Confessions of a Professional Organizer (I’m organized enough, and not one bit more.)

Sock Drawer - overorganized

Just right? Or over-organized?

Clients always seem amused and relieved to find that I have my own organizing issues to deal with. I tell them, “I’m organized, not perfect!” If you and I both have a pile of clutter on the kitchen counter, the difference between us is that I know it’s a temporary situation, and that it will be easy for me to get it back under control. My home is relatively tidy, organized, and clean… for the most part… but don’t open that one door, or get out your white gloves! And I am sometimes late…. but not often, and not by more than a few minutes.

What fascinates me are the people who are surprised (if not horrified) at some of the things I choose NOT to organize. These are usually friends and family who visit my home and see for themselves. They can’t understand why a professional organizer would NOT organize something. Why is everything not alphabetized and situated to OCD standards? Well… what is the point of organizing? The point is to enable you to find your stuff when you need it, right? Also to make it easy to put your stuff away again where it belongs. Making it look pretty is nice, and more important to some than to others, but it’s secondary to functionality, if you ask me. More organizing is more work. The trick is to organize as much as you need to… and no more. It’s true what they say: Organized people are just too lazy to look for things!

Too messy? Or contained and organized enough?

Here are some personal examples. Keep in mind that these systems work for me, but they might not work for you. It depends on how much stuff you have; how much storage space is available to you; how big your family is; and your personal goals, style, and preferences. When working with a client, my job is to find a system that will work for them, not for me.

Clothes: I organize by Casual (wear at home, for exercise, or to the grocery store), and Less Casual (suitable for a networking event or whatever). Within those categories I group tops and bottoms. That’s about it. I don’t sort by color or sleeve length because I don’t need to. Keep in mind, I don’t have very many clothes, and they all live in the same closet all year long. Also, I’m the only one using that closet. I don’t have seasonal clothing other than a few shorts and tank tops for summer; I just wear more, or fewer, layers. I do have a variety of jackets in the hall closet which, if I had a family, would need some seasonal switching out due to space limitations.

Socks: All my socks go in the sock drawer. There is nothing in the sock drawer besides socks, and there are no socks elsewhere (except the laundry). That’s organized enough for me. I don’t feel the need to pair them up, much less stick them into a honeycomb sock organizer! (My poor friend gave me the one in the photo as a gift, never imagining that I wouldn’t put it to immediate use.) If you have lots of different kinds of socks, or a family whose socks are co-mingled in the laundry, this might not work for you.

Spices: I do not alphabetize my spices! I also don’t cook that much, so I might not have as many spices as you do, either. I keep mine in two places: Baking spices are up on a high shelf with other baking stuff because I only use them a few times per year. Savory spices are within arm’s reach of the stove. It only takes me two seconds to find the spices I want, so more organizing isn’t going to help me.

Papers: In How to Create Your Own Simple Filing System, I suggested grouping related files into broad categories, like Utilities and Insurance, and not by vendor name. The fewer file categories you have, the less need there is for alphabetizing, and the easier it is to find what you need. This one is true for everybody, not just me.

Books: I have two book shelves in my house. Ten shelves altogether. I do have a few categories: Newbery Medal winners; books about organizing and business; books I haven’t read yet; and everything else. It really isn’t that hard to find a particular book. So why organize them further?

Of course, the less stuff you have, the easier it is to organize it. And find it later. And put it away. And clean around it. Owning more stuff leads to taking care of more stuff; needing more elaborate organizing systems to find it; more difficulty putting it back where it belongs; and cleaning around it.

If you ever feel you are in danger of being over-organized, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the level of organizing that I am considering (or already maintaining) worth the trouble (time, mental energy, and expense)?
  • Will it really make it easier to find what I am looking for?
  • Will it make it easier, or harder, to put things back where they belong when I finish using them?

What are you over-organizing? Or, what did you feel inadequate about, until you read this, because it wasn’t as organized as you thought it should be?

Are you relieved to hear that simpler might be better? Or do you just think I’m a lazy slob? LOL!

Share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Wow, I really love this post. And I chuckled over your top pic–of that honeycomb organizer–because it reminds me of a picture that keeps showing up in my Pinterest feed, with a similar organizer filled with carefully rolled and organized socks and underwear. It makes me want to scream. Why spend all that time? But I think that picture does typify a common misunderstanding of what it means to be organized, which comes from lots of blogs (not yours!) and magazines and of course PInterest.

