Do organized people have a bad reputation?

I received an interesting email message the other day:

Why should I bother getting rid of my clutter if my clutter doesn’t bother me? It only seems to be a problem for other people.

I receive dozens of emails like this a month. They are messages from people who stumble upon the website and feel a need to defend their messy way of life. The incorrect assumption is always that since we talk about home and office organizing on Unclutterer, we believe that we’re better than messy people.

At a networking event last year, a woman I had just met told me she hated people like me. She said that she hates organized, tightly wound people who look down their noses at messy people. She made these comments after I said only the words, “Hi, I’m Erin. I’m editor-at-large of a website called”

I haven’t quite figured out why, but there does seem to be the misconception that organized people spend a great amount of time looking down on people who are messy. How did this inaccurate stereotype develop? Why is pursuing an organized life considered to be one full of judgment?

The reality (or, at least my reality) is that I barely have the time to do the things I want to do. I want to help people who want my help to be more organized and live more simply. I want to be a good friend to my friends, and a good family member to my family. I want to be happy. I don’t have the time or desire to judge people because they are messy. And, since I used to be completely disorganized, I would have to look down on my past self — and I don’t have the time to do that, either.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think organized people get a bad rap? More importantly, what can all of us do to put these inaccurate and judgmental stereotypes to rest? Or, am I off base, and are most organized people standing around thinking bad thoughts about messy people? I’m interested in reading your opinions in the comments.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

149 Comments for “Do organized people have a bad reputation?”

  1. posted by Evie on

    I think the problem comes when people think clutter = dirty. That’s not true, but some people think that if we don’t like clutter, we must be equating the two and are then automatically on the defense. I’ve seen cluttered houses and I’ve seen dirty houses, they are not the same. You can have an uncluttered house and it still be dirty. I’m suddenly feeling the need for a Venn diagram.

  2. posted by Mary on

    I like my apartment to be organized. If my roommates start cluttering the living room with their crap, I will dump it in their rooms. What they do with their rooms is their business; however, the common areas have to stay clean.

    If I go to somebody’s house, and its a total mess, with piles of junk everywhere, I will think that I could never live there, but honestly, unless there is mold growing, or rats running, I don’t care at all. Some people don’t mind the clutter. I find it distracting, and could not get any work done until my room was clean.

  3. posted by discipula on

    Somehow they see it as a judgment. Home educators sometimes get the same reaction, as if somehow, the choice someone else has made to educate children at home is a judgment on their choice of public (private, charter, etc.) school. Interesting.

  4. posted by Bobbi on


    If no offense was given or intended, as was the case, then she was being defensive in her accusation. “A good offense is a good defense.” I assume she already feels bad about her messiness (or whatever “should” is being discussed) in spite of protests to the contrary. She is judging herself and tries to take the sting off by accusing you of being the judge. She also has probably been the recipient of many admonitions to get organized, clean her room, etc. and was punished somehow when she didn’t deliver.

    A counselor once told me “what you think of me is none of my business.” I am learning several ways to graciously respond to these kind of comments.

    “Hate” is a pretty strong word. Sigh. That said, some “organized” people do make the “messy” people feel bad or judged. Lots of nagging going on out there. Been guilty of it myself on occasion. (See first paragraph.)

  5. posted by Laura on

    I’m a messy person. I read your site because I strive to be less messy because I know that I waste time an energy dealing with my mess.

    I think the reason that messy people–and I’m speaking mostly for myself–think bad thoughts about organized people is they’ve had the experience of having an organized person criticize them, or they may feel judged by them in some way.

    My stepmother, who’s neat but who, ironically, has a lot of decorative clutter, once came to my house and said, “I know you’re busy, but you should really keep up with the housework more.” At the time, my husband and I were both working 50 hours or more per week and traveled a lot for work. I don’t think she had any idea how busy we were. What we needed was a few days to dig out and get a system going. But her comment deflated me and made me even less likely to start organizing.

    I think my stepmother is not unlike many self-proclaimed organized people; they either judge directly or indirectly, making us messy people feel bad. I also think there’s a long history of associating cleanliness with goodness (betterness?). There’s the saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” and there are all the tv shows that give the not-so-subtle hint that being messy is a bad thing. If you’re messy and exposed to these messages, you start to think that something’s wrong with you, or at the very least, that a bunch of neat people think there’s something wrong with you.

    My office may never be featured on your site because I may never reach those standards of neatness, but I keep trying. And you know, if someone wants to stay messy, okay, big deal. But I personally would feel a lot better if I were neater. And I try to ignore judgmental people of all stripes.

  6. posted by Serene Journey on

    Hi Erin,
    I admit I’m a fairly organized person now but, like you, haven’t always been that way. I get the occasional eye roll especially when people used to see my spice drawers all labeled and sorted alphabetically (I LOVED my spice drawers it was so easy to find everything!).

    I find that an organized and simplified life is less stressful, less costly and just generally makes me feel better. But that’s what works for ME. It’s not for everyone and that’s totally fine!

    One of my favorite quotes that could apply to your question “are most organized people standing around thinking bad thoughts about messy people?” is “You’d worry less about what people thought of you if you knew how little they did.”

    Do what works for you. That’s what I think.

  7. posted by Divine Bird Jenny on

    My mom was someone who looked down on clutter. Even though I strive to rid myself of clutter for my own reasons, I always hear that voice at the back of my memory that says, “people will talk about how messy hour house is.” Funny, it sounds just like HER voice! My parents had acquaintances who had a messy, cluttered house and it used to drive my mom CRAZY. She would talk about that couple’s messiness every time they came up in conversation. She definitely fit the stereotype you mentioned in your post. I think this is where a lot of people make that connection between ‘neat’ and ‘snob’. We remember some disapproving stare, or a shaking finger, and feel like everyone who’s neat must be judging us all the time.

    I have a hard time not judging myself! Thankfully, I have friends who are messier than I am. It’s strange to be the one in the friend group who has more sitting room than anyone else. 😉

  8. posted by Loren on

    I think the problem is that often those who are overly cluttered (like myself) would like to change. Or somehow feel this is a bad habit or a personality defect, like biting your nails or being an alcoholic.
    I think saying ‘I hate organized people’ is almost the same as saying ‘Rehab is for quitters.’ and thinking it is funny. It’s an attack on someone that has a better handle on an aspect of life that you cannot seem to get under control.

  9. posted by Jo on

    I come from a background of counterculture and punk rock, and I notice that a lot of us, as we get older, are choosing to live simple, uncluttered lives. It is a different form of rebellion, the rebellion against consumerism and the self-defeating mess that we may have lived in before.

    I get the gears from some of my friends for caring about my home, but I don’t see anything wrong with keeping my things nice (so I don’t have to spend more on new things!) and keeping things neat so I can actually find my keys and get out of the house to do more important things! 🙂 But I think they feel that I am somehow becoming uptight and boring because I’ve abandoned my mess.


  10. posted by Khürt Williams on

    I think @bobbi got it right. The judgement the “messy” person is feeling is an externalisation of their own self judgement.

    My challenge as an “unclutterer” is that I married my opposite.

  11. posted by Aisha on

    I second what Laura says. There is certainly a cultural norm that organized=good clutter=bad. And it’s a cross-cultural norm, as a matter of fact. So most of us messies have an unhealthy level of guilt about our messiness, whatever we think on a conscious level about being messy. And while not all organized people sit in judgment on disorganized/messy people, a pretty large number, in my experience, are fairly vocally judgmental about other people’s mess, even when it has no effect on them directly.

    My own experience of this comes from a mother and line of aunts who are all fantastic housekeepers in a super-organized way, and sharing a room with my sister when we were growing up. She couldn’t deal with the mess inside my dresser drawers.

    For my part, it’s taken me a long time to get to the point that I’m not going to let my irritation with my sister get in the way of finding a level of organization that I am comfortable with. Thanks for your help in that quest.

  12. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    I can only speak from my own experience, but most “organized” people that criticize others have always been that way. They have always had a place for everything and everything in its place, and have known no other way. They cannot fathom that everyone does not automatically know how to do these things like they do.
    Of course, they are generally the rarest kind of people.

    Anyone that has become organized, or is attempting to become organized, that used to be messy does not look down on messy people. I think most people fall into this category, including me. We are messy people trying to use the tools of organization to help us live a better life, and struggle with it everyday but continue on because we see it really does help.

    Unfortunately, it just takes one off-hand comment to really hurt someone’s feelings. Plus, if you know what you are doing is not working but you haven’t figured out how to fix it yet, I know I tend to get defensive. I think there is an element of this response in most of these emails and comments you get too.

  13. posted by justelise on

    There is a fine line between organized and OCD. Unfortunately a lot of people who are obsessed with organization and uncluttered lifestyles are on the OCD side of the line. I’ve met plenty of organized people who were organized in a very utilitarian sense, meaning that everything has its place, and they’re good at keeping things where they belong (think military). The OCD folks are the type of people who label everything, have minor freak-outs when things are out of place (especially when things were moved by their roommates or family members), and tend to judge other people’s level of organization. There is nothing more insulting than taking your family member or roommate’s things from a common area and dumping them in their room, going to someone’s house and commenting on their organization (or lack thereof), or going to someone else’s place and “cleaning up” for them. If you’re doing any of these things, you need to reconsider your actions, and have discussions with the people you think you’re helping, because you are only making people resent you. Instilling your brand of organization on someone else is exactly what gives organized/uncluttered people a bad reputation.

  14. posted by Catherine on

    I find Jo’s comment very interesting. I too come from a counterculture (for lack of a better word) background, and I too have continued to simplify and unclutter my life as a way of not participating in the dominant (consumer) culture. Hmm. I wonder if this can be extrapolated to others? Very interesting subject for discussion.

  15. posted by John on

    I’m tempted to say it’s because too many in our society see things as absolutely black and white. For example, I ride my bike to work. I have mentioned this to people in passing and the response I get is, “Well, I see nothing wrong with the fact I drive an SUV.” Uh… okay. I never said anything and frankly I don’t care how you get to work. A friend of mine is vegetarian for religious reasons. He gets earfuls about that. For some reason certain people see lifestyles as diametrically opposed to theirs.

    I too have gotten into discussions with people about organization. I’m quite decluttered and organized. I always have been. I usually get responses such as, “Well, it must be nice knowing where everything is, I simply don’t have time to be organized!” I ask, “But you have time to spend 20 minutes looking for _________?”

  16. posted by Richie on

    As someone who has been reading this website regularly for well over a year now, it should be obvious that I haven’t been too offended by what is written here.

    I personally find myself in between the messy and organized realm and have come away from this site with the tips that work with my lifestyle and personality.

    However, there have been times I felt the articles discounted the notion that anyone could be happy in a messy or disorganized setting.

    The recent article on how to change someone into an unclutterer was an excellent example of this. The entire stance was on how to change the other person to conform to your tastes rather than attempt some sort of compromise.

    When the article talks about putting yourself in someone’s shoes it is all from the POV that they are miserable or ignorant of how to be clutter free, when the reality could be that they are quite comfortable with how they are living.

    I also recently read an article (I forget where) which sought to teach people how to purge their book collections, with no hint of recognition that many people actually work at building up a library. The message was- “If you collect books, you are wrong and must be taught how to do things the right way.”

    Basically, be it in politics, religion, or yes, uncluttering, I find it hard to stomach any writing that does not seek to acknowledge that there are differing views. When one just assumes that everyone should agree with them, I usually stop paying attention.

