Organizing and Arranging

Through the lens of a TV screen or the pages of a magazine, being organized looks like pretty baskets lined up on shelves. T-shirts are folded in such a formation that would make a drill sergeant giggle. And labels are the icing on the cake. This is the stuff of dreams in aisle after aisle at places like The Container Store, and what makes professional organizers weep with, dare I say, joy .

Being organized doesn’t always look that way. Sometimes, it shouldn’t.

I had the pleasure of working with a lovely woman whom I’ll name Tess. Tess moved into a new apartment and needed help packing, unpacking and more importantly, arranging all her belongings so that she could settle into her new location quickly. In this case, arranging seems a more appropriate word than organizing. You see, Tess is living with a medical issue that drives her daily activities. Her daily routines are quite normal; however, they are modified to accommodate her medical condition.

Function Over Form

Tess had basic plastic baskets available and I set about organizing her belongings in the bathroom, a priority area, and moving my way through the apartment. At the end of the day there was enough still to do, so I returned the following day to continue. I found the contents of the baskets had been emptied and the loose items were strewn about the cabinet floor. It was difficult to tell if like items were with like, although general groupings were somewhat intact. Moving into the bedroom closet, the mystery of what happened to the baskets was solved. Clothes were in the baskets (which was part of my plan as well) although, again, it was difficult to tell if each basket housed a particular category of clothing.

It was difficult to tell because the clothing in the baskets was not folded neatly. It was not organized by color and the baskets were filled beyond overflowing. It looked like the clothes were just thrown in. And they were; just the way Tess needed. Tess had advised me during the packing phase that it was not necessary to fold anything. Putting everything in a box or bag as is was just fine. She had no intention of having the clothes folded and organized neatly in the new bedroom closet. They would be lumped together. Due to her medical condition, all her clothes are wash-n-wear. Nothing needs ironing and everything now in her wardrobe is selected to be worn as is regardless of its location, whether on a shelf, in a basket or on the floor of the closet.

The new apartment, by the way, was far smaller than the former. Finding enough space in one closet to house all that had been stored in the former closets (plural) was a challenge. That theme echoed throughout the new apartment. It’s the best kind of challenge for a professional organizer. Finding space where there doesn’t appear to be any and maximizing the efficiency of the available space is what makes our adrenaline pump. On the other hand, it goes against every fiber of our beings to ‘throw’ anything anywhere that is not labeled trash. But it’s not about me, it’s about Tess.

One Size Organizing Does Not Fit All

Tess further explained that ‘loose’ is better than corralled. Again, her medical condition dictates the flow of her daily activities. Convenience is paramount. Access is paramount. That means that ‘stuff’ is left on the counter tops or on the floor. Due to space constraints, all like with like is not necessarily stored together. Conventional organizing wisdom doesn’t apply. And that’s OK.

This unorthodox ‘organizing’ assignment reinforced a few points. First, organizing is about improving the efficiency and function of a space to suit the goal. Pretty baskets and boxes, organizing tools and supplies are nice but don’t always support the need, and in fact can be distractions. Secondly, it is not a one-size-fits all proposition. Each project is as unique as the individual. And more importantly, it’s always about the client’s needs. While these ideas should always be kept in mind, in this situation, never were they more critical.

At first glance, the arrangement of Tess’ belongings in her new apartment might make an organizer cringe, but for this client, it’s spot on.

Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash