Life Made Easy with Tidying Guru Marie Kondo


Japanese culture has, for a long time, had a great reverence for tidiness, orderliness and timeliness. Just take a look at some of its greatest cultural and technological products, whether that’s the hyper efficient bullet train system that runs almost to the second, the spirit of minimalism and less-is-more aesthetic throughout Japanese architecture and design (see: Uniqlo and Muji), or even the fact that in Japanese there exists a word for the very Japanese propensity towards neatness and hygiene - ‘kireizuki’.

Arguably one of the biggest leaders in the world of ‘kireizuki’ is Marie Kondo who has taken the world by storm with her patented KonMari method, based upon reconnecting with your clutter and finding a systematic way of deciding what you do and don’t need by asking if an item ‘sparks joy’, or if, in Japanese, it ‘tokimeku’. Marie Kondo spent five years working as a shrine maiden, or miko, at a Shinto shrine - something that greatly inspired her approach - and since the release of her first book in 2011, has more recently brought out a popular Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, where she helps home-makers reassess how they use their space and reacquaint themselves with the best of their belongings.

As work from home has become a reality for many people in the UK, and large parts of the population are struggling to come to terms with the shift, Marie shares with us a little on the basic principles behind the KonMari method, from her new book ‘Joy at Work’, and how these can be applied to the digital work-from-home lifestyle in order to help keep us happy and healthy during these trying times:


What's the first thing that greets you when you get to the office on Monday morning?

For many, it’s a desk covered in things, things, and more things! Piles of documents, random paper clips, unopened let- ters delivered who-knows-when, unread books, and a laptop plastered with sticky-note reminders. And beneath their desk are often bags of promotional giveaways from customers. I’m sure most people heave a deep sigh at the sight and wonder how they’ll ever get anything done when their desk is such a mess.

Aki, an office worker at a real-estate agency, was one of those who suffered from a messy desk. Even though it wasn’t that big (the top was only about as wide as her arm span, and it had only three drawers), she could never find anything in it.

Before a meeting, she was always frantically searching for her glasses, her pen, or a folder, and she often had to reprint her documents and materials when she failed to unearth them.

Many times she became fed up and resolved to organize her desk, but come evening, she would be too tired and put it off until “tomorrow,” piling all the documents she’d used that day on one side before heading home. Of course, the next day she would end up searching through that pile for the materials she needed before she could even begin tackling her work. By the time she finally got started, she was exhausted. “Sitting  at that messy desk was totally depressing,” she told me. Unfortunately, she had good reason to feel this way. Various studies show that messy conditions cost us far more than we could ever imagine, and in multiple ways. In a survey of one thousand working American adults, 90 percent felt that clutter had a negative impact on their lives. The top reasons they gave were lowered productivity, a negative mindset, reduced motivation, and diminished happiness. 

Clutter also adversely impacts health. According to a study by scientists at UCLA, being surrounded by too many things increases cortisol levels, a primary stress hormone. Chronically high levels of cortisol can make us more susceptible to depression, insomnia, and other mental disorders, as well as such stress-related physical disorders as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

In addition, recent psychology research shows that a messy environment taxes the brain. When surrounded by clutter, our brains are so busy registering all the things around us that we can’t focus on what we should be doing in the moment, such as tackling the work on our desk or communicating with others. We feel distracted, stressed, and anxious, and our decision- making ability is impaired. Clutter, it seems, is a magnet for misery. In fact, the data show that people like me, who get excited by the sight of a messy room and can’t wait to tidy up, are the exception.



The joy sparked by a tidy desktop can be quite addictive. But I must confess that I only started keeping mine tidy recently. One day a fan came over to talk to me while I was working on my laptop at a cafe. I was so mortified by how cluttered my display was that I’ve kept my desktop tidy ever since...

[Now] the only things I keep on my [computer] desktop are a folder marked ‘Storage’ and any other items, such as photos, that I want to use that day.

I consider my computer desktop to be a workspace, just like my desk, so I display only those things that I intend to use right away.

My storage folder is like a filing cabinet. Inside are two folders, one called ‘Documents’ and one called ‘Photos’, as well as a document I need to review soon and photos that I’ll be using within the next few days. The ‘Photos’ folder contains photos I would like to use in near-future projects.

How you categorise your digital folders will depend on what’s easiest for you in your line of work.


Deal with work-related items separately from personal items. For example, if some of your books and documents are work-related while others are not, identify only the work-related items for now and focus on tidying them, leaving personal items for a later date.

The order in which you tidy is important in the KonMari Method. In the home, I generally recommend starting with clothes and progressing through the more advanced categories in the order of books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and sentimental items. I recommend this order because starting with the easiest and working up to the hardest category helps us develop our capacity to choose what to keep or let go and decide where to store everything. For tidying the workspace, just drop the clothes category and proceed through books, papers and komono. Work on one category at a time. Begin by taking out every item in each category or subcategory and piling them in one spot.


Perhaps you’re thinking it would be better to just choose them by looking at the titles while they’re still in your bookcase, but please don’t skip this step. Books that have stayed too long on the shelf have become part of the scenery. Only by taking each one in your hands can you actually see them as separate entities. Ask yourself when did you buy it? How many times have you read it? Do you want to read it again? And whether you would still buy that book if you saw it in a bookstore. Sometimes people ask me how many books they should keep, but there’s no fixed number. If books spark joy for you, then the correct choice is to keep as many as you want with confidence.


The rule of thumb for papers is to discard everything. My clients always look dumbfounded when I say this. Of course, I don’t mean that we should eliminate papers entirely. I’m just trying to get across how much resolve we need in order to choose only those that are absolutely necessary and to discard the rest. Start by sorting your papers [that you’re keeping] into clear categories, such as presentations, project proposals, reports, and invoices. Put each category of papers in a separate folder and store them in a filing cabinet or upright in a filing box placed on a shelf. Storing them this way makes it easy for you to see how many papers you have. Finally, make a pending box, in which to keep only those papers that you need to deal with on that day.


Gather them all together and look at them one by one. You can say goodbye to the business cards of people you’ve already been in touch with through email or social media. Input the info into your contacts folder right away, or record their email addresses in your computer or phone by scanning or taking a photo. If just having some cards inspires or energises you, keep them with confidence.


Divide Komono into Subcategories: office supplies (pens, scissors, staples, tape, etc.) Electrical (digital devices, gadgets, cords, etc.) Job-specific komono (product samples, art materials, supplies, parts, etc.) Begin by gathering all items in the same subcategory in one place and pick them up one by one. With desk supplies (like scissors and staplers) you need only one of each item for your workspace, so select one and say goodbye to the rest. With consumables (things that you keep on hand and use up, like sticky notes, paper clips, notebooks, stationery, and cards) although we may need to keep a few extra in stock, is it really efficient to have a mountain of sticky notes overflowing your drawers or a cache of ten red pens? When tidying up electrical komono, it’s quite common to find broken appliances or gadgets that are now obsolete. Is there any point in keeping such things in your desk? 

For Job-Specific Komono, we all have things that are unique to our professions. It might be paints and canvases for artists or cosmetic samples from manufacturers for beauty-column writers. Depending on the profession, the volume may be overwhelming or the content may seem uninspiring. But precisely because these items are directly connected to our work, they have the most potential to spark joy in our lives once we start tidying and to keep us motivated to the finish.

If you’d like to find out more about how to root out the things that spark joy for you, the above is just a snippet taken from her book, Joy at Work, which is available from all major retailers with digital options also available here.
And for further bitesize insights into the world of at-home working with Marie Kondo, you can also follow her on social media or you can check out her official website and blog here.

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