Discovering the Roots of Disorganization

I’ve been thinking about problem-solving lately, because I think that is really an essential element to organizing. I have no idea if this is common or not, but for me, when something is less than ideal in my life, I generally start at the problem and work backwards to figure out where it’s coming from. It’s kind of like the annoying three-year-old’s method of asking “Why?” over and over again, except here you’re actually doing it for a purpose other than bugging a grownup.

For instance,
Problem: I tend to overeat.
Why? I have unhealthy food in the house.
Why? I buy it.
Why? Because I shop when I’m hungry, because it’s pleasurable to eat, because my housemates buy it.
So, 1. Don’t shop when hungry; 2. Actively pursue healthier ways to get pleasure; 3. Ask housemates to keep it in their room when possible so I’m not tempted.

Now, I may try all these things and I still keep overeating, which means I have to keep asking why, until I get to a new problem to solve. Unfortunately, the further back you go, the bigger and scarier the causes of problems tend to get – they tend to be about the kind of bedrock ideas our lives are based on, which feed our beliefs, identities, and major life choices. This is probably why people like diet pills and cute storage containers.

So when I’m working with clients who have a problem with clutter, I tend to employ this technique. So below, I’m going to refer to “you” as if you’re the client with the clutter problem. If you don’t have a clutter problem, just pretend I’m talking to the guy next to you. But do eavesdrop on our conversation, because I think these ideas are good reminders for everyone (including myself).

A lot of clients tell me, “I don’t have any ‘Big Issues;’ my only problem is that I just never learned how to be organized.” Okay, but then, “Why not?” You’ve had access to the resources to learn it. When someone has a child, if you didn’t know how to change diapers, you didn’t just say, “Oh well; I never learned,” and let the poop pile grow. If you needed to drive to get to school or work, you learned, and found a way to afford a car. The only issue here is prioritization. Of course you’re busy. Very few of the people reading this lead lives of leisure – I sure as hell don’t. But when I don’t manage to get to the gym for three weeks (a frequent issue!), I know that I can’t say, “I didn’t have time.” It was a choice I made; I put other things ahead of my health. So my next questions are, “Why did I do that, and how can I sustain a change in my priorities?” So, you could ask yourself why you didn’t prioritize learning how to organize (“I’m a lazy schmoe” or any such self-hate is not acceptable), and what are your motivations for prioritizing it now? If you focus on that, you will make a ton more headway in organizing your space, and will probably improve other areas of your life as well.

Getting some perspective on the problem is also really useful. I’ve entered homes where the client has apologized for the mess and it actually looks pretty good, and others that have overpowering odors and infestations where the client didn’t seem very bothered by it. So here is the definitive clutter/hoarding scale. Mind you, I sometimes get behind on my litterbox scooping myself, so it’s not a matter of single instances of imperfect housekeeping, but more a big picture kind of thing.

I think everyone can benefit from psychological introspection, whether that means meditation and journaling on your own, talking things out with a friend (or pro-organizer), or seeing a therapist. If you are anywhere higher than at 1 on that scale, I think it’s especially important. BUT, even if you are relatively high up on the scale, you should not let that assessment get you into any kind of negative self-thinking. Just as everyone has problem areas, everyone also has talents, skills, and amazingly beautiful qualities, and you are no exception.

Sorry for the heaviness, for those who were looking for a Good Housekeeping “10 Tips to Get Organized in 30 Minutes” kind of thing. And as always, I welcome politely-worded dissenting opinions!

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