Organizing is Like Therapy - Friends holding hands with coffee

There’s a productive, beneficial way to ease stress and improve the relationships in your life…and it’s rolling up your sleeves and getting organized! Organizing is much like therapy. Going through a healthy organizing process produces new self-awareness, creates physical and mental space and alleviates anxiety. Here’s how getting organized is sometimes the therapy you need.

Organizing is Treatment

Therapy – either medical or emotional – is defined as a treatment following a diagnosis. In my 20 years as a professional organizer, I’ve found that organizing is also a treatment (the best treatment, in my opinion) for the diagnosis of clutter, chaos, and stuckness.

Organizing remediates all forms of disorder in our lives.

It’s proactive.

Instead of continuing to drown in the haphazard status-quo, organizing is a choice to take the bull-by-the-horns and move ahead. Chaos keeps us reacting in life. We get trapped in the “batting cage of life” just responding to assault of ongoing chaos. Organizing disrupts that reactive way-of-life with a positive alternative: action! Beginning your organizing journey is a decision to leave the chaos behind and start fresh.

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It’s healthy.

All of us intuitively know that living in a wasteful, frantic state can’t be healthy. The choice to get organized reclaims not only our space, but our sanity. It takes maturity to look out for our own best interest and getting organized is a healthy investment.

It’s holistic.

When we transition from Messy to Orderly, we honor our True Selves. We honor our health, our space, our relationships, and our finances when we commit to get organized. In fact, each area that we reclaim positively impact the others. Organizing allows us to support the life-we-really-want.

By clearing the physical way in our lives, we make way for higher priorities of life.

And speaking of priorities, let’s talk about how to start your journey….

Focus on Outcomes

Man and woman cooking dinner together in kitchen

Just like in medical or emotional therapy, we yield to a challenging process to get the outcome we want. We know that we could stick with the crummy state we’ve currently got, but we are willing to go through stretching, and possibly pain, to achieve a better future state.

Any good change process is going to change US!

In fact, the reason we often resist organizing is precisely because it is a change process! And by default, most of us avoid change like the plague. But to change is to prove that we are alive and still able to learn.

To inspire us throughout the organizing journey, we must begin with our outcomes in mind. Now, I’m not talking about goals, like getting organized so we can have a prettier room. Outcomes are the state-of-being after the treatment is applied.

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In organizing, we must keep focused on our desired outcomes.

Over two decades of organizing, I can tell you definitively that organizing our lives:

  • Brings visual, mental, and physical peace
  • Reduces personal anxiety
  • Improves relationships by alleviating family and workplace tension
  • Gives us more time to enjoy each other and life
Woman and child snuggling on couch

In fact, organizing is a lever we can pull to drop the junk from the trap door. Organizing is an assertive tactic that clears things OUT to clear things UP. Simplifying and ordering our environment facilitates the more peaceful, fulfilling life we are longing to live.

If you stay focused on what outcomes you’re trying to create through your organizing process, you are not only more likely to FINISH your project, but you’re also going to stay inspired along the way.

Listen to Needs

Women talking and listening in an office

The first thing I do as a professional organizer is NOT to categorize or toss things – it’s to listen.

I pull up a chair in the board room or in the kitchen and LISTEN. I listen to the PERSON drowning in the chaos. I listen to what is being said and what isn’t being said. In my mind, I’m connecting the dots.

I’m a detective piecing together a case. I’m hearing about the costs of their disorder, and their unmet needs. Sometimes I’m hearing needs and input from multiple people or stakeholders.

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Most people just need to talk through their chaos and its impact on their life. As we articulate our dissatisfaction, we actually begin to enroll ourselves into our very own change process! This is why listening is so important!

Now, if you’re not hiring a professional organizer, this part can be tricky. If you don’t have someone to listen to you, and draw out your pain and possibility, it can be hard to be objective about your own space and stuff.

This means YOU are going to have to listen to YOU!

So, get out your pen and pad (or electronic equivalent if that’s your fancy) and start listening to yourself…

  • List each organizing problem you’re having and its impact on your life
  • Write out what you would like each space or solution to do for you; what is your ideal for how this space or system could function?
  • List your desired outcomes to keep you motivated

One of the trickiest things about being your own Organizing Therapist is to evaluate your situation objectively, so if you find that you cannot do this part alone, ask a friend or family member to help. Just having someone to hear you out goes a long way toward problem identification and resolution.

Remember, organizing is similar to therapy in that a good process BEGINS with listening.

It does NOT begin with frantic ACTION. This is where so many people go astray in their organizing effort. They begin by pulling stuff out and sorting it as fast as they can. They get out a “donate” bin and start tossing stuff. Fairly quickly, however, their momentum will wane as the sheer volume of multiple projects will bear in on them. This is the moment when many organizing efforts dematerialize.

Instead, if you begin by listening to yourself and your own situation and needs, you will gain UNDERSTANDING of how you operate and how to best organize your life and space to suit you.

Understanding the individual is where the customization of each organizing solution or system happens. The better you understand your needs and rhythm of life, the better you will be able to create systems that are native and usable to you.

Discover Root Causes

Fingers pointing on a map

A huge part of organizing that people don’t normally talk about is the ROOT CAUSES of disorganization.

It’s so much easier (and lighter, frankly) to peddle quick tips and beautifully staged spaces.

Electronic and print media love to promote order-in-a-hurry and simple-steps-to-simplify. Not only that, social media offers a smorgasbord of home décor eye candy. Carefully staged, perfected environments (that no one actually lives in) become our baseline for what we think we should live in.

This glamorization of organizing has led consumers to think they’re somehow defective if they are still living with chaos and unmatched pantry bins.

The only TRUE WAY OUT of disorganization is through a discovery process.

That discovery process, as we’ve discussed, begins with knowing what you’re trying to achieve (your desired outcomes and life priorities) and understanding yourself and your needs.

But even if you know what you want to see happen and you know your organizing needs, you still may not “know thyself.”

To truly RESOLVE an organizing problem, you must answer the WHY question.

Why am I like this? Why did this happen? Why in the world did I let it get this bad?

Just like good marriage counseling, or emotional counseling, we must understand our own motivators, triggers, and avoidances. We MUST know why our organizing problem came into existence.

And if we avoid this one very important discovery step in the organizing process, it will be no better for us than for someone who takes inert medicine as therapy. We will not actually HEAL our organizing issues, we will simply deceive ourselves into thinking we are making progress because we got things temporarily “cleaned up.”

Classically, if we are working with someone who wants a “quick clean up” done of their garage, and who resists all our professional advice to truly understand how the garage is so cluttered, our organizing efforts will not produce lasting returns. However, if a little time is invested up-front to understand the grab-and-dash lifestyle that is causing garage pile up and if THAT frantic pace and THOSE stashing habits are addressed, THEN the garage organizing efforts will more likely make a lasting difference.

A short-sighted organizing strategy is to “clean up;” but the savvy treatment is to discover and resolve the causes of the disorganization.

Avoid Adverse Side Effects

Man holding face in hands in therapy

Like any good treatment, you want to ensure that your organizing doesn’t have adverse side effects.

And how could your organizing efforts go sideways? By taking an approach that only brings you momentary RELIEF instead of actual healing!

A few negative side-effects of organizing (but certainly not an exhaustive list) include:

Trying to solve chaos through retail therapy.

When we allow our eyes to get inspired by bins-in-a-row, we sometimes throw products at the problem. We then suffer the side-effect of spending needless money to not solve a problem.

Having matching pantry bins is a) not all that it’s cracked up to be and b) not necessarily going to solve your problem.

  • Once you’ve transferred all your flour to the matching bin, and you still have a few cups of flour left, where are you going to put the nearly empty bag?
  • If the actual problem is not having healthy food on hand, hence rarely eating at home, then matching pantry bins just cost you money and did not actually solve the problem of streamlined food management.

Non-committal:

Another negative side effect of organizing is when you just won’t commit. It’s like not taking the full course of your prescription and then being mad that you’re not healed! When we resist digging deep to understand our habits and needs and causes of disorder, we short circuit our own success.

Similarly, when we start the process, but then quit, and then start again later we’ll see adverse side effects. This is like picking at a scab. Continuing to pick at the problem will not bring breakthrough. Only when the underlying issue is discovered and treated can we be healed. Commitment means starting something and seeing in through – all the way through.

Overwhelm:

The most common reaction to the treatment of an issue by organizing is the sheer overwhelm people face when tackling their MANY issues. This overwhelm usually causes paralysis and abandonment of cause!

The way to address this negative side effect is to tackle your projects in community. Maybe that means you could hire a professional organizer. Or perhaps you could enlist friends or family, or barter with a neighbor to help each other get organized.

The point is: anticipate overwhelm and be proactive to surround yourself with support to ensure you can “go the distance.”

Organizing is the best kind of therapy.

It’s the most practical kind of self-help. What’s more therapeutic than putting an out-of-control home in working order? What’s more therapeutic than healing a broken company with thoughtful, honoring systems and processes?

Good organizing, like therapy, can be self-directed and customized to you. It holistically addresses the person, family unit, or team, understanding that each part is connected to a bigger whole. It gets to the problem, not just the symptoms. It honors the heart of the matter, instead of band-aiding on the surface.

I hope you’re inspired by the therapeutic nature of organizing and you’re ready to take back your life.

Here’s to you, Life Reclaimist! We’re here for you on this journey!

~Vicki Norris

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