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« 10 Commandments of Personal Finance, Commandment #7: Thou Shalt Protect Thyself Against Risk | Main | Out Most of the Day »

January 30, 2008


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It's no just time, money, career losses; I find it's an "emotional upset" as well. My "paper piles" make me mad at myself practically all the time! Not good!!

I am extremely neat. When I see people fiddling around looking for their car keys, their papers, their wallets, their whatever, I feel sorry for them. But I do think we're wired for either sloppiness or neatness and it's incredibly difficult to change.

take studies like this with a grain of salt...

how on earth were these numbers calculated? 4-5 hours a week? thats pretty pathetic, time to get organized.

there are so many studies done nowadays that they are starting to lose effectiveness. are people really being paid to analyze these types of things?

I know, it seems like it's "just a little clutter", and you may wonder how serious it could be. Sure, for some people, it's like carrying an extra two or three pounds; for others, it's like carrying an extra 20 or 50 or 100 pounds.

As a Certified Professional Organizer®, I can tell you these studies present a fairly accurate estimation. (Some such studies come from the National Association of Professional Organizers, the National Study Group On Chronic Disorganization, and Professional Organizers in Canada. In those cases, nobody is paid to compile the statistics; they come out of our industry surveys. In other cases, universities do the studies. Of course, the least accurate studies are done by the mass media, as they tend to lack statistical significance and also tend to have a bias in the questioning. YMMV.)

Also, unless we're talking about teens or the occasional person, "sloppiness" as Rhea described is not usually the issue. Situational disorganization often results from a mismatch between the skills and systems one is currently with the demands being placed on the person. This is why people often are very organized at work but disorganized at home (or vice versa) or organized until they have their second child, or until they have an empty next. More serious disorganization can result from ADD, OCD, traumatic brain injury, clinical depression, and so much more than anyone here wants to read.

But back to those statistics, it's very common for clients to come to me because they are spending five or ten minutes, *at least* four or five times every day (often much longer and much more often), searching for lost items, lost documents (digital or tangible) or otherwise functioning poorly because of disorganization. That amounts to anywhere from a few minutes short of 2 1/2 hours per week to almost six hours per week. And that's conservative; most people have no sense of how much time they've lost due to disorganization until they start measuring it.

Many people confuse tidiness with disorganization, but tidiness is about aesthetics, and organization is about functionality. If one is disorganized, one faces the prospect of:

--actual money, everything from checks that get mislaid to bills tumbling out of pockets
--lost financial opportunities, everything from college-bound kids missing scholarship deadlines due to poor time management skills and their own (or their parents) poor disorganization of financial and other records, to missing out on early-bird discounts and rebates because one's resources and/or time is disorganized
--spending money unnecessarily...I can't tell you how many clients have dozens of black skirts, 9 irons, eyeglasses, shampoo bottles, cell phones, etc., because they've got such disorganized surroundings they can't find what they do have when they want it

LOST TIME--as alluded to, disorganized tangible resources contributes to poor time management, time spent searching for lost items (baby shoes, Excel spreadsheets, whatever) and duplicating work (such as re-laundering clothing because one failed to get the wet clothing into the dryer, or the dry clothing out before wrinkles set in) or rewriting memos because earlier templates have been misplaced

LOST REPUTATION--If you went to your CPA's office on April 14th and he or she couldn't find your return due to the piles of papers strewn about the office, would you use that accountant again? Would you recommend him or her to your friends and colleagues? And hey, do you want to be the parent who isn't trusted to be on time for carpool, or who never signs the permission slip in time for kids to go on the field trip?

DAMAGED PHYSICAL HEALTH--the less organized one is, in terms of environment, resources, and time, the less likely it is that one will make time to plan healthy meals, grocery shop in advance and schedule time to exercise, and see a doctor and dentist regularly. All of that leads to increased healthcare costs, including higher premiums and more reactive care (which is generally more expensive that pro-active wellness care)

DAMAGED MENTAL HEALTH -- chronically disorganized people (as defined by the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) as well as situationally disorganized people (due to any variety of life changes and demands) are plagued by stress. The number one reason clients call me is because they feel overwhelmed and stressed out by their inability to feel in control of their environments.

Beyond simple stress and the guilt one might feel due to consistently breaking promises to loved ones because of disorganization in one's space, time, finances, etc., people with disorganized environments tend to isolate themselves from their support system (friends, family, congregations, etc.) out of embarrassment and a desire not to have others see their disorganized spaces. Further, those who are disorganized with their time with also have severely limited time available to socialize, again limiting time spent with supportive loved ones. Disorganization can be a major factor in depression, and clinically depressed people often lack the energy to help themselves get organized.

Be assured, organization is not merely about willpower or discipline. Different people comprehend the elements of the skills and systems needed to be organized, just as people understand math, science and language differently, in part based on their learning and cognitive styles (auditory, visual or kinesthetic), in part based on the training/education they've received throughout their lives, in part based on physical health and mental "wiring", and in part based on issues the experts are only starting to understand.

Oops, only on preview have I realized how long this was. :-( Can you tell I'm passionate about this subject?

Julie, that was actually a really interesting explanation and I enjoyed reading it!

I completly agree about the insidious costs of clutter. Have any of you found a way to get rid of clutter by going paperless. In particular, how do keep paperless documents organized? Simply getting rid of the piles is not my main problem - rather it is the time I spend filing stuff away and then finding it later on.

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