Hoarders everywhere shudder at her name.

The tycoon of tidy, Japanese organizational consultant Marie Kondo, became a cultural sensation with her how-to books and eventual Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Granted, her superpower is teaching us about organized homes, not optimized surgical trays — but some of her concepts might actually help your team better approach the growing mountain of unused surgical inventory flowing through your departments on a daily basis.

Tidy All at Once

Rather than taking small bites out of the disorganization around you, the Konmari method (as it’s called), urges clients to approach the entire challenge at once. The reason for this is because Kondo teaches that it is difficult to sustain progress if you have multiple areas of your home in various stages of disarray and/or organization. If you tidy all at once, you engage one overarching project and are able to sustain the progress you make at a manageable rate. In our context, for example, this means you would not want to update a single count sheet at a time, because there are instruments on that count sheet in other trays you may own and other procedures that may use that same tray for different surgical reasons. While you may feel like you are making slow progress, you could actually be increasing complexity and variances in your inventory because the updates are not standardized across your entire inventory at once.

Visualize the destination

Another aspect of the Konmari method teaches clients to visualize the destination or the final goal of their organizational work. In a home, that may mean something like “I want to have space in the living room for the kids to play” or “I want to feel refreshed when I sit on my back porch instead of stressed and cluttered.” Setting these concrete goals helps you envision the final result of your work. In surgical services, this may take several different forms. For some OR leaders, it may be something like, “I want to go more than one day without surgeons fighting over instrument specialty trays” or “I want to lower my error rate in Sterile Processing buy removing unnecessary instruments from surgical trays, and giving them more time to focus on their job.” Keeping this destination as the central focus for your work on instrument optimization will help you and the team rally around a common cause that everyone understands and can visualize the tangible result.

Determine if the item “sparks joy”

Perhaps the most well known aspect of Marie Kondo’s consultative approach is the need to handle every item being organized, pick it up, and ask yourself if it “sparks joy” for you. If it does, you keep it and organize it. If not, you thank it for its service to you and set it aside. Sounds simple enough, right? But for anyone who has ever tried to organize and optimize surgical instrument inventory, we know the temptation for some providers to just say the entire tray sparks joy for them — and has done so for the past 20 years without change! The difference in our healthcare scenarios, however, is that we can also bring objective utilization data to the table to inform our joy. With surgical instrument usage data, especially if it we are able to compare surgeons, procedures, and trays with facility level insights, we can distinguish between items we may think we need but actually never do. Then we can show by experience and information which devices actually do spark joy and optimize our surgical trays in light of this.

Tidy by Category, Not location

A seemingly counter-intuitive aspect of the Konmari method is the idea of tidying by category, not location. For instance, this means that if you have books in your living room, office, bed-side table, and closet — you would gather all the books together and then organize them, instead of organizing each set of books separately as you move through different rooms in your home. This has similar implications to what we mentioned previously regarding the need to update all your surgical instruments variations on your count sheets at the same time, rather than going tray by tray or service line by service line. If you have the same variation of Mayo Scissors Straight 6 1/2″ in forty different tray types, it would make sense to standardize your updates to the Mayo Scissor description, photo, product number, and IFU-link on all your count sheets at once, instead of doing it piecemeal as you work your way through each different tray. Countless surgical instrument tracking databases are in shambles today because different users made updates to individual instruments or count sheets, but never considered the implications of their changes to the rest of the inventory. If you approach instrument optimization from a global database perspective, you can guard your team from that traumatic experience.

Tidy In Order

And finally, Kondo has proposed a standard order and flow to the types of items clients should begin organizing in their home first. Her list looks like this:

1.     Clothes

2.     Books

3.     Papers

4.     Komono (Misc. stuff)

5.     Sentimental

When it comes to applying this idea to the optimizing of surgical instrument inventory, there actually are particular steps that you should consider doing first before doing others. For instance, if the object of your optimization project is to reduce unused instruments from surgical trays, you probably won’t want to kick it off by looking at knife handles – which are needed in every procedure. However, it may be a good idea to immediately identify the slow-moving or not-moving-at-all trays that haven’t left your sterile storage shelf in two or three years. Additionally, if you data shows that Mosquito clamps are one of the most common clamps across your entire inventory, then it may be beneficial to consider if there are any of those clamps that can be reduced or reallocated to other trays which could utilize them instead of an additional specialty variation.


Whether you are an intentional instrument hoarder or an unwilling captive to an unwieldy instrument database that is totally out of your control, organization and optimization is possible. Hopefully the next time you see the smiling face of Marie Kondo in a bookstore or Netflix homepage near you, you will think about this article and have your joy sparked to optimize some surgical trays.