Messy Can Be Organized: Simple Organizing

Sometimes messes (piles) mask a simple organizing strategy.

Picture of Piling System in a Closet
Messy BUT Organized

Whenever I see a mess, my inclination as a neat, tidy, Classic Freedom is to dismiss it as disorder. It’s how my brain is hardwired. Half of the population, if not closer to two thirds of the population, would make the same assessment. Piles and piles of anything tends to look disorganized. Only after ten plus years in the organizing trenches plus publishing a book on the subject do I fight that knee jerk assessment. Sometimes messes (piles) mask a simple organizing strategy. The only reason I know this is from over a decade of observation and working with clients. The key lies in asking questions.

How to Figure Out a Simple Organizing Strategy

I realize this sounds simplistic just asking questions. But that’s all I really do with clients. Never attack a mess without first understanding how it became that way or you’ll repeat the same failure. My first question is usually, “How did this pile come about?” and then the follow-up is often “What’s in this pile?”. The answer to these questions tells me what their simple organizing strategy was and often what the problem is preventing it from working for them. From there I build a system that replicates the essence of their strategy while creating more visual order and efficiency than was there beforehand. Often when I finish, the results do not look Instagram ready. This is true whenever I create a piling system. But, more important than whether it’s instagrammable is that clients can retrieve what they need, when they need it.

There is no point to me creating an entire new system for a client that looks pristine if it’s not going to actually work for them. What I mean by “work for them” is that they will be able to easily put things in their home and find things when they need them without resorting to calling or emailing me to ask where I put something. Likewise, there is no point in YOU creating a new organizational system that isn’t going to work for you.

Don’t fight tendency

Whenever you can give in to tendencies, whether it’s piling stuff in a certain area or habits, do it. This is especially important if you’re an Organic or a Classic. I consulted a few years back with a highly organized couple that wanted to figure out a system to get the wife to stop dropping her bag on the floor in their home office right between the door and the bookshelf. I had her walk me through what she did when she got home. The bag and coat were like a trail of bread crumbs leading to her desk. Instead of imploring her to start hanging up her bag in the coat closet, I suggested that they mount a hook on the side of the bookshelf for her to hang her bag. It wasn’t perfect for the husband but it was better to him than the bag on the floor.

But I Hate Looking at Messes!

God (or whatever creed you believe) created doors for a reason. If a system works for you but often looks messy, don’t build it out in the open. Situate it behind closed doors whether an office door, a closet door or a cabinet door. The tidiest system in the world for papers is a filing cabinet. They’re meant to be kept shut. No reason not to do the same for piles or a bag or whatever it is that’s bothering you. (By the way before the filing cabinet, humans used … piling systems).

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