Neat vs. Organized

My clients often say to me, “I bet your apartment is always organized”.  (Which it is).  Some even want to come over and see it.   I respond, “You’re welcome to come, but give me at least a five minute warning before dropping by”.

Why?  Because my apartment is always organized, but it isn’t always neat.

Some people confuse the two.   When a client says, “My cleaning lady organizes my stuff when she cleans”, I know that what she really does is make it neat; she puts away the things that my client has left out.   I know this because clients often find things in unexpected places and exclaim, “My cleaning lady must have put this there”.

My clients and I often discover bags of random stuff in their closets.  How did that stuff get there?  They were having people over, so they gathered all the living room clutter into a bag and stuck it in the closet so that the room looked neat.  Months or years later, we rediscover the bag, and I hear comments like, “I wondered where that piece of paper had gone!  I’ve been looking for that.”

So what is “organized” and how does it differ from “neat”? defines “neat” as “in a pleasingly orderly and clean condition”.  A room that is “neat” looks and feels good.

They define “organize” as “to systematize”.  When your room is “organized”, it may still look and feel good, but what’s most important is that you can find the things you need when you need them.  If the people who shoved the piles of paper into a bag and stuck it into the closet had taken the time to actually organize those papers, they would have been able to easily locate the piece of paper they were looking for later.

I often quote my colleague Barbara Hemphill, who brilliantly said “Clutter is postponed decisions.”   Next time you decide to “neaten” your space, take extra time to make decisions about the stuff, asking yourself such questions as “Do I need to keep this?” and if so, “Where should I put it so that I can find it again when I need it?”

As I said, my apartment isn’t always neat.  But the night before my cleaning lady comes, my family and I put away everything that has been left out, so that she can clean the surfaces and floors.  So at least one day a week, it’s neat!  Drop by sometime.

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