Does it spark joy? KonMari for Developers


Tidying expert Marie Kondo has become an international sensation, popularizing the Japanese art of decluttering and organization. People the world over are reading the books and watching her Netflix show to learn the six basic rules of tidying. We are all looking at our things and asking the KonMari question: “does this bring me joy?”

What can this teach us about how we build places?

Perhaps quite a bit. What is most striking about the KonMari approach is that it does not ask what to throw away but what to keep. It is a thoughtful assessment of value, an introspective and mindful aspiration toward a better future. This provides an excellent lens through which to look at building great places. With a little translation of the six rules, we take this approach to thoughtful and creative development:

RULE 1: Commit to positive change

Celebrate creative building upon what is inherited, incremental growth, experimentation with small risks, and having fun while doing it. It does not need to be large or expensive.

RULE 2: Imagine a better future

Imagine the future of places by seeing them slowly. Take regular walks and bike rides through a place. Find the nooks and crannies, meet the characters, and work together to test ideas as a three-dimensional vision for what is next.

RULE 3: Clean up, not out

In contrast to house clutter, some of the disorder created by existing buildings adds intrinsic value and strong continuity between the past, present and future. So rather than trying to speculatively convert every site back to a clean greenfield, use a more nuanced approach. Keep the structures you can use and activate today. Hold on to what, in the best case, might be usable in the future (do not throw out spare parts) and, at the minimum, can help tell the story of a place until such a time that a bolder development is ready to start. When you do remove something, thank it for what it has given to the place.

RULE 4: Beyond location, location, location

We often get hung up on the main and main location, trying to make it first and “set the stage” for future development. This distracts us from not only what is possible, but potential issues and opportunities just beyond our unintentional blinders. Marie, instead, says focus on category over location. We translate this for our purposes by first focusing most visibly on experience and uncovering a place’s story. That often means not starting in the most obvious or visible location.

RULE 5: Follow the right order

A smart phaseology is critical. Marie tackles the least emotional aspects of life first, ending with the tidying up of our most cherished mementos. For places, this means that massive redevelopments with substantial site clearance can create an emotional backlash and rejection of the growth process. Instead, start small with a cleanup, some parties, and some paint. Follow with smart, small interventions that complements what is already forming. This will help inform the bigger and more sophisticated development that will take longer to build while giving the neighborhood the breathing room it needs to adapt to change.

RULE 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy

This rule needs no adaptation. We should be building places that spark joy in how we live, for how we work, and where we come together. Every decision we make, whether it is adapting something old or building new should go through this filter.