I recently discovered Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing expert who wrote “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (Kondo also has a Netflix series called “Tidying Up”). While Marie’s book covers her “KonMari” method to organize and declutter a home, the concepts can easily be applied to anything – including a studio. It works. in fact, I found it transformational to tidy my home and our home studio.
The KonMari approach applied to a studio
The KonMari method breaks organization into 5 categories for the home (that she follows in this order): Clothing, Books, Paper, Komono (misc items), and Mementos (items with sentimental value). In the studio, this might look like: Gear, Instruments, Cables, Komono, Mementos. The most important part is doing the sentimental items at the end.
Tackle by category, not by room. If you declutter your studio closet without looking at what you have in other rooms (control room, voice over booth, edit rooms etc) you won’t know exactly how many mic cables or random adapters you have or need. This alone will make it easier to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of. It also helps you avoid buying things over and over (like those pesky 1/8″ to 1/4″ headphone adapters) because it’ll all be organized better.
Bring all of your items of that category to one place before you start sorting. The idea is that when you see it all in one place (and somewhere other than where it normally lives), you get a bigger view of what you have and how much. It’ll make it easier to reorganize when you put it back, too.
Once you start a category, go through each item one by one and take a moment to decide how it makes you feel. Marie asks, “does this item spark joy for you?” This might sound cheesy but it’s teaching you to listen to your instinct instead of just using logic (because you can use logic to keep anything). Is there gear you’re not crazy about? Do you hold onto things even if they’re useless because of how much you paid for it? If you can get over the discomfort of getting rid of stuff like that, in the end you’ll left with only items that are functional, help you towards your goals, and that make you feel good. Obviously there will be a lot of items that don’t elicit feelings (XLR cables don’t exactly spark joy) but you can still ask: Are you satisfied with the amount you have or are you overwhelmed by it? Things like spare IEC or USB cables can creep into studios and take over like cockroaches. If you can get rid of all of that excess, you’ll create more space in closets or control rooms for the items you really need and care about.
Separate the items you want to get rid of from those you’re going to keep. Marie does this with her clients as “keep” and “trash” but we had more piles: Keep, sell, donate, recycle/e-waste, and trash. (Note there’s no “relocate” because moving items somewhere else can just causes clutter in another room. The exception is if something is legitimately in the wrong room.) Marie suggests saying (or thinking) “thank you” to items when you’re going to get rid of them. It sounds silly but I found coming up with a reason to be thankful for an item helped me with items that were hard to part with. For example, if you bought something but never used it, you could think “thank you for teaching me to be more careful when I buy things.”
After you decide what to keep, put it away in a neat and organized fashion. Clutter comes from not having a designated place for things to go. Look closely at the items you find in more than one place – like manuals, business cards, invoices – that means there’s probably not a good storage place for them. Marie generally advises storing items upright (vs stacking one on top of another) since it’s easier to take out and put away. This would apply to instruments, papers, or even cables. She recommends separating items into boxes or containers and organizing so you can see everything in there. If you take the time to do this well, you’ll have systems in place that make it easy to clean, find things, and everything will have a proper “home” to go back to.
Sometimes the solution is to come up with a better system, not to find a better way to organize. This particularly applies to paper. For example, what do you do when someone gives you a business card? Are they all over your studio? Do you keep them in a pile that you never look at again? A better solution might be to get rid of the card as quickly as possible (whether it’s adding to your contacts, adding the person on LinkedIn, etc). Invoices could be scanned or stored digitally. Even though it may sound like “extra” work, but in the long run, it’s actually going to be easier and faster.
Evaluate sentimental items. If you follow the order and do sentimental items last, you’ll probably have gone through hundreds of other items already. This sorting “fatigue” makes it easier to look at these items more objectively.
While it’s not a fast process, you’ll want to do it all in a matter of weeks (at most). You can’t do this in a day nor do you want to. It may sound like a grind but it’s kind of addictive when you start seeing results – that you’re creating more space, less clutter, and more surrounded by things you like. Over time, it becomes a normal way of thinking.
