Busting the Top 10 Organizing Myths

P1030244As part of my 10-year celebration of being in the organizing business, I thought I’d revisit this old blog post and see if I still agreed with myself. I do.

Don’t believe everything you think!  Here are the top 10 organizing myths, along with the truth and some helpful links to related blog posts and  flow charts.

Organizing Myths #1 & 2:  Neat equals organized.  &  Messy equals disorganized.

Truth:  Not necessarily! 

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Don’t we all know someone with a messy desk who knows exactly where to find that important report? Are you intimidated by friends with spotless homes? Don’t be! You haven’t seen inside their drawers and closets. They may not be able to find their tax records or car keys when they need them! Being organized is about being able to find the things you need, when you need them; getting important tasks done with time to spare; being comfortable in your space; and enjoying your life! Finding a system that works for YOU is what really matters. (Six Organizing Systems Everyone Needs)

Organizing Myth #3:  Multi-tasking saves time and increases productivity.

Truth:  It depends. Studies show that people who multi-task are actually LESS efficient than those who focus on one project at a time. Think about the time you lose switching among multiple tasks — “Now, where was I?” Multi-tasking is overrated, stressful, and potentially dangerous, such as when talking on your cell phone while driving. Even using a hands-free device, are you really giving either activity — communicating or driving — the attention it deserves? Good, safe examples of multi-tasking combine activities with no serious consequences for either, such as: listening to an audio book or music while exercising; checking loads of laundry between home office tasks; dusting or loading the dishwasher while chatting on the phone. (Are You Doing the Right Things?)

Organizing Myth #4:  A Professional Organizer will make you get rid of all your stuff.

Truth:  A good one won’t! Your stuff isn’t as important as what you want to do in your life, and how you want to feel in your space. If we need to eliminate some stuff in order to accomplish that, we will. Together we will determine what you really use, love, and need to keep. Then we will display those items, or store them in such a way that they take up less room and are easier to find when you need them. (The Original Clutter Flow Chart)

Organizing Myth #5:  The perfect gadget or container will get you organized.

Truth:  How well has that worked for you so far? I subscribe to Julie Morgenstern’s S.P.A.C.E. method of organizing — Sort, Purge, Assign a home, Containerize, Equalize. You’ll notice that “Containerize” is the next-to-LAST step in the process, not the FIRST step! If you haven’t sorted, purged, and assigned a home for your stuff yet, how do you know what size or style of container you need? If you haven’t fully, and accurately, analyzed the problem, how do you know which gadget will solve it? If you buy too soon in the process, it’s likely to end up as more clutter. If you wait, you might even discover that you already have everything you need! (How to Create More S.P.A.C.E. in Your Life)

Organizing Myth #6:  Hiring a Professional Organizer is cost prohibitive.

Truth:  It may cost less than you think! When you really stop to consider the cost of clutter, and the value of organizing, the cost of organizing may well seem like a total bargain! The real question is: Can you afford not to get organized? (How Much is Your Clutter Costing You?; How to Get Organized Anywhere at Any Budget)

Organizing Myth #7:  Only disorganized people need to hire a Professional Organizer.

Truth:  Not true! Actually, many of my clients are quite organized! Or at least they used to be. But life happens…moving, physical illness, new baby, job change…and life doesn’t wait around for you to get things back under control. Why suffer when there’s help available to get you back on track? Or, maybe things aren’t bad the way they are and you just want some ideas to make things even better! (Are You Situationally Disorganized?Getting Back on Track)

Organizing Myth #8:  Disorganization is a character flaw.

Truth:  Don’t think that! There are many reasons why someone might be disorganized. They range from situational (moving, physical illness, new baby, job change), to chronic (ADD, brain injury, mental illness). Maybe there’s nothing “wrong” with you at all, but you are trying to use an organizing system that doesn’t suit your natural style. Some people have just “always done it that way”, and it simply hasn’t occurred to them that there might be a better “home” for the scissors, or that their laundry never makes it into the hamper because it’s inconveniently located and has a box sitting on top of it. Maybe important papers don’t get filed simply because the drawer sticks, making it difficult to open and close. Most of my clients are simply overwhelmed with their busy lives. Disorganization is a problem to be solved, not a character flaw. (Why Am I Organized and You Aren’t?)

Organizing Myth #9:  You should touch each piece of paper only once.

