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How to Marie Kondo Your Workplace

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

Before the tidying there is tearing apart. At least, this has been my experience of my second go at the Marie Kondo or “KonMari” method. For the uninitiated, this doll-like Japanese woman has become an international phenomenon with her proprietary “tidying up” magic and method. Now with a Netflix Show inevitably named “Tidying Up,” her reputation as a house whisperer has been cemented. The second time around, as I pulled clothes off their hangers and held them contemplatively within my fingers, I applied the method with faith, trusting that while the disorder that first spills out might be far-reaching, the benefits would be correspondingly deep.

This is the paradox of the method, which insists on a momentary communion with each displaced possession and a visceral evaluation of whether the item “sparks joy” or not – not only can it create a huge mess initially as items of a kind are amassed in one place, as per the instructions, following the approach faithfully can result, on some level, in a disordering of the psyche. The combined experience of facing the sheer volume of one’s physical possessions, confronting one’s value system and reliving the memories that sentimental items evoke can be disruptive.

Within organizations, there is something to take away from the KonMari method –not as a means to bidding adieu to the office clutter (as much as that might be needed!) but to dealing with the teeming psychological underworld, the soil that helps determine organizational health. What would this look like in an organizational setting? Certainly there is clutter of a different kind in organizations – frameworks, initiatives, objectives and strategies that are individually worthy but collectively a staggering load for the groaning backs of employees. Then there is the debris from talents and energies that lack outlet and are left to smolder, from misapprehensions and grievances, and even the many joyous things – victories, and goals met and bonds forged – each struggling for oxygen in a busy organization.

We often neglect this tidying work, in part because it takes up scarce time, and because to do so in the spirit of the KonMari method kicks up dust and debris – the discomfort of the aforementioned disordering process. But the process can be well worth it. Marie Kondo asserts that putting in order one’s physical environment can have a profound effect on one’s life, citing how her clients frequently improve their relationships, better understand their life’s purpose and gain new ideas. I certainly found this to be true as the process gave me the ability to think more clearly, reduced my stress and empowered me to tackle challenges. The bones of the approach – carried forward within organizations – will likely have a similar effect, reducing the sense of overload, renewing energies for the most strategic initiatives and freeing up the mental space for creativity.

The Kon-Marie method recommends tackling objects by category. So, think of an organizational “tidying” session where the team tackles categories such as frameworks/approaches/key relationships/initiatives. It would include space for each individual to consider each item with both the head and the heart – the equivalent of the central “does this spark joy?” inquiry. These individual appraisals would then converge in a collective discussion. In fact, a gut check questioning of the sort often happens in workshops and retreats with the questions such as “What excites you?,” “What concerns you?” To deepen the process and surrender to both the initial disordering and the beauty that follows, a facilitator could ask questions such as, “What will you draw close?,” “What will you let go?”

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