Still, not all messes are physical, and an empty desk doesn’t mean workers aren’t suffering from virtual clutter and chaotic systems. Such messes, like pointless meetings, too much email, too many decisions and lousy in-office communication, are not necessarily of their own making.

Ms. Kondo has gathered studies that show the average worker spends half of his or her day answering emails (amplifying stress levels and untethering their focus) and wastes two and a half hours a week in ineffective meetings, at a cost of $3.7 billion in lost productivity each year. Lost passwords, according to a study of American and British workers, equals a loss in productivity, per employee, of $420 each year. And so forth.

Our own bad habits and the natural entropy of most systems has caused misery and burnout, and attendant self-help books. Ms. Kondo collaborated on this one with Scott Sonenshein, an organizational psychologist, and they take turns explaining how to tidy desks, drawers, meetings (otherwise known as activity clutter), time, inboxes, behaviors and, ultimately, careers.

Throw out random cords, ketchup packets and dried-up pens. Throw out business cards, an outmoded nicety, though many of Ms. Kondo’s Japanese clients believe they are proxies for a person’s soul. Thank them for their information, she suggests instead, and shred them. Stop accumulating snacks, along with airplane minis, apparently an especially American habit.

“Learning about different cultural characteristics is what makes tidying up in other countries so fascinating,” she notes impishly.

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