107. Lessons from Marie Kondo w/ Meredith

April 30, 2019

Joining us today on the show is Meredith Edwards, a software development consultant who wrote a blog post on what Marie Kondo taught her about software consulting. You might wonder how the renowned KonMari method is applicable to this industry, but today Meredith shares with us how Marie’s show on Netflix has helped her to be more organized with her code writing process. What makes Marie so influential is the way that she speaks to people, how she challenges in a non-threatening way and the empathy she expresses for that which is dear to people. This approach has helped Meredith in surprising ways in her career, proving that the KonMari method really is applicable to all things! 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • An overview of Marie Kondo’s tidying up show, its popularity and the memes that it inspired.
  • Using the KonMari method to organize and decide which belongings to keep or to discard.
  • The importance of focusing on what you want to keep rather than on what to throw out.
  • How the KonMari method can be applied to writing code in software engineering.
  • How Marie’s process respects what is important and valuable to individuals.
  • Examples of how Meredith deals with clients who don’t want to take her advice. 
  • Suggesting a stylistic change versus pointing out a straight up error in coding.
  • How Marie uses empathy and questions to help people come to self-realization.
  • Importance of tone in being respectful and trying to convince someone to change something.
  • How Meredith has learned not be precious or defensive about her work.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 107. Lessons from Marie Kondo w/ Meredith

[0:00:01.9] DA: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in fantabulous Chelsea Manhattan. I’m Dave Anderson your host. Today with me, I have.

[0:00:11.9] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:13.2] DA: And we also have a special guest, friend of the show.

[0:00:16.4] ME: Meredith Edwards.

[0:00:18.0] DA: How’s it going?

[0:00:19.3] ME: I’m doing all right Dave, how are you?

[0:00:21.6] DA: Not too shabby at all. Why don’t you tell the nice people a little about yourself?

[0:00:25.9] ME: Sure. I work at Stride Consulting as well. I’m a software developer consultant here and I have seen Marie Kondo show Netflix that I want to talk about it.

[0:00:41.2] DA: You wrote an awesome blog post about it too.

[0:00:42.6] ME: I did. Thank you so much, yes. She inspired me as a consultant, as a software engineer to write about what I learned from watching her teach people how to tidy their homes.

[0:00:55.8] WJ: Yeah, she’s a real agent for change.

[0:00:59.6] DA: It was amazing like what a splash the show made.

[0:01:02.0] ME: It made a huge splash.

[0:01:04.0] DA: There was so many memes. I love the memes so much.

[0:01:07.6] ME: She’s like, she’s such – as a human, she’s very memorable as well. She’s small, she’s like –

[0:01:16.2] DA: A tiny human, true.

[0:01:16.9] ME: Yeah, she’s adorable. I love the way she dresses.

[0:01:20.8] DA: I think she has magic powers.

[0:01:22.1] ME: Yeah. She’s a little sprite fairy like.

[0:01:25.9] WJ: Mary Poppins.

[0:01:27.1] ME: Perfectly cut bangs.

[0:01:30.2] DA: Every day.

[0:01:33.5] WJ: You have like a favorite meme?

[0:01:35.4] DA: Yeah, I love some of the memes that were coming out, my favorite one was, they’re like setting the scene like putting Marie Kondo and all these different situations and this one was like the year is 2035, Marie Kondo holds up the condemned man to the crowd. Does this man spark joy? The crowd cheers. No, he does not. She nods silently and then throws him into the pit.

[0:02:01.2] WJ: That’s a great visual.

[0:02:02.2] ME: Marie is not scared to pull the trigger.

[0:02:05.2] DA: That’s true, yeah. She will throw you in a pit.

[0:02:07.4] ME: Yeah, she gets the job done.

[0:02:10.4] DA: There’s another one where it’s like, after a heated debate with Marie Kondo, I’ve decided to throw myself in the trash.

[0:02:15.5] ME: I love that one.

[0:02:19.1] DA: Yeah, why don’t we people like pay forward of what the show is and maybe then we can get into how this relates to software engineering.

