What Organizing Isn’t

A recent article in the New York Times about the “art of clutter,”  Marie Kondo’s best selling book about the “magic of tidying up,” the Minimalists and the popularity of TV shows about hoarding have continued to raise the profile of  professional organizing in our popular culture.

However, increased awareness has spawned some misconceptions about what being organized means.  To address this, let me explain what organizing isn’t.

It’s not about clutter

Clutter is a symptom – the manifestation of disorganization.  Clutter happens when you don’t possess the skills or pyschological resources to successfully manage your life, and your environment spins out of control. Being organized is not about things; it is about life management in a complex world.  Being organized is developing and establishing new skills, habits, guiding principles and practical systems that help us reach our goals.  When that happens, you can begin to clear the physical and pyschic clutter obstructing your path.

It’s not about being tidy

Have you been in a working artist’s studio?  It looks chaotic, with paints, brushes, tools and materials seemingly strewn over every surface, pieces finished and unfinished propped up against walls, and sketches and paper scraps tacked everywhere. But if you watch the artist work, she can put her hands on exactly what she needs almost without looking.  The artist is not tidy, but she is organized.  Yes, a shelf of neatly labelled bins looks nice, but if you can function well, with peace and happiness, it doesn’t really matter what things look like.  Organization is about functionality, not appearances.

It’s not about containers

One of the most common mistakes people make is to start an organizing project by going to the Container Store and buying a bunch of pretty boxes.  I like a pretty box or basket as much as the next person, but containers are the last step in organization.  Most organizing starts with categorizing and purging items, whether they be in an office, closet or garage.  Until you’ve determined what items you’re keeping, and in what area they belong, you won’t know what size or kind of container you need.  If you don’t know how many sweaters to keep, and on what shelf they will reside, you won’t know what size box, if any, you need to house them.

It’s not about hoarding

Hoarding is a serious, psychological disorder associated with obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Hoarders often endure a lifelong struggle with the problem.  Treatment requires a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, sometimes medication, and an organizer specifically trained to work with this population.  Setting up a filing system does not make good TV, but a house buried in junk does. However, chronic conditions like hoarding are outside what most professional organizers deal with on a day to day basis.

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