"Sparking Joy" at Work: How I Used the KonMari Method to Organize My Office

the life changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo

The Occasional Organization Post: Using Marie Kondo's Method of Tidying and Organizing at Work

As many of us have learned from reading "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" or from watching Marie Kondo's "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" on Netflix, the magic of her method is in its underlying philosophy and guiding principles: it's about "keeping what you love" and surrounding yourself with items that "spark joy." 

So how on earth could one possibly use the KonMari Method to tidy up their office?! What "sparks joy" in paperwork? How can you "love" your Inbox?

That's a question I set out to answer for myself this summer, when I decided to embark on a project of KonMari-ing my workspace.

My Previous KonMari Tidying Up Experience

A year and a half ago I moved from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. Though they are little states, and Boston and Providence are not far from each other, packing for me was a BIG project. I'm a maximalist. I love eclectic, boho decor. I enjoy my trinkets and treasures. I love my books and my clothes. I have a lot of stuff. And not only do I love my stuff, but I keep it pretty well organized. I may be a sentimental packrat, but I'm an organized one.

To pare down and have less to move, I decided to read "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and use the KonMari method to organize, discard, and ready my belongings to move to my new home. It was the perfect thing to do before moving, because it ensured that everything I was bothering to pack up was something I loved. And it helped me to have a really well organized home, once I set about unpacking and setting things up in Providence.

Okay, But How Do You "KonMari" at Work, If It's All about Sparking Joy and Keeping What You Love?

Good question! And one I frequently heard when I told people I was "KonMari-ing" the office, who know about Marie Kondo's tidying philosophy and how it is guided by the principle of "sparking joy."

So, as Kondo advises, before I set out to reorganize and tidy up my office, I thought about why I wanted to do this. I thought about what my goal was outside of just having a well-organized office. I  was already doing fairly well at keeping a tidy space and keeping things well-organized, as you will see in my before pictures. But I felt there was more I could do to help myself.

After reflection, I was able to set out my guiding principles. My office adaptation for using the KonMari Method at work went as follows:

As I sorted through the office (papers and all the other items) I asked myself...

Does this Spark the Joy of
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Productivity
  • Doing Less and Achieving More (advice from another lifestyle person, Kate Northrup)
  • Promoting a Work/Life Balance
If not then I will discard it. Or, if I can't because of technical issues, I will find a way to rethink my relationship with the item in the framework of how it helps spark the joy of one or more of the items on my list. For more on this concept, see this video, at 26:07, of Marie Kondo speaking at Google.

Paperwork Sparks Joy? How???

So for instance, all the many forms I have to keep track of, issue to others, and process when they come back do not spark joy on their own, per se.

BEFORE: So Many Pieces of Paper; So Little Joy
My Storage Shelves 
However, keeping them in neat order, all together in one place in my storage shelves, does spark the joy of effeciency. This effeciency makes me good at my job, and helps me do it in less time, so I can leave work on time and enjoy more non-work time.

AFTER: Everything out of its packaging,
grouped together, for easy access and tidy shelves

The Order of Decluttering, Adapted for a KonMari Clean Out at the Office 

printable summing up the tidying order for marie Kondo's KonMari method of organizing
KonMari Method Printable from Pinterest, adapted for work
Original printout from "Making Lemonade" blog

I found an excellent printable off Pinterest from "Making Lemonade Blog" that lists the specific order in which Marie Kondo advises people gather, sort, and discard or keep their items. Kondo says to go by category, and not area, that way a person knows how much they have of a given type of thing.

For a home "KonMari" clean out, Kondo recommends leaving sentimental items for last. She advises this because it may be difficult to hone one's "spark joy" skills for items that they have a lot of attachment to. For my part, I thought a good adaptation for a KonMari Office Clean Out would be to leave paperwork to be the last thing to sort and discard or keep, given that in an office context, that is often the category of items that we are most attached to and have the most difficult time deciding what is worth keeping and what we can let go of.

I also adapted the category sorting order to have office supplies be second to last, since, again, it is something a person may be more reticent about sorting and discarding, considering how often the items are used and how important many of them are to every day functions at work.

The same with moving the "technology" based "komono" (As Kondo calls it) to the third to last category, since it is something we are more attached to than the other categories in a workplace setting.

