organized desk with computer, lamp, candle and notebook

The Psychology of Organization

We’ve been talking quite a bit about clutter and organization. Just as it is beneficial to understand the psychology of clutter, it’s also important to understand the psychology of organization. Being organized can have a positive impact on many aspects of our lives, so let’s take a look at what being organized entails.

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The Psychology Behind Organization

When we look at very organized people, they often share some common traits:

  • Clear priorities and goals
  • Time management skills
  • Planning skills
  • Consistency

Of course, being organized doesn’t mean that you will excel at all things, or even at all executive functioning; however, being organized can have a positive impact on most areas of your life.

The psychology of organization - and organized linen closet

What is Organization?

Organization is a skill that can be learned and honed. It’s not a skill that you’re born with. Most people think organization is being neat and clean. While being organized might present that way, there is a lot more to it, which is why people with executive dysfunction often struggle with this.

Organization means creating logical systems and processes in order to get tasks done. Having these systems in place helps create order over chaos. If you have executive dysfunction, creating systems for yourself is incredibly hard because it relies on your ability to prioritize, plan, and predict.

However, just because it’s harder to create systems doesn’t make it impossible. The key is to allow yourself to build systems that work for you without worrying about whether other people understand or “get” your systems.

Why is Organization Important?

Organization can have a multitude of positive benefits. Because being organized will help you manage your time and attention more effectively, you’ll feel better, more in control, and less stressed. If your space is organized, your environment will be more positive because you’ll know where to find what you need.

It creates a snowball effect. When you are organized and can manage your time and resources better, you’re less stressed. If you’re less stressed, you can focus on other things that make you happy. In addition, if your time and space are organized you will be more productive, which will lead to more success.

The Link Between Environment and Productivity

If your space is cluttered and disorganized, it will have a negative impact on your productivity and efficiency. The mess can be very distracting, causing you to lose time. Not being able to find the items you need in order to finish a task is another time waster, and it definitely adds frustration to your life.

As noted, having your things organized allows you to know where everything is, so you can remain focused and productive. It’s much harder to stay on track when you’re surrounded by chaos. In general, people are more efficient and productive if they are comfortable.

Making your space more comfortable

In order for your physical environment to be more comfortable, you need a system to organize the things in your space (home, office, etc).

How you choose to organize or the system that you use or create will vary depending on what is comfortable to you. The minimalist lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Putting everything you own in cute baskets and tucking them into a closet won’t work for everyone.

Some people need to see things so they don’t forget about them. For some people, objects are a source of comfort. I’m not going to tell you what you have to do to make your space more comfortable or what organization system will work for you.

What I can tell you is that if you’re living in a state of chaos and it is impeding your ability to be productive, something’s gotta change.

I always suggest starting with sorting the items in the room you want to organize. Get rid of the obvious trash first. Then, you can see what’s left and determine what needs to stay and what can go—you decide whether it moves somewhere else in the house or gets donated.

Finally, you organize what’s left. Think about how you work. If something is on a shelf, will you remember that’s where it is? What if it’s on a shelf, but it’s in a clear container so you can see what’s in it?

If you have a lot of paper items, how will you store them? For the things you reference repeatedly, can they be categorized and put in folders or binders? Or are they things that can be put in a drawer or file cabinet? Labeling each drawer with the contents can help you know where everything is and help guide you as you need to put more away later.

For the things you need to have on hand all the time, where will they go? How can they be accessible without being in the way and distracting?

organized desk with computer, lamp, candle and notebook

Digital organization

Digital organization is about decluttering your devices like your computer and phone. If you’re the kind of person who wants everything in front of you, you probably have 50 tabs open on your browser because you “plan to go back to that” at some point. Your computer desktop might also be filled with downloads that you never moved to a more appropriate place.

Just like with your physical space, decluttering your digital space is a process. The first step is to get rid of any obvious trash. Delete the documents and apps that you no longer need or use.

Then, start your organization process with your documents and files. Create folders for things that belong together. Clear your desktop by filing documents into the appropriate folders.

Move on to cleaning your email. Consider setting up filters and folders so that when you look at your email, everything isn’t just getting dumped into your inbox. While you’re there, unsubscribe from all the newsletters and sales emails you ignore anyway.

Both physical and digital decluttering and organization are ongoing. You need to add this to your regular weekly routines so the problem doesn’t grow again and overwhelm you.

Overcoming Challenges

Organization can be challenging, especially if you are used to being disorganized. However, it is important to remember that organization is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. Remind yourself why you want to be more organized.

Here are a few tips for overcoming organization challenges:

• Take small steps: Start small and focus on one area at a time.

• Set goals: Set specific and achievable goals for yourself and make a plan for how to achieve them.

• Make lists: Create lists of tasks and prioritize them. This will help you stay on track and make the most of your time and resources.

• Find an accountability partner: Find someone who can help you stay on track and accountable.

• Celebrate successes: Celebrate your successes and reward yourself for achieving your goals.

• Seek help: Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.

Avoid Self-Sabotage

If you have executive dysfunction there are some behaviors that will self-sabotage your organization attempts. You won’t see them as self-sabotage; you’ll justify those behaviors because that’s the way I am or it’s part of my ADHD/anxiety/depression/OCD….

Those things will absolutely play a role in your organization habits. However, they shouldn’t rule how you approach organization. When we talk about mental health issues and organization (or clutter) it’s often a chicken-and-egg discussion. Is your depression causing you to be disorganized or is the clutter/disorganization increasing your depression?

I’m not going to tell you that if you are organized your depression will be cured. But the clutter and disorganization can add to your stress and anxiety, so you need a way to combat it.

In addition to the mental health component, other executive dysfunction behaviors can sabotage your efforts to be more organized. Procrastination and perfectionism are two of the biggest culprits.

The first step in addressing self-sabotaging behaviors is to recognize the behaviors and identify the source. You can do this through journaling or tracking your thoughts and emotions as you work on your organization. When negative thoughts creep in, reflect on what’s causing them. You need to challenge yourself and your thinking to tackle why you’re engaging in those behaviors and what you can do to stop them.

The next step is to create a plan for addressing the sabotaging behaviors. If your behaviors are closely tied to a mental health issue, I strongly recommend working with a professional. Your plan of action should probably include building positive habits to address those behaviors.

Finally, you need to celebrate every little win or success you have. You’re going to make mistakes, but don’t let them ruin the joy of the progress you make.

As you set out to create a more organized life for yourself, remember what you hope to get out of it. You shouldn’t embark on this journey because other people’s lives look better than yours or they seem to have it all together. Your goal should be to make your life easier, so you can enjoy more moments and feel less stressed.

Like everything else I talk about, it’s a process and it will take time. You need to find the systems that not only make sense for you but that will also work for the long haul, systems that you can maintain. Experiment with different things to create the systems that make you happy.

If you want some more guidance to tackle all of the decluttering, you might want to consider The Declutter Boot Camp. Full disclosure, this course is a friend's, but I think her step-by-step plan can be really useful for my audience (and it's super affordable at $27). Here's Samantha's course description:

When faced with the seemingly overwhelming task of cleaning out the clutter in your home, the last thing you want is some complicated system to reign it all in. The Declutter Boot Camp is designed to be simple to follow with powerful results!

After years of being asked to come over and help my friends and family get a handle on their home organization, I have put together this course with all the tips, tricks, and accountability to get you started!

Obviously this is not the same as me coming over and going through all of your things.  But, trust me, you'd rather go through your stuff because I'm not very sentimental…

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