Everyone can learn to be organized

Everyone begins life as a messy, disorganized, lump of a baby. No one is born in a starched shirt and polished shoes with a day planner in one hand and a vacuum cleaner in the other. (Our mothers, they are particularly happy about the vacuum cleaner part.) We scream. We drool. We poop. We cry some more. Everything about a baby is chaotic.

During the early years of life, some children are formally taught by their caregivers how to be organized. Others garner bits and pieces through observation, example, and trial and error. Finally, there are those who picked up very little during childhood and didn’t start learning about organizing until adulthood (I fall into this category).

The speed at which we acquire organizing skills is also varied. Some people learn a specific organizing skill the first time they encounter it. Others, it takes considerable practice.

How you learn or how quickly you learn is completely irrelevant; the point is that everyone can learn to be organized.

From this point forward, I want you to stop thinking about your disorganization as a state of being. Instead, think about the specific way that you’re not yet organized.

“My closet is a mess because I haven’t mastered the skills necessary to keep it free of clutter. I need to learn how to organize my closet and acquire the skills that it requires to maintain it well.”

“My big project at work is a mess because I don’t know what programs and systems are available to help me get it under control. I need to research and learn about what I can do to better manage my time and work of this project.”

When you stop identifying as someone who is disorganized, and start thinking about it as just a specific skill that you can learn, getting organized becomes an easier task.

19 Comments for “Everyone can learn to be organized”

  1. posted by Beverly D on

    Erin, I agree about not being born organized, but I’ll tell you about my grandson: since he was about a month old, he’s been fascinated with the vacuum cleaner. His eyes would go straight to it whenever it was on and he would smile (no it wasn’t gas). As soon as he could motivate (he rolled before he crawled) he went right for it. He is now almost 3, and it’s still his favorite thing. “Vacuum” was one of his first words. He is thrilled when his parents let him use it–supervised of course. Watch out, world, who knows what he’ll invent in another 15 years! I love your blog, learn so much.

  2. posted by gypsy packer on

    If you think of it as destressing and reclaiming time, you will be encouraging yourself to declutter. An hour spent organizing anything will save your ragged nerves wear and tear in a lifetime of future. You won’t have to remember where things are and plunder through stacks and piles. Organizing objects beats organizing search parties, hands down.

  3. posted by Linda on

    I agree with you about learning how to be organized and sometimes (though filled with great insight) it can be daunting that your area of focus is not done in a half hour tv program time-set. Start small, maybe at first it’s the area you see when you first wake up or, see when you walk in or out of your door.

  4. posted by Brian on

    I have to second Beverly’s comment. My nephew is has been obsessed with vacuums almost since birth. My brother makes it a point when they go to the store to detour to the vacuum cleaners to give him some quality time. I think it helps that his parents are very organized… at least compared to me.

  5. posted by a on

    I think I can…
    I think I can…

  6. posted by Organizing Your Way | Surfin’ the Net: 5/10-5/23 on

    […] you, and I couldn’t decide, so I’m going to share both. The first is encouragement for anyone who feels like they’re just not organized and never  will be. The second is the definition of an unclutterer. Are you an […]

  7. posted by knitwych on

    Great post. I’m sure I am not the only one who grew up in a disorganized household, and I’m equally sure that I am not the only one who has engaged in self-criticism for being disorganized. My mother was the type who bought one organizing book after another, but never quite caught onto the fact that getting organized requires more than just having the books sitting on the shelf. She’d browse through the books, make a halfhearted attempt to begin a project, and never follow through.

    When I moved into my first apartment, I was determined that it was not going to be like home. But it quickly became like home, because I didn’t know what the heck to do besides the pile-and-stash routines I’d learned at home. It frustrated me to no end, until the day I realized:

    “Wait a minute – I’m beating myself up for something I was never taught how to do? I don’t beat myself up because I don’t know how to dance the tango or because I don’t know how to repair an air conditioner. Why am I beating myself up because my house is a wreck? I didn’t learn much about organization and housekeeping until I got into high school Home Ec class.”

    Since then, I’ve had areas of organization in my life. The things I treasure most are organized and have always been that way. Unfortunately, I’ve also had family members play the ‘I don’t want this anymore, so I’m giving it to you’ game (a LOT!), and I do have a tendency to invoke what I call the Scarlett O’Hara philosophy (“Tomorrow is another day”) in regards to putting things off. End result: Clutter that bogs me down.

