I recently completed a major home improvement project: new kitchen, new deck, new half bathroom and, while I was at it, the entire first floor. My biggest shock was how much the renovation cost, but just as surprising was how much stuff I ended up getting rid of.
The beginning was easy: I had to empty cabinets and move furniture for the renovation to start.
When the project was complete, the real challenge began…deciding what to bring back into my beautiful new home. All my stuff now looked like “stuff”—dated and worn—but I wasn’t sure if I could part with it.
That’s when I realized I needed to channel Marie Kondo and take a hard look at everything I owned.
If you’re not familiar with Marie Kondo, she’s the Japanese organizing consultant and author who wrote the best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Kondo’s method of organizing is known as The KonMari Method™. As Wikipedia describes it, her method “consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that “spark joy” and choosing a place for everything from then on.”
As I spent hours (many, many hours!) applying the Kondo method to purge and organize my things, it occurred to me that communicators could benefit from this approach. After all, employees are constantly giving feedback that there’s too much internal communication—too many messages are sent, content is too long, and channels are too cluttered. Why not create more joy (or at least less pain) by following Kondo’s advice?
Here are 3 ways to do so:
1. Look at an entire category all at once
One of the steps in The KonMari Method is to tidy by category, not location. For example, deal with every single one of your books and magazines at once. Otherwise, the clutter still remains from room to room.
I found this technique very helpful because it changes the questions you ask yourself. Instead of “Do I have room for this?” you ask, “Do I really need five Italian cookbooks?”
How to apply this concept: Put all your content on the “table” and consider how it’s creating clutter for employees. My colleague Alison Davis once facilitated a session at a consumer products company where she printed out all the emails that different HR departments sent to employees over the course of three months. She then posted those emails on the wall. As soon as HR team members entered the room, they could see how many different messages employees were receiving—and how disorganized and disjointed the experience was. That “Aha!” moment led team members to create a more coordinated approach to sending information to employees.
2. Let go of things to make room for what really matters
Another step in Kondo’s method is to imagine your ideal life or in my case, visualize the life I wish to have with a clutter-free space. A free closet or uncluttered walls isn’t deep enough. Dig deeper. What does a life free of clutter mean to you? Kondo asserts that by discarding things, we’re freeing up space for the things we love.
This helped me as I went through my stuff, as did this advice from Kondo: Ask yourself if it sparks joy—How does this possession make you feel? How do you feel at the idea of discarding it forever?
How to apply this concept: Every piece of content does not have the same value as every other piece of content. In fact, if you get employees together in a focus group, and ask them to rank types of information from most important to least important, they’ll be glad to do so—and you may be surprised to see how many items they’ll have thrown into the “discard” pile. That’s why every communicator needs to serve as a curator of content, not just an aggregator. Based on employee preferences (and the organization’s priorities), your role is to decide what to emphasize and what to leave out.
3. Treat your possessions with respect
When an item is stored in a drawer for years and years and you never use it, Kondo’s advice is simple: You don’t really love that item; you’re just attached to it for sentimental reasons or because you “might” use it someday (but someday never comes). For me, it was freeing to move everything to my garage and then examine each thing before it was brought back in the house. I knew the items that returned really belonged there—and those that didn’t needed to be thrown away or donated. (Goodbye beautiful but rarely used meat slicer.)
How to apply this concept: If your intranet is a crowded closet of outdated content pieces that don’t fit your organization anymore, it’s time for a Kondo-style purge. When Davis & Company worked on building a new intranet for a healthcare system, one concern the team had was how content would be migrated from old site to new site. But when we analyzed the old stuff, we found that most of it was outdated—and employees never even looked at the majority of pages. So, we advised our clients not to migrate a single piece of content, just create new content for the new site. The result: every piece of content on the new intranet was fresh and valuable.
In the end, my renovation was worth the time, the mess and every penny—I mean every dollar (lots of dollars). And one of the best parts of the project was the fact that everything now stored in my first floor is useful and organized—and makes me happy every day.