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Matthew Barsalou

Quality Insider

5S With Dubious Extras

Marie Kondo’s decluttering breakthrough sounds very familiar

Published: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 16:23

A recent Business Insider article discussed Marie Kondo’s wildly popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten Speed Press, 2014). The book is intended for decluttering homes, but the same principles can be applied in the workplace.

For example, we’re told to place all of our books in one place, and then discard the ones that don’t provide “a thrill of pleasure when you touch it.” We should also discard books we’re planning to read because we’ll never actually get around to reading them.

This advice runs counter to writer Nassim Taleb’s comment about fellow author Umberto Eco, who separates people into two categories: those who ask how many of his 30,00 books he’s read, and those “who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool.” Taleb reminds us that “read books are far less valuable than unread ones” and suggests that a library should contain “as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there.”

Books aren’t the only thing Kondo recommends we should discard. Things that don’t “inspire joy” should also be tossed, with the exception of those uninspiring but necessary items we all take for granted—toothbrushes and can openers come to mind. However, Kondo tells us to change our relationship with these items because they really do make us happy; we just don’t realize it.

I tried to take Kondo’s advice with my stapler. I seldom use it, but it’s sometimes necessary to help me get a job done. But I find I’m just not ready to change my relationship with the stapler. Neither am I willing to discard it.

Kondo’s advice for paper is to discard it unless it can be sorted into two categories: documents to keep, and documents related to things to do. She also recommends finding a spot for storing things and always returning them to their spot after use.

Kondo claims that the benefits of a tidy life extend to one’s health, apparently from a reduction in stress: Some of her clients’ acne cleared up, while others lost weight.

Aside from her view on unread books, the need to form a relationship with your items, and the alleged health benefits, Kondo’s method sounds a lot like 5S to me, which also works well in both the home and office. 5S is a method for maintaining an orderly and efficient workplace. Each S in the five describes a process that helps brings this ideal into reality:
Sort: Remove and discard or store unneeded items in your work area or home. If an item isn’t frequently needed but is necessary, find a dedicated storage place for it that is out of the way.

Straighten: Place the remaining items in order. If an item, such as a stapler, doesn’t have a dedicated storage area, find one. There’s no need to discard all your unread books; place them in a bookshelf in some form of order, such as by category and author.

Scrub: Clean your work area or home. This could mean removing coffee stains from your desk or grease stains from a production machine. Or even sweeping the kitchen floor.

Standardize: In a manufacturing setting, all work areas should have the same layout and system for tool storage. This makes it easier for people to switch between work stations. In the home, dishes and cleaning supplies should be stored in the same place so they can easily be found. The same principle can also be applied to the refrigerator; standardization makes it easier to notice when an item is running low.

Self-discipline: The clean and orderly work area or home should be maintained. Spills should be cleaned up as soon as they happen; this applies both at home and at work. Things should be put back in their proper places when not in use. The work area should be cleaned and straightened at the end of the day. Sorting, straightening, and scrubbing should also take place on a regular schedule. For example, at the end of each work day, or on the weekend at home.

I’m all for getting your home or office cleaned up using Kondo’s book. However, for me, I’ll stick with good old-fashioned 5S. I can’t subscribe to any method that requires me to get rid of my precious book collection.


About The Author

Matthew Barsalou’s picture

Matthew Barsalou

Matthew Barsalou is a statistical problem resolution master black belt at BorgWarner Turbo Systems Engineering GmbH. He is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality engineer, and quality technician; a TÜV-certified quality manager, quality management representative, and quality auditor; and a Smarter Solutions-certified lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has a bachelor’s degree in industrial sciences, and master’s degrees in engineering, business administration, and liberal studies with emphasis in international business. Barsalou is author of Root Cause Analysis, Statistics for Six Sigma Black Belts, The ASQ Pocket Guide to Statistics for Six Sigma Black Belts, and The Quality Improvement Field Guide.