As the first KonMari employee, one could say San Francisco-based Jenny Ning set the standard for using the popular decluttering method to optimize her time at work. The KonMari Method was pioneered by Marie Kondo, Japanese organizing consultant and author of the best-selling guide The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
In a tidy nutshell, KonMari centers on the concept that people will “spark joy” and live a happier life when they organize the items in their surroundings to eliminate stress-inducing clutter and take care of valued possessions. If the item brings you true joy, you keep it (and organize it properly). If it doesn’t? Sayonara, stuff.
Marie Kondo was listed as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2015, and the reason you’ve probably heard of her is thanks to Jenny, who worked (often as a team of one) to bring the zen of decluttering to new audiences in North America and around the world. And while it’s inspiring to see Marie talk about what she was “born to do,” Jenny is real proof that the KonMari Method of joyful living is, indeed, achievable.
Just a few years ago, Jenny lived a common North American lifestyle. She had too many clothes, a soulless job, and an overwhelming discontent despite this abundance. She overcame it all to build and sustain joy in her life and work using the principles of KonMari. In fact, she quit her job, flew to Japan and worked for Marie for free—all because she felt it important help others living a consumer-driven lifestyle to spark joy.
We recently caught up with Jenny to ask her about her productivity methods, how to use KonMari for digital clutter, and how digital workers can spark joy by tidying up their professional lives:
How did you first come to discover Marie Kondo and the KonMari Method? Why did she inspire you so much?
Jenny: Several years ago, I was pretty unhappy with certain aspects of my life. Every day, I'd come home from a job I didn't love and then see all this clutter around me, which made me feel weighed down and stuck. I didn't know what to do, and for me it wasn't as easy as just throwing things away. In hindsight, I didn't know how to think about the process. I now realize that it's really not about the stuff - it just begins with confronting the stuff.
I read a New York Times article introducing Marie, immediately bought a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and finally felt like I had enough guidance and concrete steps to go by. It was a struggle at times, but I let go of about 40% of my clothing and felt surprisingly happier. Eventually, I also let go of my job. Then after a series of really fortuitous events, I ended up working for KonMari.
In the book, Marie says, "I promise you: whatever you let go will come back in exactly the same amount," and that's been absolutely true for me. I believe that the KonMari Method isn't just an organizing method but a philosophy that can transform one's life.
Marie always says to treat tidying like a special event. Why is it important to celebrate something that feels like a chore?
Jenny: You'll see and feel a bigger difference if tidying is done in one fell swoop, and the sense of accomplishment is also greater. Treating it as a special event also sends the message that you won't be doing this again anytime soon. It's like a declaration of change, versus a new hobby that you've picked up and practice routinely.
So KonMari focuses a lot on sparking joy at home, but it also led you to a more fulfilling profession. Why do you think it also works for our work life?
Jenny: Starting with the tangible aspects, the KonMari Method of tidying can be implemented on desks and in offices. It's valuable in shared workspaces as well. An environment that sparks joy can lead to a happier, more creative workforce.
In terms of the actual job, the KonMari Method can help with productivity. It encourages you to identify what's essential and to take action to create an environment that supports your goals.
"KonMari encourages us to identify our ideal lives and to focus on the present. The past is processed, accepted, and appreciated for its lessons, and the future is approached with hope."
- Jenny Ning Tweet this
What about the digital aspect of modern work? Many people often feel overwhelmed by digital clutter, notifications, and the busyness of working online.
Jenny: Digital clutter is a bit easier to ignore than a messy home, but it can definitely benefit from the KonMari Method, too. Once your home is tidy, you might notice that you're more sensitive to digital clutter. The biggest hurdle, in my opinion, is that digital clutter includes more than the files and apps that are saved on our devices.
To me, the time that you spend online and on social media can contribute to "digital clutter" if it's not aligned with how you want to live. Tidying digital clutter may involve lifestyle changes, since it's so common to be glued to our phones.
Start by being more conscious of the volume of digital items in your life, and prioritize those that bring you joy. Feeling overwhelmed at work is natural when you constantly keep dozens of browser tabs open on your computer or have every item possible on your to-do list at all times. Notifications are another area to focus on: Be mindful of how you implement them to avoid overload, and be kind to yourself. What information is truly important for you to do your job most successfully?
What’s next for you and your work? What advice would you have for people looking to declutter their professional life and be more productive?
Jenny: One of my resolutions this year is to help more people complete their tidying journeys. I find it to be so meaningful because, having been there, I can totally relate to my clients, and I love seeing the transformations.
The KonMari Method teaches us to reflect and to identify whether objects, habits, and relationships are bringing us closer or farther away from our ultimate goals. This is helpful in keeping us on track once we've made a resolution or plan to be more successful at work.
Working through KonMari can also help us focus on what’s important—at work or otherwise—in the first place. It encourages us to identify our ideal lives and to focus on the present. The past is processed, accepted, and appreciated for its lessons, and the future is approached with hope. Thinking in this way helps us discover what we truly care about.
Next: The Complete Guide To Boosting Your Personal Productivity