Recently I was in a law firm conference room and in need of a pen. I opened a drawer in a credenza and found a large tray of office supplies organized in a meticulous, almost artistic way, as shown in the photo below. It was a beautiful sight — but alas, no pen was present, so all that organization really didn’t serve my needs.
“Organization” is the Great White Whale of the busy modern world. Harried working moms end their days exhausted, worried about the cleanliness of their houses, the unfolded laundry, and their other pressing obligations and responsibilities, thinking that if they were just a little more organized life would be so much easier. Overwhelmed white-collar employees who inherited the duties of the guy one cubicle over who was just let go in the latest downsizing think if they could just organize their damn desk and that teetering pile of files they might actually make it. How many of your friends, at lunch or over coffee, express the fervent wish that they were just more organized? How many New Year’s resolutions read, simply: “Get organized”?
I think people fret too much about being “organized.” In reality, there are two things that people need to decide about the world and themselves, and if they would just make those decisions they would be a lot more comfortable.
At the outset, you need to know whether you are one of those people who has to be perfectly organized as a matter of your own mental health. If having a cluttered desk, or a Franklin Day Planner that doesn’t include every upcoming task, event, and deadline, will drive you crazy, then you’d better embrace that fact, respect it, and plan your career and life accordingly, or your life will be an unhappy one. People who crave extreme order probably don’t want to work at a job that inevitably involves chaos and unexpected events that require you to drop everything else and pivot to the latest crisis. Such people also probably don’t want to marry a complete slob.
But if you aren’t one of those people, why not accept that you’re not perfect and that you aren’t going to meet the standard of organized perfection embodied by that meticulous credenza drawer? Everyone needs to be organized to the point that they don’t forget or miss deadlines and events they or their kids must attend. Everyone needs to keep their personal space in compliance with minimum health code mandates. Everyone needs to be sure they pay their bills on time. But you really don’t need to try to maintain a perfectly ordered house that looks like June Cleaver will come strolling out at any moment with a tray of chilled lemonade, or a desk that would pass a prissy white-glove test.
If people spent less time worrying about “being organized,” and devoted that time instead either to reaching the organizational level that they are comfortable with or to enjoying life after accepting the inescapable level of disorder in their lives — and stopped beating themselves up about their failure to meet some idealized level of “organization” — the world would be a happier place.