In highly unoriginal fashion, I focused the month of January on organizing my family of five. During the process of making organization my mental and practical focus for a month, I uncovered a bunch of myths that I had created in my mind about organization. After bingeing some podcasts, reading a couple of books, and, of course, trying out some organizing methods in my home, I have to say I was surprised more than once by what I learned in 30 days.
Here are five things you might have thought you knew about organizing, and why I found them to be untrue.
Organizing Myth #1: Decluttering will result in an organized home
I have long been devoted to constantly editing my space, so up until this point, I have been confused as to why my efforts to declutter and edit haven’t resulted in a smooth-running, put-together home. While grabbing a laundry basket and going from room to room tossing in items that need to go can be extremely therapeutic and helpful, it turns out decluttering is only the first step in the journey of being organized. The next step is organization itself, which is basically creating an orderly set-up for where you keep your items, so that you know exactly where to get an item and exactly where to put it back.
Turns out, I was constantly decluttering but rarely ever organizing. I’m guessing I’m not alone here.
Organizing Myth #2: Being organized will automate my workload
I had this expectation that if I am organized, then my workload of running our home will automate itself and my family’s life will just flow. This idea has some footing in the sense that there is far less friction in my everyday tasks if there are not excess items littered about; if I know where to find things without searching three places first, things will undoubtedly be easier, right?
However, during my January learning-lab, I learned that it is not decluttering or organization that actually smooths your workload, it is systems. A system is the process you have in place for executing your responsibilities. For example, “Meal Prep Sunday” is a system. It’s the process you use to get food on the table for the five days of the workweek.
The kitchen is actually a good place to illustrate the triple threat concept of decluttering, organizing, and systems. If you go through your kitchen and throw away pantry items that are expired and donate tools and utensils that you don’t like or use, you’ve decluttered your kitchen. Then, you go through your cabinets and arrange a tidy spot where each item belongs; now, you’ve organized your kitchen. Finally, you calendar each Sunday afternoon for washing, dicing, and slicing fruits and vegetables for the entire week. Now, you’ve set up a system for having healthy snacks for the week. It takes all three parts of the routine to make it work.
Organizing Myth #3: Organizational systems and routines restrict my freedom
Like many mothers, I use routines with my children–structuring our days around nap times, bedtimes, and mealtimes. But as for myself and my responsibilities, I have typically resisted a routined/scheduled approach to my tasks because I felt that a schedule for myself would intrude on my time and mess with my sense of freedom during that time. Turns out, the idea that schedules and routines restrict your freedom is upside down.
The fact is that routines create freedom for us, and even more than that, they create more time for us. Here’s how it works: there are things that have to happen each day/week in a family’s life like grocery shopping, making meals, doing laundry, and managing school papers–not having a schedule regarding when I get them done does not make these responsibilities go away. Once I accepted this, I saw the light that calendaring in those tasks significantly reduces mental noise, decision fatigue, and overwhelm around when and how I should do these tasks.
And it makes the times I’m not doing those tasks feel freer because I’m not cluttering my mind with wondering when I will do them. It gives me more free time because I’m not wasting time working haphazardly but rather, intentionally. Working smarter, not harder = more freedom, more time. Thanks, systems.
Organizing Myth #4: Just because I care about organization, I will be organized
This is another one that has stumped me about the current state of my life as a mother of three children. I am naturally the type of personality that gravitates toward organization. I enjoy the challenge of tackling a project and bringing order to it. I think Marie Kondo is riveting. And yet, by the end of last year, I felt anxiety on a daily basis from overwhelm.
What I learned is that just because you value something, doesn’t mean it will happen without some work and some focus. Getting your family organized isn’t something that some people are just good at and some people aren’t. It’s a skill–it takes time and practice and effort. Anyone can learn it, and anyone can get better at it, but that doesn’t happen by liking pictures of pretty kitchens on Instagram (I speak from experience here).
It happens the good old-fashioned way by learning (listening to podcasts, reading books or articles or blog posts) and practicing (starting with a small, specific project and working at it until you master it).
Organizing Myth #5: I need to organize my whole house to feel the benefits
Am I the only one who falls into this rabbit hole? Every time I get a surge of “We need to organize and declutter this house, top to bottom!” I end up accomplishing something, but nothing with much staying power.
I get some bags to the donation center and a shelf in the linen closet upstairs cleaned out; meanwhile, I’ve also gotten distracted and moved around a few toys downstairs in the playroom. I fall into the same habits—well-intentioned but not very effective.
One of the most important things I learned is to accept that it’s not realistic to organize every space in my home in a weekend (or possibly ever?). Here’s what you can do instead: identify the area that stresses you out the most when it’s not put together. Then, make a small but focused effort to get and keep that one small space organized.
For me, it’s my desk that is in our home’s main living area. Without daily maintenance, this little spot explodes with miscellany, but it’s in full view of our entry, our living room, and our kitchen, so it casts a chaotic effect on the rest of the house. It’s surprising how both hard and easy it is to be committed to one small space on the daily. And it’s also pleasantly surprising to see how big the effect can be on your space, both physical and mental.