    That said the vast majority of posts on this site are written with an understanding that they are directed at like-minded people. The article on changing someone into an unclutterer is the exception, not the rule.

  17. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jo and @Catherine — Huh. I never thought about it before, but I definitely fall into a similar category. Interesting …

  18. posted by m on

    I think it’s simple defensiveness. Not everyone values simplicity and organization, but there are an awful lot of books, TV shows, and magazines devoted to the topic. In shows like “Clean Sweep” and even on most of the home staging shows, the homeowners tend to be portrayed as pitiable slobs in dire need of rescue.

    That being said…I have to admit that I LOVE those shows! And I love being organized.

  19. posted by Michele on

    It’s insecure, unhappy, self-centered people projecting.

  20. posted by Mer on

    I like organization because it makes me feel calmer. Clutter is a form of chaos that stresses me out.

    If that makes me an OCD control freak, so be it. I like being able to find what I need when I need it.

  21. posted by Courtney on

    As a cluttered person attempting to become organized, I tend to feel a little jealous of organized people. They’re “together” and I’m “a mess”. If other cluttered people are anything like me, they interpret their own jealousy as being judged or looked down upon by more organized people. I think that the “judgement” is all in their heads. Likely, if a person is truly okay with their own clutter, they won’t feel judged. It’s when they’re self-conscious about it that emotions become a factor.

  22. posted by Terry on

    I find it so interesting in these comments how often mothers are referenced. How many of us were punished for notbeong clean? I had dinner taken away from me. So I think there is an association between being looked down upon that starts young.

    I also think being messy is a misguided way of being independant. You have control and you can manage your mess. To move towards being uncluttered means to some people giving up control and giving in. It’s a terrible and sad cycle.

    When people who are messy feel others are judging them, they are just being paranoid that their independance is being threatened. They’re defensive, or really being offensive. One of the reasons why I now think being messy is more work then being organized ( as I was once the person I was describing above…)

  23. posted by Dorothy on

    The answer to the hypothetical e-mail is, “You shouldn’t”.

    But, come on, organized people, fess up! Don’t you in your heart of hearts look down on those of us who are either untidy or just starting on the path to good organization? All the namby-pamby talk of tolerance and judgement aside, don’t you feel a certain smugness, even if you hide it well, when you see the messy digs of your less-enlightened friends?

    As for the “untidiness does not mean dirty” foolishness, prove it! I suppose that SOMEWHERE there’s a space that’s untidy but clean. But I’ve yet to see it. It’s so hard to clean around/through/on top of a mess that it’s rarely done.

    Unclutterers, be proud and be honest. You are better. I applaud you for not gloating — outwardly at least. And I applaud you from keeping your mouth shut when you see my home and office. I’m working on it — really!

  24. posted by shris on


    I have heard stories from my mother-in-law about how she felt about her mother-in-law and how inadequate her housecleaning by comparison, etc.

    There are so many cliches about mothers-in-law sniping and griping and nitpicking and being judgemental about cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, etc. that some of them have to be rooted in truth.

    That’s not to say only mothers-in-law have that particular set of traits, surely the mothers, stepmothers, aunts, grandparents, fathers, fathers-in-law, friends, etc. have some claim as well.

    Some people will tell you what they think. Other people just look at stuff and you think you know what they’re thinking. You think they’re judging the dust on the side table when they’re actually looking at the title of the book that’s sitting on the dusty side table. 🙂

    Part of it is real, part of it is insecurity and expectation (correct or no).

    The voices in my head are my father, TV personalities like Peter Walsh and Alton Brown.. They expect me to do better, always. Fortunately for me, real people do not say anything unkind or judgemental–they’re all very supportive (even my dad). 🙂


  25. posted by drkimme on

    I think you could add in a couple more “personality types” (for lack of a better grouping principle) to the uncluttered vs. cluttered domains.

    “Early risers” vs “Night owls” (early risers get perceived as more task-oriented; night owls get perceived as lazy) and

    “Runners/Yoga-practicers/etc.” vs. “non-exercisers” – self -explanatory, no?

    There are definitely stereotypes associated with these, and probably for good reason…like what’s been posted above, I think there is a grain of truth in some of the individuals in category A looking down their nose at those in Category B, but that’s not necessarily “The Rule” (scary about the mother-in-law posting!).

    @Richie got it right … most of the readers of this blog are interested in reading about some interesting tips to decrease clutter. There is virtually no content suggesting that the blog is about ‘down with the messies, and let the unclutters rise up!’.

    If the clutter in your life is getting you or a loved one down, then it’s a problem. Otherwise, it’s just another the myriad choices of how to live your life.

  26. posted by Mom of 4 on

    I think the original e-mail’s premise was mistaken.

    Unless you’re a complete hermit, your clutter can’t help but affect those around you. I live with a “messy”, and must not only live with the way his clutter *looks*, but with the inevitable fallout from the clutter. Important papers disappear. We’re continually late to events because he can’t find something he needs to bring. He leaves things at the office that he needs at home, and vice-versa. The clutter causes him frustration, and makes it harder for him to manage his time. That can’t help but bleed over onto the rest of the family.

    Perhaps the reason clutterers feel judged is that they really do realize that the clutter is taking a toll on their lives. Human nature being what it is, it’s just easier to blame the organized than it is to take responsibility for the clutter.

  27. posted by kyle on

    Speaking from personal experience, I have a hard time not judging people based on their own personal hygiene and cleanliness. I have always been an organized person. When I was a kid I remember I would clean up my friends rooms when I slept over, just for fun. There is something that makes me feel better when I clean. And even now I do most of the daily cleaning up and organizing in my home. But my wife and I don’t see eye-to-eye on that, so I can get upset about it. Her definition of cleanliness vs. mine is different. So it’s been a learning experience on how to live with someone whom I love and not judge them based on their cleanliness. But it is no easy task.

  28. posted by Linda on

    I think if it doesn’t bother you, it is not clutter. If you can find things, keep your spaces clean without too much trouble, have a spot for your things and enjoy or use the things in your home, then it is not clutter.
    If you find yourself buying things you already have because you can’t find things or buying things you don’t need and won’t use as a way of making your self feel better in the short run than you probably have clutter. If you have more stuff than you have room for in your space, than you probably have clutter or too small a space (Though you have to be careful with this, as my son commented after a neighbor built an addition, “Bigger space, bigger mess”).
    Beyond that, it is a matter of personal style. Having a neat pile of magazines or books on your coffee table is clutter to some folks and a useful and decorative accent to others. I think problems arise when folks either have differences in style or when they have really struggled with the issues around this and feel defensive due to previous criticism.

  29. posted by Bluebird on

    The reason you don’t get the hostility is you haven’t seen how brutally messy people get judged, particularly female messy people (men get a bit of a ‘boys will be boys’ pass). We are bad mothers, bad wives, bad people. Sinners, if you will. Our homes reflect our souls and therefore we are terrible, terrible people.

    Did you see how Oprah treated the hoarder woman on her show? I have honestly seen Oprah act kinder and more polite to child molesters.

    We (yes I’m afraid so) tend to be defensive because we’ve seen how people react. That is why it’s such a big secret, why we’re afraid to have anyone come in or why we’re afraid to ask for help and why we worry someone might be counting if we bring too many bags to the dumpster. That is why our blinds are shut.

    I am pretty sure I have some kind of undiagnosed disorder because the way I deal with things is not normal. But I am afraid to ask anyone for help. This email address is not real. I made it for you.

  30. posted by tuppenz on

    I will admit that I would like to remove the clutter for them – I made this offer to a friend after I mistakenly opened the door to her closet while looking for the bathroom.

  31. posted by Sue on

    Hard to believe someone would pronounce her hate for “people like you” right after you met her. I can see myself responding with “that’s okay, I hate people who make broad generalizations about organized people also being tightly wound and judgemental”.

    I’m an odd one – I am extremely organized in some aspects of my life and a complete cluttered mess in others. At my job, my files are organized, my office is organized, my projects are organized. I have been known to rip into a few other coworkers who complain about never having time to get their work done, yet I see them goofing off often. They also are completely disorganized. I’ve picked up projects from two of them and can’t believe the state of the files. Things are completely misfiled, missing, or such a jumbled mess that it takes me days to get the file into a semblance of order. I’ll never criticize these people to their faces, I save it for a few select coworkers who I know won’t go blabbing about what I say. But I can get nasty – mostly because I feel these people have no right to bitch about their workload. It’s not their workload, it’s their disorganization that causes the problem.

  32. posted by Jennifer on

    No, I don’t think it has anything to do with organization, per se because you see this everywhere. People are just jumping to conclusions; thinking that you must be judging them and reacting to defend themselves. I also frequently get defensive reactions for being a vegetarian and for being an atheist (many religious people automatically assume I think they are stupid).

  33. posted by Robert C. on

    There are two issue being noted I suggest, not one. One is “cluttering’–keeping unnecessary or superabundant materials not organized sufficiently to be usefully available to the owner, in some degree. The second is the reality dissociation syndrome or control freak personality disorder, one which affects everyone
    to some small degree but which in neocon-infested societies such as the bureaucracy-ridden U.S. or Germany leads to producing people who are concrete-bound thinkers not being able to deal with reality and then transferring their designs to tyrannical controlling people. The clean desk, massive or eternal-project- oriented mind becomes a worse problem than the original clutter was as he/she interferes with everyone else’s actions–the backseat driver, obsessive-compulsive, nasty mother-in-law, mad emperor level of dictating.
    From ancient times until now, military types had to organize for safety and “control from the top”; but they lived in a continual “emergency” situation, as a response team. Everyone else needs organization, to a degree sufficient to make their lives easier, maybe 56% or more of the time–to avoid overbuying, waste, inefficiency, continually losing things, hourly hunting expeditions, waste, frustration, damage and mortal danger while merely crossing the living room or bedroom.
    But “pathological neatness” is a compulsive disorder–and any society or organization is judged by how well psychotic control types are kept OUT of positions of authority. The last presidential Administration, the least productive and most expensive in our history, did the worst job at this by my judgment of any on record. It
    alsoo wasted the most money and failed the most universally to accomplish its aims. Enough said.
    Your tips are probably all valuable–to someone, or rarely to just about everyone; they’re sincere attempts to promote comfort, make easier the retrievability of objects, and help promote avoidance of lazy waste or time, money and effort. Keep up the good work.
    But we all need to remember–order is supposed to promotes happy life; it’s not the other way around, not in terms of aims, motivation, etc.
    The purpose of uncluttering is the saving of time and grief, not that of making one’s life into a specimen slide for crazed inspectors cum district attorneys of statist controlism to sit in a star chamber proceeding over at any moment of the day.

  34. posted by Leonie on


    Randy Pausch, the author of the Last Lecture died, was a strong proponent of organising your time and space well, long before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In an interview that appeared on the web, he spoke of how he organised his files. One reader wrote to question why a dying man couldn’t find something better to do with what was left of his life than to organise files.

    The reader took that statement out of context. Dr.Pausch was merely explaining a system he developed for himself years ago. However, having practiced time management and organisation skills, he was, in my opinion, probably one of the few people who was able to live his last few months here in the most productive way possible – spending time with his family and taking care of his affairs.

    Most of us, if we found out we were going to die in a few months would probably not even know where to begin to put our stuff in order.

