Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - JOBS & WORK - — Marco Buscaglia, Ca­reers

“I can’t stand the clut­ter,” says Jen­nifer Cur­ran, a 24-year-old mar­ket­ing as­sis­tant who lives and works in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. “It re­minds me of col­lege — just stuff stacked ev­ery­where and no real flow.”

Cur­ran says she and her co-work­ers try to keep their workspace clean and or­ga­nized but that it’s dif­fi­cult be­cause of the amount of ma­te­rial they have com­ing in each day. And by ma­te­rial, she means pa­per. “You would think with email and the in­ter­net, there wouldn’t be much pa­per in our of­fice, but it’s the op­po­site,” she says. “Ev­ery­one prints out ev­ery­thing and we still get press kits with these huge fold­ers of in­for­ma­tion. I don’t think we even look at most of the pack­ets we re­ceive in the mail be­cause we also get them online. It’s just re­dun­dant.”

Ear­lier this month, Cur­ran and oth­ers in their of­fice em­barked on a two-day spring-clean­ing en­deavor to help get rid of the “piles of pa­per and boxes of crap” that cov­ered most of the desktops in her work area.

But even with two days of clean­ing, Cur­ran feels like they’re barely scratched the sur­face. “Peo­ple would go through every packet, every piece of pa­per, every print­out, and then keep some and throw out the rest,” she says. “It re­minded me of my dad and his garage at home. It’s like a mu­seum to his life but like my mom says, it’s a mu­seum of garbage. He’ll keep a pair of shoes that he’s never worn but feel like he made some progress when we ask him to clean be­cause he threw out the shoe­box.”

With the con­tin­ued suc­cess of Marie Kondo’s book “The LifeChang­ing Magic of Tidy­ing Up: The Ja­panese Art of De­clut­ter­ing and Or­ga­niz­ing (Ten Speed Press, $16.99) and her Net­flix show “Tidy­ing Up with Marie Kondo,” many po­ten­tial clean­ers use Kondo’s “does it bring you joy” method­ol­ogy when it comes to clean­ing out their home. But what about their desk at work?

“That’s a tougher sell be­cause we try to talk our­selves into things that have sen­ti­men­tal value at home but at work? Not so much,” says Cur­ran.

Ditch and de­tach

Ger­ald Ka­plan, an or­ga­ni­za­tion expert in Toronto, agrees that not ev­ery­one is look­ing for an in­tro­spec­tive ap­proach to clean­ing their of­fice, but that doesn’t mean ob­jects at work — in­clud­ing some­thing as ba­sic as a re­port or pro­posal — don’t have sen­ti­men­tal value to peo­ple. “I’ve been asked to help or­ga­nize of­fices that have years of old files and de­mos, and I’m al­ways amazed at the at­tach­ment peo­ple have to a pro­to­type or an orig­i­nal project,” Ka­plan says. “I un­der­stand that peo­ple are emo­tion­ally at­tached to their work but in some cases, it’s a lit­tle much. They have to learn to throw it out and get it out of their lives.”

Ka­plan cites a re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence with a cater­ing business. “They had an of­fice that was sep­a­rate from their food­prepa­ra­tion space. It was a cor­ner of a shared workspace suite and it was a dis­as­ter,” he says. “I was called in to help them clean up be­cause they were ac­tu­ally go­ing to be kicked out of the space be­cause some of the other business who leased space there thought they were too messy. No one wanted to lease the desks next to theirs.”

An­i­mated ef­fort

Af­ter a quick dis­cus­sion with the three em­ploy­ees, Ka­plan went into “car­toon-mode,” which he calls his ini­tial clean­ing ap­proach. “It’s like the ‘SpongeBob’ cartoons when SpongeBob and Pa­trick are work­ing on some­thing and things are just fly­ing above their heads in con­stant mo­tion,” he says. “I’d grab a pile, ask for a quick yes or no and then throw it into the re­cy­cling bin.”

The process was go­ing rel­a­tively smoothly un­til Ka­plan be­gan at­tack­ing two file cab­i­nets of old pro­pos­als. “Now, not even ac­tual work or­ders — those were all saved elec­tron­i­cally. I’m talk­ing about hard copies of pro­pos­als. And most of those were online, too.”

Ka­plan says the cater­ing staff “loudly ob­jected” to his plan to throw out the old pro­pos­als, claim­ing they of­ten re­ferred to them when putting to­gether new ones. “Of course, that made no sense,” he says. “What’s the point of a pro­posal with pric­ing for 12 cases of wine and 10 pounds of pecorino cheese from 2005? The prices aren’t rel­a­tive any­more.”

Af­ter some tense back-and-forth with his clients, Ka­plan re­al­ized they were all orig­i­nal em­ploy­ees and had what he calls “emo­tional own­er­ship” in the business. “They didn’t want to give up that part of their past — the pro­pos­als, the funny notes they wrote in the mar­gins, the clients that got away — so I made them a deal. I told them they had one day to scan in the pro­pos­als that meant the most to them and then we’d throw away ev­ery­thing.”

Ka­plan says he could have pre­dicted what came next. “They scanned in two or three and were like ‘this is dumb,’ and they just chucked ev­ery­thing out,” he says.

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