The Broken Windows Theory of Organizing

I’ve been noticing lately how much the Broken Windows Theory applies to staying organized.

The Broken Windows Theory was posited by two social scientists in the early 1980’s, and, according to Wikipedia, refers to the effects of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

So how does this apply to organizing?  I’ve concluded that clutter begets clutter.  Here some examples that I’ve noticed in my own behavior.

Suppose I’ve just finished a meal and I take my plate into the kitchen.  If there are dirty dishes already in the sink, I’ll leave my dishes in the sink.  However, if the sink is empty, I’ll rinse my dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

Similarly, if there is a pile of unprocessed mail on my desk, I’ll tend to throw the latest mail on top of it.  But if my desk is clear, I’m much more likely to open today’s mail and take care of it.

To prevent the Broken Windows Theory from causing additional clutter in your home or office, keep your surfaces clear.  Seeing those clear, open spaces will inspire you to keep them that way.  It will reduce the likelihood that you will continue to pile things on top of the piles.

Put things away when you are done using them.  File papers instead of leaving them out.  Take care of small tasks instead of letting them build up.

A small amount of vigilance will prevent your space from looking like a run-down neighborhood.

  1. Nicole
    May 09, 2011

    I love your blog! But one suggestion I have would be to have pictures on your posts! It would really bring them to life! Thanks for the great content.

    • organizinggoddess
      May 09, 2011

      Nicole, thanks for your comment! I wrote a second post today which you’ll like since it has pictures. 🙂

  2. […] that my desk began to get messy, too, and pretty soon my whole workspace was a disaster.  (See my post on the Broken Windows […]

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