The life-changing magic of tidying up

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

To survey our garage is to glimpse an Iowa family with too much stuff: 10 bike helmets, seven bikes, one beat-up Burley and an assortment of footballs, flags and cleats.

With the arrival of each additional child, we have amassed more, spurred along by generous friends and two grandmas with a penchant for cute baby clothes. Our possessions come in all shapes and sizes – from the backyard trampoline to the sheet music spilling off the piano to countless bobby pins for competitive cheer – a sport that, I am told, requires practice shoes as well as competition shoes.

My wife and I felt a wave of relief after a recent spring cleaning netted 10 bags of old toys bound for Goodwill and five bags of clothing to consign. We were guided, in part, by wisdom from the 2014 bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” written by professional organizer Marie Kondo. This is a woman who receives standing ovations after demonstrating her clothes-folding technique.

Her central premise is simple: Before you can clean, you must purge. She offers a host of guidelines to help you dispose of stuff. (“If you see a cord and wonder what on earth it’s for,” she writes, “chances are you’ll never use it again.”) She urges readers to overcome nostalgia and to keep family members from seeing the give pile.

Only then can the real work of cleaning begin, which should be conducted by category, not room. The way to eliminate clutter, Kondo asserts, is to ensure that everything has a place.

She promises big results: “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too.”

The tradition of cleaning offers a welcome opportunity to put her principles into practice. But it is all too often limited to the home. I encourage you to apply the same measures to your workplace and experience a surge in productivity.

Just as we offer our clients a roadmap for public speaking, the daunting task of tidying your office can be broken into doable steps. Consider these four categories: organize your desk, your inbox, your calendar and your wardrobe.

Challenge your notion of what you think should be in an office and keep only what you need. Pitch the dying plant, consolidate the family photos and keep only the few things that “spark joy,” as Kondo puts it.

Choose what you want to keep, not what you want to give, she suggests. In other words, prepare to discard the majority of your stuff.

Find a home for those piles of papers. If you haven’t needed a file in the cabinet for over a year, chances are you won’t miss it. You’ll be surprised by how many can go.

Clearing out your inbox reaps huge rewards. Organize and delete. Create folders and subfolders and evaluate whether an email’s subject line can be easily searched or should be edited.

Re-examining your calendar can also bring greater order to the workplace. Is it possible to schedule all your meetings for one day? Are there meetings you may excuse yourself from? How else might you cut down on disruptions? What are your most productive hours to be guarded?

A wardrobe refresh is another sure-fire way to improve your performance, from sparing you time every morning to making a better impression on the job.

Once your workspace is clutter-free, watch the new ideas and initiatives burst forth.

Stay tuned for part two next month, when I’ll outline how to spring clean your spoken communication. There’s plenty of clutter to eliminate there, too.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit