Does Being Organized Make Life Easier or Create More Work?

Organization & routines: do they make life easier or create more work?

There are plenty of people on social media and other online spaces who are talking about their apparently perfect, blissful, über-organized routines that other people should be living up to if they’re to have any hope of being happy. I’ve always been organized, and now it’s something rely on to compensate for some of the deficits from my mental illness, and it plays a very, very different role in my life from the fake reality (at least I think it’s fake) that’s shown on social media. In this post, I wanted to explore the helpful vs. unhelpful roles that trying to be organized can play.

Initial energy input for longer-term lower output

Setting up a system requires an initial input of effort to develop the system and put everything where it needs to be. I don’t think there’s any way of getting around that. But once you’ve got your organization system set up, you may be able to save time and effort on an ongoing basis moving forward without having to put in a lot of work at maintenance.

Let’s say your closet is a disaster area. It’ll take a while to get it organized, but once there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place, it doesn’t take that much extra effort to return individual things to their home rather than shoving them in haphazardly. Then when you’re looking for a particular item, you know where it’s supposed to live, and boom, it’s there. Quick and easy. That initial input of extra effort to create a system pays off regularly moving forward, as it takes a lot less time for the routine task of retrieving things from the closet. This isn’t about making your closet look Insta-perfect. To hell with how it looks; that’s not what gives you the ongoing payoff. It’s improved functionality that can reduce the energy requirements long-term.

I find routine takes a lot less mental energy than approaching life as a hodgepodge. When I get up in the morning, at the same time that I grab my laptop, I toss my journal and med dosette onto my bed where I can’t ignore them. Because that’s built into my routine, it’s automatic; if I were to rely on spontaneously thinking to do those things, I would probably regularly forget to journal and take my morning meds. In this case, my goal with my routine is not to do more; it’s to make the things I’m doing happen with less effort.

Compensating for deficits

A good system should be able to carry some of the weight you would otherwise have had to carry mentally. Brain fog and memory issues are common for people with a lot of different mental and physical health conditions. I have a tendency to forget things exist if they’re not right in front of me, but if I can slot physical items or bits of information in the appropriate place, that reduces the chance that they’ll get lost in a sea of confusion.

I get easily overwhelmed, and being organized allows me to handle more information than I’d otherwise be able to. I use my Apple Notes app quite a bit, and I have a fairly elaborate folder system. However, that system means that there’s always a home for new bits of information. I don’t even try to hold that information in my head; I can just slot it into the appropriate folder. When I later need to retrieve information, I don’t have to try to fish around in my head; I just go to the folder where any relevant information I had would live. Without having a system to manage it, I wouldn’t be able to hold on to most of that information, and the bits I did remember would be an incoherent jumble in my head if they managed to stick around at all.

Those pesky shoulds

I think where organization can get to be a problem is if it becomes an arbitrary perfectionistic standard that seems like one is expected to adhere to. Shoulds around organization can probably tie in really easily to the concept of toxic productivity, and organization could then morph into a tool that should allow you to do more, more, and always more.

Unrealistic standards on social media probably do a lot to feed into this. I make a conscious effort to steer clear of that kind of content, but based on what I have come across, it seems like there are plenty of people on various platforms showing off idealized versions of their supposedly wonderful routines. However, I have very strong doubts as to whether that apparent perfection is actually real. Instagram and TikTok influencers are probably putting massive amounts of time and planning into creating these picture-perfect routines they’re showing, which just isn’t realistic for the average person who has a life outside of social media.

If that kind of content is giving you ideas that will make your life easier or make it easier to fit in things that you actually want to do, that’s great. However, I can see it really easily becoming unhealthy to consume content that’s setting unrealistic expectations. Plus the time sink factor seems like it could leave quite a bit less time available to actually put into making various changes and setting up organizational systems.

What’s the goal?

Routine can be a means of making things simpler or more manageable, but I’m not sure how useful it is for routine to become an end in itself. So maybe “why?” is a good question to ask. If you’re thinking about trying to adopt a particular routine or other organization, why are you doing it? Is it to make your life easier or more satisfactory in some way? Or is it because of shoulds, perfectionism, or social comparison? Not all why’s are necessarily going to be good for you, and saying no to shoulds, while certainly not easy, can be a powerful thing.

If the kind of organization you’re aiming for is making your life harder, it’s probably not a bad idea to stop and reassess. It’s one thing to put in short-term extra effort for medium- to long-term payoff, but if you’re trying to add a routine that’s basically a full-time job to your life, that’s a whole other can of tuna. An article on Buffer titled “The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Your Best Self: Build your Daily Routine by Optimizing Your Mind, Body and Spirit” strikes me as a good example of a massive make-work project. Live your life the way you want, and fuck what some dude on Buffer tells you that you should do.

So, those are my thoughts as someone who finds organization and routine really helpful but also thinks these perfect routine people can fuck all the way off. What role does organization or routine play in your life?

65 thoughts on “Does Being Organized Make Life Easier or Create More Work?”

  1. Such a great point about the “shoulds” being unnecessary weight. But the point you make about overall organization and having a system rings true for me and definitely makes my life easier. I remember reading a section in the book “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister (I think, I have a section on my shelf for books like that but it’s not close enough for me to see at this moment) that decision making is one of the things that takes a lot of brain energy so if we can use a system so that we don’t have to make little decisions, we have a lot leftover for big ones.

    Great post, Ashley!