Truth:  Oh, please…  OK, I’ll agree that actual trash (junk mail) should be recycled or shredded directly from your mail pile the moment you go through it. But, as for bills and other items that require action, who is going to drop everything and pay the bill the instant it arrives, and then file it immediately, thus only touching it “once”? I recommend an Action File to most of my clients. It is a temporary, very accessible holding place for items that require action. At best you will still be touching the paper two or three times (including filing, if filing is even necessary). But it’s a realistic system that works for most people. (Mystery Piles & Action Files; The Paper Clutter Flow Chart)

Organizing Myth #10:  Organized people schedule every minute of every day.

Truth:  Heavens no! What fun would that be? Organized people do schedule appointments; chunks of time to work on projects; time for themselves (exercise, hobbies); and family time. But they also leave pockets of unscheduled time on their calendars for those little unanticipated (but inevitable) things that crop up during the day; time to take advantage of new opportunities; and time to do nothing but take a deep breath, relax a bit, and appreciate their lives. (Are You Too Busy?; The To-Do List Clutter Flow Chart)

Copyright 2009-2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. innovativepat on March 12, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Excellent points, Hazel. Being a fairly well-organized person myself, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t by using many of your tips over the years. The best has been the “Action File” – mine is a great little system on wheels!

  2. Hazel Thornton at org4life.com on March 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Thanks, Pat! You’re a prime example of Myth/Truth #7…I’m not saying that you need to hire me, but that you’re an oragnized person who benefits from organizing tips! And if anyone reads this, the “Action File” Pat mentioned is described in my blog post entitiled “Eliminate Those Mystery Paper Piles!”

  3. Leslie on March 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Great stuff, Hazel! I especially like #8 and #9 – that maybe there are better systems than what we’ve always used, and that some things may require more than one touch – but there’s a system! And I’ve been sharing your blog post on Mystery Files with several friends and colleagues!

  4. Janet Barclay (@JanetBarclay) on July 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Your #9 applies to emails as well. One of the reasons email consumes so much time is thinking we need to deal with each message as it comes in, instead of organizing them according to the action required.

  5. Hazel Thornton on July 23, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Good point, Janet! I recommend an Action File for email, too, in this related post:

  6. Seana Turner on October 10, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Wow, I just agree with all of these. I love your point that disorganization isn’t a character flaw. So many reasons we end up disorganized… AND, I always point out that my clients have many natural skills and interested that I don’t. Everybody is different… and a functional level of organization is something we can put in place.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 10, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Everybody is different, but also the more you think you can’t do something, the more you can’t do it! I think shame is a big factor preventing people from asking for help.

  7. Liana George on October 10, 2015 at 7:10 am

    Great points Hazel! So glad you busted these myths in practical and humorous style! Loved it 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on October 10, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks, Liana! 🙂

  8. Sarah Soboleski on October 10, 2015 at 7:12 am

    I’m a big proponent of #5 and a huge fan of Julie Morgenstern. You’re so right that buying the pretty containers and organizing gear needs to come last, if at all! And nice reminder about #9 – I’ve never been into the OHIO (only handle it once) method myself.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 10, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Sometimes I think I should come up with a patented method of my own. But S.P.A.C.E. has always worked for me. So why? I can be creative in other ways. 😉

  9. Linda Samuels on October 10, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Love this group of “organizing myths.” And what a great way to honor your 10th anniversary. Congratulations, Hazel!

    #4 Stood out to me. Aside from it being a myth, I think it’s the #1 fear that many people have about organizers. Potential clients are afraid that organizers are going to make them get rid of things. As part of my initial discussion with potential clients, I alleviate that fear by explaining that they are in charge and are the decision-makers. I am there to facilitate, support, and ask questions. Building trust is key to building successful relationships. It begins during that first conversation.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 10, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks, Linda! I knew that Myth #4 was a strong one even before I started my business. People (usually coworkers) would say, I need to clean out my closet/garage/desk/whatever and I’d say, “Need some help?” And they’d say, “Naw, you’d just make me get rid of everything.” Really? Hmmmm…

  10. Nicole Ramer on October 10, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Hazel, congratulations on your 10-year anniversary! This was a fantastic read! Thank you for sharing it and all of your helpful links!

    • Hazel Thornton on October 10, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks, Nicole!

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