Like many people around the globe, I’ve been taken with the idea of minimalism and the guidance of Marie Kondo. I’ve read her book and applied it to my home. And I continue to appreciate the results of my efforts.
And while I spend a lot of time in my home, I also spend a lot of time on my business. I started to wonder if my entrepreneurial life could benefit from some minimalism too.
Who Exactly Is Marie Kondo?
If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo, then I won’t say you’ve been living under a rock (ahem) but I guess that means we run in different circles. You see, Marie has written a number of books, including her best-seller “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”. She stars in her own TV series, certifies organization professionals, and is generally the go-to personality for decluttering and organizing just about everything in your home.
The phrase “spark joy” is something that her fans know well. When decluttering your possessions, there’s the concept of whether you want to keep an item because it sparks joy. If it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t serve a useful purposes, you get rid of it.
But I get ahead of myself. Marie Kondo actually has 6 steps to decluttering, and I’ve jumped ahead. She has 5 other steps that you should do in order first. But I feel like the “spark joy” idea is more than the last step; it’s really the entire purpose.
I’ve done this process in my home and with my possessions, and it really does provide a lot of clarity and has made my life easier. But my biggest source of stress – and the thing I spend so much of my time on – is my business. I realized these concepts can really apply themselves to entrepreneurs as much as they do to possessions.
So I thought it might be fun and useful to go through Marie’s six steps but as they apply to running your own business. In addition to my overall thoughts, I add in how I have applied – or plan to apply – her concepts to my own entrepreneur journey.
Step 1 – Commit Yourself to Tidying Up
The first step of Marie’s process is to commit yourself to the journey of decluttering and organizing your home and your things. Likewise, when applying her process to your business, the first step is to commit to decluttering your business and tidying up your entrepreneur life.
Unfortunately, this is a lot like dieting. You can’t just say you want to do it. You also can’t just decide to do it but not follow through. No, you have to make a commitment. If you’re not ready, this process will fail. So start by asking yourself if you’re ready to commit yourself to the process.
Do you have enough time to set up the systems and processes you need? Can you set your emotions aside enough to decide to cut out the parts that aren’t working? If not, maybe you want to revisit this at a later time.
Years ago, in additional to being an e-commerce consultant, my husband and I also owned an online retail business. It was my passion. But along the way I took a few wrong steps that led to its having financial problems, and even more importantly, I was spread too thin to be successful as both a retailer and a developer/consultant.
It took two or three years before I could admit to myself I was ready to give it up. But once we sold it, I was able to refocus the time I was losing to the retail store, into my consulting practice. As a result, our revenue increased. And isn’t that the point of having a business in the first place – to earn a living?
I learned my lesson. I set my emotions and love for the other business aside, and made the hard decision that it took years to come to. And our family is better for it.
So for me, it’s been easier to commit to tidying up. I’ve already crossed that hurdle.
Step 2 – Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle
Visualizing your ideal lifestyle – when it comes to your business – is a huge part of being able to achieve it. After all, how can you find success at something when you don’t know what success looks like for you?
Imagine what you want your business to look like, and what that means to your daily activities and your entrepreneur responsibilities.
For example, do you envision success as having venture capital? If so, are you willing to be held accountable to your investors? It would be a lot like having a boss again.
Or is your ideal business one where you can outsource the business side of things while you focus on one other major aspect? If so, can you find people you can trust (and afford!) to handle the tasks you don’t want to do yourself?
In order to decide on your ideal business, it’s important to focus on your ideal workday. How do you want to spend your time, when you’re working in/on your business?
Personally, I like to know how to do everything. I also don’t like to pay people to do things that I know how to do, or that I know I could learn to do. That last part is really important. I can learn to do bookkeeping and taxes, or I can learn how to dominate Instagram, but can I do both of those successfully and still do what my customers pay me to do? More importantly, do I even want to?
The answer (for me) is no.
Step 3 – Finish Discarding First
In this step, Marie tells you to discard the items you no longer need and which don’t spark joy. It’s important to get through this step before moving on to the next one. And getting rid of extra stuff helps you take care of the important things, better.
But I think this is a learning process in itself. It’s easy to decide whether you need something or not. It’s much harder to identify what sparks joy and what doesn’t. Marie says to hold the item close and see how it makes you feel. As you do this, you learn how to decide more quickly about keeping or discarding items.
In your business, it’s probably not easy to hold most things. But in addition to deciding what you need, it really is important to decide of something sparks joy, or not. If you love it, even if it’s optional, consider keeping it. If you don’t love it and can function without it, get rid of it.
As entrepreneurs many of us are strapped for time and money, more than physical space. So to complete this task, I suggest making two lists:
The first is a list of how you spend your days, both a normal day and special days. For me, I realized that I spend normal days answering emails, having phone discussions, offering advice, and working on websites. But there are special days (which don’t feel very special) where I do things like payroll, invoicing, crisis management, and more. Once you have that list, figure out what you have to do, and what you can get rid of by quitting them or outsourcing them. Then decide whether they spark joy. If you like doing social media, maybe you want to keep doing it. If not, maybe you want to outsource it.
