Do you organize like your mother?

Do you think there’s a “right” way to organize something, like loading a dishwasher or folding the clothes? If you do, have you ever stopped to think about who defined the “right way” in the first place? Chances are you “inherited” that approach from your mother, who probably inherited it from hers. And so on.

I personally cannot leave the house in the morning without having made my bed in a very particular way. My poor husband has given up completely on ever trying to make it, as I always point out that his way of doing it just isn’t ‘right.’ Curious about the origins of my compulsion, I reflected on how my mom tackled this chore. Sure enough, she had a particular method for making the bed: hospital corners, tightly tucked in sheets, and nary a wrinkle allowed. She ingrained the bed-making habit in me (and my siblings) from an early age. And her mother made her beds in the exact, same way. A quick survey of my cousins and siblings revealed nearly three-quarters of us feel the need to make our beds the ‘right way’ every day. I figure that this inherited habit is relatively harmless for me. While it means I don’t ever delegate the bed-making to my husband, it takes about 2 minutes for me to make the bed and it always puts a smile on my face because I start the day thinking about my mom and grandmother and how I’m carrying elements of their personalities forward.

While subconsciously following in you parents’ organizational footsteps is entirely normal, it isn’t always productive. It can keep you from delegating tasks that could be effectively completed by others and may even cheat your children out of valuable skill development. For example, if you always do the laundry because you feel compelled to fold things the right way, you are less likely to take the time to teach your children how to do their own, a valuable life skill.

I recommend taking a few moments this week to become conscious of your inherited organizational tics. Ask yourself: is the “right” approach really serving me? If the answer is no, it’s time to make a change.

Here are three tricks for letting go of a compulsive, “right way” to clean and organize.

1. Become More Conscious of Your Behavior by Tracking It.

When you are stuck in a subconscious rut, the first critical step is to take steps to become more aware of your tic and how much time and energy it is costing you. Make a note in your daily journal or calendar program each time you complete an inherited organizational task compulsively. Write down how much time you spent on it and a happy/sad face to indicate whether it made you feel good or stressed. You can also use this free daily time tracker from Buttoned Up (LINK: to keep track if that’s easier. At the end of the month, look back and tally up the number of times you did the task, how much time you spent on it, and how it made you feel most of the time.

2. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”

Just as you may be doing a task a particular way subconsciously, you may also resist changing that behavior because of subconscious fears, most of which don’t make a lot of sense when you examine them under the cold, hard, light of reason. For example, Sarah wanted to relax her bed-making standards so that her husband could split the chore with her. But she really struggled not to re-make the bed after he had finished. Upon a little reflection, she realized that what she was really afraid was losing touch with the memory of her mom. Simply being aware of that has enabled her to relax and let go on her husband’s days to make the bed. In addition, it has sparked her to consciously look for other ways to carry her mom’s legacy forward in her day-to-day, like cooking and playing with her children.

3. Identify a replacement habit.

When you catch yourself slipping into an old, unproductive routine, you need to have a replacement routine that your brain can run at the ready. Take five minutes and jot down the new habit you want to adopt. For example, Alicia wanted to shift from taking out the trash every night to emptying it every other night. So now, when she starts running her old pattern, she stops and asks herself: did I empty the trash last night? If the answer is yes, she shifts gears and leaves the kitchen.

Does your family have any organizational or cleaning rituals that seem to have been passed down through a generation or two? If you have children, what clean-up habits of yours do you think they will carry on?