Why Do We Have Trouble Organizing?


We forget where we put our stuff all the time. We forget when we had it last and then we try to retrace our steps to find whatever it is we're looking for. It's like asking what you had for dinner three days ago. Where are the taxes you need to pay? Where was the last place you saw your iPhone? It takes time to remember if you can even remember at all. 

It's something we can all agree on... organizing is hard. But why? Why does the average office employee spend 6 weeks a year looking for something? Why do we only use 20% of what we own? 

And why do some people seem to be naturally good at organizing and others not as much? When I was growing up my father would purchase a dozen or so pairs of sunglasses all summer long to replace the ones he'd lost. And this same habitual pattern caused the house to stay cluttered. However, one of his brothers always seemed to be highly organized and efficient. 

And I always wanted to know, what's the catch here?

I wasn't necessarily an "organized person" back in high school, but I did try to keep my room cleaner than most kids. I would roll up the video game controllers, keep the small metal desk that I owned cleared off, and my bed made. And I didn't do it because the parents said so; my brother's bedroom was always a disaster. I did it because I wanted to and even though (I have to admit) I eventually became slobbish in later high school years, I always kept things fairly in order. And while I was keeping things in order I questioned why I liked doing so. I could just let it go. I could just not care, but I felt that by organizing the things I owned I was creating a space that I could rest in, both physically and psychologically.

I stayed orderly all through college and after graduation. I even reduced the number of things I lived with at college to 100 things. But during that time I realized something. I found out what the catch was. As I was going through the list of things that I owned, pondering whether I could live with just three pairs of pants or two, it occurred to me that it wasn't about the number of items at all. Reducing the number of items would of course make organizing easier, but large companies that deal with numbers in the millions stay organized. 

It's their system. The warehouse has a place for everything and every place is labeled. The workers never have to think about where to put items, because someone already thought of a system for where the items belong. 

Like an organized warehouse, my uncle has an organizing system set up so he can think less about where things are and think more about other things. My father on the other hand has no system and so things keep getting lost. And the other amazing thing here is that neither person is more naturally inclined to be organized than the other. It seems a lot more like a matter of choice. It's a choice for someone to get up 15 minutes earlier to go for a morning walk rather than hitting the snooze. It's a choice to make time to organize the closet instead of watching a rerun on television. It's the choices we make and the extra amount of time we allow for making better choices that matters.

And then there's me. I am a dude from a county in New York where there are more cows than people and yet I find myself on my way to becoming a certified Professional Organizer. For me it were the choices that I made to be organized and stay organized, as well as the choice to question why I did. I kept questioning and I kept figuring it out.

I am not a perfect organizer, no one is. But I'll keep choosing to be a better one.