Thursday, August 27, 2009

Identify Your Organizing Style

Do you have dishes in the sink? Mounds of clothes around the washer? Piles of paper and books in the living room? This doesn't tell you everything you need to know about organizing your space. Most people start with the visual picture of the state of things in their home. They run out to buy some shelves or bins or baskets to clean it up. This is a good thing to do, but not the first thing they should do. It's best to start with a quick analysis of personal style.

The best question to ask is: how does organizing make you feel? When you think of cleaning it all up, do your thoughts run out the door to something more compelling -- like visiting a neighbor, doing an errand, picking up a movie for tonight? Do you have trouble just getting up your motivation to tackle the mundane job of cleaning it all up? And is your cleaning the type that lasts ten minutes and tosses everything willy nilly into a closet or a basket?

If so, then you are an unstructured person! By this, I mean that structure is not compelling for you. I am not saying that you don't need some structure, but that you don't automatically reach for it first in every situation. It's not what excites you. It doesn't motivate you. Putting structure into a situation is a chore, and one that you can easily do without for extended periods of time. Most unstructured types are great at multi-tasking and coming up with interesting things to do. They have many things happening in their lives at once and prefer to use just the amount of structure, planning, and organization necessary to keep their busy lives on track.

Unstructured types tend to focus on the big picture, networking with other people, and the bottom line. They are adventurous and creative. They come up with ideas that are new, because they are thinking outside of the box. They have an astute awareness of the larger community and they often know an incredible number of people from all walks of life. The world needs them. I married one, and I am so glad I did! He contributes a perspective that I need in almost every situation.

One of my dearest friends is an unstructured person. You can't tell that by the appearance of her life. Her house looks neat and attractive, because she is savvy and creative about managing her little world. When she had small children, and unexpected company arrived, she put the dirty dishes in the oven and scooped up all the mess in the house into a plastic bag and tossed it into a closet. She could clean up the house in five minutes this way! My friend is a very intelligent, capable woman who has deeply blessed many lives, including mine. She wrote a book and traveled to speak about it while raising four children. But organization, she freely admits, is her nemesis. Recently she asked me to come to her home to help her with her filing system. Her files are in her laundry room -- a place I would never dream of putting them. But it works for her. The only problem is that the laundry room has become so messy, she says, that she doesn't want to go in there and work on it, and she can't find anything in her files. She needs to figure out a way to organize all those pieces of paper. But it's not a job she is looking forward to. She would much rather be doing things with people. She's an unstructured person!

Maybe none of this seems to fit your life at all . . .

Does the idea of organizing carry positive feelings for you? Do you think of how much better it will make you feel to be organized? Do you prefer to clean up first so that you are able to concentrate better? Does your mind automatically sort things into categories and make a plan before you launch into action? Do you tend to draw up plans before you start a project? Do you read the instructions and look at the diagrams before you build something? Does checking things off on a list give you a sense of satisfaction? Do you like paper and notebooks and organizing tools? Is it hard for you to feel comfortable when things around your home are in disarray?

If so, then you are a structured person! By this, I mean that structure makes you happy. It gives you a quiet sense of satisfaction, of all things in your world being right. Structure is the way you prefer to do most things -- it just feels calm and purposeful and good. Closure is very powerful for you -- getting the job done, and done well, brings its own sweet reward. Most structured types prefer to rely heavily on order in any situation. It's not that they can't live without it. They can. But they are willing to put substantial blocks of time into organizing, cleaning, and making life neat. This satisfies a need. You can generally tell a structured type by looking into their storage spaces -- which will be organized by function and logic, rather than color or other visible characteristics. They think in terms of order and procedure, without any extra effort. It's the way they are designed.

Structured types are good administrators. They can usually see a better way to do things and implement it with little fanfare. You can follow the trail of their lives by the improvements they have made. When they are in a space for very long, it is swept clean and put in order. They aren't trying to be oppressive by insisting on neatness: they need it in order to live well. They are the ideal choice for making a new idea take off, because they will find ways to make it work and prosper. Their creativity focuses on details and refining an idea. They are rarely satisfied with their work, and so they keep on working. For this reason, they are always looking for ways to improve their organizing systems.

