Most of us assume highly organised people are boring, plain, and over-disciplined — far from the type of people we want to be.
Yet an organised space has nothing to do with these personality traits, and this common misconception may prevent us from having a cleaner, easier life ourselves.
We spoke with Julie Morgenstern, author of “Organising from the Inside Out,” about the five most common myths about organised people — and why they’re wrong.
Myth #1: Organised people are rigid.
Morgenstern wasn’t always the organizational genius that she is now. When she was younger, she wanted to get organised, but struggled to make it happen. She recalls, “I always had piles around the house and spent my day looking for things. I was a very right-brained, creative mess. As much as I craved order, I was kind of afraid of it.”
Morgenstern’s fears stemmed from her perception that organised people weren’t creative. However, as she got organised, she realised that it added to her spontaneity because she could create an environment where she wasted less time searching for things and had a clear enough mind to help her become more creative.
In her book, Morgenstern describes an experience with a freelance writer who always worked in chaos and who feared that a more structured system would change her environment too drastically. Morgenstern helped her create a system that reflected and encouraged her creative process, with a colour-coded filing system, a project box, and wall charts, so that it released creativity instead of restricting it. She says, “The key is to design your system to be simple, fun, and visually appealing so that it reflects your creative personality and feeds it.”
Myth #2: You have to be a minimalist to be organised.
When getting organised, people don’t know where to start. Oftentimes, they are terrified of getting rid of anything, in case they might need it in the future. Morgenstern says, “There is nothing wrong with living your life surrounded by volume, as long as you possess sufficient organising skills to keep everything accessible and orderly.” Organisation is about creating homes for things, not just about throwing them away.
In her book, she uses the example of Carrie, a stay-at-home mum who loved doing arts and crafts with her children. She didn’t want to throw any of their crafts away but thought that getting organised meant getting rid of the clutter. Instead of reducing the quantity, Morgenstern helped her consolidate and organise what she owned by devoting an entire closet to supplies and lining the shelves with attractively labelled containers.
And if you do want to get rid of things, Morgenstern says, “once things are organised, it may be easier for you to see what is excessive, and part with it bit by bit. Just don’t expect yourself to become a minimalist overnight.”
Myth #3: You can’t be organised if you’re busy.
“You need to recognise that as busy as everybody is, it helps spending time getting organised,” Morgenstern says. “The truth is, when you are overwhelmed, the best way to spend your time is to set up a system, because the return on investment for doing that is so high.”
In just a few hours of decluttering your schedule, you can regain up to 10-15 hours a week in productivity. For example, if you spend half a day organising your files, you can regain all the time you would have wasted looking for everything in the future.
Myth #4: You can’t be messy and organised at the same time.
“Being organised is not about being neat,” she says. “You can be messy and organised, and you can be neat and disorganized.” If a person can find what they need, feel like they are not distracted from achieving their goals, and is happy in their space, then they are well organised.
“There are people whose homes and offices appear neat as a pin on the surface. Yet, inside their desks and kitchen cabinets, there is no real system, and things are terribly out of control,” says Morgenstern.
In contrast, “there are many people who live or work in a physical mess, yet feel very comfortable in this environment and can always put their hands on whatever they need in a second.” Morgenstern still considers them to be highly organised people.
Myth #5: It’s impossible for anyone to stay organised long-term.
Many people are afraid to spend time getting organised because they think it won’t last. However, Morgenstern says that if you focus on organising from the inside out, your system can be designed to last. Similar to working out and eating healthy, getting organised is a way of life that requires ongoing effort.
“Organising is sustainable if your system is built around the way you think and designed to grow and adapt with you as your life and work change,” she says. It is only when your system is a poor fit for you that maintenance is a difficult chore.
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