    So yes, it does seem that there are people who take offense to those of us who try (though we don’t always succeed) to live an organised life.

    I have to be careful when I talk of my own efforts. I think being organised, having a place for everything, and being able to find what I need when I want it, leaves me free to be spontaneous when the occasion calls for it.

    But I’ll get the occasional jibe about living like a robot at times.

    But, as Kyle mention, we or rather I also do have my unspoken thoughts when I walk into someone’s house and see that it is completely out of control messy. In that one situation, it turned out the clutter was only a symptom of deeper issues.

  35. posted by Sandra on

    I think that over time we’ve assimilated “we must clean the house before company comes.” Therefore, when we have a messy house we feel it’s not to be seen by others except maybe the closest of friends. We apologize if people come into a messy house and feel badly when it happens. When women used to be home all the time I think it was more of a reflection of them doing “their job”. I hate to clean so I don’t even like that it is “my job” to clean even though I’m home with my children. Therefore I don’t do it enough and my house gets cluttered and messy. I am working on keeping the clutter down because then there’s less for the children to mess. I have a hard time facing a total mess and having any desire to clean it up. My dh is the opposite. He doesn’t feel an urge to clean things up unless it’s a total mess. Very hard to come to a common ground on this one and hard to teach the kids to pick up after themselves too.

    To make a long story short, if we always feel like our mess is not to be seen by others then we also feel a sense of shame when we do not control it. Sometimes we can project that the sense of shame comes from others when it actually comes from ourselves.

  36. posted by Glenn on

    I recently stayed late at work (on my own time) to unclutter my work areas. I was getting claustrophobic and the piles of unorganized items were making it hard to actually focus on the tasks I need to get done.

    I can’t say that my coworkers are dismayed because I’m keeping things clean, but the owner is looking down on me thinking that I’m not busy enough!

    People where I work have come to some subconscious conclusion that a messy desk = a productive employee 🙁

  37. posted by Dream Mom on

    I can’t say I’ve experienced that, meaning that organized people get a bad rap however there are some people who feel uncomfortable when the topic of organizing comes up. I try to be understanding and put people at ease. If I am talking about organizing, I might talk about how organizing can be challenging for most people because most people don’t have a lot of time and/or we don’t teach people how to get organized. By making them feel comfortable, I think it makes them feel a little less defensive and it’s something everyone can relate to. That way, it’s less about them per se, and more about the fact that they aren’t unusual and that many people share their challenges.

    I think the whole concept of organization can be more stressful for some people because “being organized” is at the forefront today. You can’t pass a magazine without seeing a headline about being organized. You log on to the internet and see articles on how a clean desk can help get you promoted, etc. etc. And then there is the decorating style today-everything is clean, modern and organized. It’s everywhere. And for someone who is not, it can be challenging and enormously stressful. Even if someone doesn’t feel their “messiness” or “disorganization” is a problem for them, other people may begin to see it as a problem and therefore they are more defensive than normal.

    I don’t think organizers as a whole are judgmental but I do think a lot of clients who I have worked with had people in their lives who were and that may be the root of the issue.

  38. posted by Laurie on

    I think that people who make comments like this are mainly jealous that they can’t get their own acts together. They usually WANT to, and know that their lives would be much easier if they DID, but instead they have to criticize the organized people.

    I also HIGHLY disagree w/ the commenter who said that people who are obsessed with organizing are borderline OCD. OCD is a real thing and that term gets thrown around a bit too easily for my liking: “oh look at this room, she must be OCD!”

    I say all this, as a person who has become organized over the past 7 or so years, but before that was a real “MESSY” person. I am NOT OCD now, just because I like to keep my house clean and organized. And when I was a “messy”, I DID criticize organized people!

  39. posted by mdm on

    Life with kids is like a house of cards some days. I try to be uncluttered and organized so I can absorb the unexpected. I figure if I “plan” the basics, then I can be spontaneous and in the moment…

    The only time I really care about someone else’s disorganization or clutter is when it affects me. If I get sent to the wrong address or the wrong time for something.. or if a kid borrows a hairbrush, leaves it in their clutter, and then I’m late for work, because I have to spend 15 minutes scouring the house for it.

  40. posted by JPLemme on

    I want to second drkimme. Some (many?) people who are naturally organized (not the people who have to work at it) are judgmental about it. I naturally create a certain level of disarray and it doesn’t bother me. It’s dealing with my kids’ things that’s put me over the edge.

    But early-risers frost my shorts. It’s a circadian trait, it’s NOT a frickin’ free pass into the Kingdom of God just because you wake up at 5:00 every day.


  41. posted by Nina on

    Jennifer, I was just going to say that it reminds me of when I was a vegetarian and people would get defensive when they found out. In a way I can understand that, because I did think that eating meat is not the right thing to do (even tough I do it myself again now and then now), but they would say it even before I said anything else. I think the main reason is guilt and shame about the way messy homes are.
    I see myself as fairly orderly but I would never go and just tell someone else how to live their life. If they ask for my help, that’s something else.

    Do I look down on messy people? – No
    But they I think their life would be just that much easier and less stressful if their homes were a bit more uncluttered? – Absolutely. Life can be stressful and from my own experience leading a life with less stuff and more order can help to make it just a bit easier.

  42. posted by Sherry on

    I’ve been married to a very nice neatnik for 30 years. He definitely equates neatness with moral superiority and messiness with moral turpitude. I have to remind him a lot that these connections are not accurate. Fortunately, he’s been responsive to my observations and this comes up less frequently over time. Interestingly, he’s also become more messy over the years. I’ve become tidier–which isn’t saying much since I seem to be a born slob.

    At the moment I’m engaged in a massive decluttering project so I’m happy to have found your site. But yes, some neat people really *do* look down their noses at us messies. I’ve found it quite annoying over the years and am glad my message has gotten through to my own neat person. I hope to become a neatnik myself, hopefully not the reformed-smoker kind, though.

    Thanks for your site.

  43. posted by tyule on

    I was born organized. I like a clean house and I hate when there is crap laying around all over the place. This makes me extremely anal and a little neurotic. I now have four kids and my house isn’t nearly as clean as I would like it. But I settle for halfway clean.

    However, I’ve always been a bit envious of the people whose homes are cluttered. My mother-in-law’s house is very cluttered, but there is still something so homey about her house. I feel completely relaxed when I’m at her home. The friends in my life have a tendency to be free spirits whose homes are filled with crap. I couldn’t live in their homes, but I envy their free spirit.

    I’m the neurotic “everything has its place” type of person and it works for me. I know that people think I’m annoying or self-righteous and I get a lot of comments or “rolling of the eyes” about my neurotic tendencies. That’s okay; I figure they are jealous of me, just like I’m jealous of their dirty house.

  44. posted by Ocean Dreamer on

    I haven’t read all the comments – 44 when I posted this! – so someone may have already said this. But, my feeling is that people who say things like that generally do it because a part of them *does* wish they were more organized and rather than recognize and take responsibility for the fact that they chose not to do it, they blame you. It’s easier than actually taking a look at their own behavior. I say this as someone who is a recovering clutterer/all-around messy person who did sometimes feel her more organized friends and acquaintances were judging her … until she realized it was more about her own feelings about her messy home.

  45. posted by Caroline on

    I am a Professional Organizer. The responses when I say that to someone are all over the board – from admiration to intense guilt to dismissal.

    Sometimes (alot actually) people look at me a certain way, and I want to shake them and say I am not who you think I am! I struggled with this issue for so long in my 50 years that I have the ability to help others.

    The way I handle people’s responses is to understand that it’s REALLY not about me….

  46. posted by Shandy on

    I’ll say this. Two of my employers, both designers, were crowing after reading an article about how creative people tend to be messy. They’re both completely disorganized, so obviously this meant they were geniuses! One of them said, rather snottily, “If I spent my time making lists and keeping track of things, I’d spend all of my time on that and none on the ‘big decisions’.” After about 15 minutes of this self-congratulation, I reminded them both that it was because of us–the organized, uncluttered list-keepers–that their “big decisions” ever meant anything, because we are the people who actually get things done. For all their ideas, neither one of them seems to have the ability to actually produce anything at all. How can they, when they can’t find a pen or a phone number or a piece of paper to write down all those ideas (rather than just shouting them out in the hall).

    Needless to say, they both shut up in a hurry.

    There’s room and a purpose for us all.

  47. posted by John on

    Wow, my comments got mangled. It sounds like I contradict myself.

    In short, I can think of numerous situations outside of “uncluttering” where people get all defensive on me, even when I say nothing. Just the fact I’m doing “X” seems to be enough to trigger something inside of them. It’s when people (actually usually people close to me) get exceptionally nasty that I try to point out why I do what I do and perhaps, in the case of being uncluttered, they aren’t saving as much time as they think they are.

    I’m a little sensitive about defensive people (is that ironic?) because I seem to be a magnet. I think it’s my lifelong process of self-improvement. I’m mostly in control of things and some don’t think it’s “fair” that my waters are so calm when theirs are stormy.

  48. posted by Kathy on

    I am an organized person, my husband is not (but he thinks he is). I don’t judge him for it, but I don’t let him complain when he can’t find something or that we live in a ‘pigsty’. But what is interesting is he is quick to judge me if I let something pile up (mail, dishes, vacuuming…), but he has no problem leaving his suitcase in the front hall for a week after the trip.

    My husband’s mother commented one time about how ‘tidy’ our house was, and I remarked that she should’ve been here an hour ago and seen all 10 unfinished project’s of her son’s that I had to put away and she actually said ‘well he is very busy.’ (!) That was very telling, it shows me why he thinks he is organized, she always cleaned up after him (which is weird bec her house is dangerous it’s so cluttered – his sister got hit in the face with a can of peaches one time when she opened the kitchen cabinet, it was so over stuffed). Regardless, I told her that ‘busy’ is an excuse not a reason.

  49. posted by Sarah on

    Oooh, good topic! And a complex, highly charged emotional issue.

    I have a long way to go before I can call myself organized, but I don’t believe it for a minute when people tell me they’re perfectly happy being messy and disorganized. Including my husband, who – though he says the mess doesn’t bother him – no longer uses his home office because he can’t make his way to the desk, let alone find the tools and papers he needs to get anything done. (Now his “home office” has sprouted and started to grow in a corner of the living room, like some kind of insidious fungus using spores to take over a new environment.)

    I see a lot in common here with the non-smoker/smoker conflict. I mean come on, who really *wants* to be a smoker (in spite of what they may tell you)?

    I think in both cases, these folks are going through a tough internal struggle with their own challenges. And while, unlike smoking, clutter may not be overtly damaging to one’s health, it can certainly be a heavy burden on one’s mental state — often without the afflicted being consciously aware of it.

    He or she already feels a [a little or maybe a lot] conflicted, may have felt attacked in the past, and in a very common (and human) bit of self-protective “sleight of mind,” projects negative attitudes or attributes onto the organized/non-smoker. It’s a slightly desperate and pretty transparent form of addition by subtraction (“I may be messy, but at least I’m not a self-righteous jerk, so there!”).

    It’s a tough thing to reconcile (“if there’s nothing wrong with me, why is this weighing me down so??”), and that kind of cognitive dissonance is bound to make one a little twitchy. (“It must be YOUR fault, you organization nazi, because you’re using popular culture to impose your values on me! Get out of my head and stop making me feel bad!!”)

