Why Am I Organized and You Aren’t?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-why-image10879293The first thing you should know is that I am not a psychologist and this is not a scientific paper. I’m just a professional organizer sharing some personal observations. The second thing you should know is that I’m not organized in every possible way at all possible times! And my standards (what “organized” looks like, and how it works at my house) may differ from yours. But, as a rule, I’m more organized than my clients are.

So, why am I organized and you aren’t? Here are some theories, in no particular order. Which one sounds true for you?

Theory 1: I was born that way and you weren’t.

It’s true that I probably notice when things are out of place sooner than you do. But it doesn’t cause me great discomfort, like it does someone with OCD. And if I am a guest in your home I don’t go around straightening your things or eyeing them judgmentally. But it is possible that you have a diagnosed (or undiagnosed) issue such as ADD, or other disorder, that interferes with your efforts to get organized. There is a whole group of organizers who specialize in stuff like that, called ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization). Speaking of which, are you a hoarder?  If so, you should know that hoarding is no longer considered a symptom of OCD, and has been given its own designation, Hoarding Disorder, in the new DSM-V (5th revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Are you the artistic, creative type? Keeping in mind Organizing Myths #1 & 2 (neat equals organized & messy equals disorganized), some messy people apparently truly don’t care about how things look, or indeed claim to thrive on it (i.e. “an artistic mess”). They only care about the flack they get from others. When pressed, though, they often admit to being frustrated when they can’t find their stuff, don’t have adequate space to create whatever they are creating, or don’t get things done on time. So, there are benefits to, and ways of organizing a creative mess!

Theory 2: I learned skills growing up that you didn’t.

While it’s true that my childhood home was clean and organized, more or less, even with three little brothers, I don’t remember it being a big deal or a subject of discussion. Did I learn it by osmosis? I don’t know. Did I learn it from being in Girl Scouts? Or did I like Girl Scouts because they were organized? In any case, I do believe organizing skills can be taught. And my long-term success with clients depends on it. Indeed, one of the primary goals of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) is to transfer knowledge and skills to our clients. And NAPO organizers are continuously learning new skills in order to better help their clients!

Theory 3: You are organized…and overwhelmed.

Are you perfectly “normal”, and organized in many ways, but…you have become temporarily derailed and overwhelmed by life? In other words, are you situationally disorganized? Events such as moving home or office, changes in your family, starting a new job or business, and physical illness can throw anyone off track! If you remember how good it felt to be organized, but can never quite seem to get caught up, this is probably why. You might just need a few pointers, or a system designed specifically for you. It always helps to have someone (a trusted friend or a professional organizer) look at it with fresh eyes.

Skills are one thing; applying them to your unique (or new) situation is another; having a system that makes it easy to maintain order over a long period of time is the key. (P.S. This is my specialty, helping organized people get back on track.)

Theory 4: I think I can do it, and you don’t.

I have always loved this Henry Ford quote: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” And this one, from Wayne Dyer: “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” Did you know that re-framing is a skill you can develop?

I definitely have a higher tolerance for grey areas than some of my clients do, and a strong belief that good enough is usually good enough. Black and white thinking and perfectionism lead to procrastination because you don’t want to do it at all if you can’t do it perfectly. And since there is no such thing as “perfect”, you miss out on being organized “enough”.

I don’t give up. When I lose my balance I get back on the bicycle as soon as I can. If your kitchen counter gets cluttered you think, “I’m not doing it right, and I am incapable of doing it right. What a loser!” Whereas, when my kitchen counter gets cluttered, which it does on a regular basis, I think, “Wow, look at that mess! I’d better clean that up!” It takes five minutes to toss the trash and put everything else away because I have established homes for everything and have a system I can follow and rely upon. Then I look at my clear counter with satisfaction and move on to something else. Success breeds success.

Were you belittled as a child and I was encouraged? Maybe. Do you need to surround yourself with encouraging friends and encourage yourself more often? Yes. You can do it if you think you can!