[0:02:26.5] ME: Yeah. I would love to give an overview. Marie Kondo is a professional organizational consultant and what she does is she goes into these homes. Couples, families, single person and she helps them to tidy their home. The way she does this is through her own process called the KonMari Method. It’s about gathering all of your belongings and asking, does this thing spark joy? You may have seen or heard of the most popular one which is her category clothing and you gather all of your clothes from your dressers, from your closets and you pile it up on the bed. Starting with a piece of clothing that you love and clearly sparks joy.

Say yes, you hold it close, you say yes, this sparks joy and then from there, that’s like your barometer for the next piece of clothing, does this spark joy, if it doesn’t you thank it for its service and then you put it in a separate pile to donate or give to your younger sister or whatever.

[0:03:38.5] DA: Throw it to the pit.

[0:03:39.2] ME: Yeah, throw it to the pit.

[0:03:44.3] DA: It’s like such a simple idea but my god, in a show of the second episode where these people were borderline hoarders like super nice family but like the one woman piled all of her clothes on to the bed and it just like, went to the ceiling and this room with like 15 foot ceilings.

[0:04:02.6] WJ: That’s impressive.

[0:04:03.3] DA: Floored, wow.

[0:04:06.0] WJ: I haven’t seen this show but I did read her book and I remember, she was actually passionate about tidying up since she was a child. Starting at the age of six, she started tidying up really aggressively.

[0:04:17.6] ME: Yeah. She speaks a little bit about that on the show but she also – did you hear in her book about when she said she had a kind of breakdown moment or this moment of I think I’ve been doing tidying wrong.

[0:04:34.0] WJ: Yeah, I think she did talk about that.

[0:04:36.4] ME: Yeah, I like that because it’s the moment where she realizes, she has been too focused on getting rid of stuff instead of keeping what brings her joy. That helped me see her work as like, examining the physical objects and regaining an appreciation for what you love and instead of merrily just discarding the refuse.

[0:05:07.9] DA: Getting like kind of a malicious joy out of it. Anti-joy.

[0:05:13.1] ME: Yeah, maybe you know, a little – it’s fun to – I like throwing stuff out but yeah, I think that kind of thrive is what kind of resonates with people because it’s just such a simple idea and it really does kind of apply to software engineering in like a pretty basic way like if you’re writing code and you get too attached to it.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, does this code spark joy and if it doesn’t then maybe delete it.

[0:05:40.2] WJ: Yeah, have you ever had one of those methods that’s not actually used anywhere in your code and you know you should delete it but you don’t want to? I might need it, I’ll just comment it out for now.

[0:05:52.3] DA: It’s such a fancy method, it looks so cool.

[0:05:55.8] WJ: I know I’m going to want it later.

[0:05:59.6] ME: Yeah. For me, it makes me think of like, did either of you ever hear in school or anywhere else, there is this phrase from – it’s always attributed to the wrong person. I heard William Faulkner, I think that’s wrong, but like murder your darlings, right?

[0:06:18.2] WJ: This is like a Game of Thrones thing?

[0:06:20.0] ME: No, it’s advice that you get in a creative writing class for example. Yeah, it’s like you wrote this method, you’re really attached to it, maybe because if I wrote the method, I would be like, that is a fine piece of code. This code is going to provide value in the future. I know it, I don’t want to get rid of all of the hard, beautiful work I did and it’s similar to writing in that you’re like, yeah, this is beautiful writing.

It doesn’t serve a purpose now but I’ll keep it, when instead, you should murder your darlings.

[0:06:58.5] WJ: Throw them into the pit.

[0:06:59.7] DA: With blood.

[0:07:01.0] ME: Yeah, it is like all these dudes have violent language, right? Murder.

[0:07:08.4] DA: Yeah, or like I guess I’ll save you a spike and you do a spike and you do some research, you’re doing some quick and dirty solutions and it works and you’re like well, I do like this code a lot.

[0:07:20.9] ME: Right.

[0:07:21.6] DA: Maybe I’ll just keep it? If you throw it away and write again then it will be better from the ashes will be a beautiful, joyful phoenix.

