Is “organizing” a dirty word?

The two men known as The Minimalists wrote an essay entitled Organizing is Well-Planned Hoarding in which they stated, “We need to start thinking of organizing as a dirty word. It is a sneaky little profanity that keeps us from simplifying our lives.”

Well, yes and no.

Certainly putting things away in an organized manner doesn’t do much if the underlying problem is that you need to unclutter. In his book Clutter’s Last Stand, Don Aslett wrote about “junk bunkers” such as shoe organizers (for shoes you never wear) and magazine binders (for magazines you’ll never look at again). That’s why professional organizers will tell you that buying cool containers (if you find you need them) is one of the last steps in organizing, not the first.

I also find that this “elevator pitch” for minimalism makes a lot of sense:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

If you look through the tour of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn’s home, you’ll see he owns very few things, and that obviously works for him — and a similar approach works for others, too.

But perhaps the things that add value to your life are work or hobbies that require stuff: a carpenter’s tools, an artist or crafter’s supplies, sports gear of various sorts, etc. For example, if you make a contribution by providing quilts to cancer patients and others facing a tough time, you’re going to have a stash of fabric.

Or maybe you’re passionate about music, and you have a large collection of vinyl albums. You’ll want to have some organizing scheme for those.

Another example: You may have family members whose well-being depends on a number of medicines and medical products, which you certainly want to keep organized.

It pays to look through that stuff periodically to make sure you still want all of it. Do all those hobbies still have a meaningful place in your life? Did you buy a package of scrapbook pages but only really like half of them? Do you have old tools that have been replaced by better ones? Did you buy an album on speculation just to find it’s not to your taste at all? Have your prescriptions changed so that you now have medicines you no longer need?

But once you’ve decided what to keep, you’re going to want to have it organized so you can find things when its time to use them.

So yes — the first steps in organizing are to “imagine the life you want to live” (as Peter Walsh says in his book It’s All Too Much) and to discard those items that don’t help you achieve that goal. But after you’ve done the imagining and the uncluttering, you’ll also want to take whatever final organizing steps — giving everything a defined storage space, keeping like with like, containerizing, labeling — will help you store your things so you can find them later.

4 Comments for “Is “organizing” a dirty word?”

  1. posted by Michelle on

    Thank you for this. I have a hobby, scrapbooking, that requires supplies and storage. My collection is organized and contains only what I need for the projects I’m working on. It’s not hoarding by any stretch of the imagination.

    I used to be a big fan of The Minimalists. Over the past 18-24 months however, I’ve found their content more and more off-putting. Statements like, “We need to start thinking of organizing as a dirty word,” do more harm than good.

  2. posted by Kenneth Quesenberry on

    I like the idea of minimalism but sometimes the photos of the examples leave you wondering. For instance, in Millburn’s home, the firs thing that I noticed was that their kitchen has more storage space than ours does. I’m not saying that’s bad, only that it helps them to at least look less cluttered than it might otherwise be (organized or not). At any rate, my uncluttered home would look different from theirs, if in fact I ever uncluttered it.

    I live with a qualified hoarder. She is somewhat organized and has high hopes of unloading some clutter when she retires in two months and six days. But I’m not so sure that simplifying one’s life is necessarily much of a goal. I see no connection to happiness or contentment.

  3. posted by Alvin Liang on

    For me, it’s definitely music. And I completely connect with the message here. I spend a lot of time organizing, but instead of organizing physical vinyls, I organize songs in Spotify. Classical music is my favorite, I recently made a new playlist of it:

  4. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    I’ve read this post and the comments three or four times now, something usually worth doing, and I have a few more comments.

    The article suggests that physical objects get in the way of non-physical goals, like health, relationships and so on. I just don’t believe that’s the case. They usually don’t in the least, especially if somehow spending time in a bare room is a solution. There are better reasons to de-clutter. A cluttered room can be perfectly well organized, although it will still be cluttered. It probably won’t be all that clean, however, and that is a good reason to unclutter a room.

    The most difficult thing to deal with when you want to unclutter your living space is the fact that you share that space with someone else. They invariably have their own priorities as regards what to keep and what to toss. Ultimately, very little is tossed. So when you pass away, things are taken out of your attic and put in someone else’s attic. It can be said that when you die, you literally kick the dust.

    On the subject of music, I only have about two dozen CDs, about 2/3rds of which are in the car in a shoebox. I listen to them randomly, as if they were being played on the radio, so no organization is necessary. But it also occurred to me that I’ve already made my choice about what music to take with me to that desert island that has nothing but a CD player.

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