    I’ve found that getting organized/clutter free and staying organized/clutter are two totally different ballgames, and it’s the latter one in which I am more likely to strike out. When I lived alone, it was easier to win both ballgames, but moving in with DBF has thrown me back several steps. He, too, has super-organized areas in his life (such as his music collection, approximately 11 *thousand* albums, 45s and CDs filed alphabetically by artist, then by release date) but he also has a tendency to hang onto things simply because he doesn’t know what to do with them. We’re both to that point where we are fed up with the disorganized areas (me more than him, I think), and we’re learning organize/declutter the space we have so that we are able to enjoy it more.

  8. posted by Kristi of Million Dream Mom on

    Great post! Thank you! I’ve long believed that reshaping the way you look at / think about things can help you make a breakthrough when you’re struggling. I’m in the process of some very heavy decluttering in my home right now, and sometimes I get really overwhelmed and think I’ll never manage to be organized. But this post reminded me to look at how much I HAVE learned over the years (like you, I only started learning organization when I hit my adult years), and has given me a new dose of motivation. I think I may even hit my decluttering goal for this weekend now ;).

  9. posted by giulia on

    I used to refer to myself as “a scruffy person in a messy world” (I found that sentence somewhere on web and I thought “it’s me”). BUT some weeks ago I start to visit websites about clutter and decluttering, and now I can say I’m decluttering my room after years of chaos (i’m 22). your website is great, I come here every evening (and on the flicr pool too) and I feel soooo good, it give me energy. It is not just about decluttering a bedroom-pcdesk-office, it is about will and about find the essential and throw away junk.

  10. posted by gail gray of a fresh start professional organizing on

    I was not born organized, and I let my clients know that it can be a learned skill. Once you recognized the benefits of organization, you will be more motivated to try and learn more about it! As for Beverly D, my son was fascinated with the vac as well…pictures galore of him with a vac. Now he is 6 and could care less if things are neat, clean and organized. More important things to do, like play with friends and taunt his older brother!

  11. posted by lori on

    Like you, I did not even think about being organized until my adult years. To think of all the time and energy I wasted just looking for something-it makes me sad. I now work on organizing a small area at a time. Remember, baby steps.

  12. posted by Sheena on

    So you think, so you are. Altering your perspective goes a long way towards realizing the life you want to have and accomplishing the goals you wish to achieve…even if its a goal to simplify, declutter and be organized.

  13. posted by JJ on

    I was raised in an organized household. After leaving home 20 years ago, I can still navigate my mother’s home with ease. I can even quickly find things in the chest freezers because they are orderly.

    After many failed attempts trying to emulate others, I have finally realized that each person is unique, and each will have to find something that works for them. My husband chuckles at my daily chore list. I have a list of minimum chores for each day of the week, but Sunday. I have a notebook and a separate page for each day with columns for all the dates of the month landing on that day. Each task is checked off, or I put a slash through it if I don’t do it. It keeps me accountable and I really KNOW if I haven’t mopped the basement bath for two weeks. I have a “comments” area for anything related to non-routine maintenance, or last week for four days it read “vacuum cleaner is dead”. I keep the records in the notebook. I like seeing everything checked off. I eliminated some chores that I felt didn’t need done as much, and added some that needed done more often. Seeing the little rows of checks makes me feel good.

    I love having a cleaner house and just doing the minimal work on my list keeps it clutter free. I am still finding ways to organize areas of the house that need help, but what I have completed has stayed clutter free and manageable.

  14. posted by becoming minimalist on

    the life who stops learning, starts dying.

  15. posted by mmm on

    I would love to see articles about how to reduce clutter by re-using. I’ve often found good new uses for things. Sometimes, I think “clutter” is really about not knowing how to use things. I find this all the time in my closet, I’m doing a closet clothes purge and all of sudden the shirt that I had no pants to go with it, finds a new creative outfit.. or I move bookends to another location and they look great.. If anyone has any ideas of good websites or books on this, I’d appreciate it..

  16. posted by Beverly D on

    Just to clarify: I don’t think my grandson is interested in being organized, it’s about using the machine. He wants to know how it works. For now my daughter is teaching him to incorporate vacuuming with cleaning up, which also means picking up the toys, putting away shoes etc. But his real interest is in how things work, including his toys, which is why grandma thinks he’s going to be an inventor.

  17. posted by Causes of Clutter - Seeing No Need to Change | Becoming Minimalist on

    […] for further reading, may i recommend “everyone can learn to be organized.” […]

  18. posted by Maria on

    It is natural for babies to have a special fascination with vacuums. It is very similar to the sound experienced in the womb.

  19. posted by Desarae on

    I love organization, its a fun addiction, like etiquette. You are absolutely right, neither of those things is inherent, but essential to a business lifestyle. I love talking and writing about these things, but the tough part is being a geek and finding ways to manage a company, project manage staff, or help clients organize and manage communication, social media, or the millions of tools available to them. Thanks for starting this blog.

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