Rules of organized people

Lately, Unclutterer writer Jacki Hollywood Brown and I have been sending each other links to humorous articles about people who come up as the INTJ type on the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Both Jacki and I are this rare result (fewer than 3 percent of females), and although we don’t put a huge amount of stake in these test results, we both nod our heads and smile when we read articles describing traits that are common to our INTJ type.

It is in this same vein that I present these rules of being organized. Obviously, they aren’t laws and don’t all apply exactly to everyone who is organized. Rather, they’re a trend. They’re a fun way to get a big picture view of how people who are organized live. As we do with the INTJ personality descriptions, feel welcome to nod and smile as you read through this list, but please stop short of printing it out and handing it to someone demanding they adopt each of these rules. (Although, my INTJ personality does love a good checklist …)

Rules for being organized

  1. Know yourself. Organized people typically know themselves very well. They know how they access information and goods and create storage systems that reflect these preferences. They know how many steps is too many for them to maintain order. They know how they prefer to work and live. They know what they need, and what they don’t need. They know their responsibilities. Most importantly, they know what they want in life and what their priorities are.
  2. Being organized is not the goal. People who are organized are not organized for the sake of being organized. They are organized so they can enjoy the benefits of being organized. An organized life is their way of getting rid of distractions so they can focus on what matters most to them.
  3. Expect to fail. No one is organized in every aspect of their life every day of their life. People fall off the organized wagon. The difference between organized and disorganized people, however, is that organized people accept this as part of the process and simply start again. We’re human; we don’t have super powers.
  4. A place for everything, and everything in its place. People who are organized have a place to store every single item they have in their home. If something doesn’t have a storage place, it will always be out of place and in the way. Each shirt needs a hanger or a space in a drawer. If there isn’t enough room to store all of your shirts, there will always be dirty laundry or clean laundry hanging out in a hamper. If shoes don’t have a place to live, they will wind up in the middle of the living room floor or in a heap by the door.
  5. Write it down. This could also be stated as “capture it” or “type it in.” The point is that organized people get their to-do items out of their heads and onto a list or calendar so they don’t worry about dropping the ball. No need to remember you have a dentist appointment on Thursday when you can just look at your calendar and see that it’s scheduled on Thursday. Your mental resources are free to think about important problems/happy thoughts/complex issues instead of when, six months from now, you should be at your dentist’s office.
  6. Routines are the backbone of organization. Organized people have routines worked into their days to take care of the boring, repetitive, and/or undesirable tasks. At the end of a work day, the desk is cleared, tomorrow’s calendar and to-do lists are reviewed, and the desk is set so it is ready to go the next morning so work can begin immediately. After school, the kids pull out their lunch boxes and put them on the kitchen counter and then have a snack high in protein before settling in to do their homework. At bedtime, the kids take a bath, put on their pajamas, have no more than three books read to them (which have been chosen prior to the bath), and then it is lights out at the same time every night. Actions are dependable and familiar and provide stability.
  7. Follow through and don’t delay. Organized people don’t see dinner as being finished when the last bite of food is swallowed. Organized people see dinner as being finished when the table is cleared and wiped down, the floor has been swept, all dirty dishes have been loaded into the dishwasher, and the dishwasher is started. Wrapping a present isn’t finished when the bow is placed on the package but only after all supplies — tape, wrapping paper — have been properly stored. If anything can be done in less than two minutes, it will be done straight away instead of putting it on a to-do list.
  8. Do your part. Organized people tend to see that they are part of a unit or team instead of a lone wolf. This means, if they share a house with someone, they know they have responsibilities about cleaning, caring, and maintaining the home simply because they live there. They try not to make work for other people and do what has been assigned to them. Or, if they are in charge of assigning work, they know that everyone involved has a stake in the project/home/team/etc. and thus make sure everyone has responsibilities reflecting their abilities to contribute.
  9. Don’t own a lot of superfluous stuff. When organized people cease having a need for something, they typically get rid of it. They only keep what they value or use.
  10. Trust in the future. Most organized people trust that in the future they will be able to either buy, borrow, or acquire the tools they will need when they need them. Saving an unnecessary object just in case isn’t really an organized person’s style. That being said, an organized person does tend to have things that are useful and necessary on hand when they are needed. For example, toilet paper rarely runs out in an organized person’s home because systems are in place for storing and replacing toilet paper as demand requires. An organized person will likely have one shelf in a linen closet designated for toilet paper storage and when supply depletes beyond a certain point, toilet paper will be added to the shopping list. Conversely, an organized person doesn’t buy more toilet paper than can fit on the toilet paper storing shelf just because there is a deal. Other deals will come and an organized person trusts that he will take advantage of those other deals when he needs more toilet paper.
  11. You are not your things and your things don’t contain souls. Organized people aren’t heartless creatures who never feel anything sentimental toward a physical object. In fact, they might be sentimental fools. This being said, they are rational enough to know that grandpa is not IN the painting he left them after he died. They know that the baby blanket they saved for their child is not their child. If they get rid of the object or if the object is destroyed in a fire, their memories still exist and they still love grandpa and their child.
  12. It’s better to have a tree than a forest. Sometimes I phrase this as “quality over quantity.” Either way, organized people tend to keep the best object (best, obviously, being subjective to the keeper) instead of all the objects. Instead of keeping a five inch stack of their child’s artwork from kindergarten, they keep their favorite piece and hang it on the wall or store it in an archival quality way. Instead of printing every photograph from a favorite vacation and hanging all 427 images on the wall, they frame their one favorite image or use it as their screensaver on their computer.
  13. Being organized isn’t for everyone, it’s a choice only you can make for yourself. Simply stated, you can’t force someone to be organized. Not everyone has a desire to be organized. There are multiple paths to a happy, fulfilled life, and being organized is just one path to that goal. You can certainly teach others about how to be organized and you can let them see the benefits you garner from being organized, but you can’t force someone into being organized. And, harboring resentment toward others for not being organized only clutters up your time. Accept their decision, no matter how much it frustrates you. Maybe one day they will come around to your way of seeing things and they will be more likely to ask for your help if they’re not mad at you for being a jerk to them when they weren’t.
  14. Anyone can be organized. Being organized is a skill set, it is not a natural ability — it’s nurture, not nature. It certainly comes more easily to some people, but that doesn’t mean an organized life is impossible to achieve if it comes slowly to someone else. Being organized takes practice, same as a sport.

