Marie Kondo’s popular book on tidying up resulted in an increase in sales on organizational supplies, even more so when her Netflix series was released. She’s back in the spotlight with her recent release, “Joy at Work”, about decluttering in the workplace.
While anything Kondo does garners attention, decluttering is more than just a popular trend. Recent research in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services found that “problems with clutter have been associated with stress and life dissatisfaction.” While this study looked at clutter in the homes of older adults, clutter can also impact people in the workplace. Decluttering may help employees gain a sense of accomplishment and control..
Tim Reitsma, Operations Strategist of People Managing People, believes "the state of our space has a direct effect on the state of our mind." Because of this belief, his team spends 30 minutes on Wednesday mornings decluttering their work areas. He said “it seems to boost everyone's mood and feels like a win just as the workday is starting.”
“The more efficient the systems, the more effective the workplace,” says Christy Pennison, LPC-S, owner of Be Inspired Counseling & Consulting. “A workplace is built up of people, and with each person, different habits. Helping individuals learn ways to build healthy habits around organization and decluttering creates a more aligned workplace, decreasing the stress disorganization breeds.”
Elina Teboul, Founder of Lightup Lab, doesn’t think people can focus or enter a state of flow in the midst of clutter. She explains, “Clutter reminds your brain of unfinished tasks. In the face of disorganization, we can become distracted and begin to procrastinate. When your space is clear, your mind is likewise clear and able to focus. Being focused and productive leads you to unlock your creativity and mental state and accomplish your tasks, giving you a much needed boost of dopamine.”
Claire Barber, certified mental health expert, agrees there is a connection between clutter and productivity. She referenced previous research which found that clutter increases cortisol levels, while noting that ‘clutter’ can be both physical and digital. Barber said, “When your brain is processing so much excess stimuli, it can significantly impact your productivity. This is why it is beneficial to focus on your workplace layout and desk space. Clearing the clutter in the physical area where you work and in your digital space, such as your email inbox or desktop screen, can improve your productivity and reduce cortisol levels while you work."
Dr Julia E Moore, CEO of the Behavior Elevation Academy, is another expert who encourages her clients to think beyond decluttering the immediate physical space, by asking “What if we could also ‘Marie Kondo’ our calendars?” She explains: “Over time, our calendars get filled up with junk, just like our houses. We add meetings and more meetings. We get invited to new projects and new committees, but we never take out the old stuff. This seems like the kind of problem Marie Kondo would light up about.
“Imagine throwing all of the virtual calendar items on the middle of a desk, just like she makes people pile their clothes on their beds,” said Moore. “Since calendar items aren’t concrete like clothes, people can do this with sticky notes, using different colors for recurring versus one-time meetings.”
From there, Moore then invites clients to review their calendars for the past few months, noting each meeting's purpose, length and frequency. She diverges from the Marie Kondo method because she notes “there are going to be meetings that don’t bring you joy, but that you need to attend." Realizing it’s not practical for employees to stop all meetings, she still encourages them to review what’s essential, where there is room for adjustment, and ones people could stop attending.
Doing these exercises herself has led her to make changes in her own business. She says, “Over time I made our team meetings monthly instead of bi-weekly, I shortened my 1:1 with each of my staff, we restructured working groups so that only relevant people needed to attend all meetings and people with a specific interest or expertise were invited to specific meetings and sent updates in between.”
Whether decluttering is digital or physical, Chris Kaiser, with Click A Tree, summarizes the benefits of it in any capacity. “Decluttering your workplace, same as decluttering your life, helps you focus on what actually matters,” said Kaiser. “Having less clutter on your desk or your to-do list lets you focus on the most important work instead of constantly being occupied with busywork." The bottom line? He says, "Focus on what's important. Get rid of the rest.”