Organizing Pitfalls #11: Creating Overly Complex Systems

Envisioning that Picture Perfect Home

I hate to say this… but sometimes your organizing system is actually the CAUSE of your disorganization. On more than one occasion I’ve worked with a client who had a vision of living in a home like Martha Stewart’s with everything meticulous and fashion photo perfect.

I can remember one instance in particular during my early years of organizing when I was setting up a system for a client and doing my best to meet her expectations while knowing in my heart that this solution was unsustainable. It was a filing system which was taking us many, many hours to not only create but process new items into. Her vision of perfection for this system required six or seven steps to be taken for each new item. But, no amount of questions or expressions of concern were swaying her to refine her vision. 

What’s hard for many people to remember is that Martha’s lifestyle isn’t sustained by Martha and her family alone but a whole team of staff and experts. So, if you have the budget for that level of support, then it’s a beautiful thing! However, most of us neither have nor want a household or lifestyle that requires that level of management. Which brings me to the key take away… what is organized enough? 


Streamline for Sustainability

Yes, it might be great to have every item you clip from your favorite magazines sorted into specific subcategories, scanned, tagged, then filed into an elaborate binder system, which is cross-indexed. But, unless you intend to hire a personal assistant to spend hours each week or month to maintain it, maybe just scanning and tagging it would be enough? 

Sometimes it’s the very complexity of the organizing system or vision that is the core problem behind our disorganization. We get stymied because we don’t have time to process new items through the 7-10 steps, so things just build up day after day, week after week, month after month. Then, we’re living clutter again, even though we spent so much time designing this hypothetically beautiful system. 

If you think this pitfall might be part of your disorganizational challenges, then ask yourself these questions:

  • How many steps does it take you to file something, put it away, process it into your system? 1-3 steps – highly sustainable; 4-6 steps – functional with effort; 6+ steps – time to simplify? 
  • How long do you spend maintaining that system? 15 min or less per week – Workable; 15-30 minutes – potentially acceptable commitment; more than 30 minutes per week? – This had better be your job or your personal passion! 
  • What are the benefits of the existing system and what are you sacrificing to stick with it? Create your pros and cons list to clarify if the pros of complexity really do outweigh the cons of maintenance time and effort. 

I always feel a little bad when I have to counsel a client to streamline their system or vision for the system because often this person is either passionate about organizing or passionate about the stuff that we’re organizing. However, I also know that a functional system is a sustainable system, and if the habit of upkeep is going to be too onerous, then the system will rapidly fall apart. 

Have you ever set up an organizing system that was too complex to maintain? Share your experience in the comments below, and I’d love to hear specifically what let you know it was time for a change. 


Photo: ©Marek Uliasz/Stockfresh

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