When you walk into a space, can you tell whether it’s organized simply be looking at it? Consider the following example of two offices. When you enter Office A, you see a clear desk, a clean floor, bookshelves with matching baskets neatly arranged, tasteful decor on the walls, and a file cabinet with labeled drawers. Office B looks completely different. The desk is covered with stacks of papers. There are several piles of books and binders on the floor, along with a a tower of milk crates filled with items. The bookshelves have collections of mismatched baskets and boxes, and giant Post-It notes with sloppy handwriting line the walls. Which office would you say is organized? In this example, I think we would all assume that Office A is much more organized.
Let’s examine the two offices a little more closely. In Office A, what if I told you that when you open the labeled drawers of the file cabinet, they are full of a huge assortment of various papers, the desk drawers contain a random collection of unrelated objects (office supplies, snacks, pictures, tools, coins, make-up, etc.), and the matching baskets on the bookshelves are mostly empty except for a few wads of paper and candy wrappers? If I were to ask the person working in Office A if I could borrow their stapler, this person might respond by stating they’re not sure if they have even one and suggest I try asking someone else. In Office B, the stacks of paper on the desk are divided by categories, the piles of books and binders on the floor are grouped according to ongoing projects, the mismatched baskets and boxes each have a separate category of supplies, and the Post-It notes define current job responsibilities for an office team. When I ask the person in Office B for a stapler, they go straight to the bookshelf and find it in one of the mismatched containers. Now which office would you say is more organized? Clearly looks can be deceiving.
You see, organization is much more about function than about structure. Being able to find what you need when you need it is a truer measure of organization than whether the space is pleasing to the eye. There is a place for neatness and pleasing aesthetics, especially in a public space, but when it comes to organization, the true test is in how the space functions. If a significant portion of the time it takes to complete the task is taken up in looking for supplies, I would argue that the space is NOT organized, no matter what it looks like.
The picture above is from a scene of a play I performed in last year with Kingsport Theatre Guild called “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. This play, an adaptation of the classic novel by C.S. Lewis, was one of my very favorite theatre experiences. One of the most difficult scenes for us to perform was the final battle scene where the army of King Aslan fought against the forces of the evil White Witch. During this scene, the stage was covered with actors, many of whom were involved in their own skirmish in the midst of the larger battle. Weapons of all kinds were wielded (I even had the opportunity to participate in a sword fight, which was my first experience with stage combat), fists were bared, hand to hand combats abounded, and there appeared to be a general sense of disorder. But nothing could be further from the truth. Every single movement in this scene was planned out to the smallest detail during countless hours of rehearsal. Every actor knew exactly what to do at exactly the right time to ensure safety and to convey the mood of the scene. Although it appeared chaotic, the stage was extremely organized.
Now think about your home or your office. Are your spaces organized? How can you tell? When you are ready to prepare a meal in your kitchen, can you easily and quickly find the recipe, the ingredients, and all of the tools you need to prepare it? When you were ready to prepare your taxes for 2017, could you find all of the essential paperwork and/or digital files you needed to file your taxes? Or did you waste hours in frustration looking for them? What about if you need to perform a minor home maintenance task? Can you quickly find the manual you might need to consult and all of the supplies you need to accomplish the task?
Hopefully now you can look at all the areas of your home and office with a more fine-tuned vision. Look with an eye to function and efficiency. That doesn’t mean it can’t also look great. If your space is functional as well as pleasing to the eye, that’s a bonus! True organization can only be assessed by seeing how the work in a space is accomplished. It goes much deeper than what meets the eye.