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Posted on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 6:16 a.m.

What does it mean to be organized?

By Judy DiForte


January is National Get Organized Month, so the question is pertinent: What does it mean to be organized? Author A.A. Milne said, "Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up."

As convoluted as it sounds, I think A.A. really nailed it. You organize before you do anything else. It's the system you put in place for stuff to go through, so you know where it all is, and it's not all mixed up.

Here's a link to several other people's definitions of organizing. Words pop up like "efficiency" and "simplicity."

Here's a loftier view: "Order is the shape upon which beauty depends." —Pearl S. Buck.

I like that one because it emphasizes the context that organization creates. Let's take interior design. If everything is asymmetrical, then asymmetry has no meaning. It can only have an effect when it's played against symmetry.

So, let's say you have a fireplace with a mantle, and there's a bookcase to either side. On the mantel, left of center, you place a vase of tulips. Step back, and what stands out? The tulips.

But if you have a big window on one side and a bookcase on the other, the brain doesn't register the tulips as taking center stage (if you'll forgive the phrase). The brain sees an asymmetrical scene.

Getting back to the initial process of organizing... When we help clients organize, our mantra (and, in fact, our motto) is "simplify." The first thing we do is to subtract the unnecessary. Once that's done, we take a second look. Often, clients are astounded at the difference, once the space is pared down. They then can frequently take it from there. All the unnecessary stuff blinded them from the easier task at hand.

How do you know when you are organized? Do you have a technique? Do you feel lost and overwhelmed? I would love to hear from you, by comment here or via email.

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer for The Betty Brigade, a full-service personal assistance and concierge company based in Ann Arbor. Email her at


Sarah Rigg

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

The importance of organizaing in advance - this is so true in some many spheres! For instance, lately, I've realized that I'd have many, many less cooking disasters if I thought things through and got totally and thoroughly organized before beginning. This is more than observing "mise en place" and chopping all your veggies first. It includes things like setting out the spatula, making up a sinkful of soapy water before I even start cooking so I can clean things quickly for re-use or just to be put away, etc. I think being "truly organized" is as much about straightening up your *mind* as it is about your stuff - having a plan of attack, clearly visualizing your goal, etc.

Judy DiForte

Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

Great points! And you are so right about straightening up your mind as well as your stuff. When we work with people who hoard, it's important that they are on board and "clearing out" mentally. Otherwise, the stuff will always come back. I think there is an interplay between mind and environment, too. Clearly, your vision, when acted upon, leads to changes in the environment, but the environment affects your state of mind, too. I get an increasing feeling of unease as clutter begins to build up and creep in from the walls... Often I don't quite know what's bothering me until it hits a certain level. Once I'm conscious of it, I take back the control!