In Praise of Imperfect Organization

You’ve seen them, so you know they exist.

Those extraordinary people who seem to magically, effortlessly manage the whole kit and caboodle. No sweat. No meltdowns. Just serene in the knowledge that it’s all more or less under control. What is the secret to attaining that miraculous state? The surprising truth is that these people probably spend less time organizing than you might think. Rather than rabidly chasing an unattainable state of perfection, they instead opt for a more sane approach we call ‘imperfect organization.’

Alicia on the Problem of ‘Compartmentalization’

‘The battle to get and stay organized is a fundamental and ongoing part of the human condition. It’s something we all face across all areas of our lives: at home, at work, and at most moments inbetween. But many organizational approaches and ‘solutions’ promoted today focus on just one ‘compartment’ of your life, like your work agenda or your closet, and aim to get that one area absolutely, perfectly in order. Unfortunately, life isn’t easily compartmentalized. What most people need help with is getting the big picture buttoned up and if you try to do that using rigid, compartmentalized systems, getting organized becomes a full-time job in its own right. Since time is one thing most of us just don’t have to spare, there has to be a better option.’

Sarah on the Concept of ‘Imperfect Organization’

‘Imperfect organization is a novel concept that examines organization within the broader context of your total life. The basic premise holds that in order to get more sanely buttoned up overall, you may need to let go of the need to be perfectly organized in some individual areas of your life. The goal is to have a flexible framework that will help you stay on top of the myriad details that make up everyday life AND yet remain limber enough to handle the inevitable curve balls that get thrown your way. So no matter what your circumstance, no matter how many balls you have in the air — you’ll be cool as a cucumber.’

Two Tips for Embracing Imperfection in Order to Get Buttoned Up:

The tips below focus on how to streamline your organizational efforts so that you’re more effective, and able to stay on top of it all day-to-day.

#1: Focus on the Fundamentals
Having everything perfectly in order is not essential, in fact it may be detrimental to organization. What you really need to have buttoned up are the three basics: schedules, important papers (financial/medical), and major project plans (task lists). As a rule of thumb, you should spend 80% of your organizational energy staying on top of the three fundamentals. Having these core elements of your life in order will give you the peace of mind that you are on top of what matters. When these things are disorganized, they can wreak havoc on your life. A perfectly put together, color-coded closet may be nice, but it’s not essential.

#2: Learn to See Perfection as an Illusion

Organization is not an end state, but rather an ongoing fact of life; it’s a process. The notion of perfect organization is an illusion because it can only be achieved fleetingly. Life is too messy and unpredictable to be able to sustain it for any length of time. It’s called real life, and sooner or later, it will wreak havoc on ‘perfection.’ When you’re pressed for time, there’s no need to waste energy worrying about those toys strewn on the living room floor, the dishes lingering in the rack by the sink, or the unmade bed. If you’d rather live an organized life, not a life of organization — you’ll need to embrace a little imperfection.