With over 5 million copies sold worldwide, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has swept the world off its feet with her unique process for cleaning and decluttering our homes.

With one simple question, “Does this spark joy?” she encourages readers to examine their relationship with each and every single item they own. While acknowledging that our relationships with our “stuff” can be complicated, Kondo emphasizes the importance of identifying whether or not this relationship inspires joy within you.

In essence, tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance among people, their possessions, and the house they live in.

While her book focuses on reorganizing readers’ homes, there are strong parallels for how businesses approach their data. Let’s take a closer look.

Sorting by Category, Not Location

One of the principles from Kondo’s book is to sort things by category before deciding what needs to stay or go. It’s easier, for example, to know which shoes you should keep if you start by gathering them all together in one place.

The same concept is possible with digital files, just not quite as easy: Most digital files don’t have a “category” other than the file type.

What you need is a system for naming and tagging files that makes it possible to sort them into categories of your choosing. It’s a big undertaking, but if you tackle it, you’ll be thanking yourself for years to come.

How to Categorize? File Naming & Folder Structure

At Tesla, our geospatial team consists of many talented and multi-disciplinary GIS (geographic information system) specialists. As you probably know, collaboration and data sharing with a large and complex team can be chaotic. In order to keep our data consistent, clean and comprehensive, we came up with a standardized naming convention for all of our geospatial files.

Before we standardized our file names, each team member tagged files in their own way. It was a mess to decipher which files went with which projects.

One of our GIS specialists spent about a month collecting and cleaning files from the whole team. As he was gathering the files, he developed a folder structuring system to organize the files because we constantly work with a variety of file formats (Esri ArcGIS, Adobe Illustrator, Google KMZ, Microsoft Excel and CSV documents, etc).

Today, we are still using that standardized file-naming convention and folder structuring to keep our databases clutter-free. Without these “categories” of file naming and folder structure, we couldn’t see our data and files clearly to understand what to keep and what to get rid of.

Figure out what your categories are, and start by organizing your files accordingly.

Tidying Up at Tesla: Esri Upgrades

One of the primary tools our GIS team uses is Esri and their ArcGIS solutions. Esri has powerful capabilities that allow us to visualize complex data sets. And like all good software, it continues to evolve over time.

So in preparation for upcoming changes to our Esri software configuration, we’re doing more tidying up: Tracking all their mapping products, configurations, physical map locations on the servers, permissions, and more throughout the ArcGIS Enterprise. We have to decide what to transfer over to the newly upgraded ArcGIS Enterprise, and with 400+ web services involved, that’s easier said than done.

Another lesson from Kondo’s book is to go from easy items to more difficult ones when deciding what to keep. By working with our data analyst, we’re able to identify our users’ favorite mapping products – helping us prioritize what to keep and better understand which services “spark joy.”

Whether you’re changing software systems, cleaning out old files, or reorganizing a database, Kondo’s approach here can serve as a helpful framework:

  • Start with the low-hanging fruit:
    • What are you holding onto that is outdated? Duplicated? Not important to your customers? No longer relevant to your organization?
  • Celebrate the progress you’re making as things start to come into focus
  • Allow your momentum to push you towards harder conversations and harder decisions about what needs to stay or go

Tidying in the end […] can be broadly divided into two kinds: deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it. If you can do these two things, you can achieve perfection.

According to Kondo, you only need to declutter once if you do it right. Our GIS team hopes that by tidying up the geospatial data now, we will avoid any issues with data loss on future software upgrades and keep our databases clutter-free.

Why Does It Matter?

All our decluttering may not sound particularly exciting. But this tedious, behind-the-scenes work enables us to deliver a better product and service for our clients: One that’s organized, uncluttered, and trustworthy to deliver mapping assets that help our customers make critical decisions.

In our experience, other GIS companies often lose sight of the importance of metadata and product organization – two areas that can have a huge effect on a user’s experience and on the sustainability of a GIS enterprise. But at Tesla, organization is in our DNA, and tidying up is second nature.

Contact us today to see how our GIS services can help your mission, and decide for yourself if it’s life-changing magic. We think it comes pretty close.

And whether you need GIS help or not, it’s probably time you asked yourself a question: What thankless decluttering work does your organization need? And what would it look like to take the first step? Hopefully our examples can help you get the wheels turning.


Does your data spark joy?

If not, we can help.