One of my structured friends, who is a model of wisdom and integrity, turned down the opportunity to have my used curriculum supplies for free, because she didn't have a place to put them. She talks about how her life is "just wild" and it's "a struggle" to put her world in order. The first time I walked into her home, I was amazed. Better Homes and Gardens could have stopped by and taken pictures. Her house could have gone on the market for sale on any ordinary day. I have never seen a neater, more attractive school room. It was hard to believe that this could be the home of a homeschooling family. Her true struggle is to make order accomplish the life she envisions and to be flexible enough to accomodate the learning needs of her unstructured kids. Her focus on detail -- a great strength -- can be the thing she stumbles over as she misses the bigger picture. She admits, I am a structured person and I love order.

So, this is the spectrum: at one end of the scale is the unstructured style and at the other end is the structured style. But what if neither one seems to fit you?

What if you have qualities of both these types? Are you squirming a bit in your seat and feeling like you don't fit either category? Do you like paper and organizing tools, but you always want to run outside and play, too? Or is home your favorite place in the world and yet it needs more order, because anytime you start doing things, the mess grows faster than you expected?

This probably means you are a hybrid organizer. You have qualities of both types and have blended them into a lifestyle that is uniquely your own. For hybrids, identifying their needs and their strengths can take more time. They must carve their own path to order. At the same time, they tend to be the most innovative people on the planet and they will, with encouragement, find the way that is right for them. To do this, they must borrow ideas from both lifestyles and craft a flexible organization that adjusts to the situation.

Why bother to identify your style? Because that makes all the difference. The first place we must start in organizing a space is with the organizer. What works for Jack will not always work for Jill. If we universally apply the same ideas to everyone, Jack and Jill will both lose the pail of water they have been carrying. Effective organization is always a custom fit.
Tomorrow, we'll discuss how your organizing style affects the way you need to work on your space.

Which type are you? How do you know?


  1. Since I am asking you to confess, I should do it, too.

    I am structured. How do I know? Shopping at Staples is a joy break! My favorite aisle? The one with organizing supplies. Even if I don't need anything, I like to look!

  2. For hybrids, identifying their needs and their strengths can take more time. They must carve their own path to order.

    LOL - yeah, that's me, never the easy way out! My dad would be laughing at this. He always told me I had to learn everything through the school of hard knocks!

  3. I think I'm probably a combination. I like structure. I'm a good planner. I'm a good organizer. But you won't find my closets very neat. And my office leaves much to be desired in the way of neatness. Not because I don't want it organized but that I can't KEEP it organized. I like things in their places but with so much to do, I can't always keep it that way. Structure does provide a sense of calmness and peace for me. I'm kind of weird I guess because some areas of the home affect me more than others. In other words, if the bedrooms are disorderly, it doesn't bother me near as much as when the living room and kitchen are disorderly. I especially like my kitchen neat and tidy.

  4. I've become more and more organized as I age. I like things tidy. However, some level of chaos is good.

  5. I think that I am a hybrid, but I'm not sure!! I love Staples, too. It just makes me feel like "Ahhhh, at last!!!" In fact, if I just wantt to feel better, all I must do is think "Staples" haha. But, I'm a dreamer and idealist, and I cannot ever seem to get on top of my random, busy household. It's very dynamic. I am adaptable and flexible (i.e., spontaneous) and tend toward wanting to maintain relational harmony (which is the impetus for most of my spontanaeity) which involves balancing work, play, and rest. I love neat, tidy spaces. I work best whenever the household is "on the same page" of activity, work, etc. But that is not always possible. Of tidy spaces, my soul breathes in them, deeply. I dislike the process of cleaning but rarely think twice about it whenever we're working together or I am able to chat with a friend and clean at the same time.

    I look forward to tomorrow ... and am still recalling "prayer" as first things. Thanks.

  6. Julie, Teacherperson, Karen, and Kelly -- thanks for sharing. Your comments highlight two important ideas: we are each unique, and we often aren't completely sure HOW MUCH organization we really want.

  7. I'm hybrid for sure. I want order and I find myself turning down free stuff and decluttering a lot lately. I'm not an administrator and paper is my nemesis. I think I really like order, but don't always know how to achieve it and then the whole thing overwhelms me. Plus, I'm easily distracted and never, ever run out of new ideas.


I love to receive comments from my readers, since you are the ones I am writing for! Please feel free to leave one.