Organizing Pitfalls Series #2: Focusing on the Symptom vs. the Cause

When we walk into the homes and offices of our clients we often find that their flat surfaces are covered with stuff: paper, toys, gadgets, etc. One common area of challenge is the kitchen or dining room table. It’s a main work or stash space for many people, so often a thin layer (or not so thin layer…) of stuff ends up here. Most people walking in to see that layer of stuff would simply dive in, start looking at the items, and figure out where else to put them. This approach is what I’d call focusing on the Symptom. 


Just like with a medical diagnosis, there are some solutions that will address the symptom and others that will address the cause. For instance, you have a headache… you can just take a pain killer (Advil, Tylenol, etc) and likely your headache will go away temporarily. But, it is also likely to come back in the near future. However, if you pause to consider why you have a headache you might realize that you’re dehydrated and need more water, or maybe you’ve got a lot of tension in your head and neck that a massage might address. Those approaches would be ways to resolve the Cause of the problem. 


The same is true with organizing… you can just dive in and start looking at the stuff and putting it away (if the items actually have known assigned homes), OR you can pause to ask some questions about how these items came to be here. This type of thinking is what my team is expert at providing :). 

It begins by getting curious: 

  • What type of things are landing here? 
  • How am I currently using this space? 
  • How do I want to use this space in the future? 
  • Do these items have homes and they are simply not getting put away, or are these the homeless items that land here for lack of a better place? 
  • Is this an active workspace or a convenient stash zone? 
  • Are the items here connected to a storage problem in a different area of my home or office? 

For instance, the solution to the Cause of that cluttered kitchen or dining room table might be

  • Choose homes for the homeless items
  • Re-arrange your filing system to make it easier to interact with
  • Weed out space in your basement or garage for these items to be stored in less prime real estate
  • Create a better system for managing your bill paying that can be accessed easily and stored easily when not needed
  • Establish a kids craft station that keeps creative items close at hand but not permanently living on your workspace table
  • Re-evaluate your home landing routine to identify a new landing zone or develop new habits to ensure items get put away rather than simply dropped.


If you only look at the symptom of the stuff and where you can move it or store it quickly, then you might find that it rapidly creeps right back and your table is covered again. However, by pausing to consider the Cause behind the stuff you might hit on a more permanent resolution!

Image: mconnors/

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