I was talking to a friend this week about organizing her home. She mentioned that she might be at a point where she would like some help getting her house organized. “But…” she paused, “I’m embarrassed.” And there it was. The same sentiment that I keep hearing over and over from friends and clients when we begin discussing their organization needs. I’ve heard it from 3 separate people in the past week alone!
Sometimes people won’t come right out and say it, but I see the shame and anxiety in their expressions as they walk me through their piles and show me where they are stuck. Sometimes their voices quiver as they tell me that they just don’t know where to begin. This is not an exaggeration; it is very real.
The reality of the emotional toll that clutter takes on its victims is not something I was prepared for when I first considered working in the organization field. In the beginning, I was attracted to the job with visions of stacking people’s canned goods neatly in rainbow order. I thought the job was about sorting things into pretty containers.
I was wrong.
Organization and Anxiety
Organizing for other people is a relatively new venture for me. But I have a great deal of experience in the field because I have spent my whole life organizing for my own benefit. As far back as I can remember, I loved lining my toys up into straight lines. I arranged, and rearranged the furniture of my girlhood bedroom. I have always habitually straightened the magazine stacks in waiting rooms and loved using planners and checklists to keep track of my activities.
I’ve never given much thought to what was driving this behavior; I just thought it was part of who I was. Recently, however, I was having a discussion with an amazing coach (thank you, Corinne Bowen) who asked me WHY I loved organization so much. As I answered her question, the words just seemed to tumble out of me. “I guess I feel like organizing helps me cope with anxiety.” There it was. A truth that has been there all along, waiting to be recognized.
Organization Is A Healthy Coping Strategy
Organizing is my go-to coping strategy when I feel like I just can’t deal with life.
Just this Sunday, I experienced the perfect example of this. Someone made a comment that hurt my feelings. Unpleasant emotions of self-doubt and anxiety started creeping in. I removed myself from the situation and, without thinking, threw myself into cleaning my son’s closet. For an hour, I sorted, cleaned, folded and purged. When I finished, the closet was much cleaner. More importantly, I had also cleaned up my emotional state. I no longer felt sad. Instead, I felt accomplished, in control, even joyful. And my clear frame of mind allowed me to look at the earlier situation with a more objective perspective and move on.
That’s what organizing does for me. It helps me combat uncomfortable feelings that stem from feeling out of control (of my thoughts, other’s words/actions, my kids’ behavior, circumstances) and remove their power. I’m not sure what it is about the process that has this effect on me. Perhaps it is the combination of mental and physical energy expended. Or the quick lift of starting and finishing a project. Maybe it is just the self-satisfaction of sitting back and looking at the fruits of a job well done.
Whatever the reason, the fact is that organizing things just makes me feel good.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
The Link Between Clutter and Anxiety
Unsurprisingly, as organization becomes more and more of a cultural obsession, studies are emerging linking clutter to mental health issues. This article by Jenna Barrington was recently shared with me, and I am not the least bit surprised at the findings of the studies she mentions. Yes… clutter makes it hard to focus. Clutter makes us unhappy. Clearing clutter reverses the effect. Makes perfect sense.
I don’t have access to the wonderful academic search databases of my college days, but here are a few more articles from reputable sources if you’re geeky like me and this stuff interests you. I especially like the link from Psychology Today, as it provides concrete actions you can take to fight back.
- It’s science: Clutter can actually give you anxiety | Motherly
- Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 reasons, 8 remedies | Psychology Today
- The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter | The New York Times
Organization As A Tool For Transformation
Clearly, disorganization leads to problems. Clutter and chaos can absolutely cause guilt, shame, and anxiety (we don’t need any more of that in our lives!).
Luckily, this problem has a solution. And this brings me back to where I began this post. If you are tired of feeling embarrassed and anxious about the messes around you, taking steps to become more organized can help you lessen those negative emotions. As you begin taking steps to introduce better routines and systems into your life, you are taking back your power to change the way you feel about your life and your home.
I once thought that organizing well meant making a space pretty. And that certainly doesn’t hurt! The real magic that happens when you make a commitment to becoming organized, however, is the unexpected emotional boost that comes when you finish and see how far you’ve come.
You’ll feel lighter. Joy will flood your heart when you look at your updated space. You will be proud of your efforts and want to show off your hard work. Perhaps you may even feel a sense of strength (I can do this!) or a sense of relief (Phew! That’s finally behind me!).
Once you have gone through the process of purging, sorting, storing and labeling that leads to better organizational systems, you will absolutely feel a newfound sense of empowerment.
What You Need To Know About Organization
After talking with lots of women about their struggles with organization, I always end up offering them the same assurances. And you need to hear them too. Here’s what I want you to know about getting organized:
- You Are Capable: Everything you need to become more organized is already inside you!. All you need is a gentle nudge (and maybe some smart strategies) to get you going. If you’re looking for a simple project to get started, try this afternoon project!
- You Shouldn’t Be Embarrassed: Everyone feels shame about their messes; yet EVERYBODY has them. You aren’t the only one with a messy garage (or pantry or storage room). You aren’t a wierdo. You’re just a busy woman with a lot of things to do. Give yourself some grace!
- You Are Worth It: I look at organization as a form of self-care. Sure, it might take some time to change your old habits. It might take a small financial investment to get your office in order. It might not make sense to your family, and your organizing journey might ruffle some feathers in your house. But it is WORTH it to build systems and strategies that will help you make time for the things in life you really love. It’s worth it… you are worth it. Do this for yourself, for your happiness.
If you are struggling with a certain space or perhaps many spaces… I’d love to help you start making progress toward your goals. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation. Let’s talk about your situation! I’d love to hear about your challenges, check out your space, and help you make a plan to get started!