Using the Japanese Art of Decluttering to Organize Your Professional Life

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japenese Art of Decluttering by Marie Kondo


I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japenese Art of Decluttering by Marie Kondo for my book club. And, yes, while it did have me cleaning out my closets, I found that this book helped even more when I applied the basic principles of the Japanese art of decluttering to how I approach my professional life.

Wait! Don’t leave. Hear me out on this.

In the book, Kondo explains how we’re more at peace in our mindset when we keep a tidy home. I get this. I have a hard time getting into the groove when I’m watching dog hair tumbleweeds roll past me as I’m working. In fact, if something catches my eye as being out of place or in need of a dust rag, I won’t be able to get down to business until I get my area in order.

And I’m not even as neurotic about it as the author, who is (in my opinion) a bit of a kook.

Applying the Japanese Art of Decluttering to Work

As I was reading about the art of decluttering it occurred to me I needed this more for getting my career in order than my home. Mind you, I’m not going to get into why you shouldn’t roll socks, and we won’t be lovingly stroking our clothes today. But some of Kondo’s ideas stuck with me and that’s what I’m going to share with you today.

Decluttering helps to give us balance and clarity. If you’re still with me, read on to learn more.

1. Discard anything that doesn’t spark joy

Let’s get this out of the way first, work doesn’t always spark joy. For most of us, work is a necessity, and joy has nothing to do with it. I’ve always felt it was unrealistic for people to recommend leaving jobs or starting a new business without another viable option or Plan B in place. It’s not always realistic to quit a job. I get that.

However, the art of decluttering (as laid out in Kondo’s book) dwells a lot on discarding the things we don’t need in order to bring balance and clear the mind. I don’t think we need to be unrealistic or irresponsible in order to achieve that.

  • Keep a tidy desk
  • Organize files
  • Get email in order
  • Declutter your calendar
  • Put notes and ideas in order
  • Declutter social media

In the Japanese Art of Decluttering, Kondo says to tackle the emotional stuff last because this is what means the most to us. She suggests focusing on the things we wish to keep, rather than that which we’re throwing away. You wouldn’t think “work” stuff can be sentimental, but there are still items that spark emotion or remind us of good times. With this in mind, I cleared my desk and workspace of items that I didn’t feel right about throwing away, but had no use for either. For example, a box of conference badges, and a container filled with other peoples’ business cards.

It’s amazing how a clear workspace unclutters your head and puts you in a positive frame of mind for work.

You can also apply the “does it spark joy” principle to clients and projects. If you’re miserable in what you do, take the time to evaluate your situation and determine if you can afford to declutter your client bases. If it’s not a hardship for you and your family, try and find the clients and projects that make you happiest and most productive.  If it’s not realistic to give up clients and projects, try looking for new clients anyway. Eventually, you’ll find that adding the types of clients and projects that make you happiest in order to get rid of the clients who are sucking away the joy will put you in a better frame of mind.

2. Don’t dwell in the past

Your past is exactly that….your past. While it’s good to learn by mistakes and keep building on your experience, perhaps it’s not very healthy to dwell on woulda, shoulda, couldas, or things you could have done differently for your career and future. Borrow from your past, but don’t keep replaying it.

Related Reading:  8 Free Job Search Apps to Help You Find Work!

3. Tidy up in groups

Kondo suggests tidying your home in groups. For example, one day you might handle shoes, and the next day you can work on shirts. Organizing in groups keeps you focused on one thing at a time.

You can also apply this reasoning to organizing your professional space and career in general. Here are specific items you can focus on for a particular day:

  • Clients and projects
  • Office supplies
  • Paperwork
  • Your calendar and schedule
  • Personal projects
  • Computer bookmarks
  • Social media posts
  • Images
  • Online file storage
  • Email

If you take each area and focus on only that area, it makes the idea of organizing or “tidying up” your career seem less overwhelming. At least it’s working that way for me.

4. Don’t replace unwanted clutter with unwanted clutter.

The key takeaway for me is that I don’t need to fill space that I just cleaned out. The purpose is to get rid of junk and clutter, not bring in more junk and clutter. If you get rid of negative clients or projects you’re not feeling, it makes no sense to replace them with more loathsome projects. If you get rid of office supplies and desk clutter, why replace it with more?

Add items that you need, but don’t add things just because you have space.

5. You’re not going to fix broken stuff

Clean off and recycle the broken laptops, printers, and obsolete cell phones. You’re not going fix them. If they’ve been in your home for years and no one’s using them, no one is going to decide to pick them up one day. They’re junk and the older they get, the less useful they get.

Many office centers take unwanted office items to repurpose or dispose of in an environmentally safe manner. Isn’t that a better solution than having all that junk take up a corner of your office?

6. You don’t have to keep gifts

This is one of the harder things for me. I feel very guilty if I donate or throw away something someone gave me as a gift. Most people know me well enough that when they give a gift it’s right for me and I want to keep it. However, I’ve received some clunkers in the past.

If you don’t want something, there’s no shame in finding a better home for it.

7. Say “thank you” and move on

One of Kondo’s kookier suggestions is to thank your items for their service before discarding them. I can assure you that I’m not thanking files filled with outdated paperwork or dried up pens for their service. What I have done, though, is thanked clients for their faith in me before moving on to bigger and better things. I believe in leaving a work situation on good terms because I never know when a client is going to come back into my life.

There’s no need to thank your broken printer, but it’s always a good idea to leave the people you work with on a positive note.

Will you declutter your Professional Life?

I don’t think I agree with everything outlined in Marie Kondo’s book. Honestly,  I don’t even think she’s right in the head half the time. However, I do think she has som good points outlined in her book and lays out a foundation for getting organized so you can enter your workspace each day and stay focused on what really matters.


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