    I’m with you–the goal is “organized enough.” I always tell people not to overorganize–after all, the purpose of organizing is to make your life easier, not harder. I have a different clothing system from yours, but it is also low maintenance. It involves a notable lack of folding and quite a bit of just tossing things in drawers. I do hang stuff, but on nonmatching hangers (because I don’t care about aesthetics inside my closet) that are also nonflocked (so the clothes slip on & off quickly and easily).

    But I do alphabetize my spices. 🙂

    • I feel for the clients who think they are doing it wrong because they don’t have all the organizing gadgets they see in ads. Or they buy some, only to get them home to find they don’t work for their situation! (I, too, dislike flocked hangers. But some people LOVE them!)

  2. I love this post Hazel, and yes people think my home is immaculate. I laugh and tell them no it’s not perfect but if I need to find something important and could tell you exactly where it is.

  3. Ha! I’d say you are far from a slob, Hazel! I love how genuine and honest this post is. I think reading it will put a lot of people at ease. I am fond of the quote you referenced: “Organized people are just too lazy to look for things” as I truly believe it and I’m one of them!

    • I hope you are right, Sarah, about putting people at ease! Or at least enabling them to change their focus from over-organizing one area to addressing other areas that need organizing.

  4. Great post Hazel! I love it. Thanks for sharing you personal “organized” areas. I feel that an organized area doesn’t have to be magazine ready (eye-candy spaces). If one writes labels with masking tape or just writes on bins the contents name, that works for me. Why make more work for oneself if the system works? The questions for over-organizing is great as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ha! I sometimes think (and say) that the only tools I really need to do my job are Post-its, masking tape, and a black Sharpie!

  5. I love this post Hazel! My clients (and friends and family) think my house must look like an organizing magazine photo shoot, but I love telling them some of the ways I don’t over-organize… like my underwear… it’s just tossed in a drawer. No fancy organizers there. I love that phrase “organized enough”… that’s really what’s important.

  6. Hi Hazel,

    Great post! Funny, I think before I was a professional organizer my house was perfect all the time. Then, when I became an organizer professionally I was just “organized enough”. Now that I’m traveling full-time, I have nothing to organize really except packing and unpacking my suitcase. 🙂

  7. I never thought of not pairing up my socks! I now fold them rather than rolling them together, but when I see your photo, I realize how easy it is just to grab the two that match when you need them.

        • Ha, for me the trick for preventing mismatches is to not have any navy or dark blue socks! Too similar in color to black and you will mix them up all the livelong day. Those sock manufacturers who sell packages of black and navy socks together are, in my opinion, responsible for so much wasted time and energy. 😉

          Great article Hazel!!!

          • Thanks, Carol! It’s true….I don’t have any blue/navy socks! I do have black socks in two different weights (thin, thick), and two different styles of white socks that are easy to tell apart.

  8. Organizing spaces is sort of a “stress reliever” for me, so I probably get close to over-organized. But as long as I don’t inflict that on everyone else in the space, it seems to be okay. I don’t shoot for perfect either — I don’t think there is such a thing!

    • Now that you mention it, Seana, I think stress might be the whole point! It doesn’t matter how organized any of us is, really, compared to each other. It matters if we can find things, and get stuff done, without stressing out, can relax in our living and working spaces, and can finish projects without worrying that they’re not perfect. If someone isn’t stressed out about their clutter, they don’t need to hire a professional organizer to help them! And if you organize to a greater degree than I do, that’s fine! So, “over-organized” is just more organized than one needs to be in order to find one’s balance between stressed and relaxed. Yes?

  9. Interesting how we feel about socks. 😉 I match up my socks and then they all get thrown in a basket. It’s an open basket so it’s easy for me to reach in and grab a pair from the top. I actually have two baskets — one for each of the two main colors of socks that I wear. It’s a simple system that’s easy for me to keep up with.

  10. Just this past year, I stopped over-organizing my socks drawer and my underwear drawer. I have a few different types of socks, so they’re matched up, but loosely thrown into the drawer. I used to fold and organize my underwear by type and in rainbow order, but now they’re just all ajumble in their home drawer and it’s surprising to me how peaceful that pile is.

  11. Well, I have to admit that while visiting Hazel at Christmas I organized all of her Newbery books in the order in which they were published. And she let me. What a good and indulgent friend!

    • I have just learned a new-to-me term: macro-organzing. It’s enough for me that all the Newbery books are on the same shelf. If you want to micro-organize them, knock yourself out! 🙂

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