Marie Kondo's popularity has exploded the past few years — she's even been named one of Time's 100 most influential people.
The Japanese organizing consultant, who developed her “KonMari Method” of tidying, now teaches people all over the world how to declutter their homes and offices by ridding their lives of things that don’t “spark joy.”
Her hit Netflix series has brought renewed attention to her three books, including the New York Times bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
While I don't agree with everything she teaches 100% (who really has space in their kitchen cabinets to remove and store everything from the counter), I do like her overall philosophy. I have personally experienced life-changing results from applying just some of what she teaches so far.
Kondo believes that clutter drains your mental energy, and if you tidy up your space, you can transform your life.
I agree wholeheartedly — like many designers who’ve seen the impact of a space on the lives of their clients.
Because people tend to live up (or down) to their surroundings, I believe it's worthwhile to clear the clutter out of your life – but sometimes, things get a little muddled for some of our students.
Unfortunately, I've seen the decluttering and organizing process turn into a major obstacle for people trying to study for the NCIDQ Exam.
Some students spend way too much time trying to “KonMari” their study materials and lose track of their ultimate learning goal (and passing the NCIDQ Exam).
Decluttering and organizing can become a major time thief (and a way to procrastinate continually) if you’re not careful.
The Organized Binder Problem
In her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Kondo writes:
Have you ever found yourself unable to study the night before an exam and begun frantically tidying? I confess, I have. In fact, for me it was a regular event. I would take the piles of handouts covering my desk and throw them in the garbage. Then, unable to stop, I’d tackle the textbooks and papers littering the floor and begin arranging them in my bookcase. Finally, I’d open my desk drawer and start organizing my pens and pencils. Before I knew it, it would be two-thirty in the morning. Overcome by sleep, I’d jolt awake again at five and only then, in a complete panic, would I open my textbook and buckle down to study.
I thought that this urge to tidy before an exam was a peculiar quirk of my own, but after meeting many others who do the same, I realized that it was a common phenomenon. Many people get the urge to clean up when under pressure, such as just before an exam. But this urge doesn’t occur because they want to clean their room. It occurs because they need to put “something else” in order. Their brain is actually clamoring to study, but when it notices the cluttered space, the focus switches to ‘I need to clean up my room.' The fact that the tidying urge rarely continues once the crisis is over proves my theory. Once the exam has ended, the passion poured into cleaning the previous night dissipates and life returns to normal. All thought of tidying is wiped from the person’s mind. Why? Because the problem faced—that is, the need to study for the exam—has been ‘tidied away.
Unfortunately, some of our students do the same thing when exam time is approaching.
Qpractice students have told me that they:
- Spent four hours (or more) organizing their notecards or binder.
- Color-coded their textbook, binder tabs, or notecards by chapter.
- Made notecards for every chapter, then grouped all the notecards using a very specific, completely customized system.
- Cleared their entire office of clutter, so they “feel more focused” when they start studying.
When I hear these stories, I have to laugh.
I’m not laughing because I'm mean-spirited – I’m doing it because I've heard about this behavior so many times before, and I understand exactly why it happens.
When people have a test coming up, they often spend a lot of time “organizing” all their study material. Sometimes they spend hours and hours doing it.
Can you relate?
How Decluttering and Organizing Can Become a Roadblock to Passing Your NCIDQ Exam
Decluttering is very sexy right now.
Marie Kondo manages to make it look fun on television, and she says this process can be life-changing. It’s easy to think, “Of course this is something I should spend time doing as I’m studying! It will make a huge difference!”
Decluttering during study time can also feel comforting.
Studying for the NCIDQ Exam can be frustrating, especially when things aren't going as smoothly as you would like.
The small act of organizing lets you feel like you're in control – even when you're not.
When you’re organizing your binder, it feels like you're working and being productive – but that feeling is deceptive.
Are you truly learning anything when you’re color-coding your notecards? Or are you just procrastinating?
Ask yourself: Are you working on the right things right now – the things that will move you toward your ultimate goal? If not, you may need to take a break from “sparking joy” and turn back to your study plan.
Bottom line: An organized binder (on its own) won't help you pass the test – especially when you're spending so much time gathering, decluttering, and organizing that you don't actually learn the material.
Resist the urge to style your desktop — an instaworthy study space won’t help you pass the exam.
If the last section of this article made you feel annoyed (and “sparked” anger instead of joy), I want you to pause for a second.
If you're aggravated right now, it’s possible my message hit a nerve with you.
Deep down, you may realize you do procrastinate like this.
If that’s the case, be gentle with yourself, and learn to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
I'm not judging you, and there's no need to play the blame game or get defensive. It’s human nature to want to put things off and delay. Lots of people do it every day. I personally did a load of laundry and cleaned my kitchen in the very process of writing this article 😉
But you may need to shift your habits if you want to pass your exams.
3 Tips for Moving Forward from Here
If this type of procrastination isn’t a problem for you, and you’re well on your way to passing your exam, then this advice isn’t for you! If what you’re doing works, stay the course.
But if you recognize yourself (and your behavior) in this article, and you’d like to make a change, try these three tips:
1. Recognize “procrastination decluttering” when you slip into it. When you start to organize things during study time, step back for a second and ask yourself, “Will this help me pass the exam? Is this task absolutely necessary right now, or am I putting off studying?”
The more you catch this behavior, the more you’ll be able to pull yourself back on track and back on schedule.
2. Declutter and organize consciously and with purpose. Please don't get me wrong – I think decluttering is wonderful! You just need to do it consciously.
If you decide to declutter or organize (after you’ve decided that it moves you toward your goal – see #1, above), you must set limits for yourself. Set a timer for a small increment of time (say, ten minutes) and stop immediately when the timer goes off.
3. Schedule it. Look at your calendar— the best time to tidy up is actually before you need to buckle down to study.
Qpractice gives you day-by-day assignments for studying, and it's most important that you complete those every day. So that should be your first priority as a student.
So I suggest you complete your organization and decluttering tasks first. Do this in the weeks leading up to the start of your study period, so you don't waste a single moment of focus time, and you don't fall behind.
For example, if you’re taking the NCIDQ Exam in October, you’ll probably start studying in July. So that means you have April, May, and June to KonMari the heck out of your binder and your style your desktop.