[0:07:34.3] ME: I like that, like coding with the ashes or whatever.

[0:07:40.8] DA: Yeah, but I liked a lot of the points you had in your blog post. We can talk about those?

[0:07:48.2] ME: Sure, I would love to. I was surprised because I watched it not to be a better consultant, right? I watched it because I thought Marie Kondo was really interesting. I’d never read her book, was intrigued by her but also I just like organizing and I wanted to see her help people get their lives neater.

But then, there’s this episode, I forget what order it’s in. Dave, I believe you’ve seen it but she’s working with a family and –

[0:08:18.4] DA: Well, that’s every episode. Go on.

[0:08:22.7] ME: Classic Marie style, like a toddler, like a small child, she’s just like crouched up on the kitchen counter and there is this like sterling silver cup or some kind of like nicer goblet type thing and she’s like, what’s this? The husband explains it was given as a gift to him, the wife says we’ve asked him if he uses it and then Marie’s response instead of being like do you use this cup? When is the last time you drink out of this cup?

[0:09:04.9] DA: Yeah, like shaming.

[0:09:06.7] ME: Yeah. Those questions that don’t feel like genuine questions. She respects his decision and like, that’s the moment that I wrote about in my blog post because to me, it totally encapsulates her style as a consultant to say here’s my process, here is what you need to do, hold an object close and ask if it sparks joy. She trusts people to have done that and she respects the decision that they have made. Which I think is like, invaluable and kind of rare.

[0:09:50.3] DA: Even if you don’t like agree with it, you’re like, no, that’s a pretty tragic cup. You don’t need that one.

[0:09:55.4] ME: Exactly. I myself as a consultant find it so hard not to keep arguing for my point of view and be okay with somebody disagreeing with me. If there’s a decision they have made that I disapprove of like say, a person has decided, man, this is like – it’s both easy and hard to think of examples.

[0:10:23.6] DA: Yeah, I was about to ask, what are some examples that you might have?

[0:10:27.0] ME: Okay, I am thinking of PR review and you look at somebody’s code and I would suggest like let’s rename this method to make it more clear. Meaningful and descriptive, right? Then, the person decides either it’s already meaningful and descriptive enough or they want to keep the name for XYZ reason. That to me, if I were my best self, would not be a battle I would continue to fight because I think I made the important point that yeah, we want to write descriptive and meaningful code and if that person doesn’t see it as a problem, if they see their method name as more valuable than what I’m suggesting.

Yeah, when they’re pairing with somebody and they look at that code and they’re like, what the heck is going on here. That would be a moment where potentially they’re thinking of “Meredith did say it wasn’t descriptive and meaningful” or I could be wrong and it never presents itself as a problem.

It’s hard to find a direct analogue but that is something like a conclusion I’ve been making more recently, to be okay with that.

[0:11:53.1] DA: I think also like just with PR reviews in general. It’s like embracing the green check versus the red X.

[0:12:00.6] ME: Yes.

[0:12:01.4] DA: We’re like, If I review a code and I have a bunch of suggestions or comments, I am going to give you a green check still instead of the red X. I am not going to put you into the strangle hold and force you to accept the changes. Sometimes there are things that are like, “Oh this is incorrect” or this is going to cause major problems potentially.

[0:12:24.0] WJ: Right, if this introduces an actual bug that I have identified I am putting a red X on it but if it is a stylistic complaint and I just think they would be better if you did this other way. It is not sufficient to hold up a PR.

[0:12:36.5] DA: Yeah, I can respect where you are coming from or even in the larger macro of like, except for the name and like going to the algorithm and the method of approaching a problem.

[0:12:49.1] WJ: Yeah, like the design pattern you picked.

[0:12:51.3] DA: Yeah the design pattern, it is like, “Okay, if I don’t agree with what you have decided and I think there might be problems and I have made my case, I think I have stated it” okay.

[0:13:00.2] WJ: Yeah, I think it gets to code ownership. It’s like who owns the code? It is the person who wrote the code. They are the ones who are the primary maintainer.

