Stop organizing clutter. Do what matters instead

On my last trip to the grocery store, I noticed a woman in an electric cart pulling up to the checkout. Her cart’s basket was overloaded, so I got in line behind her and offered to help. She smiled and thanked me.

I was working quickly, putting the heavier items on the conveyor belt first, and saving delicate items that could get smashed for last.

The woman started rearranging the items I unloaded for her. I tried to figure out her unloading preference, so I could appease her and put her groceries on the belt the way she wanted them. Was she doing cold with cold? Canned goods with canned goods? Produce on its own? Nope.

She was simply turning all the labels toward her. I stopped getting out more groceries and also began facing the product labels as she did. Notice, I stopped making progress on unloading her groceries, so I could make her feel better by facing the ones I already took out of her cart toward her.

While going through these motions all I could think about was, “Is she going to give the bagger some sort of special instructions?” She didn’t say a word. I was baffled as to why someone would go to the trouble to organize the groceries on one end, only to watch them get jumbled together in the bags at the other end.

Her behavior somewhat fascinated me. I had to ask her, “I’m curious, why are we turning the labels toward you?” Her reply, “It looks neater.”

When working with clients, I sometimes witness them taking extra steps and time away from their day to perform tasks that in the end don’t add significant value to their lives.

I once had a client who shared with me his love for woodworking. He had all kinds of expensive equipment and valuable wood in his shop. When I questioned him about what projects he had made, he didn’t have a lot to show me, even though he had been a hobby woodworker for many years.

Instead, he had bookshelf after bookshelf lining the walls of his workshop with hundreds of woodworking magazines dating back to 1983 that he organized. This meant in 2017 I could find his February 1984 issue of Fine Woodworking in under a minute. He was proud of this fact. I asked him, “How often do you use magazines that date back that far?” He said, “Never.”

He was organizing magazines that he didn’t use because he was in the habit of doing so. In my opinion, his time would have been better spent completing woodworking projects.

When we talked further, he had many other projects and activities he would put ahead of organizing unread magazines.

So the lesson, just because you can organize something doesn’t mean you should. Do you have books and music organized by genre that you haven’t enjoyed for years? Craft supplies neatly labeled, but unused? Clothes organized by color that you never wear?

It’s time to take inventory on what you own and how you are spending your time. Even though you can make them look nice, get out of the habit of organizing things you’ll never use again.