14 Comments for “Rules of organized people”

  1. posted by Clean Queen on

    Hi Erin,

    I love to see an article on organization that’s so organized! 🙂

    I think my favorite of these is #6 – it’s all about routines for me. I write out all my cleaning routines and make a calendar for myself, so I always know what to do. It keeps me from having a surprising clutter pile or dust/cat hair tornado under the bed.

  2. posted by Andi Bednorz on

    I love this whole list! But, number two especially resonates though. This is the reason I give my kids, my friends, and whomever else will listen to why I am organized. Being organized is NOT the end goal, it’s all about getting rid of the superfluous stuff so you can focus on what really matters to you. Thanks for posting this!

  3. posted by Matt Peters on

    I agree that #6 is especially important. Routines are fantastic for organization and just making life easier in general. When you have a habit or routine, you don’t need to put extra effort into thinking about redundant tasks.

  4. posted by Andi Bednorz on

    I forgot to say earlier that I am an ISTJ, which probably explains a lot about why I love this post.

  5. posted by Sue on

    Writing things down and having routines are how I maintain my sanity while working with some not-organized co-workers. I have what I call the Alien Abduction notebook, so if something happens to me, others have access to passwords, routines, vendors, codes, etc. I doesn’t have to remember them. (Remember that scene in “The Last Crusade” when Henry Jones, Sr. tells Indy that he kept things in his journal so he wouldn’t HAVE to remember them? Same idea.) Have one at home, too.

    There are things I only have to do once a year, so those are noted in the AANB. Any changes or refinements we make are noted for the following year. I have checklists, reminders, and note of things to NOT do and why.

  6. posted by Kate on

    I totally organise for the sake of organising – number two doesn’t apply to me. I love organising and I’d much prefer to organise in a room than relax in an organised room. Being organised gives me extra time to do more organising!

  7. posted by shebolt on

    This is a fantastic list. I think #6 and #7 are my biggest problems. I’m already aware of this, and have tried to change my habits several times, but I keep failing.

  8. posted by Jennifer on

    Amazingly well said! I’m bookmarking this list so I can remind myself of #2 in particular. Sometimes I get so caught up in the never ending act of organizing that I lose sight of the true purpose of it all. Thanks for sharing!

  9. posted by Marie on

    Can I get “your things don’t contain souls” on some tee shirts for a few family members?

  10. posted by Wendy on

    9,10, and 11 are perfect reminders to let go of things. I grew up with depression era parents who constantly reminded me that we might not have “enough”, if I wasted anything or threw anything away. When I helped clear out my mother’s things, there were “enough” dried out pens to provide for a small school district.

    I will clear out one drawer today after reading this insightful list. Thanks.

  11. posted by Lauren on

    Good stuff! But also you should leverage all the tools you use. I mean, how much time we’re wasting on Google Analytics before we are “fluent” in it? Some tools are designed to save time, like for example or, and this are details which can make you more organized than ever.

  12. posted by ClearView Coach on

    I am not sure I agree that anyone can be organized. Or if that is true, then perhaps it is truer that anyone can be organized to some degree, but that it is different for each person!

  13. posted by [email protected] on

    That’s my husband to a tee! I have a lot of those traits but I’ve had to develop them. He comes by them naturally. A while back I wrote a post for my blog about the things he does to stay organized – as a lesson to the rest of us, you know.

  14. posted by Mani on

    Great article! Writing things down is the key to both my mental and environmental organization. I couldn’t function without it!

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