An informal research study

Organisation and motivation has fascinated me forever. In looking more closely at professional organising I wanted to better understand the organisational pain points people have within their homes and how important the aesthetic was to them.

My aim? To test my assumptions, to dive a little deeply through the experience of others, to get to the nitty gritty to see what I could learn about optimal organisational solutions. So in February 2020 I emailed 20 colleagues and friends to ask if they would help me with this, noting all data would be de-identified.

So what did I learn? Well, lots actually.

What really surprised me above all else?

What stood out for me in this study was a whopping 25% of participants underestimated the (positive) impact that getting more organised (sorting and decluttering) would have on their psyche. They initially rated getting more organised as low in urgency to fix and yet on deeper questioning six out of 20 participants acknowledged what a positive impact better organisation, systems and decluttering would have on their state of mind.

Our brains like us being organised. There lots of research/science on cognitive overload and the effects clutter has on us. The stuff we own exerts some sort of power over us and if we dig below the stuff we find the impression it creates of us. The symbol of how successful, happy, laidback or meticulous we perceive ourselves to be. But now I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s a subject for another article…

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Twenty (20) participants – their demographics are as follows:

  • Identifying as 4 male and 16 female; working full time/part time; retired professionals or on maternity leave;
  • Single and partnered;
  • Living with; and without children (ages – toddlers to university students);
  • In freestanding houses, apartments, cottages and farms across Victoria, ACT and NSW.

RESULTS:

Fifty per cent of participants saw themselves as 7 or above (on a scale to 10) of Q 3 ‘How organised are you? Six people noted that they were much more organised in their past than they are now, citing chronic illness and getting older as reasons for organisation ‘being not so important now’. Kids leaving home was another reason; ‘I don’t need to be organised anymore; I don’t need to cook or do kids’ washing – I don’t even need to BE at home!’ Conversely, one participant has become more organised with age stating ‘when trying to fit in with family needs, organisation took a back seat. Organisation was never a big deal but when kids left home – I realised how much I liked it – gave me a sense of being calmer with less stress.’

One hundred per cent of people stated the aesthetic of their home was ‘very or extremely important’ to them with one clarifying that ‘aesthetic to me is not just the look but how it all fits together’. The two people who were less than satisfied with the aesthetic in their homes stated this was because their homes were unfinished; ie small building projects were incomplete which led to frustration because ‘the aesthetic isn’t as good as it could be or would be’.

Six areas where people struggle with organisational pain points

Responses to Q 5 ‘What is your biggest struggle with organisation within your home?’ were diverse.

Three people said they didn’t struggle and the remainder gave the following examples:

  • Disorganisation:
    • I don’t know where to start’
    • ‘First issue is I always need a handyman to do a lot of little jobs – ie a list of 10 to get sorted and only then could I concentrate for further organisation.’
  • Lack of space / lack of need:
    • ‘Buying more when there’s no room – or it’s not needed’
    • ‘I had more than 5 bags of rice in my pantry all in different spots’
    • ‘Having to cull / having to work out what to keep or not to keep’
  • Lack of time:
    • ‘Working and managing family life is frenetic’
    • ‘I’m a busy working mum with only so many hours in a day’
  • Partner’s differing level of organisation:
    • ‘Husband is a mild hoarder; it’s in his DNA; his parents were refugees
    • ‘Constantly unsettled by the change my wife needs/creates’
    • ‘He’s the organised one; I’m a bit lazy’
  • House incomplete:
    • Incomplete equals ugly’
    • ‘Nothing I can do to fix it until it’s complete’
  • Procrastination / Laziness / Motivation / Lack of prioritizing:
    • I do the fun jobs first then leave the pile of things till last’
    • ‘Due to chronic health condition’
    • ‘I wait until I’ve got several dishes to wash up rather than just a few… it’s boring; it doesn’t interest me’

Examples of the biggest struggles

Examples of the biggest struggle with organisation included paperwork and dishes, photo collections and technology, robe/linen doors missing, pantries, robes, studies and garages and that dumping ground near the front door.

