The Difference Between Cleaning and Organizing
August 3, 2007
Cleaning and organizing are not the same. When you have stashes of stuff spilling into living space not intended for it, you need to organize. When your flip-flops stick to a bathroom floor that’s coated in residual hairspray, you might want to consider cleaning.
Each is a separate task requiring separate actions. To get organized you have to make decisions about what to keep and why. And, decide how to utilize your things and make them work within your environment. To clean means, well, to clean. To run the vacuum, wash the dishes, do the laundry, dust, mop, take out the trash and scrub the tub.
If you can’t find something you need in the kitchen because every available bit of counter space is covered with crusty old plates and empty soup cans, you seriously need to clean. When you are disorganized, you can’t find what you are looking for because you have simply stuffed things into any available space without considering whether it makes sense.
Not dirty, not organized
Some clean people have cluttered environments. Things are are not dirty, but not organized either. This can look “messy” but it doesn’t mean it isn’t clean. Alternately, some people love to organize, but don’t enjoy cleaning. Laura, who has a great blog called Organizing Junkie, says it very well. “Crumbs on the floor wouldn’t bother me but a pile of papers would drive me crazy!”
Laura told me she loves to organize her stuff, but would rather pay someone else to clean. This is an important point. There is a misconception that people who enjoy organizing are anal retentive neat freaks who would come unglued by dirt. Clearly this is not the case. Alex Fayle made a similar comment on this blog in response to someone inferring that as a Professional Organizer he cleaned people’s houses. He noted, “As for cleaning, I don’t even do that in my own apartment!”
Come here, Thor
I had a client who hired a Professional Organizer only to be disappointed when the man would not carry trash bags to the curb and wanted to talk to her about organizing options. She stated, “I wanted more doing and less talking.” What she wanted was a maid or, probably more accurately, a paid helper. She really wasn’t ready for a Professional Organizer. She first needed to clean. Again, that does not mean that I am advocating obsessive cleanliness. Whatever level of clean you need to feel comfortable in your space is what you need to try to accomplish.
Many people mistake cleaning for organizing and believe that by finally discarding a bunch of stuff they have organized. No, they’ve cleaned things out. Professional Organizer Monica Ricci made a great comment in response to U-Haul claiming that renting a storage space would help you organize:
“Storing, containerizing and throwing out aren’t organizing because you can store clutter, you can certainly containerize clutter (my clients do it all the time) and you can for sure get rid of stuff and still not be organized.”
A personal and emotional process
A maid service in my area claims to help you “organize while you are at work.” My initial reaction was, “How will I know where my stuff is?” Organization is a very personal and often emotional process for managing your belongings. How you organize needs to make sense to you and other people in your home. That goes back to the idea discussed in my past posts on Categorizing.
I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but I know that cleaning often comes before organizing (and then again after). Resist the temptation to set the unrealistic and unattainable goal of doing both at once. And, resist the impulse to run out and by storage containers.
Start by cleaning and throwing away anything that isn’t useful. Remember, if it isn’t useful, it needs to be considered for disposal either through throwing away or giving away. As you work your way through your home eliminating unwanted things, you will create new storage space. When you are done, take a look at what’s left without a proper place and then decide if you need to purchase container or other organizing aids.
And, don’t hesitate to ask or, if you can, pay for help. It’s OK to get help to clean and get organized, and it’s OK to keep that helper around to stay clean and organized. Do what you need to do to be happy in your environment.