivates you and then find a system that works, whatever that may be.

Tidying, it turns out, is big business, with the home-organization industry growing at 4 percent a year, and earning $16 billion in retail sales in 2016, Becker said in “The Minimalist Home.” And it’s no wonder. As baby boomers downsize, they have less room to store stuff, and their grown children have little interest in taking their parents’ bureaus and dining sets.

Millennials, saddled with student debt and stagnating wages, are slow to buy and fill big homes. Technology has made it easier to pare down, allowing us to store and access our music, books and photos on the cloud. Online clothing rental services like Rent the Runway chip away at our closets, too. The average number of items in the American closet dropped to 136 in 2019, down from 164 in 2017, according to thredUP.

In the age of Instagram and Pinterest, a clean closet is one thing, but a color-coded one with matching bins is something to marvel at and sure to generate loads of likes. In come Shearer and Teplin, whose organizing business, The Home Edit, started in 2015, quickly amassed a client list of boldface names including Gwyneth Paltrow, Khloé Kardashian, Mandy Moore, Laura Dern and Mindy Kaling.

“Why can’t we make an organizing aesthetic that makes people drool?” said Shearer, who was raised in celebrity circles in Los Angeles. To start the business, based in Nashville, Tennessee, where Shearer and Teplin live, she tapped her connections. “Selma Blair, Christina Applegate and Marla Sokoloff were some of the very first projects we did because of my close relationship to each of them,” she said. “They really helped us gain traction early on.”

The Home Edit uses labels written in Shearer’s loopy script and affixes them to bins and baskets full of color-coordinated items, turning closets and drawers into photogenic systems. On The Home Edit website, you can buy bins, baskets, jars and custom-made labels.

“Labeling is truly where the form and the function collide,” Shearer said.

But if you turn to “The Minimalist Home,” you may not need to buy any bins because, presumably, you won’t have much stuff left once you’re done.

“If you have to buy stuff to store your stuff, you probably have too much stuff,” said Becker, who also runs Uncluttered, a 12-week online course for aspiring minimalists. The minimalist theory is simple: Own less, and the energy you wasted tending to your possessions could be redirected elsewhere.

“Organizing is only a temporary solution,” Becker said. “Owning less is a permanent solution. Once you get those things out of your house, you never have to organize them again.”

Kondo also subscribes to a philosophy of less is more, albeit one rooted in the idea that some possessions bring happiness and should be cherished. Before you store anything, she advises, “first think about what it is that you want to retain in your life.”

Regardless of the method, the process of decluttering takes work. Here are three homeowners who used different organizing methods to bring order to their homes and are now happily living with less clutter.


In New York, $295 an hour for a two-person team; online service, $425 for a do-it-yourself package

In 2017, Seri Kertzner, the chief party officer for Little Miss Party in a Box, could not figure out how to organize all the confetti, plates, cups and supplies. She had recently moved the company’s office out of her two-bedroom Greenwich Village apartment and into a studio in the same building, but still struggled to keep the closets in order. “It was hard for me to know what inventory I had,” she said.

So she hired The Home Edit, drawn by their stylish look. “I have to say, the handwritten labels on everything hooked me,” said Kertzner, 40, who previously worked in fashion at J. Crew. “I was taken with how they made everything look. It was not just organized; it was style.”

In a one-day job, a two-person team measured the spaces, purged the excess and then went shopping, returning with dozens of containers. Now, with the closets tastefully organized, Kertzner can find and account for her inventory quickly.

She also took the skills back to her apartment, where she lives with her husband and two young sons. She reorganized their toys, color coordinating them, and the kitchen cabinets, ordering labels online from The Home Edit. “Now everyone in my home knows where everything goes,” she said.


In New York, $350 for a three-hour in-house consultation; $3,000 to organize an entire home, about 25 hours of sessions with a consultant

Since Tamika Francois-Lawson was in her 20s, she imagined having a sleek, minimalist home unobstructed by clutter. But that never seemed to happen. The 38-year-old speech pathologist lives in a three-bedroom house in Springfield Gardens, Queens, with her husband, Ernest Lawson, 42, a lawyer, and their 4-year-old daughter. Despite her best efforts, Francois-Lawson kept accumulating stuff, particularly baby gear.

“My goal was minimalism, but it wasn’t happening the way I envisioned it,” she said. “I needed to buy stuff, and I was feeling guilty.”

Then she read Kondo’s books and was drawn to the message that she could keep whatever sparked joy, she said, “even if it was something that didn’t make sense to anyone else.”

In November, she called Patty Morrissey, an organizer in Huntington, New York, trained in Kondo’s KonMari method, beginning a monthslong process with Thu Huynh, who works for Morrissey. For clothing, Huynh encouraged Francois-Lawson to contemplate the image she wanted to project to the world, tossing everything else.

For books, Huynh suggested Francois-Lawson choose five favorites, instructing her to keep only the ones that met that standard. “That was an eye-opener,” Francois-Lawson said. “It helped me home in on what my true passions were. I almost cried when she put together my bookshelf and in front of me I saw everything that I hold so dear.”


$89 for a 12-week Uncluttered online course, with unlimited repeats

For years, Karen Lynch prepared for visitors to her five-bedroom home in Burlingame, California, by grabbing plastic bins, filling them with all the clutter she could find and hiding them in closets, the trunk of her car or a bathtub.

“It’s about appearances; it’s about the mask that I wear,” said Lynch, 52, a life coach who lives with her husband, Paul Lynch, 53, an electrician, and their two teenage sons. “I want everybody to see me as having a neat, clean, organized house.”

But eventually she wanted a permanent solution. She tried the KonMari method, but found that she could always make excuses, claiming almost any item brought her joy. Then, in September, after seeing an ad for Becker’s Uncluttered course, she decided to give minimalism a try.

For three months, she removed six to eight bags of stuff from her house a week. In January, she signed up for the course again, following the weekly challenges, chatting with other students on the private Facebook group and making weekly trips to a local thrift store to drop off items.

She now shops differently, too, no longer thoughtlessly ordering from catalogs or window shopping in boutiques. “Now every purchase is: Can I buy it used? Do I need it? Can I borrow it from somebody?” she said.

But she still sees a long way to go. “I’m a minimalist with training wheels,” she said.

(March 29, 2019)