‘I have a lack of time; only so much space – it can look tidy on the outside; but I’d be as surprised as you are to look inside it and see what’s there. I can barely close certain drawers; I never label boxes; I just put things away in a cupboard and a week later I’ve forgotten what’s in it. It’s also lack of prioritising for me – I know I should do it; but I wouldn’t choose to do it – ‘I’ll do that one day’. 

Buying excessively came up repeatedly:

       ‘I’m buying unneccesary clothes – now getting out of that habit with help of the ‘2nd hand sisters’ 

       ‘I’m looking for ways to reduce marketing – ie emails and notification about shopping specials’

       ‘Kitchen – why do I stock pile/buy in bulk? Preparing for the great depression (intergenerational learning) that is not a reality!’ 

What is the worst thing about this?

The next two sub-questions drilled further into what makes these examples such a challenge and asked what is the worst thing about that?

Visual annoyance was the most common answer; ‘knowing it’s there frustrates me’ followed by not being able to find things; followed by ‘not being able to close my cupboards’.

The worst thing for one person was the concern ‘Am I going to regret throwing that away’. Another lamented ‘I don’t know why procrastination is such a challenge for me; I wish I did.’ And another living solo said ‘the judgement of others is the worst thing (my mother); it often feels like ground hog day.’

Ten people; (50%) of the group rated its importance to solve as a high priority (ratings above 7/10) with polarised quotes below:

‘It’s very important to solve – the aesthetic (and organised look) is very, very important to me – I like to feel good in every room otherwise I get agitated.’

‘Happy wife, happy life.’

Versus:

‘When you have a whole list of responsibilities relative to other things it is not important.’

The big surprise

Surprisingly however, even though solving the organisational struggle was not given a high priority by 10 people; 16 people if fact answered positively to the question regarding ‘What would it mean in your life to have this solved?’

The comments included:

‘Big benefit as I can tick off a permanent to do list in back of brain’ 

‘Means a calmer life; it’s part of me wanting to make better choices for myself and the planet – have less of a footprint. Learning to appreciate less; which is not what my upbringing taught me (quite the opposite in fact); but that smaller is better and sometimes you feel better with less.’

‘It would mean I would probably eliminate frustration from my life.’

‘I’d rather her have sex with me; I’d rather have a happy relationship than having to have it all my way.’

‘If my house was more organised; if I made organising a priority I reckon I’d feel more of a sense of control. Sometimes that feeling of lack of control is a bit overwhelming.

More control + less overwhelm and I think I would tend to feel a bit calmer.

‘Wouldn’t have to chip away at it/think about it. Would lessen my annoyance/frustration.’

‘Probably an extra 5 hours a week lost on anxiety because of procrastination.’

‘Relief; sense of satisfaction; more pleasant difference to the atmosphere.’

‘Be so relieved – I would feel organised.’

‘A lot happier – (once deck finished) would mean we could save dollars for other things.’

‘It would be terrific – I think clutter is not good for your soul.’

‘Would make my head feel clearer.’

What isn’t working for you?

Q7. What have you tried so far that has not yielded significant benefit?

Examples included:

‘Just tried to make do’

‘Keeping things for a rainy day’

‘Tupperwear containers that are not see through, don’t work.’

‘Doing it myself or getting partner to do it. I don’t have energy, he doesn’t have time. Getting help from family too onerous – everyone has jobs and are busy.’

‘I did throw out /donate books but it just filled up again; I hired a skip and threw out crap but it’s a work in progress’

‘We built a big cupboard in the garage to store everything in but it just filled up straight away; that fixed the garage but not the house. The space I have is over subscribed’

‘Re organisation of kids (in the past) tried getting angry with kids threatening them with missing out on things’

‘One room per month – idea that lasted 2 minutes then I lost interest…’

‘Post it notes and coloured stickers. Moving pile from left to right is seriously unproductive.’

‘Have raised the issue with my partner –  it’s an uncomfortable issue – he doesn’t think it is important.’

‘Re photos – have put them in box – I take it out and then put it away’

What is working for you?

Q8. What have you tried that has resulted in some success?

‘Once upon a time I would clean out all cupboards every six months and clean all walls and ceilings every six months…I’ve always been conscious of getting rid of superfluous.’