  50. posted by Sharon G on

    We all live in our own skin and in our own homes. Personally, I do not pass judgement on others. In addition, my home is my own business and if someone does not like it, they have a right to their opinion and I have a right to ignore it.

    Most of my neighbors are incredibly organized and have beautiful interiors. They might pass some judgement on my but I do have other traits that they admire. Like I said, they have a right to their opinion and at the age of 59 in a few days, I now have the wisdom needed to ignore or thank them for their opinion and further ignore them. They think they are trying to help make me more like them. But I am me, not them.

    Just how organized am I? Well, I can usually put my hands on a piece of paper within 30 seconds. It can be in either of 3 places, on top of something, under something or possibly in the file cabinet. Containers? I had the perfect container made over thirty years ago. Called my house.

    Yes, I do wish it were perfect and it never will be. I have been decluttering for some time and on 2/12/2010 I will be 60 years old and am already planning my own 60th birthday party in my comfortable home, uncluttered to my satisfaction.

    My home is not dirty, just too much stuff. I have an in home business in a 16×46 area of my home that needs lots of help and needs to be built out. I am an artist so a bit of mess is acceptable. I think. For my own 60th birthday gift to me and my home, I would love to buy two sets of French doors to block my work area off from the rest of the home and make my home section look like a home and the work areas look like a work area. And add a few cabinets to store supplies.

    Thank you so much for your blog and thank Real Simple for providing me with so much good information. I recently tossed well over 2000 plus magazines and discontinued all subscriptions except Real Simple.

  51. posted by Carol on

    As a Feng Shui consultant I have worked with hundreds of people who are desperately looking for help with clutter. They welcome someone giving them a practical way to get organized. As long as it is advice rather than criticism most people are happy to get rid of their junk. Organization doesn’t have to be rigid. Most people just need someone to gently point out how their clutter is holding them back, help them get rid of it, then set up a rational system for keeping organized.

  52. posted by Ria on

    I definitely think insecurity is a big part of it- I suppose it’s easier to project your dissatisfaction with clutter onto somebody who represents the exact opposite of clutter, rather than to unpack your reactions and see why you feel that way.

    I’m saddened that somebody was that openly rude to you and felt they had to bring their own issues front and centre rather than relate to you as a human being.. a textbook case of projection.

    As for addressing these stereotypes, that’s a very tough question. Sites like this and magazines like Real Simple are doing their bit, though 🙂

  53. posted by Kara on

    Honestly I don’t think there’s anything you can do to change the perception – because it’s not about you (or me, or us).

    I look at it kind of the same way as I do weight loss. I lost 80 lbs last year. I did it by eating healthy foods and working out. I didn’t do a fad diet or a “cleanse” or anything like that. I changed my lifestyle. But when I tell this to people, they get upset. Suddenly it becomes a competition. Or they act like I’m looking down on them because they had McDonalds for lunch. Or they don’t lift weights. Or whatever. And really I couldn’t care less what they eat or whether they workout.

    I think being uncluttered is the same way. (And btw, I totally think there’s a correlation between my uncluttering my life and being able to lose the weight and change my lifestyle, but that’s another post, I’m sure.) I think people have their own insecurities about what *they* want to be or how *they* want to live and when someone else is able to achieve what they haven’t made the commitment to yet, or when someone else is happy with a different choice .. they get defensive.

    And ultimately that’s THEIR problem. Not mine.

  54. posted by Alexandra on

    I would want to ask if the person who is vehemently anti-unclutterer has any unclutterer family members. I know that my entire family has more problems with the fact that I reject their cluttered messy ways than anything else. It is possible that the anti-unclutterers are reacting to something that has personally affected them, and not the idea of running an uncluttered home in general.

  55. posted by Praveen on

    I think that “being organized” is not an issue at all. Its all about simplicity & being more productive.

    I do not understand what type of people would feel to like their lives full of clutter, messed up & unproductive life style.

    Moreover being simple is also about no need for approval of others. Live the life simplistic. I do not know why you are concerned with unwitty, no logic comments of a old woman.

    Thanks for your blog. ..

  56. posted by Heidi on

    I think many people who are not organized are embarrassed and defensive about it and feel the need to defend themselves to those who are organized. I think sometimes those who are messy are more judgmental toward organized people. It helps them to feel better about themselves if someone is organized also has this major flaw — looking down on others. Personally, I would try not to take it personally.

  57. posted by Jennifer Tompkins on

    Being uncluttered isn’t the issue here. No matter what our special interest or indentifiers, there is going to be some negative response.

    For example, I am vegan and until my children started college, homeschooled. While what I do works for me, a lot of people think it is about them. I would get, “I would teach my kids if . . . ” or “I could never be vegan because . . .”

    It is not my intent or mission to “convert people” to the way I do things. If I sent my kids to school and ate meat, would I be perceived as someone who was going to bring that to the forefront of every conversation? No. Nor do we as unclutterers desire to go to someone’s house and tidy it up or tell them how to do it.

    And here we are living in a country who prides itself on its rugged individualism . . . as long as we are “normal”.

  58. posted by justelise on

    I get the vibe that a lot of people think that others who are not organized in a manner that makes sense to them are disorganized. Just because you don’t understand my organizational scheme or can’t find things in my space the same way that I can does not mean that I’m any more disorganized than you. It all comes back to a lot of the OCD/organizational junkies try to impose their views on you, and that’s what earns them a horrible rep.

  59. posted by Annette on

    A very good, very creative, very messy friend used to call me anal retentive every time she asked me to help her straighten and organize her craft room. I smiled and just helped her until I got tired of being called names and reminded her that we organized types are the ones who can guarantee dinner on the table in a hurricane evacuation and still appreciate her creative endeavors. She felt judged because she felt bad about keeping organization low on her priority list. She appreciated organization, but just didn’t think it an important enough resource to cultivate for herself. I didn’t judge her, ever. She had many attributes I would have loved to have and tried to emulate. My gifts lay in other areas than hers.

  60. posted by Lisa on

    Erin and Co.,
    I’ve always been jealous of people with beautiful, tidy, organized homes. Maybe the people who send you these messages are the same way? Difference is, I’m finally taking action, even if it’s in tiny steps. I’m pulling things out of my closet to Freecycle and it feels so good to open up some space and live on a little less.

    So forget the naysayers…a lot of us are so glad y’all are here. Sometimes I come to just for a moment of zen during the busy day.

  61. posted by Hayden Tompkins on

    I only care about clutter if it is inflicted on someone else.

    For instance, if you share an apartment and clutter up the common areas. Or if you have kids and insist on making them manage your mess. Perhaps your clutter (ala hoarding) is creating a fire code violation and unsafe home environment. Or maybe you leave a bunch of stuff in the yard that your neighbors have to look at everyday. Perhaps your office/desk is such a mess that no one can find anything unless you are physically there to retrieve it for them.

    In those cases, it isn’t just a personal preference – the ‘clutterer’ is directly, negatively, impacting others.

  62. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    Since I fall in the middle of the spectrum (some of my areas are very organized, others are a work in progress) then I certainly don’t look down on others who prefer not to make that effort. I figure – to each his own!

  63. posted by David on

    If you’ve been subject to organisational “Tidy Desk” policies that do create a judgement (and even sanctions) against clutter then you might understand why some people will lump you in with such poor managers. (And yes I believe it is a bad management approach since we should manage by result not process).

    I was brought up to put my toys away after playing with them, and for me this translates into tidy up at the completion of a project, not in the middle of it.

    Thank you for your advice and tips, I have been trying to declutter for some months now and your site is an inspiration.

  64. posted by Kay on

    Here’s what I think. People who are good at organizing things often lack imagination, soooo they can admire people who are like them–thing organizers, but have no clue about people who work better with people or ideas. On the other hand, people who work with ideas or people are often imaginative enough to recognize that organizing things is itself a great talent. The ability to see someone else’s talent as valuable is not evenly distributed and the thing organizers sometimes just can’t appreciate other talents.

  65. posted by Ann on

    Be wary of people who just “know” what you are thinking about them and defensive about “your judgment”. They are often the people who are doing precisely that – judging every person they come across (usually a negative judgment at that). I have a few of those people who are in my life because of circumstances beyond my control and have learned to ignore them. No matter what you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, they have made up their minds and there is no going back.

    If you’ve seen “Doubt”, you are familiar with the type.

    In other words, it could be about messy v. non-messy, “fat” v. “thin”, political sides and so forth – the problem is the person has already had their dialogue with you IN THEIR HEAD and nothing you actually say will change their mind. Move on and be grateful.

  66. posted by Wise Finish on

    Some people that are unorganized have an underlying psychological issue (i.e. people that horde excessively). Also, some people that are organized have an underlying psychological issue (i.e. obsessive/compulsive). As with most things in life, balance and moderation are key with organization. If you are too far to one extreme or the other, you may need counseling.

  67. posted by simplelife on

    Clutter makes it hard to clean and you have to be a workaholic to keep everything sorted. My 73 year old mom still spends most of each day cleaning because her home is so full of precious knicknacks. She bemoaned that my brother said to get rid of everything because we were just going to toss it. Those expensive and carefully preserved pieces china, international travel mementos, and find woodworking tools are only dear to my folks. None of us kids care about them.
    Mom does look down on those who choose clutter and DON’T keep it clean and today! I’m a collector, just decluttering now because I don’t have time to spend my life cleaning. Great fun!

  68. posted by jmanna on

    There’s two problems here: 1) someone who feels guilty about their lack of organization and 2) the idea that people who organize are ‘perfect’ and think they are better then people who don’t.

    I will be honest. I suffer from depression. My life is organized because it helps me cope with the downswings. To me, it takes less energy to put something back in a place chosen for it then to search for it in a pile of other things to begin with.

    I also feel a emotional weight from clutter. To me, it’s a physical representation of the clutter in my head. Five minutes of effort seems a much better expense then 30 minutes of looking for things I can’t find. It is less stressful for me to see a clean counter top then to see a bunch of things piled up without order. I control what I can to leave me energy to deal with the things I can’t. If I have to clean a surface off before I can start a task, it’s often just enough of an ‘excuse’ that I never start it.

    It took me years to teach myself to be tidy. Of forcing myself to change bad habits and adopt good ones. Sometimes, when life gets ahead of me, my apartment is a mess. I then take ten minutes every morning and clean up on small area. I am still very bad about folding and putting away clean clothes.

    I’m not perfect. I’m coping and taking effort to make my life easier for myself.

  69. posted by Jill on

    Great comments!

    I think we forget what clutter is neutral; it’s the underlying energy of the space that we respond to.

    Organizing is a skill. I am mindful of all the objects around me and where they “live” because for many years I had no control over anything.

    I don’t have the skill to create a cheerful, homey, warm, inviting, living environment.

  70. posted by Dennis on

    I’ve always been more inclined toward neatness over clutter, even as a kid. I got teased a lot for it and never really understood it. I’ve never admonished anyone for their mess. Other people’s clutter doesn’t bother me. Don’t let my neatness bother you. Live how you like to live and be happy.

  71. posted by catherine on

    first of all, i am sorry you have had to deal with haters. you are the face of uncluttering, so you’re an easy target. i just wish you all kinds of crazy success w book, etc., to balance it out!

    so that’s what i think they are doing: hating. on themselves! it’s self-hate, and you touch a nerve when you even mention uncluttering. clutter is emotional baggage, and they feel threatened. no reason to act uncivilized to you however! it’s healthy to judge other people, but not always polite to come out and say so. feel free to be quite firm when people get all angry at you for being you.

