Recently I visited a client who had moved into a new home. As we walked around, my brain immediately jumped into action, and I started sharing observations and making suggestions for getting her up and running. After a few minutes, she said to me, “I love how you just see how to get everything organized. My brain just doesn’t work this way. Why is organizing so hard for me?” To be honest, I get this question so often I thought it was worth addressing in a post.
First, as I always say, we all have our gifts. Organizing may come naturally to me, as it does for many – but interestingly not to all – professional organizers. At the same time, each person has skills and talents. If you are breathing, you have unique strengths. If you aren’t sure what your gifts are, ask anyone who knows you, and they will probably be able to tell you. Another idea is to consider what you do with little effort and relative ease. In my experience, we tend to undervalue our own gifts simply because we don’t realize we have them. We think everyone finds such tasks to be easy.
Working with clients over the years has reinforced this truth to me. I have been so incredibly impressed and humbled by the abilities that people have. I have worked with artists, athletes, Bible teachers, models, naturalists, financial executives, lawyers, sailors, shop owners, decorators, floral designers, printers, teachers, authors, and many more. In addition, I’ve had the pleasure in my life of interacting with people who have talents for listening, caring, hospitality, patience, discernment, kindness, and more. Such gifts are rarely recognized and yet highly valuable. What a joy it is has been to get a peek behind the curtain of the diversity of human talent! So just remember: if organizing isn’t your thing, know that you have skills that I do not, and they are awesome.
With all of this said, and getting back to the question at hand: Beyond the absence of natural ability, there are a plethora of reasons why you might find organizing to be challenging. Let’s take a look at them.
You have had little to no experience and/or training.
Not everyone grows up in the same type of living environment. You may have grown up in a setting where organizing was not highly valued. Perhaps you were never taught about how to set up an organized storage system for your belongings, or how to plan your time and activities. Maybe your home life was chaotic, or you were repeatedly shuttled around to multiple dwellings in a way that made “getting organized” feel like a waste of time. Without instruction and guidance, it is hard to develop good habits in just about any aspect of daily living. [As an added note, many of us who work as professionals pursue ongoing education and training in order to deliver the most efficient and effective solutions we possibly can.]
You have negative associations from prior experiences.
Similar to the situation above, some people grow up in a setting where there is an oppressive pressure to keep things in “perfect” order. Rather than organizing being a source of freedom (which happens to my tagline), it used as a weapon of control and dominance. If this was your experience, it would be natural to push back and otherwise reject the whole idea of organizing as harmful or unpleasant. Such a mindset can persist subconsciously, even as another part of us has a desire to pursue a more ordered approach to daily tasks.
You lack needed tools.
I remember watching Martha Stewart many years ago talking about the importance of having the right tool for a job (this was always a “good thing.”). Of course, Martha was completely right! If you are trying to organize a drawer, but lack any kind of inserts or structure, you are probably going to struggle. Likewise, if I’m working in a kitchen, I’ll probably use at least one turntable, and if I’m in a closet, I’m going to need a stool. While it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money to get organized, there are usually some basic tools and supplies that anyone needs to get the job done. Of course, I am not recommending that you begin your organizing project by shopping for supplies, only that you be aware that a few tools may be needed.
You lack an ideal amount of space.
I am a big proponent of the phrase, “live within your space.” Decluttering is always the first step in an organizing process, and keeping too much always makes an organizing job harder. That said, I will admit that organizing a large kitchen with plenty of cabinets and drawers is easier than organizing a tiny one with only two drawers. If you have a large family and live in an old house, with no mudroom and tiny closets, organizing is going to be harder than if you live in a large home with vast storage spaces. I am not saying that it is impossible, I am simply pointing out that some jobs are harder than others. Many clients of mine have good instincts and have attempted smart solutions, but they have been dealing with significant space limitations.
Your previous attempts have fallen short.
Few things are as discouraging as feeling that you tried, but failed. If you have spent a lot of time organizing a space or setting up a system, and then it has quickly fallen apart, you might be tempted to think that you are “just bad at this.” But this is not the case! There are lots of reasons why organizing efforts can fail. Maybe you didn’t plan sufficiently for growth, or maybe your system ended up being too cumbersome to maintain. In addition, your plan may have been excellent, but was undermined by others in your space, or by factors beyond your control. Maybe you live with someone who brings items into your space faster than you can figure out how to store them. If your organizing efforts didn’t last, remember that tweaking is often needed, and we get better each time we refine our systems.
You haven’t sufficiently practiced.
Most new habits require a bit of practice. In some cases, a lot of practice. However, this isn’t a reason to concede failure. It is interesting to me to see how highly we value practice in some realms (e.g., sports and music), and how we almost disdain the importance of practice in other areas. If you have never had the habit of sorting the mail, walking around and resetting your space, or spending daily time planning, then you are going to need to intentionally practice these new disciplines. Practice usually involves some dedicated, mindful exertion on a task which is hard. Remind yourself that practice makes perfect… or at least, practice makes good enough, which is all that matters.
You struggle with physical, mental, or emotional issues.
Life is not a level playing field. You may be struggling with any number of issues which make organizing harder for you than it is for most other people. For instance:
- Lack of physical strength
- Traumatic brain injury
- Hoarding disorder
It is important to acknowledge that life may have thrown you some curveballs that you need help to overcome. There are people with training and ability in all of these areas, so don’t fall into the temptation of thinking you “should just be able to do it.”
You lack support.
Most people need support when embarking on difficult endeavors. We need someone we can turn to when we have a question, someone who will encourage us when we are feeling down, and someone willing to talk through hindrances as they emerge. Sadly, many people are living in a situation with the complete opposite: someone who is critical, condescending, unsympathetic, or detached. If you don’t have the emotional support you need, for whatever reason, seek it out. Find a cheerleader, prayer partner, mentor, friend, or other person who can be there for you if/when the going gets bumpy.
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It is normal to wonder why we are floundering with something that others seem to manage with little effort, and a bit of sleuthing may be a logical next step to breakthrough. Still, always remember that struggling in any area is not a reason to feel guilt or shame. Your worth is not in what you do, but the wonderful person you are.
Enjoy the day!