Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life
by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein
Little, Brown Spark, 256 pp., $10.95
Late in the great cycle of peoples and nations, a conqueror comes from without to wreak havoc on a puffy, sterile civilization. This conqueror is incomprehensible to the current order. He is evil. Worse, he is an atavism. But this conqueror is the force which freshens the dying mass and creates a new possibility of ascent; ascent which has become impossible from within.
Marie Kondo is one such conqueror, hailing from the mists of the east. The islands that we now know as Nippon are a global tide pool, wherein relics of past manvantaras still live and mingle with the currents of today. Like all culture heroes, Kondo refines things to their essence. She distills eons of tradition, learned debate, and warfare into an easily communicable idea: “tidying.”
Tidying is an exhortation to purge, and a great purgation is what is most needed at this late stage. A great sloughing off of old ways, old things and old forms. Everything on the face of the earth shall be tried, not according to any law of men, but according to the iron standard of joy, which the Kondoist experiences not as a subjective opinion, but as a metaphysical constant.
The natural end of Kondoism is bands of young tidyers in the streets, creating a great conflagration of all that does not spark joy. The greater tidying to which all lesser tidyings are just a prelude.
It is also true, unfortunately, that the noble conqueror is often subsumed into the morass of the civilization that he seeks to assail. Hard hands become used to luxury and forget the ways of war. We are witness to such an occurrence in Kondo’s latest book, Joy at Work, in which the world’s most famous professional organizer condescends to apply her ‘life-changing magic of tidying up’ to the world of labor.
Like many great world historical figures, Kondo is incapable of understanding the full implications of her own ideas. Thus it is the case that the true Kondoists must have the courage to critique their founder’s work and cut their own path forward to bring Marie’s ideas to a new realm: the frontlines of the workplace.
It is important to keep in mind that humanity existed for millennia without the laptop class. The “work” that this class does is not like any other work: It is completely superfluous. This is the only answer for the unremarked-on oddity that the American workforce essentially doubled with the entry of women and then exploded again with immigration and yet it somehow produces fewer goods than it did in 1997.(1)
The reality is that most “businesses” are an epiphenomenon of a glut of fake money and a glut of fake people (college graduates). This demographic backup needs to go somewhere so it goes into fake jobs. The only problem that these jobs solve is what to do with these people in between shuttling them to polling stations.
There is something perverse in even suggesting that one can achieve joy at a job such as this. Is that not akin to providing home decor solutions for a prison cell?
“Work” today must be regarded not as an artisanal expression of one’s potential, but a trial to be overcome. In doing so, in seeing its snares and pitfalls, we can develop the tools to purge our false conception of time, memory and action, and be ushered into the Kondoist nirvana.
“Time management” is the common term, but the key to a book like Joy at Work is memory management. The failure case that all time managers wish to avoid is forgetting to perform a task. Kondo is in a unique position to apply her full geomantic insight to the realm of memory, providing possibly revolutionary insights—but she flinches before applying her rough genius. We readers thus must ponder the nature of memory before we have a chance of understanding the nature of forgetting.
An illustrative example: While researching hip-hop day parties from the mid-2000s, I came across a video of DJ Rhettmatic of the world-famous Beat Junkies playing for a packed house in L.A. Outdoors, sponsored by Miir Vodka, and very sweaty, Rhett played obvious tunes to an adoring crowd. After the initial blip of nostalgia (I had driven past the line to this particular party on the way to the record store), I clicked onto yet another YouTube recommendation, my sole internet vice.
Two nights later, I had a troubling dream. I was lying on an operating table in a grim room, big lights shining in my face. Presiding over the operation, the nature of which was unclear, was an engorged Rhettmatic. Somewhere between the YouTube video and my dream he had become enormously fat, Kirby-esque. Naked and sexless, he seemed to levitate. He was, I intuited, the “Nude Cardiologist,” a name known far and wide for his feats of surgical virtuosity accomplished, natch, in the nude. He bent over me to make the first incision. I awoke.