  72. posted by Sky on

    I am constantly belittled for being organized. Last year I lost 40lbs and my friends tell me they hate me for being skinny!

    I think it says more about them than me. I like being organized and skinny!

  73. posted by Sarah on

    I’m one of the condescending ones. I actually took pictures of some of the anarchy in my mother in law’s pantry (best shelf ever: ice cream topping, ice cream topping, Tabasco, ice cream topping, lunch bags) because I knew people wouldn’t believe it. I hear myself being almost cruel about her silverware drawer, and the thing is, I can’t stop myself. When someone asks where the matches are, I announce they’re in the drawer of paper napkins–not THAT drawer of paper napkins, the OTHER drawer of paper napkins–and if anyone wants cream in their coffee, I’ll mention that there are three open containers of half and half scattered about the refrigerator.

    If I were making these kinds of comments about the reading skills of dyslexics, I’d know it was wrong, and I’d stop. Although part of my brain says “hey, leave her alone,” the rest of my brain chants “she’d be so much better off if she kept things in order…she’d be so much better off if she kept things in order…” and my mouth just keeps on going.

    So in short, I’m the one making organized people look bad. Um…sorry?

  74. posted by EngineerMom on

    I agree with the many comments stating that the person’s reaction to Erin was more about her own feelings about herself, not Erin.

    I grew up in a house where my mother struggled to maintain a basic level of organization. She does not like doing housework, finds very little pleasure in organizing things, and would much rather be outside, playing with her children, reading, or working (she is a Ph.D. nurse who teaches). We always had clean clothes, home-cooked dinners (which we ate together), and our bathroom(s) and kitchen were sanitary. The rule for our rooms was a clear path from the bed to the door for emergencies, nothing left in the hallways, and all items from the living room and common areas returned to our assigned dropspots or bedrooms once per week.

    It was a comfortable lifestyle. Enough times spent on organization and cleaning to keep the household machine running smoothly, but not so much that Mom or Dad was spending more time with a mop than with us kids.

    Now, with no kids at home, my parents have really let things slide. Their shower is downright scary, there’s stuff from my dad’s various woodworking projects all over the basement and garage, almost all flat surfaces in the living room are covered with newspaper, and there are dustbunnies multiplying under every piece of furniture. It’s almost like now it’s just the two of them, they don’t feel the need to keep things up. Either that or we kids were doing more than we realized!

    My husband and I struggle to keep our apartment neat. We have one 7-month-old child, and although he doesn’t add much in the way of mess yet, just the time he needs from us has made the simplest parts of homecare a serious struggle.

    I hope to develop and implement a better schedule for laundry and cleaning soon. I’m starting to think we need to change society again and get one of the two adults in a two-parent home devoted to homecare and child-rearing again! I don’t really care if it’s the husband or wife, but something needs to change.

  75. posted by Jessica on

    I had a conversation like this just the other night. I was relating a story about a former boyfriend who blew his nose and then went to set the used tissue on my bed (while standing next to an empty wastebasket). My friend said, “We could never live together,” meaning my standards of order and hygiene were too strict for her.

    My dad and I are both on the extreme end in one area: he’s punctual, I’m tidy. It just proves how easy it is to find something to judge about anyone, if you want to.

  76. posted by Margaret on

    I have been confronted by multiple examples of this conversation going the other direction. People often chide me for my house being “too clean” as if this must mean there’s something wrong with me. What about all the disorganized people who think that organizer/unclutterer types are obsessive, nit-picky or neat freaks just because we like to keep things in order and don’t accumulate things just for the sake of having more stuff?

  77. posted by Mike on

    This is an interesting topic that I’ve often wondered to myself. I am the most organized person in my family, although I do often build up clutter. My sister’s room is very chaotic compared to mine. When I clean up the house and put her stuff in her room, she always gets really upset. In turn I get upset because hardly anyone thanks me for cleaning.

    I think people get upset by organized people because to them it encroaches on their lifestyle, habits, and personal space. If you’re unorganized and you meet someone who is organized, it is an immediate conflict of opposites. The same goes with politics, religion, generation, music, etc. In this case it’s organization and lifestyle. People put up their offenses as preparation of their defense.

    Additionally, I think that organized people are seen to be overzealous. I have been in arguments about organization, either being disorganized or not. It’s a touchy subject because it’s so personal. Conformity is much harder than unconformity.

  78. posted by Melissa on

    This is not unique to unclutters. It’s a part of any group wherein the members are looking to get better at something, there by seeking growth, knowledge, etc.

    Pursuing a better way is easily taken personally by the people who are still doing it the ‘non-better’ way. It’s hard to distinguish the method from the person. It becomes a very personal affair as that lines becomes blurred and easily becomes defensive.

    It’s also important to point out the defensiveness when displayed as a series of challenging questions is usually an interest in being converted. That is, if you can answer all their questions in a way that appeals to them they can very easily come around to see it as you do. It also becomes a great chance for you to grown and strengthen your resolve.

  79. posted by JPLemme on

    Just for fun, I’m going to pour gasoline on a smoldering pile…

    Reading through the comments, it seems that the most judgmental people who’ve posted have all posted under female names. I’m not going to call anybody out, but it’s all up there for people to see.

    The interesting thing (I’m a guy) is that this matches my personal experience. I’ve always been a bit of a slob. Nearly all of my (male) friends are more-or-less the same, and none of us seem to care. The thought of cleaning up before my best friends visit me is perverse–if they’re my best friends they already know I’m a slob. I certainly wouldn’t want any of them to do anything special if I was visiting their house, and anyway I like to live and let live. And my one neat friend may think less of me, but I don’t think less of him and he’s been my friend for 15 years so it can’t bother him *that* much.

    On the other hand, most of the women I know would never, ever allow company to visit if there were dishes in the sink, or clothes on the bed waiting to be folded, or water spots on the bathroom mirrors. And these same women are all critical of other peoples’ personal habits. They seem to expect that if one is invited to visit a person’s house, then that person has an obligation as a good host or hostess to clean up prior to your arrival, and the failure to do so indicates a lack of courtesy or respect.

    Note that even here I’m trying to see both sides of the issue–I’m not judging. I think my wife would be less charitable. 🙂

    And this seems to apply to both sloppy people who judge neat people as neurotic, and neat people who judge slovenly people as…slovenly. In both cases, it’s the women who do most of the judging. In my experience, most guys just don’t care as much about what other people do.

    (And this whole line of reasoning could be extended to include clothes as well, but that’s another blog post, I think…)

  80. posted by AG on

    Just want to toss out the idea that unclutter-ers are not as non-judgemental as you may think. Try rereading this post:

  81. posted by Erin Doland on

    @AG — First of all, Jerry wrote that post and he has OCPD. He can’t handle too much stuff. However, even Jerry said, “Say what I will, however, it’s organized!” He goes on to pay it a compliment after the photograph. He says that it’s not for him, but that it’s very well done. If you READ THE POST, you’ll see it’s not judgmental … it’s just not his style.

  82. posted by pol* on

    Being married to a “neat-freak”, and being a bit of a clutter-aholic going through recovery for all sorts of issues surrounding stuff, I can see both sides to some degree.
    My first impression of my husband was that he didn’t like me, an impression that was misdirected. He was just UNCOMFORTABLE with clutter of any kind, even the delightful brick a brack and stacked piles of books (things I never used to count as clutter). It was his reaction to my STUFF that I had a hard time not taking personally. It took me over ten years to figure out that he didn’t see me as inadequate for accumulating, instead he simply was not capable of unwinding after work with any clutter around.
    To this day he is figity and unhappy in even “lived-in” amounts of clutter. And there are people’s houses that he would rather not visit because he is stressed the whole time. Honestly HE wishes he could just RELAX about it! In short, he doesn’t look down on cluttered people, he just genuinely doesn’t understand the comfort people get from their belongings…. and it is translated badly by insecure clutterers.

    PS, I am reforming. I do still love my things, and where they used to be like a warm blanket to me, I now feel like I NEED some clear spaces to center my chaotic thoughts…. so progress, but measurable differences.

  83. posted by Erin Doland on

    @AG — Also, if you read the follow-up post on collections, you’ll see that we used the exact same photograph and praised it:

  84. posted by Diego on

    Hi Erin,

    In the unclutterer’s genre, there are a lot of species. Neurotic people who has obsession with order and cleanliness are one kind. Those are cases for the shrink, IMHO. People who are messy, and trying to get some order in their chaos, are other kind. I’m one of those.

    I realized since I’m a reader of this blog, that uncluttering helps to have mind peace. You can focus on what really matters, and don’t have excuse to procastrination later (when you have everything in order).

    Keep it up with everything, Erin. You’re doing great here.
    (sorry for the bad english. It’s not my mother tongue).


  85. posted by Mel on

    I have friends who feel intimidated by the organisation of my home, and possibly myself. When defending my adherence to uncluttering and organisation I say to them that organisation is the new lazy. A few of my friends even understand what I mean and have adopted at least a semblance of organisation into their otherwise messy lives.

    Why spend 10 minutes trying to find your keys if you can always put them in the same container and know where they are? Why spend ages at the shopping centre not knowing what you need to buy, if you can have a neat and organised pantry that takes two minutes to check and create a list out of.. Why spend ages going through junk drawers or piles of old magazines to find things if a few minutes of thought and organisation about whether the things belong in those drawers or piles in the first place can decrease or eliminate search time.

    It takes a little to get organised, but once you are you can go back to being the lazy (if not messy) person you once were.. everything will be where you expect it and you don’t have to think.

  86. posted by Ericka on

    Like a few others have said, I think it’s a defense people put up even when you’re not attacking them. Their subconscious feels that you, with your organized ways, are better than them. Before you give them the chance to even feel guilty, they project their insecurity on to you.

    I feel a lot of ‘lifestyles’ that are inherently good get a bad rep just because they’re “different.”

  87. posted by Sara on

    I don’t look down on messy people – I’m just honestly baffled at how they function. My brain works one way, theirs works another, I suppose.

  88. posted by Rayla on

    Clutter = chaos to me and stresses me out, so if I am at someone else’s desk or house that is cluttered I have trouble concentrating and it drains me (and usually motivates me to make my desk/house even less cluttered). I don’t think badly of them, but I also don’t understand how they can stand it.

  89. posted by Kika on

    First of all, I recognize we all have different giftings and being organized and well-planned is one of mine. I have had to learn to balance this with allowing for more spontaneity in my life and easing up on perfectionism in my home so generally I look at unorganized folks as just having different strengths/weaknesses. Having said that, there are times I do feel judgemental – like when a certain freind shows up 20 minutes (or more) late to every get-together because she is not a good time-manager, or when another friend regularly overbooks herself and ends up cancelling plans with me or squishing me into an over-booked life. At these moments I am happy to be an organized soul who doesn’t do this to others (because it hurts at times)!

  90. posted by Zoe on

    Congrats Sky on the 40 lb loss. I think weight & clutter do go hand in hand. I need to get rid of both.

    I think being organized is not one size fits all. A woman at work thinks she’s organized with 25 boxes full of clothes from 20 years ago, potatoe chips in her shoe closet and dishes are stored with cleaning supplies. She thinks she’s extremely organized. I don’t.