The items we get stuck on
Marie talks a lot in her book about letting go of items from our past. Something that was important a year ago may not be important anymore. You have to pause to evaluate what it means to you right now. Some places we can get stuck in studios:
- Broken gear. We can get caught in a purgatory of “too expensive to fix but paid enough that you don’t want to sell it broken.” If it can help you towards your goals today, fix it. If it doesn’t, say “thank you for your service,” put it in the pile to get rid of and move on.
- Gear purchases for a specific project you no longer need. For this, the gear served its purpose and now it can move on.
- Outdated studio gear that holds more sentimental value than retail value. It might be hard to stomach getting rid of your first audio interface but if you can’t even plug it in to your computer, it’s probably time to get rid of it.
- Gear that’s lost a lot of value. This is no different from a car that loses 10% of its value when you drive off the lot. You might use it every day (and love the hell out of it) but it’s still going to be worth less than what you paid for it. It served its purpose over time (like a loved piece of clothing) but there comes a point where it’s best to let it go.
- Instruments. Instruments can have a lot of emotions attached because of the experiences we’ve had with them (same with gear). It’s good to still evaluate: Are you keeping it because it’s hard to get rid of or because it still makes you feel happy when you see it or play it? If you have a special instrument that really “sparks joy,” is the closet the best place for it? (Maybe it is.) Or, would you want to display it somewhere where you can really appreciate it?
- Gifts. I like Marie’s philosophy on this: a gift is meant for that moment. If the person who gave you the gift knew it was causing you stress or discomfort (about getting rid of it), they’d probably feel bad about it. Show appreciation that they thought of you (to give you the gift in the first place) then let it go.
- Purchases that were a mistake. It’s hard to get rid of something that you bought and never needed. Or, you tried it once and didn’t like it. Learn from it and move on.
With items that are hard to part with, I ask myself, “Is there someone who can benefit from this more than having it sit in my closet collecting dust?” Maybe a local not-for-profit, school program, college, or church could put it to good use (and you can get a tax write-off).
Items you might need “Someday”
For some people, nostalgic items are the hardest to get rid of. For others, it’s items we might need or use in the future. This is an easy hole to fall down with audio gear. If you rarely record drums, is it really necessarily to have a full collection of mic drums? Could you borrow or rent them for the day if you did get a gig? It’s good to evaluate from time to time what your goals are and have your gear reflect that.
Boxes for electronics: In her book, Marie says to get rid of boxes for electronics. While she’s talking about household items (like tvs), I find her argument is still valid in the studio. Do you hang onto gear boxes for the sake of shipping for repair or when it comes time to sell it? Sure, a box could increase the value of something by a little. But, the expense is a loss of space. If storage space is an issue, look into the cost of buying a new box. It might only be $10-15 to buy a box years from now vs storing a box for a decade (or more) and possibly never needing it.
Manuals: Marie suggests the same for manuals. Most manuals you can find online so you can download it (and get rid of the physical one).
Selling items: You have to be careful that your pile of “items to sell” isn’t a sneaky way to avoid getting rid of something. In my experience, the effort it takes to sell online (Ebay or Reverb.com) isn’t worth it unless your net profit is going to be $50 or more. There’s time involved and cost to dealing with buyers, shipping materials, postage, fees, and dropping off packages. It isn’t worth it for a couple bucks profit especially when your goal is to get rid of things that aren’t important to you. Facebook marketplace or Craigslist can be good selling options, too, if you’re willing to deal with the challenges that go along with that (like flaky buyers and no-shows).
Why It Works
Something I found myself asking a lot was, “Is keeping this (or getting rid of it) helping towards our goal?” At the beginning, the goal was simple – we couldn’t even walk in the studio closet because of how much stuff was in there. After a while, it wasn’t just about tidying the closet. The question changed: “Does this help create the studio space we want?” In the end, the question became, “Now that I’m surrounded by these things we love and need to do the job, what do we want to do with it?”
Reorganizing gives you the time and space to re-evaluate and focus on the things that are important. When you’re cleaning or organizing a space ineffectively it’s an endless project. It would be like working on a mix that a client just wanted to tweak and tweak for years and never call it done. Eventually, you’d lose your mind over it! If you can find a way to solve all the little problems for good it becomes minimal effort to maintain (and occasionally you have to do another “pass” for upkeep or to reevaluate). When you like how it looks, it’s much easier to keep it looking that way.