Which theory strikes a chord with you? Do you have theories of your own? Please leave a comment. I’d love to know what you think!

Copyright 2013-2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Heidi on May 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Two things struck a chord with me…
    1) I don’t care too much what people think but I do get frustrated when I can’t find something or pay bills late…things like that.
    2) I’m definitely currently situationally disorganized…and I like that term!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Heidi. My clients do seem relieved when I use that term (situationally disorganized). And I only use it if I think it’s true!

  2. Janine Cavanaugh, CPO® on May 9, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Hazel, I enjoyed reading your post, Why am I Organized and You Aren’t. It was insightful, interesting, and non-judgemental. I also found it filled with encouraging words for those who may struggle with maintaining order. Nicely done. Janine

    • Hazel Thornton on May 9, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      Thank you, Janine!

  3. Mina on May 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I was not born with it and didn’t learn it. My parents were not organized! I am learning it now as an adult!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      Good for you, Mina, for being willing to learn new skills!

  4. Moreen Torpy on May 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Interesting how that “organizing gene” comes to some and not others. The home I grew up in was somewhat disorganized and it drove me crazy. Now my home is disorganized sometimes and, like you, my brain says “better clear this up” but I don’t go into the OCD mode like I did as a child.

    I, too, like your term “situationally disorganized”. It describes perfectly what I see in my practice as well. Now I know a proper term for that and will remember you whenever I use it.

    Thanks for your insight!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 12, 2013 at 8:32 am

      I’m glad you like the term “situationally disorganized”… me too!…and I don’t remember where I got it…but it is now my understanding that it was coined by Debbie Stanley.

  5. Dorothy L Clear on May 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I related to much of what you wrote. I believe I was born with the organizing gene, and my parents were organize. I was a Girl Scout. I have also learned new skills since becoming a professional organizer.

    I also believe clients fall into one of two categories. They were not taught organization skills or their clutter is situational

    • Hazel Thornton on May 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      I’m glad you could relate, Dorothy. “Clear” is an awesome name for an organizer!

  6. Janine Sarna-Jones on May 12, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Hazel! Well done! Love this post. It my experience my clients are more organized than they believe themselves to be. So many folks just need help figuring out what organized looks like for them. Thanks for laying out so many different perspectives on the issue!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

      Thanks, Janine! Many of my clients are running successful business, or households, or classrooms. They sometimes feel like total losers when they call me, but if I can see, and point out, an area where they obviously ARE organized, it helps them to apply those skills to other areas of their lives.

  7. leslie Josel on May 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    so well done. very thoughtful! i loved your insights. Sometimes as organizers we really need to take a step back and look at it from the other side. You do that beautifully!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks, Leslie, I really appreciate that!

  8. Laura Kay on May 22, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Terrific article Hazel. Spot on.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 22, 2013 at 7:48 pm

      Thank you, Laura! I’m glad you could identify.

  9. Becca Clark on July 10, 2013 at 10:18 am


    Wonderful post – beautifully written and thoughtful. I completely agree with your theories and find that most of my clients are situationally disorganized.

    Good point about Girl Scouts too. I was a member all the way through high school and worked at camps in the summer, but never put that together with my organizing skills.

    Thanks again, and I’d like to share this in my e-newsletter if you don’t mind.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 10, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks, Becca, glad to meet another Girl Scout turned Organizer! I’d be honored if you shared my blog post. You can either link directly to this page, or let me know if you want to do it another way and I’ll send you a little bio box to include, OK?

  10. Wendy Green on July 11, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Great article, Hazel. I had always thought I was organized due in part to Organizing Myth #1 – that neat is organized – and have really learned how to improve my own game since becoming a PO. I love how accessible you make becoming more organized. Nicely done! Cheers.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 13, 2013 at 8:04 am

      What a nice compliment! (the “accessible” part) Thanks Wendy!

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