Why is Organizing So Hard for Me?

Man pushing a giant boulder up a mountain. Why is organizing so hard for me?
Image by Elias from Pixabay

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
  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Aging
  • Addiction
  • 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.

*     *     *

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!

Seana's signature

24 thoughts on “Why is Organizing So Hard for Me?”

  1. This is a beautiful reminder that we all have gifts. The question you often hear from clients, “Why is organizing so hard for me?” resonates with me. I hear that too. I love the different ways you addressed the ‘why.’ It’s complicated why organizing comes easily to some and not others. But the good news is that everyone benefits if we work together and share our strengths.

    One of my colleagues is a coach who specializes in strengths-based coaching. She uses one assessment tool, CliftonStrengths, which helps you focus on your top 5-10 strengths. What I especially love is how it encourages you to use and develop your top strengths instead of focusing on the ones that are less so.

    1. I have a client who did the CliftonStrengths assessment, and we really enjoyed talking about her results and how that might be impacting her organizing and productivity. So fun! Turns out my daughter had done it as well, as part of her MBA program.

  2. Many times there is a flood of emotion, anxiety and overwhelm when it comes to organizing. This emotional experience paralyzes people and prevents the brain from moving forward. Often this is why people can’t organize on their own. Having support makes all the difference for emotional situations.

    1. Great point, Ellen. Emotions are part of being human, but they don’t always serve us well when it comes to getting things done!

    1. It is an interesting question, right? We seem to highly value practicing in some areas, but in other areas we should just automatically be capable. Once again, a reflection that “society” isn’t always right!

    1. Congratulations on making the magazine cover, Janet! I think everyone needs to be reminded that they shouldn’t feel guilt or shame if they find organizing difficult. I struggle with lots of things, and love that others can help me in those areas!

  3. I also hear the question “why is this so hard for me?” Sometimes it is followed by, “I used to be so organized…”. Often the client isn’t taking into account a change in life circumstances. They now have their job and either one or more children and they haven’t taken that into account. Or, they may have just merged households and not taken into account the other person’s habits. There are so many reason why organizing is either or has become difficult.

    I love that you point out the fact that everyone has strengths and that when we work with our strengths it is so much easier and more comfortable to organize the space. I also appreciate that you point out the need for practice. Even if you are generally organized when you tweak or alter a system it takes intentional practice to make the system routine or habitual.
    Diane Quintana recently posted…Struggling With Chronic Disorganization? These 3 Tips Will Help Get You MotivatedMy Profile

    1. I know I need to practice many things for sure!

      Such an excellent point about the change in life circumstances. Many of my clients have wonderful organizing instincts, and were quite organized when their lives were a bit simpler, but now are having a hard time keeping up. Often this is not even about them at all, but about what is going on in their setting.

      We need to spend less time feeling guilt or shame, and more time doing whatever we can to move into a place which feels and functions better!

    1. And I think organizing is a skill we can learn, if it doesn’t happen to come naturally. Most organizers offer support and training to enable clients to maintain systems on their own. Admittedly, tweaking is often required, especially as time passes and circumstances change. However, we can strengthen the “organizing muscle” and become quite competent!

  4. Yes, everyone has gifts. I used to feel inadequate because I felt I had no artistic talent. I had family and friends who were great in all the arts. Finally, I came to realize that my gift was helping others get organized.
    Looking for the “why” is a great first step when a person feels unable to organize. And while organizing might not be an easy task for everyone, it can be learned. I am terrible at learning languages and not great with math, but I can learn, with effort, how to do these things and get help when needed.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…Decluttering Your Child’s Schoolwork: What to Keep and WhyMy Profile

    1. WE can all learn to a point of competence, even if we never achieve greatness. And that is good enough to really make life good!

      I have areas where I am not so strong, such as talking about financial instruments, which everyone around here seems to do with ease. Over the years, I’ve learned to “row downstream” where I can, and then get help in the rest.

  5. So true, Seana!

    People so often say, “I SHOULD be able to do this myself!” They have so much guilt about their lack of organization. Those “shoulds” and the guilt rarely serve us well!

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  6. All good points. Some people can live with chaos and it doesn’t seem to bother them, but they don’t realize how organization can help them save time and has a quieting effect on everyone. I used to be very disorganized and I have gotten a lot better, but i realize how much more relaxed I am when things are organized. I now notice everything that isn’t organized and it bothers me until I can take care of it. Thanks for your observation about everyone”s talents and strengths. You are right that they are so much a part of us we don’t realize we have them.

    1. Isn’t that funny that now things bother you that didn’t used to bother you? I’m glad you are seeing some benefits to having things exactly where you know you can find them. That does breed peace and confidence for sure!

  7. This is all so good; sometimes I think that prospective clients need to hear all of this before they even reach out and connect with professional organizers because they need to know they aren’t starting from a position of “weakness” but one of “the beginner’s mind.”

    I have two clients who are artists, and I could never hope to have that type of visual creativity to make something from a blank canvas, and yet I’m all about words and can create a palace of paragraphs from a blank page. When I look at disorganized spaces, where they see problems, I see opportunities for solutions. We need to accept ourselves as starting from where we start, not doubt ourselves for not already being at the finish line! Every single one of your points is excellent!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Organize Your Summer So It Doesn’t Disappear So QuicklyMy Profile

    1. I have some clients who are artists as well, and I’m SO IMPRESSED by what they can do. It is a lot easier to learn to organize than to create art from nothing (IMHO!).

  8. Oh, this is GOOD! I used to always tell my husband that my brain didn’t work like his. Like he could clean and organize and I couldn’t. And yes, I have anxiety, and some past trauma with my parents and their old hoarding tendencies (which has been resolved), and also with the way my husband harshly has spoken to me. I am getting better, though!
    Tamara recently posted…7 Great Benefits of a BlepharoplastyMy Profile

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