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UW Archives Goes KonMari

Archival collection in Steenbock Library reduced to one box.

Archival collection in Steenbock Library reduced to one box.

In response to a growing student population that increasingly relies on digital resources, UW Libraries has long been working on a master plan to increase study space for students while consolidating its physical resources. Part of the plan is already underway — eliminating several smaller libraries and shifting collections to the larger “hub” libraries — but as the consolidations continue, UW librarians and planners have realized an area that was completely overlooked.

“We realized that an area was completely overlooked,” says expansion and consolidation specialist Don Keigh ’78, one of the key planners on the project. “The UW Archives, housed on the fourth floor of Steenbock library, has a stranglehold on several thousand square feet of space that, frankly, could change the whole master plan.”

Keigh put together a task force of librarians and archivists to examine the potential space usage of the current archives collection. What they found was shocking: without the clutter, the space could easily house not one, not two, but three student think-tank groups that each work in unique ways to develop collaboration and thought-sharing on campus.

Heading up the task force is archivist Rhoda Camel. With the demand for space so high, time was of the essence, and Camel had to move fast. Fortunately, she knew exactly who to consult to get the job done: Japanese organizing consultant and star of her own Netflix series, Marie Kondo.

“I’ve been a big fan of Marie Kondo and the KonMari method for quite some time,” says Camel. She’s not the only one; Kondo has become an internet sensation, inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to declutter their homes. When asked what it was like to consult one-on-one with Kondo, Camel said, “Well … I didn’t actually talk to her. But I binge-watched the Netflix series, which is basically the same thing.”

The KonMari method has many steps and methods, but perhaps the most well-known one is to keep only things that “spark joy.” Kondo writes in her 2015 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.” 

To be as efficient as possible, Camel undertook the full decluttering on her own. She thought this would also help eliminate any emotional attachments that might arise. “Kondo says, ‘Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence?’ ” Camel explains. “No, no you can’t.”

The KonMari method suggests doing your tidying and decluttering all at once, so Camel barricaded herself in the archives room and, for 48 hours straight, decluttered. Unfortunately for fans of UW history, Camel is an Ohio State grad — so there wasn’t much that sparked joy.

“I tried to preserve the UW’s history, while also keeping the mission in mind: create more collaboration spaces for students.” Camel explains that she kept one photo or document from each year of the university’s existence. 

The new UW Archives Box has been relocated to an open shelf in the “history” section of the library itself. Renovations are already underway for the think-tank spaces.

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