As a professional organizer, I often have the experience of people walking into my home and saying, “Your house is so neat…I wish I could be organized like you.” Whenever they say this, I have to laugh. Believe it or not, being “neat” really has nothing to do with being organized. In fact, it can sometimes mean the exact opposite.
The reality is, being organized simply means being able to find what you need, when you need it.
Most of the frustration we encounter with our “stuff” stems from the feeling of being out of control. Some of the symptoms of disorganization are lateness, missed deadlines, loss of possessions, forgetfulness and procrastination.
All of these can often be traced back to a person’s inability to quickly put his hands on what he needs. For example, an individual who can’t find the paperwork she needs for her taxes delays doing them, and ends up filing for an extension. Or a harried mom is always late because she loses 5 or 10 minutes tracking down her keys and purse every morning. An office worker is frequently late to work because he spends the morning rushing around trying to make sure he has what he needs in his briefcase for the day.
In contrast, imagine a scenario where belongings are helpful tools which can be accessed at will. It’s time to dash to the car to drop someone at school and you know exactly where your keys are. You are asked to email a baby photo of your child to school for the yearbook and you can easily put your fingers on a couple of options. A client asks for a piece of supporting material from your presentation and you either have it with you, are able to access it from the cloud, or can call someone at the office and have it promptly emailed.
Notice that I haven’t once mentioned being neat? That is because this is largely a matter of personal choice. There are really two kinds of people: everything “IN” people, and everything “OUT” people. Some people just can’t stand the look of clutter. These people frequently have a very neat office or home… no piles as far as the eye can see! But often, everything “IN” people are guilty of shoving or stuffing belongings into drawers and closets just so they can’t be seen. Open the closets of an everything “IN” person and you never know what might come tumbling out. We are all guilty of this to some extent, especially before a party. We clear our surfaces to look nice for company, but then we can’t find them afterwards. Needless to say, this is not an organized approach to life.
In contrast, everything “OUT” people are comfortable having their possessions stacked where they can easily see and access them. Some of the most organized people I know have piles and piles of paperwork in their offices, and while they are not exactly candidates for the cover of Architectural Digest, they know exactly where to get whatever they need. Their piles represent a system, and their systems are very effective.
Neither psychological profile – “IN” or “OUT” – really correlates to being organized! So what does it take to be organized?
Ultimately being organized requires that we stop thinking about neat and tidy and start thinking about being productive.
By bringing order to our possessions, we put ourselves back in control our lives. A moderately small investment of time and energy will alleviate feelings of anxiety, frustration and self-recrimination, and instead cultivate the peace and confidence we all need to succeed.