Especially if you work in an academic setting, I would also leave books towards the end, since you probably have a lot of attachment to those. I don't actually have that many books in my office, but there are lots of books around me outside my office space... Ha! So, if you were a teacher doing this for your classroom, or a professor doing this for your college office, I would move books to the second or third to last category to declutter. And a teacher of younger children should leave the "kids" category of toys, etc to the end as well, again because there's more attachment to those items as you use them often (every indoor recess or last half hour of a Friday, say...haha)

The Declutting Categories for a KonMari Method Clean Out, Adapted for the Workplace

This is my recommended adaptation if you embark on a KonMari Method reorganization of your workspace.
  • Clothing
  • Kitchen
  • Decor
  • Cleaning
  • Tools & Maintenance Supplies
  • Health and Beauty Items
  • Sentimental Items
  • Toys & Other Kids' Items
  • Books
  • Tech
  • Office Supplies
  • Paperwork

KonMari Tidying for the Office: Before, During and After Photos

Now you might ask, how did it go, all this Office KonMari Decluttering? Well, of course I have pictures, and I have a video tour of the final project a half a year later, which will be at the bottom of this post.

Without further adieu, my Office Reorganization Using Marie Kondo's Method of Tidying, in pictures.

The Desk Area

office before reorganizing and cleaning
Before KonMari Cleanout
This isn't too bad, but it was a little cluttered. And I didn't like that I had the round table, the rectangle table, and the big filing cabinet cramping up my space.

during an office reorganizing project and a chaotic piles of stuff
Sweet Lord, what have I done to myself?
You gotta make a mess to clean things up, sometimes.

bare office desk and tables during a konmari clean up
Getting better...

a tidy desk area after a KonMari office decluttering
well organized office space after using Marie Kondo's method of tidying up
That's so much better! But still...

pretty decorations in an konmari method tidy office using dollar tree decos and old calendar pages

using old calendar pages to decorate the office on a budget
making a border in the corner of an office wall to create a bulletin board space above a desk

AHHHH! So pretty! And tidy! And opened up, and well decorated. And readied for a nice, neat area to keep postings on the wall instead of all over the place, like before. It's quite an improvement and one that I really have come to appreciate.

I created this border using old calendar pages. I cornered off the area above my desk to use as a large bulletin board; a real life Pinterest Board if you will. And, as you'll see in the video, I keep all my postings for various things like "self-care" reminders, organizing tips, and the necessary work reference materials above my desk.

The Storage Shelves

As you saw above, this was my storage shelving before the Konmari clean out.

storage shelves in an office before a reorganization using the konmari method

Here's what it looked like, during the KonMari process. Each category had its time on the round table...
konmari pile of clothes
Emergency sweater, blazers, and scarves at work. Like on that West Wing episode where we see Margaret is actually pregnant but we never talk about it...anyhoo, I need the scarves in case I spill something on myself (happens a lot! I think it's genetic because it happens to my mom and especially happened to her mom, my nana) and the sweaters for if it gets cold, which also happens a lot. The blazers were for the occasion of any bigwigs coming by, but they didn't fit anymore, so I donated them to the "take a coat/leave a coat" rack in the cafeteria.

konmari pile of kitchen items in the office
I love tea. And an occasional coffee. And I store some snacks and soups in case I am not in the mood for what I brought from home or I forgot, and I don't have time/don't want anything from the cafeteria.

Not pictured, mostly because there wasn't that much, or anything, in the categories: decor, cleaning, tools, health and beauty, sentimental items, toys, books, tech supplies.

sorting through office supplies
Office Supplies
(it's like a Staples exploded on my desk!)
Now here we go with the *work* of KonMari-ing the office. The office supplies, and the paperwork. Here are all the pens, markers, elastics, paperclips, staples, tape and all other goodness that gets the job done. 

Honestly sorting through all this, and then doing as Marie Kondo advises, which is to take things out of their packages and group them together: this was my favorite, and most productive, and--bonus!--aesthetically pleasing part.

office supplies on their way to being konmaried out of the package and grouped together
Office Supplies - out of the package and grouped together

Look how pretty all those supplies are, outside of their containers and grouped together for easy access? I use color coding a lot to help with organizing everything I have to manage. It's a good visual shorthand for what it is I'm looking at when there's a frenzy of paperwork in the office. 

I also went to the dollar store and purchased clear glass jars to keep everything in, which you will see in the video. I absolutely love it! And it's so helpful!

piles of forms in an office as part of a kon mari reorganization process at work

These. Freakin. Forms. I mean, if they didn't need to be filled out and processed by people, then I wouldn't have a job. But the amount of work that goes into making sure every person gets the right form at the right time and that it comes back on time to be processed and then go out the other right people from there. You don't even know. 

the storage shelves in the office on their way to being konmaried
Forms on the shelving unit during the KonMari Office Clean Out
I have to admit, they do not spark joy themselves. But truly, having them all out of their boxes, stacked neatly, kept together in one section of shelving for each type of form and type of envelope I have to use--that definitely sparks the joy of effeciency, effectiveness, and productivity, which means I get things done more quickly, which means I can head home on time at the end of the day. And that sparks A LOT of joy!