Let’s leave the deranged state of my psyche aside for a moment. What fascinates here is something that all have likely experienced—namely, the persistence in memory of events, images, traces not only against our will, but without the input of the will at all.
To return to Kondo, one of her innovations was to reintroduce a basic insight into our popular culture: the distinction between place and space. The whole commonsense of the modern with regard to places of living treats rooms, houses, and cities as interchangeable. Don’t like your box? Move to a new box! By encouraging her followers to evaluate their living places and belongings on the gleeful subjective criteria of “joy sparking,” she forces us to acknowledge that not all boxes are the same. There is a difference between the spaces we’re given and the places we make them. And while her original insight was on geographic place, it has implications for psychic places or memories.
Space is a philosophic construct, a vacuum. Space is a loading screen. It is the fixation of autists throughout history, be they Pol Pot or Elon Musk. But the idea that empty space is the basis of existence and that life is a nice to have is not founded on observation. It is an article of faith, since in point of fact everything we observe around us is filled with life. We are all born into places: places with histories, resonances, proclivities, and we will occupy places until we die. Not a vacuum in sight.
The three-dimensional geography of a place is just the tip of the iceberg. The spatial arrangement of, say, my office, is just the beginning. A full account of my office would occupy volumes. I would have to include the smell of the tatami mats, the tasteful pornography, not to mention my collection of antique swords. I would also have to include my memories of same (the pornography from a cache discovered in the woods near my childhood home). Smell is of capital importance to any place.
Memory is not a space, it is a place. In fact, memory is the ur-place. It precedes all physical places in importance, not least because it overlays all physical places. Any mnemotechnic must take this into account or be doomed.
In the “space model” of memory, we consider the memory a large empty box that must be filled over the course of a life with sense impressions. In this model, forgetting is the default. If something is not categorized, annotated, put into a system, then it cannot be recalled. Whether intentionally or not this model evokes a paper filing system and its computerized heirs. Recall depends on an index, something external to storage.
But this model fails to account for the very basic insight that we very often recall things that we would rather forget (not to mention things we hardly remember seeing in the first place, like DJ Rhettmatic, or things that we don’t remember seeing at all). An entire therapeutic industry exists to help people forget. If the space model of memory were accurate, couldn’t I just decline to index troubling memories and images and consign them to oblivion? Clearly I cannot.
The reality is that memory is an infinite landscape. Everything that we experience is retained in full. And since everything is retained, the real question is What determines recall? The answer to this is roughly equivalent to how one finds things in a familiar place. Kondo uses the phrase “spark joy” as a metonym for any emotional resonance at all. Those things with which we have some emotional resonance, even antipathy, are easy to find. Things with which we have no resonance are impossible to find, they are consigned to oblivion.
Thus, memory management techniques for work should be called “How to Recall Stuff That You Don’t Care About Because They Don’t Matter.” You forget because you don’t care and that’s all right.
The very nature of work in our time takes it as a given that you don’t care about your tasks. The “Knowledge Work” that many of Kondo’s readers engage in (one struggles to imagine many diesel mechanics reading this book on their oil-splattered Kindles) is ultimately industrial work, which means: It’s terrible. Waking up in the middle of the night to check your phone is the contemporary equivalent of black lung. Given the impossibility of resonating with your work tasks, you can see why artificial memory systems seem necessary. Knowledge work is predicated on a violation of the nature of memory.
The ideal memory technique would be to somehow create a resonance with an arbitrary object. To willingly create a situation wherein the task itself “sparks joy” and thereby chain yourself to the object of memory. Doing this with a task such as “follow-up email” or a “circle back with Sarah” would require a monstrous will. Creating resonance requires some grip, some grain; it’s like painting in that way. Existentially null work tasks are slippery, like a marble.
Yes, but why remember? Why not forget? What really is the point of remembering to “circle back with Sarah about the Crosby account”?
You may tell yourself that, if you fail to circle back with Sarah, your boss will hear about it and then you’ll get fired. Given that most jobs are bullshit anyway, I highly doubt that. Can you imagine the forms your boss would have to fill out?