[0:13:08.5] ME: I agree.

[0:13:09.0] DA: And it is important right now for us to do that. So we’ll go with that route but you know in the future we might change and maybe we’ll throw that cup away.

[0:13:17.8] ME: Oh, yeah.

[0:13:19.4] WJ: Once you walk out of the room that cup is gone.

[0:13:23.0] ME: Yeah.

[0:13:23.9] DA: Oh not to throw away his cup maybe that person will throw away the cup away. They will realize but that would be mean.

[0:13:30.6] WJ: Dave is there just waiting for you to merge your PR so you can rewrite it. Oh yeah, it is. Totally green checked.

[0:13:39.6] DA: Menu house, right behind you.

[0:13:44.9] WJ: The full request is coming from inside the house.

[0:13:50.6] DA: I was really struck also in the episode, which to my recollection was episode three because like you told me about this scene and I was so struck by that I had to watch it. I had to watch up to it and I was really struck in that same episode by the way she presented empathy towards people. You know help them come to their own conclusions about things. There was this one moment in that same episode where she was talking to the wife of a family.

And the wife was always saving people from themselves with respect to their organization. They’re like, “Oh they can’t find anything in the house so they can’t do the laundry” and so her family was just useless they can’t do anything for themselves. I think like Marie Kondo had a conversation with her that’s like, “Do you need to do all of this stuff like are you actually helping them? Are you hurting them?” and they’re like, “Oh snap” consulting.

[0:14:52.1] ME: Yeah, Marie has this incredible way of asking questions without making you feel threatened whereas a lot of times why questions can be so threatening but it may have to do – I think it has to do with a lot of things. I think it has to do with their tone. Tone is like so important. I mean unfortunately it has to I think do with her being a woman and her stature because that would be less intimidating. I would be less intimidating getting that from this sweet little woman, right? Than this big burly man but honestly, if the big burly man were speaking in a reasonable tone it would still be far less intimidating. She just like – Marie –

[0:15:48.1] DA: It’s like got to go up to use this cup.

[0:15:50.5] ME: Yeah but Marie really – I don’t know how she does it but she does not speak with judgment.

[0:15:59.3] WJ: Yeah, I think that is an important thing when you are trying to convince someone to change a process or to make a change the way that they do things. You know you have to be respectful and part of that is the tone in which you address them and then part of that is that how you actually behave if they say no.

[0:16:16.3] ME: Yes.

[0:16:16.6] DA: Right, totally.

[0:16:18.2] WJ: That is part of being respectful.

[0:16:19.4] DA: And understand that they are doing it for a reason that is a good reason to them like there’s the idea that like everyone is a good guy from their own perspective like no one is trying to break a system but in that example there is like the classic one, Jerry Weinberg quote about like if you keep healing a self-healing system then you build a system that can’t heal itself, and that is an amazing that there was like that overlap between what you are saying about like being a consultant and Marie Kondo.

[0:16:51.5] ME: But yeah, no I would reiterate that point William so much about it matters how you react when that person says no or when that person doesn’t want to take your advice because that is the true test of like are you giving that person a choice or how do you see that relationship and those power dynamics like who has ownership of the code or the decision.

[0:17:17.8] WJ: Yeah actually I can think of a time when I was in embedded on team and this came into play. I was training the team on how to do test room development and behavior driven development and I had come up with a logging method that I thought was really helpful because it could be used to instrument the code and show where your test suite was slowest, and I mean there are other ways of getting to the same thing.

But I thought that I was useful and the team was – You know I wasn’t going to stick around forever and the team that was going to maintain it ended up deciding to throw it away and did not spark joy for them and I remember making a case for why it was valuable and then the group came to the decision that they wanted to get rid of it and I backed off and was like, “Okay this is your code and you are going to be maintaining this. I am going to be leaving soon. You do you” and I think that not picking that battle made it easier for them to pick up the mantle and carry forward without me as an expert to keep the testing train rolling.

