IT TAKES A KONDO ATTITUDE TO ESCAPE OFFICE CLUTTER
TIME TO EMBARK ON A CLEANING ENDEAVOR TO GET RID OF THE PILES OF PAPER THAT COVER DESKTOPS IN YOUR WORK AREA?
“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.”
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.