‘I don’t know – having a cleaner come in fortnightly has helped’

‘Having space in the pantry; space in front of things.’

‘Learning from others and replicating their ideas; Maree Kondo – little boxes with folded undies and socks worked…checking my connection with things…Putting like things with like; that when I put all my dresses together I really saw just how many I had and how overly abundant that really was; I didn’t need all those dresses. I didn’t wear all those dresses…Also putting winter wardrobe away in suitcase; work for space and also keep them fresh for the change around; you feel like you have a new wardrobe…’

‘Getting rid of a heap of stuff – eliminating; also getting systems/processes in place ie three baskets; one for clean clothes; one for dirty (dark colours) and dirty (light colours) clothes…has worked a treat’

‘I try to target an area regularly, so I deal with what it there.’

‘Do it as I go; pick up after others’

‘Put it into piles/ what we’ll keep/ what we’ll chuck and what I want his opinion on/ give him choices/ involve him in the decision-making process; sometimes it can be overwhelming for him. Put important things into a folder; find a space for it – if something is important you should value it/respect it not just shove it a drawer out of sight’.

‘Wait till it’s totally overwhelming and then do it.’

‘Filing drawers, plastic sleeves for completed/ not completed. Allocate a day a month to do it; not having paperwork in my line of sight all the time. Less worry about how messy it is: doesn’t get put away – until it’s completed. Got a dedicated key spot with this place – it works – it’s perfect.’

‘I’m a collector; everything is in alphabetical order; systematic. With cooking there is a place for everything; everything has a home in the kitchen.’

‘Dressed the area as best we can to make it look okay – rug/furniture; plants; looks as good as it can without being finished.’

‘I try to keep the floor space open; I have a cleaner who comes fortnightly; We used 5 S at work (workplace organisation method) – Sort; Set in order; Shine; Standardise; Sustain.’

‘When I cleaned out that room I did find the letter box key which had been lost for a couple of years…’

What did you do?

Q9. What did you do that made it successful?

‘Taking time to make a phone call’

‘Made the choice to make it a priority’

‘Took action – third stage of pregnancy and nesting helped considerably’

‘Quicker action/ not quite so lazy’

‘It’s all about ‘now’; looking at the positives of committing to doing it’

‘Was careful; involved him; gave him the decision/facilitated his involvement in an easy way for him.’

‘Made it a priority’

‘Moving into smaller home has made me more vigilant re what I buy; that said my bathroom cupboard is still overflowing.’

‘The satisfaction of completing the circle; the flow of the household activities. It’s in eye of the beholder.’

‘I took control’

‘Made myself do it’

‘Took action’

In a perfect world?

Q10. In a perfect world, what would be available to solve this problem?

‘Someone comes to sit with me and make a list of what needs doing around the house and then a conversation about what other changes would suit this stage of your life in terms of inside the house and the garden. This person would have well priced and reliable handy persons and gardeners to make this happen and could give me prices and estimated times for delivery.’

‘Advise from an expert in organisation’

‘Someone like you helping me; having someone in your home with you helping makes a lot of difference.’

‘I would allocate time regularly; re the clutter thing; just not acquiring so much stuff – so quickly.’

‘My world couldn’t be much more perfect; it’s a long-term project; Immediately I see the benefit; in the long run I see the benefit also; committing doesn’t mean every day or every weekend it just means keeping being organised front of mind… the positive is the inspiration I get from the constant change (of furniture and re-arranging stuff).’

‘Perfect storage solutions – somewhere to go to find the right container/ right filing system/ the right aesthetic… if someone had that info; I find it overwhelming looking and measuring and figuring it out.’

‘Bek Goodwin (Bryant) living next door; I reckon if someone came in and did it with me; I would maintain it.’

‘A dishwasher; interaction with someone else – professional.’

‘I would say ‘let’s put cupboard doors on’ and he’d say ‘sure’, and would do it.’

‘The cleaner’

‘Someone to do it for me.’

‘Money.’

‘Move into a medium-sized house; cleaner to keep coming; cleansing regularly is so important.’

‘Someone to come and do it for me – someone to get ruthless.’

‘People need to be ready. I have gravitated to small moments of change within your presence. You jab me gently.’