The second list is a list of expenses. What is necessary and what is optional? If it’s optional, does it help spark joy in your business, or not? Get rid of things that are both optional and which don’t spark joy.
Basically, you’re figuring out how to free up your time and your budget.
I recently did this with my own businesses. I realized I had one blog that is nothing more than a frustration right now. I’m stretched too thin to give it much love, and it doesn’t generate very much revenue. So while I didn’t delete it, I decided to set it aside indefinitely.
I did the same thing with my business-related Instagram accounts. Instagram doesn’t drive traffic, and my businesses aren’t really in the “influencer” realm, so I was just frustrating myself by thinking I had to post every day or every week or whatever.
So one blog and one social media site were not needed (generated little to no revenue) and didn’t spark joy. I decluttered them.
Another example: I unsubscribed from a bunch of mailing lists that I had subscribed to either for inspiration or for examples, but was no longer using, AND which I didn’t enjoy reading.
Once this step is complete, and only then, should you move on to step 4.
Step 4 – Tidy by Category, Not Location
Marie’s categories for physical possessions are: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and sentimental items. For entrepreneurs, especially those of us in the online space, this concept doesn’t apply directly to our businesses. We may not be tidying physical items. Instead, we are tidying our data input, processes, and anything else that affects our working hours.
What makes a category in your business? That depends a lot on the type of business you have. It’s up to you to decide, but here are some categories you may consider:
- your daily tasks
- the extra tasks you do periodically but not every day
- mailing lists you subscribe to
- professional organizations that take up your time
- software you use to run your business
- your suppliers
- your customers
- your employees
If you’ve already gotten rid of the things you don’t want to keep, then you’ve probably already reduced many of these categories. Now it’s time to decide how to organize them so they take less of your time in the future.
For example, you probably still subscribe to some email lists. Consider setting up rules on your incoming mail to automatically move these newsletters into one or more folders. That way, you can wait and read them at your convenience, and you don’t have to scroll past repeatedly them while looking for an email from your most important client.
Or maybe you still have one or two professional organizations. Put all of their meetings on a calendar, along with the location, time, and topic of the meeting. If there are things you need to contribute, note that as well. And think about how you can get the most out of your time. Should you focus on networking with other members? Or maybe you’d like to contribute as a volunteer. Take time to organize this information.
For me, I don’t fire clients unless there’s some extreme provocation, but I do want to prioritize those that make up the bulk of my revenue. So in January I sat down and looked at which ongoing clients had generated the most business for me during 2020. And I resolved to provide the top ones with X number of hours per week so they hopefully never feel like they’re not getting the attention they should.
Organize and prioritize, one category at a time.
Step 5 – Follow the Right Order
When Marie declutters and then tidies, she suggests starting with clothes because they’re the easiest. She saves sentimental items for the last category, because it’s usually the hardest for her readers to manage.
I’m not sure that there is a right order for everyone, for these business categories. I suggest you decide for yourself what categories should come first. I base that decision on the following factors:
- How important is the category financially? Consider whether a category seriously affects your income or your expenses. If it does, you should probably do it sooner rather than later. If you wait 4 months to do a category that has a lot of associated expenses, then you may be wasting money for those 4 months.
- How hard will it be? If tidying this category will take a long time, or if the decisions will be hard to make, maybe you want to save this category for later, when you’ve become more proficient with the process.
- How much does the category bother you? If it’s a source of daily stress, perhaps your mental well-being will bump a category higher, even if it has a lower financial impact, or is harder to deal with.
For me, I’m trying to simply my time, so I can focus more on what I like and less on thing non-joy-sparking tasks. So I started with the daily task category, and only moved on to my recurring software costs once I’d finished tidying up my daily task list.
Step 6 – Does it Spark Joy?
If you are already a fan of Marie Kondo, then you’ve probably seen the meme or heard the joke about what someone threw away because it didn’t spark joy: “vegetables, my bra, the electric bill, the scale, a mirror, and my treadmill”.
It’s a funny joke, but it brings home a point…some things you need, even if they don’t spark joy.
So don’t throw away your accountant or lawyer, your laptop, or your virtual assistant, even if they don’t spark joy. Only get rid of them if you don’t need them! But for those things you don’t absolutely need, apply this rule.
After all, we need joy in our business as much as we do in our lives. There may be some parts of your business that exist only because they make you happy. And that’s totally ok. In fact, it’s great!
Some of these you can literally hold, in order to decide if they spark joy, just like Marie suggests. An example for me would be my Beanie Baby dragon collection. These guys and girls sit on my desk hutch shelf and oversee my daily work. I don’t need them, but they do spark joy for me.
Other things may not be tangible, so you’ll need another method. I suggest trying to imagine what your life would be like without them. Let’s us Twitter as an example. We’re already assuming it doesn’t generate business for you, since we’re in the “spark joy” section. So since you can’t hold Twitter, instead, try to imagine your life if you didn’t use Twitter at all. Does the idea of cutting it out make you happy or sad? If the idea of getting rid of it makes you happy, then it doesn’t spark joy.
Get rid of it so you can spend that time on something else that does bring in business, or that does spark joy.
Or hopefully, something that does both.