How Throwing Out Marie Kondo Helped Me Declutter My Life

Part of self-care involves caring for your own environment and keeping a neat desk or workspace. I’ll be the first to tell you that this deceptively simple practice is one of the hardest to commit to! I seem to be forever cleaning and straightening up my home and office, but no matter how hard I try, my office is always a mess. I usually have multiple projects going at once, and there are stacks of papers and files on my desk, computer table, the top of my bookcase, and, at times, even on the floor. My excuse is that I’m too busy to clean up the clutter. I claim to know where everything is, but I’m often at a loss to find things. (The title of the new car I bought over a year ago—I know it’s here somewhere!) A disorganized space can lead to feeling anxious and unprepared, not beneficial to a productive workday, much less effective leadership.

Periodically I get the urge to clean and organize my office. If I can’t find anything in my office, how can I be productive at work, much less function as an effective leader? However, I typically quit about halfway into the process, as the task is simply too daunting. Once I even hired a professional organizer. We worked together for about eight hours, and voila—everything was clean and organized at last!. That lasted for about a week, and then the piles began creeping up again. Ugh. Sound familiar?

In a more recent attempt to banish clutter forever, I read Marie Kondo’s blockbuster best-sellers, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. Kondo recommends asking yourself whether an item “sparks joy” before deciding to keep it; if not, thank it for its service and toss it. So I asked myself if each pencil and piece of paper on my desk sparked joy—but when the answer was no, I was still afraid to toss them for fear that I might need them at a later time. I didn’t realistically expect to have a joyful relationship with each item on my desk! However, being a Kondo fan, I kept on believing her method would lead to a better way. I ultimately took a slightly different approach and made priorities by asking what was really important to me in the moment: cleaning clutter or pursuing a project; cleaning clutter or meeting a friend, cleaning clutter or going to a movie. In addition, I began to treat the things in my office with more respect and became more inclined to find a “home” for each item I did not purge. So although I have not found a tidiness nirvana, the Kondo method is supporting me in slowly creating better office order.

Bottom line: know yourself. It’s great to be inspired or take advice from others, but real change is a matter of individual preferences and readiness. And it’s about a continuous commitment. I’m realistic—no eight-hour organizing session is going to suddenly change my ingrained habit—but I recognize there’s always a way to improve.

It’s all about the power of making conscious change through habits. My “solution” of hiring a personal organizer may have worked temporarily, but because it wasn’t my own system, it didn’t work long term. I wasn’t really engaged in the process, so I had no ownership over it. Thus, even though she showed me exactly what to do, the personal organizer couldn’t prevent the piles from creeping up again once we parted ways. Similarly, even the motivating work of Marie Kondo did not get me to quickly change my habits. While I initially beat myself up for not being able to master the Kon-Mari method, which I assumed was the “right way,” I realized that the “right way” is whatever works for me, not what works for Marie Kondo.

A revelation, to say the least!

So I admit I haven’t been able to keep my office as neat as I would like, but I’ve finally figured out a way to organize things as best I can. And I continue this work, determined. I’ve internalized the need to maintain self-discipline, and I let go of the need to control every messy pile because it’s a system I’ve chosen myself, and it works for me.