Is Being Organized Worth It?

by Stephen Mills on July 20, 2010


If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk? — Albert Einstein

I’m not naturally an organized person.  It seems there is some set point of disorder and clutter that occurs around me; if I de-clutter and organize, things quickly return to their disordered set point.  I find those pictures of minimalist workspaces and homes very aesthetically pleasing.  I love the look of them, but I fail to achieve anything close.  From a personal productivity approach I think I’ve tried about every system and I can never stick with them.  For whatever reason, it seems I’m just not wired to work that way.

I recently picked up a delightful bargain book called A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder – How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place.  The authors make a compelling argument that the time spent on organizing, planning, and keeping things uncluttered is simply not worth it; that you spend more time organizing than you save as a result of being organized.

They go further and argue that in many cases messiness and disorder is a good thing.  They give interesting examples like Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin because his lab was a dirty, messy, and cluttered place; something that would not have happened in a clean and organized lab.  Some of my favorite examples were messy and unorganized small business like hardware stores or bookstores that make more profit than nearby highly ordered and organized megastores.

The argument is basically that organization is inflexible and resistant to new information, changing circumstances, and unexpected events.  On the other hand messy systems are flexible and allow more creative connections of apparently unrelated information.  This really resonated with me.  They describe 12 kinds of messiness: clutter, mixture, time sprawl, improvisation, inconsistency, blur, noise, distraction, bounce, convolution, inclusion, and distortion.

This book was an enjoyable read and made some excellent points.  The message I took from this book was to accept your natural tendencies.  Don’t be pressured by the culture to change.  Starting with your parents’ demands to clean up your room and continuing with your regimented school and work lives, you are bombarded by the message that neat, planned, and organized is good and messy, unplanned, and disorganized is bad.  Well maybe not.  This may be an extreme minority view as it is the first time I have encountered it this way, but I loved it.  I found it utterly compelling and convincing.  From this day forward I am embracing my messy and disorganized self.  What about you?

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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50 Ways to Get Your Life in Order | Element Geek ~ Vernon Howard
August 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice July 21, 2010 at 4:57 am

Hey Stephen, well said and great piece of advice there. I think with all this de-cluttering and minimalist views or early rising people think we should be a certain way. However I prefer to accept my idiosyncrasies rather than thinking that because of who I am I should be a certain way. I’m not the most organised or tidy person either…I’ve learned to accept that.
Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog post ..How To Climb The Lions At Trafalgar Square


Stephen Mills July 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

Hello Amit. Minimalism and organization have been all the rage in recent years and I think it’s great you’ve accepted your own disorder. Like I said to Dani, I think it everyone is different but the cultural push is all towards neatness and organization.


Positively Present July 21, 2010 at 6:32 am

Great question. It’s always hard to know if all the time spent preparing and organizing for things is really worth it, but personally I find that I’m MUCH happier and relaxed when everything is in its place. That book sounds really interesting — I’m going to have to check it out!


Stephen Mills July 21, 2010 at 6:44 am

Hi Dani, I think it is partly a personality thing. I know people who are stressed over the least bit of disorder. Everyone is different but surveys show that most people actually feel guilty about their messes. No more!


Ira@ Peerless pa740 July 21, 2010 at 11:24 am

Very well said. I too think being organized is overrated. My desk has always “looked” cluttered (some say messy), but the thing is I know right where everything is at. If I clean it I can’t find anything.


Stephen Mills July 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Hello Ira, I know exactly what you mean about not being able to find something once it has been put up. I love the fact that most of my stuff is now electronic and it can all be filed in one place and be located by search.


Walter July 21, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Organize or not it does not really matter. We all do have our approaches in life and we don’t have to abide by what others think as ideal. The important thing to remember is to allow our own unique approach on handling things. 🙂


Mia July 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm

No! I can find things better if, they are not put away. As my children say, mom knows where it is.


Vision33r July 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm

This book is to demonstrate everyone has their own way of managing things. I often see that an organized and detail oriented person is at conflict with someone who appears to be disorganized but during some event the person who appeared to be disorganized is the person who has the answer before the organized person.

Someone once asked me, why aren’t you writing all the stuff the teacher lectured? I replied, he hasn’t said anything that I can’t recall or substantial enough to write.


Bhuman Bo July 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm

In some cases time spent organizing may not be fully recouped, but many people think and act more clearly when they’re organized. Also, consider the value of organization when you must delegate or transfer your enterprise. The benefit of organization to your partner, employee, or heir is undeniable.


Stephanie Calahan (@StephCalahan) August 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

As a productivity and organization coach I often find that people have a limiting perspective of what “organized” means. They think: Martha Stewart perfect, zen minimalist, sterile environments, etc. While there are some professionals in my industry that focus solely on that outcome, most do not.
So, what is “organized” then?
Organizing is about finding what you need when you need it, not about what it looks like. Different solutions are going to work for different people. I remember my grandma — her home was covered in piles – everywhere. From the time I was a little girl until she had a stroke, she could tell you with exact accuracy what was in each pile and pull information faster than some people with pristine filing systems. Her home was a “disaster” and she often had to move things for someone to be able to sit down, but she could find stuff.

I never judge a book by its cover when walking into a space. I have had clients that were hoarders in their office and I have had just as many that had offices that looked like they could have been in a magazine shoot they were so pristine.

There are many different thinking, learning and communication styles. There are also different organizing and productivity styles. The art is to identify a system that works for you (and those you work with). If you have that, then you are set.

It is also true, however that there are many people that function better — think clearer and are more creative — when working in an organized environment. For some that means a clean/clear environment with little distractions (one of my ADHD clients doubled production when there were fewer distractions). For others it means systems that are out where you can see them and remember what needs to be focused on next. Systems sometimes have to change — just like if I gain or lose weight, I’d have to change my clothing size. The best organizing systems are ones that are flexible and can grow with you.

“Organized” is also about living the life that is important to you. The average person wastes over 150 hours a year just looking for stuff. What a waste! By putting systems in place that help support who you are and what you want to do in life, you live a happier life. Just make sure that what ever you try matches the true you.


John April 8, 2012 at 8:11 am

I completely agree. im very effective in getting things done, im not lazy and im completely disorganised. the bottom line is i seem to produce the results.

however, i think the value of being organised will depend on the type of person you are. i think for most people, they need it. for me, it’s a ball and chain that i don’t need to live a full life.


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