Our company is rather small, with less than ten people working in one big room on two floors (yes, the room is divisioned vertically, not horizontally). There are a few additional rooms, like a bathroom or a kitchen, but everything else has to find a place in our working space.
There are two exceptions to this rule:
- A small room holds all cleaning utilities
- A bigger room holds all things IT, like our servers and our IT supplies
None of these rooms “spark joy”, as Marie Kondo would describe them. You open the door, search around while ignoring the mess, grab the thing you came for and close the door again. When it is time to put the thing back, you more or less place it where you’ve found it. The state of these rooms is slow deterioration, because it can only get worse, but not better.
The situation became unfortunate for the IT room, because it contained far more things than storage space. Cables piled up on shelves, harddisks lingered on tables at specific locations that probably indicated something. A huge collection of CDs and DVDs waited in boxes for a second installation – most of our computers don’t even have a drive for them anymore. Every drawer contained some kind of main theme (manuals, adapters, cables), but a lot of surprises, too. The time it took to find something only went up and most of the time, it was cheaper to just buy the device (again) than search for it. And if you don’t use it anymore? Put it in the IT room.
A few years back, the KonMari method of cleaning up and organizing things was promoted by Marie Kondo. It is intended for your wardrobe and kitchen, but the guidelines can also be applied to your toolshed – and your IT room:
- Not keeping a thing is the default
- Concentrate on only keeping useful things (things that you use regularly or that make you happy)
- If you keep a thing, it needs a dedicated place
- Dedicate places by “category” and don’t deviate from your categorization
- Provide a container for each category
- Try to stack upright in horizontal direction, not vertically
The last guideline was really eye-opening for me: Every time I dedicated a box for things, like software CDs, the stacks grew upwards. This means that “lower layers” aren’t in direct access anymore and tend to be forgotten. If you dig to the ground of the box, you find copies of obscure software like “Windows 2000” or “Nero burning rom” that you’ve not thought about in ten years or even longer.
At the bottom of our cables box, we found a dozen cables for the parallel port, an interface that was forgotten the minute USB came around in 1996. The company was founded in 2000 and we never owned a device that used this port. We also found disks for the zip 100 drive, which might have used it – we don’t remember.
These things spark nostalgia (something else than joy), but serve no practical purpose anymore. And even if somebody came around with a zip disk, we wouldn’t remember that we have the cables at the bottom of our box.
If you try to stack your things upright, everything is visible and in fast access. There is no bottom layer anymore. Applied to CDs, this means that every CD case’s spine is readable. Every CD that you want to keep needs to be in a labled case. The infamous mainboard driver CD in a paper box with drivers from 2002 for a mainboard you scrapped in 2009 has no place in this collection.
The fitting categorization of things is the most important part of the process, in my opinion. Let me explain it by a paradigm shift that made all the difference for me:
In the early days our categories were like manual, CD, cable, screw, etc. Everytime a new computer was bought, the accompanying utilities box (often the mainboard carton) got looted for these categories – manuals to the manuals, CDs to the CDs. It was easy to find the place where the CDs were stored, but hard to find the right CD.
Now, we provide a small carton for each computer and put everything related to it in this carton. It is labeled with the computer’s number and stored like a book on the shelf. If you search anything for this computer – a CD, a screw, whatever – it is in this carton. If we get rid of the computer, the carton follows suit.
We now categorize by device and not by item type. This means that the collection of 10,000 screws that were collected over the years can be discarded. They simply aren’t needed anymore. They never sparked joy.
Another topic are the cables. While most cables can be associated with a computer or a specific device, there are lots of cables that are “unbound”. Instead of lumping them all together (and forming the aforementioned layers of parallel, serial and USB1 cables), we sort them by main connector and dedicate a box for this connection type. If you search a DisplayPort cable, you grab the DisplayPort box. If you require a VGA cable – well, we’ve thrown this specific box out last year. Look in the “exotic” box.
Each box is visible and clearly labeled. Inside each box are only things that you would expect. This means that there is a lot of boxed air. But it also means that you have to think about what to store and what not – simply because the number of boxes is limited.
And this is where “sparking joy” comes into play. The IT room is not an archive for all things digital. It is also not a graveyard for discard electronics. If you can’t see yourself using the part in the future and having joy using it, don’t keep it.
We have a box labeled “random loot” that defies this filter. It contains things that we can’t categorize, don’t have an immediate use case for, but hesitate to throw away. Every household has a similar thing with “that drawer”. Our plan is to add a year label to the box and just throw it away unopened if it is older than X years.
We need to evolve the categories of the room to keep it useful. An example are USB cables that are all stored in one cable box. With USB-C on the rise, the need to separate into different USB “layers” became apparent. We will soon have at least two USB cable boxes. And perhaps, one day in the future, we might throw the non-USB-C box away.
The IT room was transformed from a frustrating mess to a living and evolving storage space that solves your concern in an efficient way. The typical use cases of the room are adressed right away, with a structure that is maintainable without too much effort.
The inspiration and guidelines of Marie Kondo and the thoughts about proper categorization helped us to have an IT room that actually sparks joy.