How Marie Kondo Can Tidy Up Your Res Life Practices

Chances are you’ve heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant who has taken the world by storm with her book and Netflix show. The “KonMari” method of tidying up is famous for its emphasis on a sort of respect for your possessions, combined with an acknowledgement that many of your things no longer bring you practical purpose or happiness. With the KonMari method, you only keep and organize the items that are necessary or that “spark joy” for you. Thanks to Kondo, cleaning has been elevated to a completely new level of intentionality and excitement.The KonMari method is focused on physical clutter, but cleaning and reevaluation isn’t limited to your house or desk space. “Tidying” can also be applied to concepts or structures, both in our personal and professional lives. It’s an opportunity to streamline, to think about what you can improve, organize, or discard.

While marathoning Kondo’s Netflix show, I started to think about the implications of her tidying philosophy for work environments, especially Student Affairs, and how the KonMari method could be adapted for residence life in particular. Armed with Kondo’s guidelines and my past experiences working in housing, I set out to connect the dots, and was delighted to find that her strategy maps onto residence life remarkably well. And what department doesn’t benefit from a little spring cleaning? Here are the six basic rules of tidying and their application to residence life.

RULE 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.

Set aside time specifically for “tidying,” or evaluating and organizing what you’re doing. Make a conscious decision to dedicate energy to streamlining your processes, and stick to it. In our field, this is never easy: demands on your time are incessant, and miniature crises tend to crop up across campus just as you start working on a project. Try to adapt around the interruptions instead of letting them derail you. Stay determined, and come back to what you were working on when you can.

Also consider what the scope of your evaluation should be. Residence life is a complex and multifaceted department, so the easiest path is to focus on one process at a time, just as you’d focus on one house or apartment at a time when KonMari-ing physical items. Perhaps you want to focus on improving your duty structure, staff/resident communication initiatives, or program tracking. Choose your project, and commit yourself to it.

RULE 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

What are your goals and vision for this particular project? What are you trying to accomplish? First, decide on a broad mission: whether your overarching aim is increasing resident engagement, improving staff efficiency, assessing student learning, building community, supporting student success, or something else entirely, your mission should direct your efforts and determine what’s most important. That will allow you to decide on more specific desired outcomes, e.g. obtaining more survey responses from residents or reducing staff time spent creating duty schedules. Think about the ideal setup for the operation you’re working on, envision what you’d like it to look like once you’re finished, and start outlining what you’ll need to get there.

This is also the time to collect feedback from everyone involved in your particular process, whether that’s Hall Directors, RAs, or students. RAs, for example, are bound to give useful thoughts on how duty scheduling is conducted or how their residents respond to outreach. The people who are most involved will provide the most valuable insights on how a process can be improved.

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RULE 3: Finish discarding first.

Before considering adding anything to the process you’ve chosen, get rid of anything that isn’t helping. Kondo talks about discarding items that don’t spark joy; in our case, we’re not looking for joy so much as purposiveness and fulfillment. Does the operational piece you’re examining serve its purpose effectively? Assuming that purpose is important, is there an option that would serve the purpose better? Maybe it’s time to replace the cluttered Excel sheet of resident conversations with a full-fledged software that’s intentionally designed for tracking, organizing, and retrieving that data easily (shameless plug for Roompact’s software, I’ll admit it).

Are there any efforts that are excessive or unnecessarily duplicated? A few elements can serve the same purpose and be effective, but having too many overlapping initiatives is often counterproductive. For instance, perhaps you’re sending surveys to residents every week and giving them survey fatigue, causing a low response rate. Eliminate some surveys, judiciously choose a few good ones, and that response may bounce back up. Quality over quantity.

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RULE 4: Tidy by category.

Sorting by category is a core tenet of the KonMari method. In the original method, the categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and sentimental items. In residence life, I’d argue that the categories are more like this:

  • Workflows – The steps that make up a particular process.
  • Policies – The rules and guidelines that structure the process.
  • Tools – What you use to carry out your processes: for instance, technology, including physical tools like iPads or a cloud-hosted software like Roompact.
  • Communication – How the process, and changes within it, are conveyed and discussed among the staff members involved.
  • Marketing – How the process is presented to campus partners and any other applicable external parties (parents and prospective students, for example).

Work through the categories consecutively, examining all parts of a process that fall within the given category and organizing as you go. Clarify points of confusion, optimize steps, update tools, and ensure consistency across the board.

RULE 5: Follow the right order.

For this rule, our residence life adaptation has an advantage over the original KonMari method. When dealing with physical objects, it’s not easy to recall the “correct” order unless you’ve used the method multiple times. There’s no instinctive logic to clothes coming before books. In our adaptation, however, the order is much more intuitive. You need to organize your workflows before you can adjust the policies that govern them. You need to establish both workflows and policies before you make changes in your technological tools to reflect them. And you need to do all of the above before examining how process elements and changes are communicated internally or marketed externally. It just makes sense.

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RULE 06: Ask yourself if it sparks joy [and purpose].

Again, the idea of sparking joy is not quite as literal in our KonMari adaptation. No one expects you to think about your staff selection process and feel instantaneous delight. You do, however, want to be able to look at a process and appreciate that it is streamlined, efficient, effective, and beneficial to your students and staff. This is the final evaluation of your tidying process: did you accomplish what you set out to do? Does the process fulfill its purpose, and does it have a positive impact? Just as you collected feedback at the beginning, ask for thoughts and opinions on the end result. If feasible, collect quantitative and/or qualitative data on the effects of your changes. That’ll inform any adjustments you make after the fact, as well as improvement attempts for the future.

Don’t be discouraged if it isn’t perfect: just like de-cluttering your house, success may take persistence and iteration. It isn’t easy. But building processes you can be proud of? That’s what I call sparking joy.

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