Learn how you and your students can work with, not against, your natural organizing inclinations in our Organizing by STYLE series.
By Lisa Lawmaster Hess
Last month, I shared a few of the basics of Organizing by STYLE. Over the next several months, I’d like to introduce the three personal styles and the three organizational styles. Personal styles describe the way we approach not just organizing, but life — they’re the things we do naturally that influence the way we organize. Organizational styles, on the other hand, are our organizing “default” — how we organize when we’re not thinking about organizing. As we go through each of the styles, you may see yourself in just one, or find that you possess a little bit of all of them. Though most people eventually narrow their descriptions to one personal style and one organizational style, which labels fit is less important than which strategies work for you.
This month, I’m focusing on the personal and organizational styles I know best: the ones that describe me.
Personal style: I need to see it.
What it is: Exactly what it sounds like. Those with the I need to see it personal style don’t leave things out because they’re lazy or forgetful, but rather because they need to see them. Any storage system or tool that puts things out of sight or fails to provide a visual cue is an obstacle to those with this personal style.
How it manifests: Exactly as you’d expect it to. A quick glance at the flat surfaces in the home or office (or classroom) of someone with an I need to see it personal style will reveal all the important things that person needs to do. To the untrained eye, this is clutter. To a person with the I need to see it personal style, it’s a tangible to-do list.
How we can press it into service: By developing plans and systems that allow us to put things away but keep them visible, or by embedding visual cues into our organizational systems. Lists can also work if they’re eye-catching, short, or consistently put in the same place, but those with an I need to see it personal style typically prefer tangible reminders.
Tools that probably won’t work with this style: Binders, file cabinets or any other tools that keep things completely out of sight; opaque storage, unlabeled bins, monochromatic organizational systems, such as office shelves lined with lidded boxes that are all the same color.
Tools that often work well with this style: Accordion folders, bins, baskets and boxes that are open on top; clear drawers; labeled bins, drawers and files; color-coded systems (for example, everything for reading class is in red: red bins for the books, red file folders for planning, and so on). Unique and eye-catching containers can add both visual appeal and organizational effectiveness.
Organizational style: Drop and run.
What it is: Again, exactly what it sounds like. Those who employ this organizational style drop (put down) whatever they’re holding and run to the next activity. While this is more often a manifestation of busyness than laziness, the fluidity of this organizational style can make it hard for the drop and run organizer to remember where things were “dropped,” which causes trouble when the drop and run organizer needs to retrieve them. On the plus side, most drop and run organizers can find things with relative ease simply by retracing their steps.
How it manifests: In the short run, the drop and run organizer leaves behind a few items, which morph into piles and stacks; in the long run, the piles begin to overflow and the stacks begin to fall into each other. This merging of unrelated piles creates a whole new set of retrieval issues.
How we can press it into service: By using tools such as open storage that allow us to do what comes naturally: drop and run and by making sure that drop and run doesn’t become the long-term plan. Designated drop spots help keep piles and stacks from taking over too much living or work space.
Tools that probably won’t work with this style: Anything that makes putting something away a hassle is an obstacle for a drop and run organizer. If it requires moving something, getting a step stool, finding a precise location (for example, filing something in an overstuffed file cabinet or finding exactly the right box in a set of boxes on a shelf), the drop and run organizer will default to putting things down instead of away.
Tools that work with this style: The simpler the better. Use shelves instead of drawers and open bins instead of lidded bins. Any storage that makes putting something away just as easy as putting it down reduces the number of stacks and piles that overtake the space. Storing things close to where they are used and/or where they most often need to be retrieved is also helpful.
Not surprisingly, the drop and run organizational style often travels with the I need to see it personal style (as well as the I love to be busy personal style). As we explore each of the styles, you’ll find a lot of overlap in the strategies that do and don’t work, but the most important thing is staying true to what works for you. The closer the fit between your styles and your systems, the better your organizational system will work for you. If a tool doesn’t work for your style, replace it with something else.
Not an I need to see it person or a drop and run organizer? Next month, we’ll look at two more styles. Until then, play with organizers and don’t be afraid to ditch the ones that aren’t working for you. The more personalized the system, the easier organizing can be.
Who knows? This organizing stuff might even turn out to be fun.
Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary school counselor.