The tidying expert is taking on the impossible, and sharing her tips exclusively with InStyle.
Marie Kondo
Credit: Erin Maala

My desk is disgusting. It’s covered in drifts of paper that have, in some areas, congealed into piles. There are coffee rings next to my laptop. A thin layer of dust covers everything behind my computer.

I know this doesn’t look good. It certainly doesn’t telegraph authority, or style. An editor at InStyle certainly should have a lovelier desk. There should be a framed photo, maybe a vase of fresh flowers, a lamp. Not what is currently mouldering around me as I type this.

If my desk is bad, my laptop is worse. I have three browsers open, each with at least 10 tabs, over a hundred unread work emails, a Slack that basically lights itself on fire if I leave it unattended for more than 20 minutes, and countless spreadsheets and Google Docs in various states of completion.

Marie Kondo has, through her book and her new Netflix show, convinced an entire nation of consumers that they need to own less to spark joy at home. But what about sparking joy at work? What are we to do with our clogged screens and inboxes, and our messy workspaces? And what of the cold conference rooms and harsh fluorescent lighting? Is it even within our control to feel more joy at work?

“With the launch of my new Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, I have many work-related requests. This experience has provided me the opportunity to reflect on how I want to work, how I want to spend time with my family, and how to balance the two,” Kondo says. And she’s putting that knowledge into her next book.

While she’s working on that book, titled Joy at Work, I asked Kondo to please offer advice for improving our work lives. Ahead, she covers everything from how to leave work at work to how to spark joy in an open-plan office. And, yes, what to do about your hot mess of a desk.

Credit: Erin Maala

What made you realize people needed a work-specific version of your book or method?

Readers of my previous books expressed interest in tidying their workspaces, and as the KonMari community has grown, I’ve received a lot of questions about how to achieve a career that sparks joy. So I am writing my upcoming book, Joy at Work, in response to these requests!

Who is this book for and what do you hope people will get out of it?

This book is for those seeking to improve the way they work, and it will feature helpful advice – including fundamentals like how to organize your desk.

Can you share any anecdotes about seemingly helpless office spaces (or work scenarios), and how you tackled them?

I know of a publisher’s office that dedicated a full day for all of the employees to get together and execute a tidying festival! This was very efficient and had great results!

Do you have any solutions specific to an open-plan office?

When there’s not much separation between desks, it is important to keep as few items on top of the desks as possible. Only put the essentials on your desk. For most people, that includes a laptop, keyboard, mousepad, and a few spark joy items such as a framed photo of loved ones or a potted plant. Simplifying the desk and utilizing the drawers as much as possible is very important in an open-plan office.

What about the spaces at work that do not bring you joy, but that you can't control, like super-bright lights or very cold meeting rooms?

All employees should consider what would spark the most joy for them in the office. What does everyone want the office to look like in order to spark joy in their work lives? Alternatively, the CEO or HR manager could learn how the environment in a work space affects the performance of employees.

But if you want to make a change right away, I suggest you start with your own desk and experience what a tidy desk can do for your work life. With the confidence gained from this experience, you can initiate a project to improve the office space and encourage everyone to join in.

VIDEO: What It Costs to Hire a KonMari Consultant

Cords and chargers do not spark joy, but are necessary; what do you do with yours?

I put my cords and chargers in small pouches or little bags that spark joy for me when I’m not using the cords, and these bags have homes in my desk drawers. Compartmentalizing them in the pouches keeps the cords from getting tangled.

How do I tidy my email? What about my Slack channels and alerts? Browser windows and tabs? To-do lists?

Similar to how you tidy your home, you can tidy your digital space. What’s most important is to take the time to tidy completely in one shot and by categories. Take a few hours to go through all of your emails. If you tell yourself you’ll do it when you have free time, you’ll never do it. You must set aside a specific time on your calendar to tackle it.

Is there a better way to focus?

Tidy and clear away your desk so nothing is in your field of vision. Then, diffuse some sort of aroma or essential oil that’s pleasing to your sensibility.

How do I leave work at work, and not worry about it when I am at home?

Try to establish a routine from the time you return home from work through changing into your loungewear, which can include emptying your purse, putting your clothes in the hamper, etc. Try to make this process as streamlined as possible so you can do it automatically, without thinking. Once you get into this habit, it will signal to your body that it’s time to put work away for the day.

Marie Kondo is a tidying expert, bestselling author, star of Netflix’s hit show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and founder of KonMari Media, Inc. In her #1 New York Times bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie took tidying to a whole new level, teaching that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again.