The Mother Lode: What Am I Going to Do with All of My Office Papers?!

adapting marie kondo's spark joy philosophy of tidying for the workplace

Marie Kondo is really spartan about saving papers. She has three groups she recommends sorting papers into:

  • Papers to be dealt with now
  • Papers to save that are contractual documents
  • Papers to save for personal reference

And that's it for her categories. In the work place, it's more difficult to keep it just to those three categories. So, while those are the overarching methods in which I sort papers, I used those as my subcategories, and came up with five categories for sorting, then gave a three-letter initial to each, to help me keep track.

I thought about the three main categories of tasks that show up on my To Do lists and made my categories based on those--evals (CEV), budget (LSB), & communication (SAT). I had another category specific to my department (LIB), and another for general info (MBI) about the entire workplace.

Within those 5 categories, the papers that were to be dealt with stayed in my inbox. The others were kept in a separate hanging file for each category, either in a file folder at the front for "contractual" documents, or file folder at the back for "personal reference."

during the mon mari organzation process all the papers are gathered into one pile

As always with the KonMari method, I took every piece of paper I had from my personal work files, where ever it was stored (inbox, filing cabinet, department mailbox), and put it in one pile to sort through. As you can see the pile was fairly high, and there were a lot of file folders. I realized that a lot of things that were in their own file folder, if I wasn't discarding them, could be easily paperclipped together and go into one of the two file folders I'd dedicated to a category. That saved a lot of space! Of course, so did thinking about my adapted KonMari method of sparking a certain kind of joy at and for work with each piece of paper. That is how I was able to discard a lot of things.

In the end I went from almost two filing cabinet drawers and 6 inbox trays of paper to a half a filing cabinet drawer and 3 inbox trays. What helped, in this case, was the fact that many things are online, too.

filing cabinets and inbox trays after a KonMari method cleanout
Where I store my personal paperwork for the office
In this photo, the Inbox trays on the right hold my "to be dealt with now" papers. The "Green Square" I drew on this photo  indicates where all my personal office work files are kept. And that's it! That's all I have after my KonMari Decluttering of paperwork. It's pretty great!

I have to keep A LOT of papers for contractual reasons at work. Taking up less filing cabinet space for my personal work files meant there was a lot more room to store the contractual paperwork as well. This sparked the joy of knowing that everything was exactly in its labeled place, instead of maybe squidged into another spot because I'd run out of room.

A note on the "to be dealt with" paperwork: I try as much as I can to use the OHIO method for those papers. I learned about OHIO from Robert Pozen's "Extreme Productivity" but it's a common acronym, which stands for "Only Handle It Once." Whenever possible, if there's paperwork you can process immediately upon getting it, do so

The Grand Finale: A Tour of My Office, Six Months After My KonMari Office Makeover

Side note/disclaimer, before you watch my videos: I'm not practiced at making videos. Writing and pictures are more my forte for my online presence. I tried to find a way to put all these videos together in one longer one, but all the software costs money, and as I don't plan on making more, I'm not spending on that! Also, the sound level is low, so please put the volume up high and you'll hear me just fine. Please enjoy!


The Desk Area

I did some Digital KonMari-ing as well as the physical stuff, by putting together a simple "portable favorites page" by creating a Google doc. I sit at multiple desks throughout the week at my job, so it's helpful to have a portable favorites page to makesure all my frequently used links are easy to access.

I also did as Kondo suggests for organizing a desk space, by having small containers for everything so that it is easy to keep track of and access the different things I use often while sitting at my desk. And I did so with pretty, simple and cheap colorful containers that spark joy!

One more thing, before we move on from the desk area...tidying your inbox! I konmari-ed my email, and it looks very nice indeed.

The Storage Shelves

Decorating the office on the cheap using new and old calendars from the Dollar Tree...

In conclusion, I highly recommend!

Last Words - Finding Time to Do an Office Reorganization Project

Back in the summer, I read an article from Real Simple magazine "How to Make the Most of a Slow Day at Work" (also titled "How to Turn a Slow Work Day into a Career" in the online version) https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/job-career/career-development

Even though I read it after the fact, I could say I intuited Yolanda Wikiel's advice, in that I got myself in order and rethought my process by doing the KonMari Office Makeover during a lull in the usual hullabaloo at work. It was the start of the summer, when things are really quiet for me. It took about two and a half days to complete, and I did have to set aside to do the daily things, like check and reply to email and whatever other eminent To Do's were on the list, but it was a quieter time of year, as there often is in many workplaces in the summertime, and I used that down time to take on this big project for myself. 

As you can see, I really like the results of my efforts. Look for down times in your work year schedule and try to fit in a reorganization process then. I recommend it to anyone, if you think you can manage it!

See more posts on Vintage Bridge regarding organization at "The Occasional Organization Post" series.