[0:18:30.6] DA: It wasn’t a burden that they had to carry forward like with this other guy’s code that they then make their own so they made their own impact on it.

[0:18:42.5] WJ: Right, they had it. They made a change to it and that made it theirs.

[0:18:47.2] ME: Yeah, actually that reminds me of recent experience I had. I think that I get really defensive when I hear negative feedback and I’ve trained myself to not immediately respond with foul language or accusations.

[0:19:13.6] DA: As Marie Kondo would do.

[0:19:15.3] ME: Right but like –

[0:19:16.8] DA: Marie Kondo would be like, “Get a hold of yourself.”

[0:19:20.0] ME: But this example is about when I had asked for feedback about a lesson plan and this is a lesson plan on pair programming and part of the lesson plan was a song that I had written. A very small song just short.

[0:19:38.2] DA: An overture.

[0:19:39.4] ME: Four verses, right?

[0:19:41.6] DA: Oh that is a song.

[0:19:43.1] ME: Yeah and I got a feedback that was reasonable and made sense that this did not fulfill one of the learning objectives and although it was fun it really was not within the scope of the lesson and like it’s so hard for me to give up that ownership of the plan and say, “Oh yeah, I am fine with deleting the song” but I think because of Marie Kondo because of other conversations but especially this thing of allowing people ownership of a lesson plan or anything because it wasn’t totally mine, it was a lot easier for me to be like, “Yeah, let’s take it out.”

[0:20:37.0] DA: You said also you know you can take it out of the lesson plan and put it on a shelf.

[0:20:43.0] ME: Exactly.

[0:20:43.8] DA: Or print it on a t-shirt or something. I want to hear this song now.

[0:20:49.2] ME: Oh I don’t know if you want to hear it. I’ll sing it to you but fair warning.

[0:20:58.0] DA: Okay maybe we’ll do that one little bit; that is the next podcast episode.

[0:21:06.6] ME: Yeah, show tunes with Meredith.

[0:21:09.2] DA: Yeah, that’s awesome I like that idea of taking a step back in order to have a more lasting impact and having empathy for other people’s perspectives and letting them own that decision and recognizing that in yourself too. I think you guys both have examples from each side of that experience of giving feedback or receiving feedback. Yeah so it was awesome chatting with you Meredith.

[0:21:42.8] ME: Oh it was a delight as usual.

[0:21:45.5] DA: This episode sparked joy for me.

[0:21:48.8] ME: I enjoyed my time in the hole.

[0:21:51.4] WJ: The Rabbit Hole.

[0:21:53.0] ME: The Rabbit Hole.

[0:21:54.9] DA: Oh but not the pit. Not the pit where we included this place of Marie Kondo. This is the nice hole that sparks joy.

[0:22:01.3] WJ: So how can people get in touch with you Meredith?

[0:22:03.8] ME: Oh yes, you can follow me on Twitter. My handle is @meredith_marg.

[0:22:16.5] DA: Marg.

[0:22:18.9] WJ: All right.

[0:22:20.1] ME: You got it.

[0:22:20.8] DA: Awesome. Oh yeah, I have a Twitter too, Dave Anderson without the vowels.

[0:22:25.5] ME: DVNDRSN.

[0:22:27.6] WJ: DVNDRSN.

[0:22:31.6] ME: @dvndrsn

[0:22:32.3] WJ: Yeah and I am on Twitter @williamcodes but really the thing that you should be tweeting at here is @radiofreerabbit.

[0:22:38.0] DA: Oh that’s true.

[0:22:38.8] ME: Oh yeah, Radio Free Rabbit.

[0:22:42.0] DA: We are going to tweet you at Marg.

[0:22:43.8] ME: I can’t wait.


[0:22:45.6] DA: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and our amazing host, Michael Nunez who is out being a dad and me, your host, Dave Anderson, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.



Links and Resources:

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter 

Meredith Edwards in LinkedIn

Meredith Edwards on Twitter

Meredith’s Blog Post

Stride Consulting

Tidying up with Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo

William Faulkner

Game of Thrones

Jerry Weinberg