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?