And if you were fired, so what? Would you be homeless or could you perhaps find something else to do? Perhaps become a wandering sage in Appalachia.
The real reason that you have anxiety about forgetting things is that you feel like your time is scarce and that, if you aren’t doing something then you’re wasting time.
Answering your email is about your fear of death, as are most things.
But time is not money. Time is the generative force of the universe.
All Americans (and aren’t we all Americans now?) imagine themselves born with a piggy bank full of timebux. You don’t know how many timebux you have, so you should spend them wisely! It would be a pity to run out of timebux and be unable to fulfill the American apotheosis of running up a cartoonish hospital bill before dying of ass cancer.
Consider the oak tree’s transformation from an acorn. Necessary are: soil, water, seed, sun and time. In this case, time comes as it comes and cannot be hurried. You cannot pour more timebux on your acorn to make it grow more quickly. The morons who pretend to want to create life in a lab will learn this soon enough.
This means that, actually, there is no such thing as “wasting time.” When you think “nothing is happening,” the world is creating itself. And if there is no such thing as “wasting time,” then a moral evaluation of whether or not it is licit to “waste time” makes no sense. In fact the only way to truly misuse time is to betray it, the way one betrays a beautiful day by not going outside and feeling the sun on the face.
In reality, we have no idea what results our actions will lead to. We have no idea, therefore, if following up on an email will in fact lead to the desired outcome of closing the loop with Sarah. Simply embracing this and being at peace with it is the inner truth of the Bhagavad Gita and Office Space.
What prevents “joy at work” is the shallow and false relation to time, memory and meaningful action. It is this pervading sense of futility that prevents “joy” at work, not the incorrect email tagging system.
And so, the “joy” that Marie Kondo offers in her system is this: You wake up at the same time everyday, write exactly three things in your gratitude journal (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Luckily you set everything out to make coffee the night before, so you have time to check your email while it’s brewing. Your daily Asana tasks come in, you tag them with your favorite colors. You pour a little water on your airplants that you bought off the internet. You turn your futon back into a sofa and tie back your hair. You start your pomodoro timer and begin another day as a Creative Consultant for Plus-Sized BDSM OnlyFans creators. You are 42.
Even in its highest form, Kondo’s joy is an object fixation; the adulting version of a fidget spinner. And while it might be marginally more pleasant to be part of a well-functioning machine, certainly it’s better to be part of no machine at all. Certainly it’s even better to be a wrench in that machine.
Very few things in this life matter—work included. Materialists are fond of pointing out the cosmic insignificance of our actions. To a certain extent they are right.
But this does not mean that our actions are futile, rather that the outcome of our actions is futile. This means that the money that you make from your job is of no importance. What is of capital importance is the effect that your job has on your soul. Work has a tremendous effect on the soul because it is an enforced habit. And a habit is a hammer that can bend the soul into shapes unimagined.
If you have a trivial job, even if you cope with your trivial job by adopting every Kondoism imaginable, you will have a trivial soul. Worse, you will be all the more trivial because you will have anesthetized yourself to this fact and will likely persist in it longer. And when you shuffle off this stage, all that you will take with you will be your soul’s dominant chord. What chord will it be?
What does this mean, though? Am I suggesting that you quit your job and become a mendicant?
Well, yes. But if you’re not willing to do this, might I suggest becoming a saboteur?
I am not suggesting something as crass as sabotaging your job in pursuit of a “cause.” “Causes” are even dumber than jobs and soil the soul accordingly. Imagine instead that you committed to living your life in such a joyful manner, working in such a joyful manner, that the gap between the demands of your “job” and the brute fact of your star-like being was an indictment of work itself.
It is not necessary to “prove a point” or “send a message.” The brighter and higher the sun, the darker and longer the shadow. Imagine how clean your soul would be to perish from the earth having spent eight hours a day for however long you last in the YouTube Anti-Extremist Content Moderation Task Force, living not a parody of joy but the very image of joy itself.
Just a few joy stars living like this could ignite a nation and the great tidying could finally commence.
by Anthony Arroyo