How Marie Kondo’s KonMari method can help you make working at home a joy

If you’re struggling with a new working-from-home routine, you’re not alone. Here, Marisa Bate transforms her work life with the help of Marie Kondo’s Joy at Work, and is amazed at the results.

Whether you’re still adapting to working in your home environment or you’re a work from home veteran, it can be hard to establish a focused space and ditch the daily distractions. In Joy at WorkMarie Kondo and organisational psychologist Scott Sonenshein guide you through the process of tidying up your workspace and organising your professional life. They'll help you find the most joyful way to work so that you can find the confidence, energy and motivation to build the career you want. Here, journalist Marisa Bate puts Joy at Work’s advice into practice and sees her productivity soar.

My problem has always been stuff. Bits and bobs that don’t have a home, covering my kitchen table, my bedside table and, most of all, my workspaces.  A quick inventory of my desk includes a stack of unused notepads, piles of papers and books, hand cream, a mug filled with pens (mostly missing lids and dried up), a screw driver that belonged to my great-grandfather and a tiny rubber chicken a friendly Texan woman gave me in a bar in Detroit. Stuff

And this, according to Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, an organisational psychologist, is my first mistake. In their book Joy at Work: The Life Changing Magic of Organizing Your Working Life, which brings the KonMari phenomen to our jobs, “clutter is a magnet for misery”. Studies show that it creates brain fog, slowing us down, making us less productive. As many face working from home with minimal space and maximum distractions, making our workspaces motivating is more important than ever. Clutter is also an indication of how we see ourselves. A tidier desk is “a higher evaluation of character and capacity. This raises your self-esteem and increases our motivation," writes Sonenshein. The same philosophy can be applied to the way we work too, from how we network and host meetings to decision-making processes. Tidying these aspects, Kondo and Sonenshein suggest, will help us be more focused, energised and confident at work. 

Kondo begins by asking us to visualise our perfect workspace. Instinctively, I know mine would be a wide table with lots of clean space (the opposite of what I have). The perfect space should make your “heart leap”. One look at my desk and it sinks.

I work through the clutter in the recommended order; books, papers, Komono (miscellaneous items) and sentimental items. All books spark joy to me so this was tough, but Kondo poses another useful question: Would you buy it again now? Papers are easy because 95% goes immediately in the recycling (store papers standing up, not flat, Kondo insists). 

I rediscover old notebooks full of ideas that became successful pieces of work. I find cards from friends. I see moments of my life, scribbled across pads, not realising I was keeping a record of how my career was unfolding. I consider keeping these things but I’m convinced otherwise. Be grateful for the purpose it has served, Kondo advises, and let it go. I do, however, keep a picture of artist Lee Krasner, always sparking joy with her trouser suit, shades and cigarette. 

Next: digital space. The same KonMari rules apply: Does it spark joy? What is actually doing for you right now? Could it be useful in the future? Sonenshein suggests categorising your digital life into three areas: documents, email and apps. In what Marie Kondo would presumably describe as a crime scene, I currently have 30,825 emails in my inbox. Deleting them all isn't an option, it would take too long. Instead, I spend 30 minutes unsubscribing. Sonenshein asks: Does your network spark joy? I head to twitter and have a healthy unfollow cull.  

For Sonenshein, the method for tidying our desks (digital and real), applies to life: don’t sweat the small stuff, organise the medium decisions and save mental energy for high stakes ones. I keep this in mind: I try not to agonise over details, each email doesn't have to be word perfect. I organise endless google documents into three folders: what I’m working on now, ongoing, save for reference. As a result, I find myself giving more attention to longer-term projects that normally slip off my to-do list, and I begin to feel more in control. 

I once took pride in my messy desk, assuming it meant I was creative and free-spirited, but Kondo and Sonenshein helped me see that perhaps that was a defence mechanism. My chaos could excuse my shortcomings. Devoting time to tidying where and how you work is a commitment to your ambition and your own self-belief. Now I see it more like having a shower before I start work – a ritual to set me up for a productive day.

The KonMari method felt like an inventory of my working life: What tools do I have? Are they efficient? Did they spark joy? A week later, and I’m spending less time faffing. My heart no longer sinks when I arrive at my desk each morning. I’m cutting out bad habits, spending less time on social media and making the effort to pick up the phone to replace lengthy emails. Soon I realise that in my head, in my working habits and on my desk, I'm starting to let go of some of that stuff.

Joy at Work

by Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein guide you through the process of tidying up your work life and help to refocus your mind on what’s really important at work. With advice on organising your desk, sorting through your emails and ditching the distractions to find what really sparks joy, Joy at Work will help you organize your work life, even if you’re unexpectedly working from home. Once you’ve found order in your work, you can feel empowered to find confidence, energy and motivation to create the career you want and move on from negative working practices.