    I admire organized people and want to be one someday. My friends all think I’m extremely organized, but I know better! Who cares what anyone else thinks. We need to be who we are best being. Enjoy your gift!

  91. posted by Joanna on

    Wow. I do tend to get haters sometimes, and they usually say something like, “Jeez, you’re so uptight! Why are you letting organizing run your life?” But actually, I have taken all of these comments under serious consideration and have come to the conclusion that the organization is helping me get to a place of freedom, which is quite the opposite of running my life. I have been pretty self-conscious about a lot of my projects though because of some of the comments.

    Some of my reflections:

  92. posted by Sarah on

    It’s interesting how many stereotypes about uncluttered people are expressed in these comments (i.e. they lack creativity or have OCD). Perhaps this is a source of the negative responses of clutters.

    By the way, obsessive cleaning for germs is a form of OCD. Insisting that things not be moved from an exact position is a form of OCD. Hoarding is a form of OCD. Uncluttering your life is NOT.

  93. posted by Anne on

    It’s simple. Most disorganized or messy people have been told many times that they should be more organized, and they’ve grown tired of it.

    Organized people are rarely told that they should be more disorganized (although they will occasionally be told to relax about the mess).

  94. posted by asrai on

    Lots of judgment from all sides. It’s hard not to get defensive when you have comments like:

    “Do I look down on messy people? – No
    But they I think their life would be just that much easier and less stressful if their homes were a bit more uncluttered? Absolutely”.

    Just because it’s not the way you would do it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way. Example, My desk is pretty cluttered most of the time. Once in a while I purge the whole thing and then it piles up again. It doesn’t bother me.

    For an “uncluttered” person, it would drive them batty. It drives my SO crazy because he always says he loses papers on my desk. Which isn’t true he loses them elsewhere in the house. I know exactly where everything is on my desk. I’m happy with it.

    So, while you are welcome to your opinions that an uncluttered house would make my life easier. I disagree. My life my choice. SO please recall this next time you are interacting with someone who is more cluttered than you’d like. We are people too, with feelings and when you start telling us “you are so messy …” expect that we are going to get defensive.

    Those of you who are nagging your spouses to be more like you. Remember you choose them. If their lifestyle is not bothering them, you’re nagging is going to get annoying really fast and drive them away. Take a breath and remember their good qualities.

    Decide on a place you put their stuff if it’s out in the open and bothering you. Because if you move their stuff without asking then it’s likely going to bother them. (I’ve left something out in a particular order and then left to grab something or bathroom break, then had someone move it and ruin a large amount of work).

  95. posted by mstreemn on

    it’s not the mess but the problems the mess causes that have negative consequences. My in-laws are chronically late on bills(making them chronically broke from late fees) miss appointments, and have been threatened with eviction again because for the mess in their place. This will be their 3rd eviction for not keeping a “livable” apartment. The kitchen and bathroom are clean but they build up heaps of stuff so you can barely find a path through the place.

    They expect help when it reaches a crisis but don’t like it. Now we say no. No help, no loans of $ (been there; done that…)We need our money and energy for our own busy lives…

  96. posted by Michelle on

    Doesn’t this issue represent a conflict we all struggle with? Not letting your choices inhibit someone else’s. I remember a Bible verse that expresses this well…in 1 Cor 8:9, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” Ideally, we continually weigh our own needs against those of the ones around us, and whatever course we choose, we hope for understanding and acceptance from those we affect with our choices.

    Speaking of mothers and judgment…

    I once said to my 9yo daughter, “How can you THINK with all this stuff around?” She said with a shrug, “Mom, you just…think!” She does not see her ‘mess’ as anything I should be concerned about. 🙂 Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that she’s a kid, she’s learning, and she’s under my roof…and when we are late and she can’t find something…grrr! 🙂 But it’s not about expecting perfection from her, rather, it’s about the effort to be considerate of others, and above all, I hope to be a good example of that to her! Because I DO get that her mind is uncluttered, and I want her to have that. I should be so content…

  97. posted by catmom on

    WOW! What can I say? I have enjoyed reading all the comments and there’s still room to put my two cents worth. I consider myself to be organized, like many of you, it just brings a sense of calm. Being able to find things cuts down on stress. I read on a website not too long ago (don’t remember which one) about the amount of hours per year that people spend looking for stuff they misplaced, UNBELIEVABLE!!! Those hours could be used for doing something fun.

    For those of you who admit to being disorganized and are making steps to change your ways, congratulations and lots of luck to you!

    Another congrats to Kara and Sky on your weight loss and healthy eating! My husband and I like to eat healthy and we like to keep in shape with walking almost daily. I know where you’re coming from on people reactions and comments. You would think that people would be inspired by us to take action. They always have some lousy excuse. Oh well, it’s their life. Hubby and I realize we can’t help everyone on the planet, but we can help ourselves to be healthy.

  98. posted by Linda on

    Holey Moley what a lot of responses here! I love that I am organized…however, there are many days in the month that you can write your name on table tops that have not been dusted.

  99. posted by Martha on

    I am a teacher who has spent the last few months as a substitute in an elementary school. I am a fairly organized person and when I had my own classroom I felt that a neat and organized classroom was essential to the productivity of my students. I taught my students how to put everything back neatly in it’s place, to hang up backpacks and coats, to pick up any trash off of the floor, etc. It worked! Every year with different groups of students, it worked!

    I am shocked at the condition of some of the classrooms that I have worked in. I have found piles of papers pouring out of baskets, backpacks, pencils, bits of paper, and coats strewn all over the floor. Teacher desks have at times been so cluttered that I could not find a pen or a paper clip in the mess. It absolutely drives me crazy and I feel really bad for the students in those classrooms. The mess cuts down on calm and easy flow of the classroom. Kids, especially kids with ADD or ADHD, function better in a neat and organized space. I know that the teachers probably hate the mess as much as I do but are overwhelmed by their busy day.

  100. posted by sdavis on

    Maybe, just maybe, organized people ARE better than messy people. Just sayin’.

  101. posted by Christine on

    I think often people assume that it’s super easy for organized people. I like being organized, but it does take work. People are always saying to me “Oh,I wish I could be organized like you.” or “I wish I could so easily declutter,” but the truth is, it’s not automatic (at least not at first) and it’s not easy. Every time I declutter and clean out, it can be gut wrenching…I just think the payoff’s worth it. And for the record, I never look down on someone’s clutter!

  102. posted by Cliff on

    Consumerism does not brook dissent. After you’re done being berated by others for the choices you make in your own life about CLUTTER, try on the concept of NOT ATTENDING REGULAR RELIGIOUS SERVICES or (golly gee!) not necessarily believing that WORKING ALL DAY EVERY DAY is necessary.

    People who feel they have been forced to conform to a certain ideal, are ALWAYS offended by others who have the chutzpah to resist that ideal.

  103. posted by Bong on

    First, thanks for this wonderful website. I visit this website daily and I always learn something new. I think the quick answer to your question has something to do with human nature. I think people in general find it easier to criticize others like unclutterers who are taking positive steps to make their lives better. I work in an office with Doctors and Researchers with PhDs who have the most messiest offices I’ve ever seen. I on the other hand have the most cleanest and organized office. I get my share of compliments and smart remarks. I don’t impose my “uncluttered ways” to my co-workers but when they ask me why I’m so organized, I simply tell them that it makes me efficient and that my efficiency make their lives easier (I am their Purchasing Manager and manage the department budget). Recently, we got new carpet in our offices, new paint and new computers. Everyone worked out of boxes and were miserable. It barely affected me because in my office, there was hardly anything to move or was in the way of the contractors. I was kicking back while everyone else was packing and unpacking and sorting, cleaning, etc… Some of them now realize the advantages of being uncluttered and are working towards that goal.

    Thanks again and keep up the wonderful work you do for us.

  104. posted by LKA1 on

    i have to agree with sarah. as a messy hoarder working to develop a new way of living, i can honestly say i have admired tidy, organised people always – i simply did not know how to do it. it is that simple.

    now i am building up a new set of tools for dealing with my copious amounts of ‘stuff’ (spurred on by a new partner and this website, and of course, ikea), and so i feel less ashamed. but shame is the word for the feeling.

    so don’t take those comments to heart, they’re simply in externalisation of the speakers own self perception.

  105. posted by irulan24 on

    @JPLemme: I’ve heard the phenomenon that you’re talking about referred to as “self-policing.” That is, some classes of people who are lower-status in society will reinforce certain detrimental cultural norms themselves because it gives the judges reinforcement at the societal level.
    In many (but not all) segments of our society, cleaning and tidying are considered “women’s work,” and it’s women who bear the brunt of the criticism (and perhaps dole out the majority of it, as well) when the cleanliness-is-godliness morality referenced above comes into it.

  106. posted by geekgrrl on

    I’m a naturally disorganized person constantly struggling to be neat and tidy. I’m overworked and in constant disorder because now, I not only have my own stuff to manage, but my whole family’s as well. Somehow the decision to stay at home to parent my kids means I also have the sole responsibility for all the domestic crapola I didn’t sign up for.

    I don’t normally mind tidy people – I admire them – but it’s now at the point where I have to HIRE A CLEANER to help get my house up to scratch before relatives visit, in order to minimize the constant snide comments. They still make jibes (eg – I’m buying new shelves to organize the study .. “hate to tell you this, but they don’t organize themselves, you know!

    I think organized people view it as some kind of moral failing. It comes naturally to them and they can’t understand why it’s so hard for me. I’M NOT WIRED THAT WAY! GET OFF MY CASE!!!

    As for unclutterer: love the site. Loads of helpful ideas. I’m trying to use some of this stuff to make it easier – minimizing the amount of crap I have to organize! Useful constructive ideas and tools, not criticism.

  107. posted by YogaGirl on

    Maybe people go on the defensive because actually they wish they could be organised but aren’t…and secretly feel a bit guilty about it.

    I personally am big into being organised and decluttering, but it’s definitely not in my nature and if I wasn’t disciplined I know my place would be a mess.

    I can’t remember whether it was on this site or somewhere else that I heard this quote but it made me laugh and is VERY relevant to me:

    ‘Organised people are just too lazy to look for things.’

  108. posted by Caroline on

    2nd post. I was raised by a cleaning compulsive Mother. She considered me lazy. I rebelled, but more importantly, I had a different style from her that took me many years of feeling stupid to finally realize that i had my own way.

    I always thought that I wanted to live my life and not worry about the systems and organizing that seemed so tedious and a waste of time. Once I figured out that organization is a strong foundation to the rest of my goals, I started embracing it more.

    It is not my mother’s way, or my husbands way – but I feel so much better in my home and life. I have learned what I have to do to keep my husband happy. And now I know what make me comfortable.

    I see people’s shame and embarressment every day in my organizing business. That is why I want to help them to find their way. The smiles at the end is a large part of my compensation.

  109. posted by Kathy Higginbotham on

    I once saw a sign that said “Dull women have imaculate homes.” It was yet another jab at those of us who are trying to keep serenity in ours homes to help perpetuate it in our heads. I just went to a girlfriends house to help her declutter this past weekend and she has called twice to thank me saying she could have never done it on her own. Why is this? I believe it centers around not wanting to change out of fear..fear of the letting go of the past and fear of something different in the future. What better emotion to get someone riled up and in your face!
    Living in the moment frees us from both fears. I loved your article in Real Simple and plan to buy your book for myself and friends when it comes out. You go girl!!

