Starting one’s own business is both nerve-rackingly risky and endlessly rewarding — and it is the epitome of choosing to honor your intuition, values, and ideal lifestyle.
Still, even if you’ve dreamed of starting a business for years, it’s often daunting to sort out where to start. There are many question marks: the timing, goals, emergency savings, hiring an accountant, and landing that first client. The best advice on all those topics comes from those who have come before you.
Today, we’re speaking with two people who started their businesses in very different ways — and found joy-sparking, fulfilling success. Keith Bartolomei and Helen Youn are both graduates of the KonMari Consultant program, and they’ve carved a unique niche for themselves in the world of home organizing. They are also instructors in the KonMari Consultant program’s next virtual course. (For more info, sign up for our Consultant program newsletter).
If 2024 is the year you hope to start your own business, this advice is for you.
Did you always know you wanted to own your own business?
Keith: No, but I vividly recall the day I decided to become my own boss. I lost a job I had worked for years when my employer moved. I was completely blindsided, but it was a blessing in disguise. That pivotal moment prompted me to redefine my lifestyle to enhance my freedom and security, ultimately guiding me toward establishing the successful, joy-sparking business I own and operate today.
Helen: Starting my own business — it’s something that I’d always wanted to do, I think, but I’d never had the courage. Believe it or not, the KonMari Method helped me move past that fear. [Reading Marie Kondo’s book] helped me see everything that wasn’t bringing me joy. When I saw how much my job wasn’t bringing me joy, it wasn’t a question of fear anymore. I knew that I could do anything else and be happier. Honing in on what brought me joy was essential to that journey.
“You can’t wait for perfection. It’s a never-ending chase. My journey started with a willingness to begin, even when everything wasn’t perfectly laid out. That's the magic of progress — it happens when you start, not when everything is flawless.”
Tell us a little about what made you want to embark on a career as a professional home organizer.
Keith: Before stepping into the world of professional organizing, I worked as a personal assistant for clients across the Bay Area. One summer, several of my clients enlisted the help of various professional organizers for their moves, and I found myself working alongside them. That was my first introduction to professional organizing, and I immediately fell in love with helping others design spaces to suit their unique needs. I decided right then and there that I was going to do this, too.
Helen: I actually wasn’t thinking that this would necessarily be a career change for me. I did my first [KonMari Method] tidying festival in 2014, and after I did that, I started to see how different areas in my life were not in alignment with my values. One of those was work. I’d gone through this pivotal decluttering process and gotten into living a more sustainable lifestyle — minimalism, zero waste, etc. — but my job at the time involved buying items that people would give away at marketing events. It didn’t feel like that was in alignment with my life anymore. When I saw that Marie was doing a course, I signed up mainly because I wanted to meet her. I wanted to tell her she’d changed my life. But the first time I worked with a practice client, it felt so right. I remember thinking, “This is work, and I’m so tired, but I would do it all again tomorrow.” I knew I needed to give it a try.
Keith, you worked as a professional organizer before joining the KonMari Consultant Program. What made you decide to become certified?
Keith: In 2015, I stumbled upon “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and it was nothing short of a revelation. The simplicity, practicality, and thoroughness of the KonMari Method became a huge source of inspiration that resonated deeply with my approach as an organizer. After [using it] to transform my living space, I felt compelled to guide others through this liberating process. Becoming a KonMari Consultant wasn’t just about certification; it was my commitment to infuse authenticity and credibility into the support I provide.
How did you prepare to start your own business?
Keith: Attitude is everything. The preparation for starting my own business certainly went beyond the technical aspects; it was a holistic journey of self-discovery, education, networking, and, most importantly, embracing a resilient and solution-oriented mentality. Often our greatest obstacle is ourselves, so I made a promise to stay out of my own way. That mindset opened the doors of possibility, and I’ve been exploring ever since.
Helen: Honestly, I didn’t really prepare — I kind of jumped in. It was kind of the same thing as jumping into a tidying festival because it’s something where you don’t know the outcome. You have to trust. When I started my first tidying festival, I had this thought, “I don’t know if Marie Kondo is right, but I know I want a change. And if I’m going to do this, I have to give it full effort.” Starting a business was the same for me. One reason I wanted to quit [my full-time job] was to be around more for my young son. I didn’t want to miss those years. I knew I had to try — fully — for him.
How did you land your first client?
Keith: From the day I committed to becoming an organizer, I embraced the title, even though I didn’t have clients. To make my dream feel more real, I went out into the world, sharing my new passion with anyone willing to listen—friends, strangers, anyone. My approach was raw and unrefined, but I eventually caught someone’s attention. The key takeaway here is that I didn’t wait around until everything was perfect before starting. You can’t wait for perfection. It’s a never-ending chase. My journey started with a willingness to begin, even when everything wasn’t perfectly laid out. That’s the magic of progress — it happens when you start, not when everything is flawless.
Helen: I started with practice clients — friends and family — and I posted those projects on Instagram mainly to document my journey of becoming a [KonMari] Consultant. That’s how I got my first paying client — they contacted me through my profile and asked me to work with them. These days, a lot of it is word of mouth — clients referring new clients. Many of my clients are also long-term clients because their tidying needs change as they go through life changes. They move houses, have kids, get married, and sometimes, they divorce and remarry. That’s something that’s surprised me most about the work. People bring me back into their lives.
What was your biggest lesson in the first year of running your business?
Keith: You’re going to face challenges. Lots of them. It’s essential to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. You can do this by staying focused on what you can control and then taking initiative when possible. And remember: no one is coming to save you. Once I acknowledged this and started taking responsibility, I achieved my goals much more quickly.
Helen: Be open to every opportunity in that first year. I said yes to everything, which brought me so many different opportunities. For example, I never considered myself to be a good public speaker, but in that first year, I had different people approach me about doing speaking engagements. I was scared, but I said yes. I still do public speaking engagements as part of my income. Also, spend time meeting different people — even if it’s just for coffee because they’re curious about what you do. Sometimes, people turn into clients; sometimes, they turn into friends. You just don’t know what’s going to come your way.
“Be open to every opportunity in that first year. I said yes to everything, which brought me so many different opportunities. You just don't know what's going to come your way. ”
Beyond using the KonMari Method when helping clients get organized, how would you say the KonMari philosophy has affected the way you work?
Keith: Honoring what sparks joy works well for more than just things. If ever I find myself struggling to make a business-related decision, I will simply ask myself if it sparks joy, or if at the very least, it is something that will lead to joy. This practice has helped me cultivate a business that stays relevant to my changing needs and preferences. Going to work is much easier when you love what you do.
Helen: It’s how I make decisions, how I set boundaries, how I know when to say yes and when to say no. In so many ways, the Method is about reconnecting with your intuition. When I’m unsure what to do next, I do a joy check, which helps me get to that next step.
What are some of your business goals for 2024?
Helen: This year, there are so many possibilities; putting one in print would almost make it feel too permanent. Generally, I’m thinking about how to share my unique perspective in new ways — how can I tell my story in a way that connects with people? I guess I’d say that 2024 is a year of exploration and new opportunities.
Keith: I have one very important goal that I’m working on this year: take more vacations.