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by Stephan Maldonado | January 30, 2019

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Tidying Up at Work

When Tidying Up with Marie Kondo hit Netflix on New Year’s Day, it started trending almost immediately. Tidying Up, like Bird Box before it, practically generated its own memes, and it flooded our social media feeds with phrases like “sparking joy” and cheerful (if not occasionally misconstrued) tips for organizing our homes, and by extension, our lives.

For those without Netflix, each episode of Tidying Up finds Marie Kondo (a world-renowned organizing consultant and guru) helping a family transform their living space through techniques made famous in her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The show focuses primarily on tidying up your home, but Kondo’s signature technique—the KonMari Method™—is a sensible, efficient approach that can be used in many ways.

While we’re all still inspired to get organized—and before we’ve started breaking our New Year’s resolutions—let’s take a look at how we can apply Marie Kondo’s philosophy to our offices, cubicles, and other workspaces.

The KonMari Method™ at a Glance

One of Marie Kondo’s central teachings is that if you properly organize your living space once, you’ll never have to do it again. While most people typically think about organizing room-by-room, the KonMari Method™ teaches you to organize your space by category. Clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and sentimental items are the categories the KonMari Method™ targets.

Instead of simply cleaning a room that can easily become messy again, Kondo encourages you to truly take stock of your belongings so you can find ways to declutter and organize what you have. She teaches you to only keep things that “spark joy”, and to eliminate items that no longer speak to you. According to the KonMari™ website, there are six basic rules for tidying up:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up.
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
  3. Finish discarding first.
  4. Tidy by category, not by location.
  5. Follow the right order.
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

Tidying Up at Work

The KonMari Method™ is a lifestyle that promotes a certain mindfulness and introspection that applies to virtually every aspect of your life. The office is likely a place where you spend a significant amount of your time, so if you’re serious about tidying up, decluttering your workspace is as important as organizing your home.

“When your office space is organized, it will result in increased efficiency because your use of time becomes much more productive,” Kondo explains to CNBC in a 2017 interview. “You’ll be much more comfortable in your office space, and that contributes to your overall performance and your creativity.”

Whether you sit in a cubicle or have your own office, here’s how you can use each of the six KonMari Method™ rules to simplify and organize your workspace.

Commit yourself to tidying up.

Kondo says that if you use her method, you won’t have to tidy up regularly. Nonetheless, staying organized requires commitment. You must take the time to thoroughly assess your space and be honest with yourself about what you truly can’t live without. Sometimes, these are tough decisions. When tidying up at work, ask yourself, "What am I holding onto at my desk that I don’t absolutely need to do my job or feel comfortable here?" "What isn’t contributing to my productivity?"

Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

The lifestyle you’ve made for yourself at home should naturally follow you into the office. In what kind of environment do you thrive? Are you at peace in your home, and how can your workspace mirror that? Once you’ve imagined your ideal space in your mind, then you can move forward with creating that space at work.

Finish discarding first.

The KonMari Method™ emphasizes discarding items you no longer need instead of storing them. When organizing your workspace, immediately discard anything you're deciding not to keep. Papers, outdated periodicals, old notes—these are some of the most common things that clutter an office.

Remember that most of your files are probably stored digitally, and if they aren’t, you scan them. If you still use paper to take notes during meetings, consider typing them up after the meeting, or (if your office etiquette permits) bringing a laptop or table to the meeting to take notes. Shred all your sensitive documents and recycle the rest. Only when you’ve gotten rid of everything that cannot be accessed digitally can you store whatever’s left—neatly and clearly labeled.

Tidy by category, not location.

If you sit at a cubicle, you’re probably not thinking about tidying your workspace by location, but it’s still immensely helpful to organize by category. Kondo’s philosophy is that if you gather every item of the same category into one place, you see exactly how much you have—and, therefore, how much you need to discard.

Follow the right order.

The KonMari Method™ categorizes belongings as clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and sentimental items—and encourages you to organize in that order. The idea is to work through things you accumulate in bulk to refine your tidying skills before finishing with sentimental items that might distract you, or that you might find difficult to throw away.

Organizing clothes probably doesn’t apply to many of us at work, but books certainly do. Many people, especially those in industries like law or publishing, accumulate numerous professional books in their offices. You should keep only the books you reference on a regular basis, or those which—you guessed it—spark joy.

It’s tempting to hold onto periodicals or trade publications, but again, most of these are available online, and if they’re terribly outdated, then they’re just occupying space. Nobody’s going to ask you to look something up from the 2009 World Almanac, so it's probably safe to donate that one. If the books don't belong to you, see who you can speak to about storing them elsewhere.

Paper comes next, followed by miscellaneous items: this means the swag that one vendor brought in, your badge from last year’s big conference, and that tacky shot glass from your coworker’s trip to Reno three years ago. When it comes to sentimental items, a lot of us keep family pictures and trinkets at our desks. You should keep the ones that mean the most to you, and if you’re not ready to discard any, consider taking the rest home.

Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

The “joy” you experience at work isn’t necessarily going to be the same kind of joy you feel at home. When it comes to finding what sparks joy in the office, Kondo encourages you to think differently about the value you place on the objects around you and the role they play in your life.

“Ask yourself, ‘Does this contribute to me feeling more positive and also does it contribute to my efficiency?’” Kondo says to CNBC. “By organizing, you hone your sensitivity to joy and you also clarify your sense of value. You can use that knowledge and ability to better enhance decision making skills to your own career, and really you’ll be able to better answer questions such as, ‘What am I looking for in my career and what makes me comfortable?’”

In this regard, Kondo views her method as a way to better assess your priorities at work and in your career, and discover ways to make your environment more conducive to achieving those goals.


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