  110. posted by Historybuff on

    My mother is disorganized, so I grew up watching her struggle with items she lost, misplaced, or could not find. She spent so much extra time dealing with moving the piles around, finding her other shoe, finding that bill to pay, etc. My dad, on the other hand, was always organized and knew where all of his stuff was. Today they share a giant closet, and it is easy to see the kept vs nonkept sides.
    So for me, it was easy to see who had the most productive use of their time and who wasnt needlessly spinning their wheels.

    I did not want to do rework in my own home. I am trying to teach that to my five year old daughter as well. If you put things back where they go, you will know where it is each time.

    So Erin, I guess what I am saying is that being organized reduces stress, streamlines my daily routine and brings some calm to my busy life. I dont really care what disorganized people do…

  111. posted by E Fischer on

    I worked in environmental non-profits for 13 years and often people would immediately become defensive or apologetic, blurting out things like, “I recycle.” My husband works for the U.S. government and people blurt out things like, “I pay my taxes.” I don’t think it’s unique to clutter, in other words, and that there’s just a portion of the population who instantly translates other people’s lives into something personally applicable to their own, run it through their brain, and say the first thing they think of.

  112. posted by Battra92 on

    I’m certainly not minimalist by nature. I have over a thousand DVDs, at least a dozen game consoles, hundreds of games etc. I prefer my music on Vinyl or CD over anything digital (though I do enjoy the convenience of FLAC or even MP3) and I’m not by any means counter-culture yet I do like to keep things organized. To me it’s just part of being a geek and keeping track of my inventory.

  113. posted by Peter on

    As some other’s here said: projecting. Your ability to manage your clutter brings to mind their inability to manage theirs.

  114. posted by BJA on

    I am extremely organized, and not the least bit “tightly wound.” My psyche is soothed by having a place for everything, mostly because my memory is less than sharp, and if everything doesn’t have a place, half my life would be spent looking for things, and we all have better things to do, yes?

    Very often, friends and family make remarks about feeling guilty when I visit their homes because they don’t think they’re as organized or neat as I am…and I am always surprised, because it never enters my mind to compare my lifestyle to anyone else’s in any way, least of all how they keep house.

    The only time I’ve ever felt conflicted about this is when I lived with a complete slob who used to undress for bed and leave his clothes in a heap on the floor….in my direct path to the bathroom in the morning. After repeated requests that he walk the 3-4 feet to put his clothes in the hamper, he finally told me he was going to keep doing that because he thought it was “therapeutic for me to sleep knowing there was a mess in the room.” What was eventually far more therapeutic was when I jettisoned his passive-aggressive ass and resumed living alone.

    No judgment at all. It’s simply a compatibility issue. We don’t have to be the same to be compatible (ie both neat or both messy) but we do have to maintain respect and accomodate one another’s choices without name-calling and immature disrespect in the form of verbal jabs, eye rolling or treating a person’s choice of how to maintain their environment as a character flaw.

    Live and let live, I say. Just allow me to manage my environment the way I please, and I’ll return the favor.

  115. posted by Kate on

    In the same way that clutter-defenders defend their clutter I defend my right to live without clutter. Respect my right to control my enviroment as I respect your right to control yours by filling it with the things you think you can’t live without.
    I think it’s worth pointing out (as many have done before me) that if unclutterers go about their business being self-riteous they will stand out as stereotypical. Free your mind of clutter, respect other people and treat them the way you would like to be treated whether or not they have embraced clutter or not.

  116. posted by Kate on

    I should also point out that, yes, I am guilty of instigating uncluttering in my workplace which does affect my collegues. Some of them thank me, some of them say nothing, some of them mock me for being slightly obsessive but they truly appreciate it. This may contradict my my previous post but i do respect the individual. However safety and efficiency in the workplace makes sence to everyone, doesn’t it?

  117. posted by Adie on

    This makes me think of that line from Hamlet: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” People who are comfortable with the way they organize (or don’t organize) their lives don’t bother with defending themselves, because they don’t see alternative choices as assaults on their own decisions. People who wish they could be uncluttered and just can’t do it for whatever reason are the ones who feel judged, and that’s because they’re judging themselves.

    Fortunately, this is a site about uncluttering and not a massive group therapy session.

  118. posted by Joan on

    I think it’s been very interesting to read these comments. I guess my 2 cents is that you can’t assume that anyone’s organizational skills have any reflection on who they are as a person any more than you should assume that because someone dresses in top-of-the-line, fashionable clothing, they have it all together. I know plenty of people who are “uncluttered” or “organized” on the surface, but (a) you don’t want to look in their storage units and (b) definitely don’t look at the “clutter” they might have mentally to sort through!

    And, by the same token, I know some people whose homes are in perpetual disarray, who are the most “with it” people around. Outward appearance is not necessarily a reflection of the inner person, though I admit it can be in many cases.

    That also said, I think it’s interesting that OCD is seen as so synonymous with organization. I have OCD that is somewhat well-controlled by medication and therapy, but both before and after, I have had a clutter problem. OCD is about ritualistic behavior, and while some people certainly take their housekeeping to that extreme, there are those who have the opposite problem. There was a point at which I could not clean my bathroom because I didnt’ have a “system” for how to clean the bathroom, and I coudn’t take a shower because I had such a fear of dirt that I wouldn’t enter the filthy bathroom. I was about as un-neat as you could get, at that point, both personally and in my living space. Thankfully, that’s improved greatly, but you see my point.

    The outward manifestations – in my case, a terrible appearance (as you can guess) and a messy house – had nothing to do with how “organized” I was on the inside. I had SUCH a rigid organization in my head that I couldn’t act.

    Thankfully, Unclutterer deals with not just physical clutter, but “mental clutter,” too. I’ve always appreciated that, and it’s why I frequent this site as opposed to so many others. I say, keep doing what you’re doing; keep helping the people you’re helping – and that’s a lot of us, it seems! – and realize that you probably won’t change the minds of people who have a preconception about neatness.

  119. posted by Daniel on

    As a former hoarder, I find I’m extremely judgemental of clutterholics. For me, it’s like a recovered alcoholic watching drinkers destroy themselves in a downward spiral, when I broke free. To me, hoarding and messiness is right up there with body odor, gambling, and compulsive underemployment. Of course they would be threatened by someone with no such vices.

  120. posted by geekgrrl on

    @Adie – judging myself? Not unless I suddenly possess some psychic power that enables me to actually put words in my relatives’ mouths!!!

    I’ve also heard plenty of nastiness among ‘friends’ about other moms who don’t keep house to The Required Standard.

    “You should have seen her house! OMG! What does she DO all day?? (Um, letsee, she’s breastfeeding so that’ll be about four hours a day attached to a baby, then there’s nappies, laundry, baths, and chasing after a toddler….)

  121. posted by Anita on

    Hi, lots of interesting posts here. I am an organize-minimalist, and like another postee I suffer from depression and find that being organised & minimalist in my lifestyle helps me cope with the down days.

    My sister however is a complete messy, clutter everywhere, but that aside is no less a person. She just “organizes” differently to me.

    Every one is individual (even no 2 neat-freaks are the same), live and let live . . .life’s too short to worry about whether you can find your socks or not 🙂

  122. posted by Marie on

    In the 7th comment, Divine Bird Jenny, hit the nail on the head when she told us about her mom:

    “My parents had acquaintances who had a messy, cluttered house and it used to drive my mom CRAZY. She would talk about that couple’s messiness every time they came up in conversation. She definitely fit the stereotype you mentioned in your post. I think this is where a lot of people make that connection between ‘neat’ and ’snob’.”

    I definitely have 2 friends who judge all us moms on how neat and organized we keep our houses. And while they do lots of cleaning and organizing, they don’t do much living, and they are not spontaneous. at. all.

    I happen to homeschool 5 children, and my husband and I both run small businesses and work from home, plus we each do lots of volunteer work, which accrues more paperwork and files. We live in a modest home, and our large dining room is our schoolroom and a business office. We don’t care to work in the musty basement, or the upstairs bedrooms. It just works best to have everyone spend the day together schooling and working.

    Even with tidying-up twice a day, my home is going to look somewhat messy, especially when someone comes over unannounced. So even though I’m not obsessive about organizing, I try to control clutter, and we seem to get by quite nicely.

  123. posted by DanGTD on

    I believe you have to be so organized that it disgusts people.

    Don’t see anything wrong with that.

  124. posted by Michele on

    I think John hit it right on the head when he mentioned people seeing things as black and white (the bicycle and SUV example). People are quick to go on the defense about so many things. For example, I rarely drink alcohol because it gives me migraines. When I refuse a drink in a social setting, the person often gets defensive about it, sometimes justifying why they choose to drink. Usually I reply that it’s a health issue, not a moral or religious one, and then they calm down. I’m betting that is the sort of person who would “hate” an unclutterer.

  125. posted by Karen on

    I think your reaction to the “hater’s” comment was to be offended, which is a natural and justifiable reaction to rudeness. When is it ever polite to say, “I hate people like you”?

    I do not look down on disorganized people; however, I do find them frustrating to deal with at times, but only when their incompetence affects me directly. Otherwise, what do I care how they run their lives? I’m much more interested in my own life, thanks.

    It’s disingenuous to pretend that being disorganized is not going to affect others’ opinions of you. People who are organized and have it together really impress me and, I think, everyone else.

  126. posted by Spring on

    In a word – relatives. Particularly moms who were raised a certain way. I notice many of the prior commenters touch on or around this, up above.

    Every family is going to have a few judgmental people and a few bossy people and a few neat freaks. Where these groups intersect, you get somebody really obnoxious, and it makes an indelible impression. The highly organized wind up suffering from the association.

    I think this will naturally straighten out as we broaden our tolerance and acceptance on a lot of other fronts, as a side effect. Once people start thinking open-mindedly, they start doing it in lots of contexts, and then, there ya go.

  127. posted by Sally on

    What about neat freaks who aren’t CLEAN? I have a friend who has nothing out of place and no clutter EVER, but her house smells ‘dirty’ and she often has ickky stuff in her sink.

    On the other hand, I am a messy working on getting more organized, but I freak when the house is dirty or smelly.

    Go figure.

  128. posted by geekgrrl on

    “It’s disingenuous to pretend that being disorganized is not going to affect others’ opinions of you. People who are organized and have it together really impress me and, I think, everyone else.”

    Ah there you go. Being organized is a VIRTUE, you think.

    Tell you what. You don’t judge me for occasionally being late, forgetful or not finding stuff, and I won’t judge you for not writing a novel, not painting amazing and original paintings, and not writing a single original line of music in your life.

    (oh yes, I’m sure you’ll be the exception, Karen, the neatfreak who actually has a creative bone….)

  129. posted by geekgrrl on

    Ach. By the way, I’m just P’d off at Karen. Pointing out that two can play the judgement game.

    I’m sure there are plenty of creative neat freaks out there. But the fact is that creativity and order don’t usually cohabit – creativity is about making random and unexpected connections, doing things in unusual and interesting ways, not regular ordered ways.

