The Difference Between Being Tidy and Being Organized


“Why a Certain Marie Kondo Quote Set the Online Parenting World on Fire this Week”- Slate

“Marie Kondo revealed she’s ‘kind of given up’ on being so tidy.  People freaked out”– NPR

“On Marie Kondo and the Life-Changing Magic of Giving Up”– Vogue

“Queen of clean Marie Kondo says she has ‘kind of given up’ on tidying at home”- The Guardian

Organization is in the news! Marie Kondo, the world-renowned expert on the art of tidying up, has said she is no longer placing as much emphasis on tidying now that she has 3 kids, making waves in the organization and tidying communities. We’ve all seen the immense success Marie Kondo has seen with her KonMari method, so it’s no wonder that people are curious about her recent shift in tidying.

As the owner of Room Redefined, a professional organizing company with extensive experience serving residential, business, and school-based clients in the Denver Metro area, I might be expected to be equally appalled by Marie’s latest. However, when thinking about our own spaces and how they support us in living our best lives, I don’t believe her statements are really at odds with the organizing world.

Instead, it is a recognition that organization and tidiness are not the same thing.  And, if we can all step away from the social pressure to be perfectly tidy in favor of implementing good organizational systems that support our way of living, I suggest we will be much happier, much less stressed, and much more in tune with what we personally need from our environments.

Let’s talk about the difference between tidying and organizing for a moment. Tidying and organizing are two distinct activities. Tidying focuses on the aesthetics of a physical space.  It has to do with picking things up and putting them back in their proper places, so everything is neat.  Organizing however, is more about the function of a physical space.  Tidying is more about removing items from the space, while organizing is more about finding the best home for items so they can be easily accessed.

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary:

Tidying Up: “to make a place or a collection of things tidy.”  When you tidy up or tidy a place up, you put things back in their proper places so that everything is neat.

Organizing: “to do or arrange something according to a particular system”.

I like these descriptions in the blog “Difference between decluttering, tidying up and organizing”:

Tidying up: As per the definition above tidying up is when you are putting things back where they belong.  It has nothing to do with organizing.  For example, if the night before you left the coffee outside on your kitchen countertop, putting it back in the cupboard is tidying up. Putting pillows back on the couch or putting toys back in their place is tidying up and not organizing…

Organizing: Organizing is a totally different game… not everyone is organized by nature but that does not mean they cannot have an organized home.  Organizing is when you are implementing systems, that are intentional and have a purpose.  Everyone has a different organizational style; it is not a one size fits all.  When you organize you make things functional, pretty, and easy to find.”

What does this mean for the ways in which we approach our families, our things, and our spaces?

I’m a professional organizer. I live in a small home with my husband, son, and dog. My husband and son are neurodivergent and tend to be very focused on the tasks they are doing in our home spaces, rather than the condition of the space itself. I, on the other hand, have a strong need to have things tidy. What I have learned through personal struggle, is that, for the love of family, it is important for me to relax on the tidiness requirement at times. However, when it is time to put things away, we can all feel successful because there are systems in place to define where things go and how they should be placed there. My home is not always tidy, but there are systems of organization underlying everything that allow us all to function well as a family and work together to maintain the space over time.

I visited an open house with a realtor friend of mine the other day. It was a well-appointed home just south of my neighborhood. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and one of the first things I did was open the door to the coat closet. What I learned is that door is where the tidiness stopped. In an effort to create external order, the homeowners had simply piled everything into their closets and cabinets. There was surface tidiness, but underneath the surface there was a clear lack of organizational systems. There was no place for the items to go.

New clients to Room Redefined frequently give me the feedback that they desperately want to engage their families in helping maintain order in their homes. They nag, they beg, they threaten. But they are not finding success. When we look a little further, we find it not because their family does not support the drive for tidiness, but because the underlying organization systems that can help them accomplish this tidiness simply aren’t in place. Once we create well-designed systems- homes for everything- they can achieve greater success as a family in maintaining their spaces.

I have always known that organization is more than just a trend – it’s a method for managing your life. Organization is a tool to help you create spaces that are manageable, doable, and work for your lifestyle. It isn’t something you have to give up, but something that can help you live your best life, even with your children!

When your spaces work for you, you never have to “reject” the systems because your life is changing.

What I know from my years of experience in my own home as well as with clients, is that while tidying may look different as you expand your family, having systems of organization shouldn’t be and isn’t impossible.  The key is keeping your eye on what is essential and functional for your family and space.

Social media is great at telling us what our homes could look like.  What we have always believed at Room Redefined is in creating spaces that work for “real life”- for your real life.  We believe in creating spaces that give you what you need to feel comfortable, focused, productive and supported.

Room Redefined loves to work with clients to break down this process into simple, manageable steps.  We can work side-by-side with you to bring greater organization to your space, or we can do the heavy lifting for you- organizing your spaces while you maintain your focus on your career or family.

So, don’t be discouraged by Marie Kondo’s recent decision – #OrganizationMatters! Your space might not always be tidy, but with the right strategies, strategies that are tailored to you and your lifestyle, organization can help you and your family live your best life.

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