• Charlotte Southon

The Decluttering & Organisation Process

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

Right now, Marie Kondo and her KonMari method are a source of huge debate. From the surprise fact that her first book: The life-changing magic of tidying up, has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide, earning her many adoring fans and followers, then the inevitable backlash and now even the backlash against the backlash.

Marie Kondo has brought the practice of tidying and organising to the fore. Watching her series on Netflix really brought home to me how, for those clients, the decluttering and tidying process was always a reflection of something so much deeper going in their lives, and each story was totally different. For them and for many other clients, her method has worked wonders – full kudos to her. Her method is just one of many different possible approaches and it may not be right for everyone. In certain situations for sure I would recommend a similar approach – if there is a whole house that is in need of help then taking it by category of item, rather than room by room, may be the best way. BUT, and there is a but, it is not the best approach for everyone in every situation.

Is this okay? Absolutely!

I have read lots of really interesting reflections on the underlying ethos of the KonMari method, including the Eastern spirituality of animism inherent in her approach – imbuing material objects with attributes of living things. But having worked in numerous locations around the world for families of different nationalities, something that really speaks to me is the work of Professor Geert Hofstede, who has studied how values are influenced by culture. Whilst he and his team have focussed on values in the workplace, I believe many of his findings apply more widely than this. In particular, one of the six different dimensions of national culture that he has identified, the “Uncertainty Avoidance Index” seems to me likely to be one of the main factors contributing to the KonMari backlash. Essentially, this index measures the extent to which people feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. A low score on the index reflects a society whose members have a relatively flexible and laissez-faire attitude towards change and the future, whereas a higher score on the index is the mark of a society whose approach is more structured and orthodox. Using a comparison tool available on Hofstede’s website, I compared Japan and the UK. Unsurprisingly, Japan has one of the highest uncertainty avoidance scores out of all countries (92), and the UK has one of the lowest (35). Japan can be said to be highly organised, structured and ritualised, whereas the British tend to be more adaptable and flexible. Effectively within the UK we will adapt to suit our needs more readily without fear of judgement and when being ‘told’ we can only have thirty books, bookworms will become vocal about it!

A Ted Radio Hour Excerpt Illustrates this cultural difference brilliantly:

Episode: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

Start listening at minute 20.

For the benefit of those unable to listen to the talk immediately here is the recollection by Sheena Lyengar, a professor at Colombia Business School who specialises in Choices, who early on in her career had the following experience in Japan:

Sheena is American and when visiting Japan asked for green tea with sugar. The waiter told her that you don’t drink green tea with sugar. Sheena again requested that she have a green tea with sugar and the waiter again responded that “one does not drink green tea with sugar“. The waiter then went to his manager and explained, the manager went to Sheena and explained that they had no sugar. Resigned to not having a green tea Sheena then opted for a coffee, which arrived with a couple of packets of sugar on the side.

Why is my approach different?

Looking at the differences between cultures is a bit of fun, but the underlying point is important, which is that I have learned that there is no single approach or method that is right for everyone all of the time. Rather, having worked for numerous families, across several yachts and homes with international staff, I understand two things. First that the approach must be tailored to a client’s personality and circumstances. Second, that the entire team supporting that person or family have also got to be on-board and working towards that goal together. Each job role is built up of many individual tasks, which can be carried out in different ways, but ultimately a yacht or home runs more smoothly if tasks are carried out in a way that meshes seamlessly with those being carried out by other members of the team.

Prior to starting the decluttering or tidying process, I will meet you at your home or your storage facility for an initial session in which we will:

Assess which area is causing the most frustration. Are the children’ s toys taking on lives of their own and invading every room and surface? Perhaps it is the kitchen with pan lids rolling out of the cupboard each time it is opened? We will start by identifying your biggest frustration and you goal and work through all other areas from here.

Discuss any areas that are no go zones.There’s not a lot I haven’t tackled, but I understand that some things are personal and if there is a drawer, cupboard, box or case that you don’t want me to go into, then please flag it up.

Discuss the approach you would like to take and if there are any members of your team that you would like to be involved.The current favored method is tackling the entire property, properties or storage in one hit, however this isn’t necessarily practicable for example families when time frames are limited to between school runs or other commitments. Again, every family is different, so we can look at tackling in one go, or approaching by undertaking three to four hours per day on consecutive days or even by undertaking four hours each week. Some families can or need to adapt rapidly, others will want to learn the process in one area and then have it rolled out across the house at a gradual pace. Going forward, if you have any members of staff, such as a housekeeper or personal assistant, it may be beneficial to include them in the initial plan and / or to revisit job descriptions and processes to ensure that once completed, the new approach is maintained.

Calculate a rough time frame for the decluttering and organising work to be undertaken.

Finally, having decided upon the approach that is to adopted, discuss whether there are any life hacks that could be beneficial or if additional storage solutionsare necessary.




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