  130. posted by jooly33 on

    My, my, my… Don’t get me wrong here. I’m no hater. I’m not judgmental. I’m just being tired of being told to tidy up, straighten up and get rid of my belongings. I have lots of papers, memorabilia, toys, music and books and so on. But I don’t have too much clothing, shoes, makeup and knickknacks (say, a totally useless centerpiece). My house is my territory. I’m never messy or cluttered when I stay elsewhere.
    Believe me, I’m all for simplicity and being organized. But, like I said, I AM able to find my stuff and I remember where I put my stuff. I know where to find important paperwork. By the way, Unclutterer and Real Simple have been in my Favorites list for a while. Just as for religions, I only take what I need from it. I try to better myself, because I don’t want it to become a problem for my kids. I’m doing it for others.

  131. posted by Alex on

    I keep my office at work completely clutter free, and it freaks people out bad. On my desk is my monitor, phone, desk calendar, and when I’m working, a notepad or whatever document I’m working on. I’m the only person in my software group of about 15 people that has a clutter-free workspace. People walk by all the time and feel the need to stop by and say “You need to dirty this place up, at least make it look like you’re working.” But, when a client decides to call and ask about a project we haven’t worked on in 3 months, guess who can dig up the related documents/requirements/designs/etc… in about a minute?

  132. posted by Elaine on

    Look at any dysfunctional family and there’s going to be a neatness/cleanliness issue in there somewhere.

    My mom was reasonably tidy, but incredibly lax about general hygiene and cleanliness. I was the opposite – books piled everywhere, clothes not put away, but I loved scrubbing at something until it shined. I always had a bottle of Fantastik in my room and was far ahead of the trend of buying matching canisters for the kitchen.

    And yet, my mother took great delight in labeling me a “lazy slob.” As a result, I saw myself that way — until a few years after Mom passed away and her beloved younger sister reminisced: “Aw, your mom…God love ‘er, she could never get her ____ together. The laziest slob who ever lived!”

    Organizational ability has a lot to do with self-image.

  133. posted by Jade on

    Funny… I thought it was UN-organized people who get the bad rap???!!!!

    All joking aside…when it comes to my job – administrative assistant – being organized by nature is a big asset and most employers seek that when they look for office personnel.

    My mind is just naturally organized in the way I think…making connections and having a good memory are part of the organized mind. But, and maybe this is the key to being an organized person – throw a little procrastination into the works and organization goes out the window!!

  134. posted by Jennifer on

    Well, SOME neatness-oriented people are very much like the stereotype you described. My ex-husband, for one and my ex Mother-in-Law, as well. For awhile, we debated whether or not my ex could spend time at my house because, as he put it, “My OCD kicks in” when he sees the mess. He has chosen to keep his mouth shut in recent visits because we both realize it’s good for him to spend time with his children on their own turf, and also that I don’t need the judgement. Being a single Mom of two young kids is tough enough without someone holding me to some unattainable (for me, anyway) level of cleanliness.

  135. posted by Java Monster on

    My mother was/is a clean-neatnick. I was messy; or it *looked* like I was messy. I don’t remember my room getting overly out of hand at all. She would have my neatnick sister “help” me clean my room. My mother, because she painted my room with a rainbow and coordinated the wallpaper with it (back in the 70s folks!) had a party once and wanted to show it off to her friends. She wanted it clean.

    I’ve hated cleaning ever since. I appreciate a clean, uncluttered space, but I powerfully resent ANYone telling me to clean up, or get rid of piles (even if I hate them, too). It’s MY SPACE. It’s a violation of my territory. So of course I married a man who hates clutter because his grandmother was a class 4 hoarder, and his own house was a clutter-mine field.

    It took my mother a few years to realize that I resented her doing dishes, or cleaning, or neatening up my kids’ rooms when she visited. It’s not her business, she’s not our housekeeper, and she’s finally realized that fact. She keeps her own home as neat as she likes. It’s just like the show-place museum our house was when I was a kid and the friends I had didn’t feel comfortable coming over for fear of messing things up.

    So, Erin, although that woman went on the offensive and hurt your feelings, looking at it from the other side, I think it’s a self-defense mechanism. Although I probably wouldn’t have jumped on you like she did, I think her defensiveness was well-earned.

    As for JPLEmme, sure, all you and your guy-friends aren’t neat and clean-but I bet your parents didn’t make you clean your rooms. Or had your sisters do it. Or your mother. Why should it bother you? When you meet a woman, you’ll expect her to pick it all up, even if she’s a lot like you. Because hey, that’s the way guys are, right? And what girls should do; clean up their men.

  136. posted by Kate on

    Ah well, calling someone “messy” (even if true) is not exactly a compliment, is it?
    People might react defensively to your calling them ugly or lazy, too – even if you did not have anything against them personally.

  137. posted by dan maurer on


    Wow. Though I guess that is the assumption, even if you are making it in jest.

    I consider myself organized (at work and in my personal projects), but I try to be creative with writing and music. My house is a mess, though, and I don’t really care overmuch.

    Perhaps organization is a compensation mechanism to keep multiple projects straight in my head. Some of them even get finished.

    I get criticized for being neat at work (plenty of “nothing to do?”s), but I do keep a high throughput and nothing stays on my desk too long.

  138. posted by deAnna on

    how is “messy” not a compliment? messy people tell me all the time that they can only function in mess. they’re proud of their messes and don’t want to clean them up … or so they say apparently. b/c by saying “messy” may be true but unkind, you’re affirming the idea that organized is the gold standard. i’m just sayin’ …

  139. posted by WilliamB on

    @Dorothy: here’s an example. My brother is messy as all get-out. He can strew a week’s worth of newspapers after occupying a room for three days. Dunno how he does it but he does. He has papers and books everywhere plus whatever luggage and shoes from his most recent business trip.

    But his space is always clean and sanitary. His clothes are put away or in the dirty clothes hamper. He doesn’t cook and always does his dishes. He has a cleaning service for whom he piles his stuff out of the way. His shoes might be strewn randomly but they’re always polished.

    So if your argument is “messy people are never clean,” then you’re busted. If what you wrote was rhetoric for “messy people are often also dirty” then I’d be inclined to agree.

  140. posted by Vi on

    Here’s a story I’ve told my therapist a time or two. I was a teen and Mom must have had pms because she was, uhm, shall I say wrathfully stressed about what to cook for dinner. So I said I would cook dinner and I asked Mom would she like this or that for dinner. And each of my suggestions were wrathfully rejected. Finally I said “Tell you what. You don’t think about it and I will cook something for dinner. And by the time it’s cooked you’ll be hungry enough to eat it.” So grudgingly Mom let me do this, with the admonishment not to make a mess. (I find I roll my eyes even now when thinking of that admonishment.) So I cooked a balanced dinner, I don’t remember exactly what but it must have been meat, potatoes and a veggie or two, as that’s how Mom would like it. We all ate it, Mom, Dad & I. And Mom told me I better clean up the mess I made in the kitchen. I did. I washed, dried and put away the pots and pans. I wiped and rinsed the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher so any food residue wouldn’t stick to them and not come off when the dishwasher was finally operated. I rinsed the sink out and I must have emptied the sink strainer. I probably did, because the only thing I remember that I stubbornly couldn’t bring my self to do was dry the —-ing sink. So when I was done, what happened? Is Mom deliriously happy that she had such a wonderful daughter who was willing to do the work for her, to make her happy? pffft! Hell NO! She blasted me relentlessly for not drying out the —–ing sink. We had quite an argument over that. I couldn’t understand how in her mind none of what I had done was important enough to out way the fact that I had not dried out the sink. I remember Dad quizzically saying to me “You wanted to appease her, you should have just dried the —-ed sink. What would one more little thing for you to do matter after you did all that. You should have known she’d blow her stack over the sink not being dried. You should have done it to make her happy.” I’m still not sure it would have made her happpy. Anyway, yes I can be as neat as can be. I’ve cooked whole meals for 8-10 people and had the pots and pans mostly washed before we sat down to eat. It’s a matter of timing and attention to detail. I also now live in total disorder because I won’t clean up after people (dh & kids) who don’t do their share except when it comes to making messes, then they go into overtime. So instead of wasting my precious time accomplishing nothing, which is what cleaning up after my family is, I find things to do which if not make me happy at least take my attention off the clutter, messes, whatever, that they choose to live with. I clean up after myself as I go. Unfortunately, I have to wash the kitchen counters before I cook and again after I cook. If I am not cooking I sometimes ignore the counters just keep myself from either exploding or imploding. I grew up hearing that there was something wrong with messy people. Yeah, there is they drive neat people crazy. lol

  141. posted by Vi on

    PS I reread my post and had to add that Dad also said it was my own fault that Mom blasted me for not drying the sink. Yeah right, some people just can’t be pleased no matter what you do for them and the more you do for them, the less pleased they are. So live long and prosper even if its with other people’s messes.

  142. posted by Vi on

    Pss One last comment regarding washing the counters both before and after I cook or sit down to eat. There is no way I can cook or eat in a dirty space. And there is no way I can leave the counters or table dirty after cooking and eating. Yet my dh & kids do. I’ve thought of cleaning only before I cook and leaving a mess behind for them, but I can’t do that. It would just be so rude, yet I can’t get them to extend me the same curtesy. Life is incorrigible. (?)

  143. posted by EJ on

    Was it a good idea to repost this? The vehemence shown by all sides is terrible. I have been reading this blog through a feed reader for many years, but the comments on this one are going to make me re-think whether to keep reading.

  144. posted by Wwaxwork on

    Got to say I agree with EJ here. There is enough of this divisive BS on other sites, we sure as heck don’t need to be rehashing this on a decluttering website. Declutter such posts, they don’t bring anyone joy.

  145. posted by suepriem1 on

    Who doesn’t want to be “right”? Everyone thinks that their way is the right/best way. I think the person who told you she “hated” you was being just as, if not more judgmental toward you as she was accusing you of being toward her. Personally, I am an “Unclutterer Wannabe”. I will go to my grave striving to conquer clutter! Sometimes I wonder if I haven’t achieved success by now (63) why should I even try? My uncluttering happens in fits and spurts when I look around and realize my space is a mess. I know that neat and clean is right for me because I always feel better when I’m in that kind of space.

  146. posted by Linda Varone on

    Blame our Puritan and Victorian ancestors for the priggish attitude associated with organized people. Being organized is not a goal, it is a means to a goal. Organized people are *not* better people; organized people are calmer people. ( They can find things easier and get things done with that to-do list.) We are all doing the best we can with the time, energy and resources we have. This is not a contest; this is life.

  147. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    None of my ancestors were either Puritan or Victorian.

    Cluttered need not imply messy or unclean (or dirty) but I guess most people think it does. In fact, during some periods of history, the cluttered look was somewhat fashionable. I don’t think messy or unclean (or dirty) ever was. Organized is something else altogether.

    Sometimes it is a sort of bragging contest.

  148. posted by Buffet on

    They think like that because they’re filthy pigs.

  149. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    I am having second thoughts about clutter but I’m not here to defend it.

    To me, “clutter” is more visual than anything else. If you took all the doors off your kitchen cabinets, the room would become instantly cluttered, yet nothing else changed. The glassware on the shelves would still be sparkling, all the cups and glasses would still be in perfect order and everything would be in precisely the correct location. And of course, there would be nothing in the sink. So maybe it isn’t clutter that people don’t like.

    Understandably, no one likes anything dirty (or unclean). No one likes stacks of old magazines and newspapers lying around or a basement full of boxes that have not been touched for ten years or accumulated trash anywhere. All of that does add to the clutter, of course, but a museum display can be cluttered. Messy, however, is much too elastic a word to use, unless you have children, when you know perfectly well what it means.

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