  2. We cook the same breakfast everyday because it’s filling, pretty healthful, and the routine lets all of us fly on autopilot if needed. We still make mistakes, like forget something. But some of the mistakes are not real; they’re perfectionist.

    We had a med system when we had meds. Now we’re just really need to remember to go to therapy. Spouse reminds us when we forget. Alarms and reminders are only so effective.

    iPhone Notes allows hashtags, so we can remember keywords like cooking or therapy

    We might benefit from a system for stuff piled in storage. Maybe someday when the energy or care factors exist

  3. In my own space I’m highly organized. In the communal places I’d like others to maintain a standard level of acceptable organization, which happens and doesn’t happen. It depends.

    Like you, I don’t want to think where x is. I’m happy to share my stuff but put it back in useable format or next time I won’t share.

    It’s a struggle sometimes when you live with others. I have found a balance that works most of the time we.

    1. Ooh, you helped me understand why I really got pissy with my landlady.

      Clutter and a giant fucking mess in common areas = grrr. My stuff being stolen or shared stuff going missing among the mess and clutter makes my irritation worse.

      Especially when I tidied up (spice jars shouldn’t be side way and spilling stuff! And a dozen other things) and it’ll be undone within a day.

      Extra irritation when the very messy person (landlady) nitpicks on some minor mess in my room, saying I’m incredibly messy.

        1. I’m starting to feel I’ll be freaking glad when I can choose my own furniture, decorations (if any), organisation systems for a permanent or at least a long term home.

          The good thing is B has a house, and I’ll likely become co-owner at an appropriate (and less uncertain) time, legally, once I put in $ when working etc. Assuming all goes well.

  4. Organization is the only way that I can keep myself calm each day. It is extra work, but that extra 30mins or hour makes for an easier life in the long run. I love keeping things organized so I don’t cause any extra stress in my life.

  5. Balance is important. Being organized reduces frustration when looking for things when you need them. But you don’t have to become a slave to it. I learnt at a boarding school with a very strict system, from the routine, to the way made our beds, organized lockers, to sitting arrangements,(the list is endless) so being organized was virtually engraved in us so I was super organized when I was a teenager, with a personal study timetable I followed to-the-letter. As an adult I’m a little more relaxed because being too organized just reminds me of boarding school systems, takes the fun out of living. Even when I try, somehow I just can’t be super organized like I used to, so I just had to accept it ‘evolved’ So I’m average when it comes to being organized and m a little spontaneous with some level of planning beforehand

  6. I both hate and love routine. I’ve settled for a general routine but one with plenty of flexibility. For example, I hated having fixed meal times at work or with my family of origin, because I do a lot better with intuitive eating, and I actually need to attune to my body cues. However, I’ve also fallen into extreme self neglect during severe depression, so part of my safety/wellness plan involves regular meals and hydration at specific times, with alarms and timers.

    For organising stuff, I like a system which makes sense to my brain, and I’ll revise where I put what items, as I live life.

    I never understand why some people like to re-organise stuff that isn’t theirs. It feels so incredibly rude, especially as everyone has individual needs for whatever organisation system that suits them best.

    I use a grocery list, and have some checklists and flowcharts for work, to compensate for my memory deficits.

  7. I find that my level of organization both helps me and hurts me. On the help side, being organized helps me with all the tasks I have to take to keep myself and my family (and my new puppy) organized. On the flip side, my anxiety kicks in when it’s time to get organized about certain events in the future. If there is an event out there on the horizon, I will worry about it until it gets organized or dealt with. Being organized for me is a double-edge sword since it often means I am getting organized around something that is at its core causing me stress. Hope that’s not too much of a downer….

  8. This is a tricky one for me but in essence I’m pretty much with you on the end result: find it useful, but it can also fuck off. I admittedly do like organisation porn – not something I used to like, but have come to appreciate in the last 7 odd years. My inner wannabe psychologist would say this is because there’s too much out of control in my life and I just think if I can get things a bit more organised, I might feel better and more in control. It’s also because our house is too damn small and things are a mess so I’m constantly fucked off at not being able to find anything, or needing to climb onto a chair to get to the top of my wardrobe just to get down a box of stoma bags. So organisation is appealing, and routine is comforting because it helps; I need that when poorly and in pain as it helps with pacing a bit but it’s also good because my brain is mush and like you, without doing certain things more automatically like putting pills out where you can see them, I’d otherwise forget.

    At the same time it is all so ridiculous. Yes, organisation can make you feel better and more in control. But it has its limits and in some occasions you can keep trying to get on top of things and seemingly never succeed (like me these days). It just leads to more frustration, more disappointment. Then you see and hear about all the things we “should” be doing and what our lives “should” look like, and you realise you life is an absolute mess. And most people think that, because what we see and hear isn’t real, it’s an elusive perfection that doesn’t exist and isn’t realistic to achieve, at least not on a constant basis.


  9. I completely agree with you. For me organisation is great as it keeps my brain frog straight. Where it comes a problem for me is when it does not allow me the chance to if I am having a bad day to just rest. The guilt of I need to follow my schedule and do this not matter what kicks in. It is at these times I wish I was not as organised as I am. Sometimes I am my own worse enemy.

  10. I use to be overly organized. I was a perfectionist, but I have given up on those days. I keep a neat house, but sometimes things do not always make it to where they should be.
    I gave up due to the fact of not being always able to tackle things when I could barely move. My bookcase is a tell-tale sign of dis-organization.

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