An organizationally talented friend was helping me organize the nightstand beside my bed.
“What’s this?” she asked, pulling a melon-sized object in a soft case from the drawer.
“It’s a blood pressure monitor,” I told her.
“How often do you use it?”
“Maybe once a year,” I guessed. I’d bought it a few years earlier at a steep discount even though I didn’t need one, thinking ‘Hey, great deal on a blood pressure monitor!’
“Why is it in your nightstand?” my friend asked me now.
“Um … because it fits?” I knew this was the wrong answer. But I didn’t have a clue what the right answer was.
Putting frequently used items in easy-to-reach places and rarely used items in storage may be a “Duh!” for someone who is naturally organized, but for the organizationally challenged, it’s more like a “Huh?”
Blame (Or Thank) Your Genes
I’m here to tell you that being an organized person is NOT:
- Simply by choice
- Common sense
- The natural outcome of a conscientious attitude
Being organized is an aptitude. As in, it’s an inherited skill. What’s obvious to someone high in organizational thinking is by no means obvious to someone who’s low on that scale.
Thus, disorganization is NOT the same as:
- Being lazy
- Not having an interest in being organized
- Lacking a conscientious attitude
- Failure to try
I can personally vouch for #4. I’ve been making efforts to get organized for my entire adult life.
Why? Because I’m a conscientious person, and also a busy one. I want to be organized.
I LOVE The Container Store, and other stores like it (Hold Everything, Storables, etc.). They hold the promise that I, too, can acquire an organizing system that works, once and for all.
Unfortunately for me, I take after my rather ADD-ish, clutter-magnet dad instead of my focused, organizing-wonder mom.
I can take any organizational system and turn it into chaos almost overnight.
Over the years, I’ve made it a point to learn some rules of thumb for organizing.
These rules follow principles that naturally organized people just “get,” intuitively:
Assign everything a home, so you can put it back when you’re done with it.
Put similar things together. This is SO not intuitive for me. It totally depends on what you mean by “similar.”
(Having a similar function does not make things seem alike in my brain, but every organized person I know is a big fan of the grouping-by-function concept — rather than, say, by where something happens to fit, which is my personal go-to)
Place small things in front of larger things in the cupboard, so you can see them.
These insights are hard-won and precious to me. Even still, I cannot get my fridge to look the way it looks when my mom is visiting. When she’s here, it’s tidy and inviting. When she leaves, it quickly starts to resemble the deep discount bin at a flea market — a riot of sizes, shapes and colors with no discernible pattern.
Aptitudes Are Inborn Talents
I claim that organizational thinking is either a specific aptitude or an aptitude cluster. That means it’s high in some people, middling in others and quite low for some of us. It dictates NOT our interest in organizing, but our ability to organize.
Aptitudes are inborn talents that are never gained or lost.
A few examples of established aptitudes are three-dimensional thinking (e.g., parallel parking), number facility (arithmetic skills), word learning (for vocabulary building), pitch discrimination (used in music and learning other languages) and deductive reasoning (as in, “So it must be that the butler did it!”), among many others.
For more about the science of aptitudes, check out the oldest aptitude research outfit in the country, the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.
Practice Makes … Better
For all of you highly organized folks out there: I envy and admire you. If you can add to the list of “organizing rules of thumb,” I’d like to hear from you in the Comments.
If you’re on the low end of the continuum like me, it’s not your fault. It’s possible to get better at being organized, even if it’s always felt like an uphill battle. Memorize the rules and practice them. You can reach the top of your natural range, whatever that may be, with consistent effort.
For example, after almost 50 years, I finally *might* be getting the hang of putting the cap back on the toothpaste … 99 times out of 100. A personal best!
No matter where you fall on the organizational spectrum, never think of disorganization as a moral weakness.