I recently encountered a situation with my client, whom I’ll call “Ann”, which exemplifies how some people think neatening is the same thing as organizing, and how detrimental that can be. Ann has several chronic medical conditions that generate lots of paperwork, leaving her buried in piles and overwhelmed. She also tends to be an over-shopper, buying things because they’re fun or pretty, not because she’ll necessarily use them, although she says she intends to give them as gifts someday. In addition, she has emotional attachments to gift boxes, greeting cards, stickers, ribbon, and other gift-giving supplies. Ann also envisions herself as being a great cook some day, so she stockpiles recipes and cooking supplies. I’ve worked with Ann on and off for several years to set up systems for her paperwork and create space for the emotion-evoking things that fill her small condo.

When we work together, Ann tells me that she hates her cluttered home, but although her head tells her she should let go of many of the unused things that fill her space, her heart won’t let her release them. I’ve been using motivational interviewing techniques and guidance from the book Buried in Treasures to slowly help Ann release things that aren’t giving her joy. We had been making slow but steady progress until “Linda” (not her real name) entered Ann’s life.

Linda is Ann’s cleaning woman. She told Ann she could whip her place into shape in four hours. Ann, being emotionally vulnerable and helpless, agreed to have Linda work her self-described magic. Unfortunately Linda, who was great at cleaning, wasn’t so great at organizing. She embraced the same philosophy kids often use when you tell them to clean their room – getting things out of sight is the goal. Linda shoved things wherever they would fit – cooking supplies were jammed into kitchen cabinets; recipes were shoved onto shelves; excess paperwork was tossed into large lidded bins; potential gifts were placed into boxes stacked from floor to ceiling; and gift boxes were stacked to go to recycling.

When Linda excitedly showed Ann the neat-as-a-pin results of her work, Ann was horrified. She could no longer see the things she loved, find the important papers that were previously stacked on her dining room table, or easily access the few pots and pans she used regularly. Even worse, the gift boxes that meant so much to her were unceremoniously awaiting their execution in the recycling bin.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, where you just want to make things neater and better for someone (including yourself), be sure to respect their feelings and recognize that neatening and getting things out of sight isn’t the goal of organizing – making it easy to find things when you need them and being surrounded by the things you love is what matters.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom.

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known professional organizer, author, and speaker Sue Becker is the founder and owner of From Piles to Smiles®. She enjoys helping people from around the world live better lives by creating customized systems to overcome their overwhelming paperwork, clutter, and schedules. She specializes in helping people who are chronically disorganized - those for whom disorganization has been a lifelong struggle that negatively impacts every aspect of their life, especially people with AD/HD. Her hands-on help, as well as her presentations, have helped thousands of individuals create substantial change in their lives.

Sue is Illinois’ first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. She co-authored the book Conversations on Success, and has appeared as an organizational expert on NBC News and the national TV show, Starting Over. A CPA, Sue has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.