Tidying-up-edited

3 Leadership Lessons from Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

Roger and I started watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix last month. The show follows Marie Kondo, a non-English-speaking Japanese organising consultant, as she sweeps into different American homes every episode and demonstrates the life-changing magic of tidying up. We got inspired and decided to give the KonMari method a try. Just in time for CNY spring cleaning 😉

We decided to tackle our books as the first challenge. Other than our overstuffed bookshelf, we had books lying everywhere: in our bedrooms, in the study, in the living room. This wasn’t the first time we were trying to organise our books. There were previous attempts, but it always ended up looking pretty much the same as we started.

Here is the result using the KonMari method:

Before
After

I now get a DING (spark of joy) every time I look at the bookshelf. Other than a neat bookshelf, the tidying up experiment also turned out a few key lessons on leadership. Here is what I learnt:

CLARITY: Be clear about what you really want

Before we started, I wanted to lay down some principles. My fingers were itching to pull the books out from the shelf, but I thought it was important that we be clear about what we are trying to achieve here and why it matters to us. We ended up talking for 2 hours! Time just flew by. But what we realised is this wasn’t just about the bookshelf. It was about our home, the space we live in. It was about the life we want to lead as a family, and how our home is set up to enable every one of us to do that.

We came up with 2 principles:

  1. Create a space that is meaningful and intentional.
  2. Be happy with what we have.

We may have overcooked the talking. At one point, Roger was getting frustrated, “We’re running out of time! Let’s get on with it!” But it is worth taking time to clear our thinking and make things really simple. Our good friend Manuel Camino once shared with us:

“In order to run fast, you first need to button up slowly”.

VITALITY: Have fun together!

With the newfound clarity, we went at the bookshelf with gusto. We had the music on. It didn’t feel like a chore. It didn’t feel like it is something we had to do. We wanted to do this. We were having fun!

Everyone got their hands dirty, including the kids. We separated the books into piles. Everyone went through their own pile. I didn’t need to nag or supervise. The kids chose to donate their Geronimo Stilton and Captain Underpants series. The still brand spanking new Jeffrey Archer series also went. We bought them for the boys, to encourage them to read more adult books, i.e. books with no pictures, but the boys never “owned” them. They were mummy and daddy’s books. We held the kids accountable for their own books and supported their final decision.

FOCUS: Be ruthless AND grateful.

There is a certain ruthlessness required to follow the principles we set for ourselves. I had to learn to let go of books that I think I will need some day in order to prioritise the books that bring meaning and intention to me today. And this was the most difficult part of the process. If we were thinking “What do we need to throw?”, I think we would have gotten stuck. Having those principles helped us focus on what really matters.

Very few things matter.

I have been holding on to three travel books to Spain for the last 2 years. They contained vibrant pictures of gorgeous sceneries and oh-so-delicious food. We were planning a trip to Spain in 2017, we even booked the flights. But we had to cancel the trip last minute because of work. “It’s okay, we’ll go another time”, I consoled myself. That was two years ago. Today, I’ve changed. Yes, it’ll be nice to go to Spain, but it’s not my priority right now. I thanked the books for the pleasure the pictures brought me. And then I placed them in the give away pile.

Giving thanks made it easier to part with the books. I also felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I realised that many of the books I kept out of guilt. I held onto things way past its use date. Books I bought but never finished reading. Some I never even started on! Roger puts books next to the bed, knowledge transfer by osmosis. “I’ll start reading them”, we’d tell ourselves. But we never do. Instead, we buy even more books and add to the stash!


It’s now been a month. It still brings me joy seeing the bookshelf. It is now so much easier to look for my books. I reference a lot when I’m writing, so this has made my writing easier. I’m also a lot more discerning when it comes to buying books.

I hope you’re inspired to bring some of these leadership lessons into your work. And if you enjoyed this article, please give it a thumbs up. I’ll also love to hear about your experience. If you like reading more about leadership and change, join the Fight Club newsletter. We send a monthly email on leading change. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *