Recently I gave a reporter the shock of her life. She asked me to share my “little known secrets” about organizing. I told her quite simply that “organizing can be painful.” She stammered, “What do you mean, painful?!” She had been looking for a silver bullet, for a quick tip, for ANYTHING but the kill-joy I had just delivered. After all, she wanted to sell magazines, hopefully with a story that was juicy enough to tease on the front cover.

The truth of the matter is: I’ve been in the trenches of disorganized homes and offices across America. I’ve seen it all, including why people resist getting organized in the first place. I see first-hand the reasons why they begin their process and later backslide. I witness why they don’t want to look any deeper than products and quick tips.

However, as I’ve begun unraveling the question “Why don’t people get organized?” I’ve realized that the answer has a lot to do with pain avoidance. Therefore, if I don’t address pain, I can’t help those of you who genuinely want to reclaim your life.


If you want the truth about organizing—and to achieve lasting change—you are going to have to confront an unpopular fact: organizing can be painful.

The Pain Principle is this: If you can understand why and how pain works to keep you from organizing your life, then you can address it head-on and create a plan for overcoming it.

Those of us who are avoiding organizing because it is painful will never make lasting changes in our environment or life. We will continue to peck away at the problem, only to find ourselves stuck in the same self-defeating cycle of disorder. Only when we understand why we are resisting organizing and resolve to embrace the process can we create and maintain organized systems.

Why can organizing be painful? Let’s look at some of the reasons:

  1. We’re afraid:
    • We’re overwhelmed and we don’t know where to begin.
    • We are afraid that we might fail, and our past efforts have confirmed our backsliding nature.
    • We want to get things “perfect” so we never begin.

Above all, organizing is a change process and once we realize that, we are nervous to embark on a journey that will ask us to look at ourselves.

2. We expect ease and speed:

In today’s sound-bite world, we want everything fast and without hassle. That’s why every company in America seems to be promising that their item or service will “save time and money” as a marketing ploy.

Authentic organizing is a process, not a slammed-out solution. It’s not a quick fix; it is an investment. Just like a financial investment, you don’t put your contribution in and then immediately pull it out…you invest for the long haul.

This is simply more than most people want to do when it comes to organizing. It seems so much more expedient in the moment to just shove our mess into a plastic bin and forget about it.

3. We’re not ready to commit: We’d really just prefer that someone else handles it for us.

  • We’d really just prefer that someone else handles it for us.
  • We start a project but never “go the distance”.
  • We say we want a tidy home but we don’t want to do the work to get there.

Organizing is time-consuming (no matter what the magazines falsely promise us) and we know it. We will have to allocate time, make decisions, change habits, and practice maintenance. No wonder a quick trick seems easier to swallow.

How can you overcome the temporary pain that organizing may cause in order to break through to an orderly life?

Getting-Organized-for-Good-The-Pain-PrincipleThere’s only one way I know of: to go through the Pain Tunnel.

The Pain Tunnel is a word picture for the organizing process. Most people want to go over it, around it, or dig a tunnel under it. They just don’t want to go through it.

We would rather avoid facing our habits, making changes, and setting up systems. Yet, we actually expend much more effort and money and energy avoiding the process than if we just moved through it.

True and lasting order doesn’t come without going through the struggle against self that leads to change. Without learning about ourselves, becoming aware of our habits, and facing the costs of our disorganization, we cannot emerge from our state of disorder.

As we struggle through our process we gain skills and make new commitments to establish and protect our quality of life. Once we have gone through the pain, we don’t particularly want to repeat it, so we become more committed to maintenance.

The blessing of The Pain Principle is that you will emerge from your process with greater self-awareness and newfound skills to create and maintain order.



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