On Netflix’s new show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” people purge mountains of their possessions and get their lives organized under the guidance of tidying expert Marie Kondo. The show is based on her book,The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which sold millions of copies and made her “KonMari” method into a verb.
Watching the show may inspire you to tackle the clutter outside your home, too. Once you are trained to notice disorganization, you start to see that mess is everywhere.
Consider the messiness in jobs: Colleagues can be sloppy, desks can get cluttered, unread emails can pile up, and disorganized management can tell you one thing and then mean another.
Even if your job does not spark joy, there are ways to apply Kondo’s methods to your career to make each day a little easier to bear.
1. Before you can do, you must visualize
Each episode of the show starts with Kondo asking her messy clients why they want to get tidy now.
Before you clear out your desk and delete your inbox, consider why you want to get organized. Do you feel like you spend more time writing emails than actually doing your job? Does looking at your to-do list stress you out? Your intentions will help you commit to actually sticking to your word.
“How do you want to feel when you walk into the office?” is a question to ask yourself, said Jenny Ning, a professional home organizer and Kondo’s first U.S.-based employee.
2. Streamline your stuff
Kondo recommends storing similar items together. To figure out what should stay, commit to intentionally discarding all paper that doesn’t have a clear purpose, suggested Kristyn Ivey, a certified KonMari consultant. She recommends three categories.
“Store paper that needs action, paper you will need for a limited period of time and paper you need to keep indefinitely,” Ivey said. “Try to organize your archives in simple, high-level categories. For example, ‘Active Projects,’ ‘Administrative’ or ‘Reference Materials.’”
This applies to digital “paper,” too. Your tidy desk does not mean your work is done if your emails are a hot mess.
3. Pay attention to your feelings about jobs
Above all, the KonMari method teaches you to notice and be honest about how you are feeling about your environment. These are emotions that may not be encouraged in an unfeeling office but are necessary to be aware of if you want to find and keep a fulfilling career.
The things that do and do not spark joy can be clues for career development, said Tricia Fidler, a certified KonMari consultant. “‘Why don’t I like this particular assignment?’ Keep asking why. These questions can lead you to areas that do spark joy,” she said.
Ning took the lessons in Kondo’s book to heart and quit her finance job to commit to her ideal vision of her life. The method taught her to confront feelings about her career head-on. “Honestly, I felt like a robot. I’m much more in tune with my feelings [now],” she said.
She advises people in joyless jobs to recognize and respond to their own emotions.
“The point is not to feel guilty about the potentially ‘wasted years,’” she said. Instead, employees can reframe that self-blame into a more positive answer: “Now I have the motivation to look for what is actually interesting.”
4. Focus on your needs first
In the first episode of the show, client Rachel comments on her husband’s beloved old shirt with, “When’s the last time you wore it?” Kondo gently reminds her to focus only on her own pile of clothing.
That’s a prioritization lesson you can apply to your own career. “One thing that is very fundamental in our method is taking care of yourself first,” Fidler said. “Many work cultures are finger-pointing. ‘It’s their fault.’ ‘It’s my boss’ fault.’ ‘I have to share a cubicle with someone I don’t want to get along with.’ Similar things happen in the home all the time.”
Fidler advises employees to focus less on the mess of their co-workers and companies, and more on actions they can actually take to feel in control of their careers. You may not be able to change your boss, but you can make adjustments to get the career you actually want.
5. Be grateful for the lessons
Inevitably, careers are filled with meetings, colleagues and jobs that do not spark joy but you still must endure. On the show, Kondo said the goal of tidying is to learn to “cherish everything that you have.” Throughout the season, she asks people to thank items they are letting go in an exercise of appreciation.
Training yourself to recognize what you have each day instead of obsessing over what you do not have can apply to jobs, too. “Even if it wasn’t a happy thing, you did have an experience with it. It might have helped you learn something about yourself, which is not always easy,” Fidler said.
Be grateful for the lessons in the tedious job under the bad manager, and that acceptance may then help you let go of your debilitating guilt, anger and regrets around those harder lessons.
6. Harness the power of stuff
The KonMari method is not about throwing away everything you own but about being aware of what you most want to keep.
In this way, your most sentimental items that survive a KonMari purge can be a source of strength for you to see when work gets hard. In her book, Kondo says a space that feels good and comfortable to be in can be a “power spot.”
Make your desk a personal power spot with cherished items. It could be a picture drawn by your kids, a trinket from a loved one or a certificate that makes you feel proud and accomplished, Fidler said. These personal power spot items can serve as a reminder that this is your world and “you have the power to make it what you want it to be,” she said.