Doomsday declutter

26 July 2020 - 11:21 By Jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times (26/07/2020)

Joy at Work ***
Marie Kondo 
Pan Macmillan, R360

Marie Kondo blitzed into our untidy homes, making us stroke our objects to see if they sparked any joy. The joy we need to feel in order to keep them alive in our house and not tossed on the reject pile of junk. This all started in 2011 with Kondo's bestseller
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo is a tidying expert, New York Times bestselling author, Emmy-nominated television star and founder of KonMari Media, Inc. She was a bit of an odd kid, and started organising stuff when she was five years old. She knew this was her passion, so she started her own tidying up consultancy business when she was only 19 and a student at the university of Tokyo.

Today she is in our homes thanks to Netflix. Becoming a cultural phenomenon who helps people not only sort out their yucky homes to become places of serenity of inspiration but also to transform them into (hopefully) functioning adults.

Marie has been named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people, and her work has been featured in thousands of magazines and newspapers, on radio and TV shows. Now she has written Joy At Work: Organizing Your Professional Life with the very notable Scott Sonenshein, an organisational psychologist with loads of merits to his name.

Since most of us find ourselves working at home at this disturbing time in our lives, it is interesting to read up on how we can spark that joy in work. How do we stop it from feeling like crap and that we are wading through mud just to get one thing done.

So we asked Kondo and, wonderfully, she took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions:

Why is it necessary to have a tidy workspace, especially now that many of us have to work from home?

Studies show that clutter overwhelms the brain - it compromises our ability to take initiative and decreases productivity. In other words, the more stuff we have around us, the more overloaded our brains become. This makes it harder for us to recognise, experience and savour the things that bring us joy. While we all spend more time at home, it's important that our space supports us. Tidying can help you get in touch with what you really want, show you what you need to change and help you to find more joy in your environment.

How does clutter stifle our creativity?

Physical tidying and making more space for yourself gives you more room in your mind, allowing new ideas and creativity to flow. People thrive in different environments, and tidying up is one of the best ways to know your own criteria for joy. Often it's only after tidying that people realise what kind of environment sparks joy for them. Whether you thrive in a tidied space or a cluttered one, the process will help you discover what kind of workspace makes your creativity bloom.

Why do we accumulate clutter on our desks?

Clutter has nothing to do with what or how much you own - it's the failure to put things back where they belong. In the KonMari Method™, you assign a home to every item you choose to keep; this makes it easy to maintain a calm, uncluttered environment.

What is non-physical clutter and what is the first step to getting rid of it?

Non-physical clutter is everything from digital data to meetings and tasks. It can feel overwhelming, but it can be tidied! My advice for digital documents is to delete those that you don't need to get your job done and that won't provide you with guidance or inspiration in the future. It might feel safer to file everything away, but a complex digital filing system will only require time and energy. Keep folders to a minimum. Create a small set of intuitive, primary folders that house current projects, important records and saved work you'll need to access in the future. When tidying your projects and assignments, eliminate tasks that aren't required for you to keep and excel at your job. Make sure to balance out the "must-do" tasks with those that spark joy and will contribute to a joyful future for your career.

You have written that by tidying her workspace, one of your clients was helped to realise her dream and start her own company. How and why do you think this happens? In a nutshell, what is the psychology behind this?

Tidying allows you to rediscover your true self. When you determine which objects and tasks spark joy and will contribute to a joyful future, you can clearly see what you really want. By the time you've finished tidying, your mindset, behaviours and choices have changed. It's the beginning of a dramatic transformation in your life and your career.

Why is it so important to visualise our ideal work day and work space?

Imagining your ideal lifestyle is a key part of the KonMari MethodT. It helps you clarify why you want to tidy and to articulate the kind of life you want once you have finished. The same is true for your work life and your work space; taking the time to imagine - in explicit detail - the arc of your day and the space that supports you will give you the motivation to tidy thoroughly and completely, in one shot.

A stapler does not spark joy, so what method can we use to discard what we don't need?

Not everything at work can be evaluated on the basis of whether it sparks joy, but we can spark joy in our work lives when we have put all the aspects of it in order, from e-mails and objects to tasks and meetings. We all have tasks and responsibilities at work - and beyond - that aren't joy-sparking but contribute to a joyful life. Similarly, we all have functional items (such as a stapler) that may not spark joy but contribute to experiences that do.

Do you really believe that books we buy have a peak period in our lives?

Books that have stayed too long on the shelf have become part of the scenery; it's important to pull them out individually from time to time and see if they pass the joy test. As you take each book in your hands, ask yourself whether you would buy it if you saw it in a bookstore, or if it has passed its prime in terms of your interest in it. Books that spark joy are those that motivate and energise you when you read and reread them, those that make you happy just to know they're there, those that bring you up-to-date on the latest information, and those that help you perform your work better.

What is your one handy hint for discarding a sentimental item?

Let it go with gratitude. I give sentimental items a proper send-off, using salt (a Japanese purification ritual) and thank them for what they've taught me.

E-mails clog up our space and time. How should we approach it?

For e-mails, I recommend setting aside time at the beginning and end of each day to go through them, rather than checking constantly throughout the day. When it comes to tidying your meetings - virtual or otherwise - prioritise those invitations that are essential to getting your job done and ensuring a successful future. It's okay to politely say no to calls and meetings where you're not strictly needed.