Organizing Books: Helpful or Not?

Organizing Books: Helpful or Not?

Local Book Store, Barnes & Noble, NYC

Local Book Store, Barnes & Noble, NYC

Like the author, Jessica Lamb Shapiro, who wrote the recently released book Promised Land about her delve into the self help literature, I also spent some time immersed in self help books in my 20's. I have to say many of the self improvement books of the mid to late 90's had intoxicating titles. They seemed to hold so much... well, promise.

Just briefly, back then I wanted to heal my life, date someone from Mars but recognize their Mars-ness was not their fault, apply plenty of Feng Shui to my small NYC apartments, chicken soup was everywhere and good for you and I really really tried to remember not to sweat the small stuff. Prior to this wave of self improvement books, I had been a dedicated follower of Julia Cameron's Artist's Way.

But just a few months into gorging on those self improvement books, I felt there was altogether too much jargon and I felt a little exploited, for the lack of a softer word. The same messages seem to run through them all if there was a message at all. Very little translated into personal action. For me.

Of course Good Housekeeping Magazine can rescue us!

Of course Good Housekeeping Magazine can rescue us!

A similar thing happened when I spent 2011 immersed in organizing books before I launched Tame Space. I found myself speed reading most of them and quickly categorizing them into informal groups based on the intended audience. And I did this because when I read them, the same things were written over and over and over again. Just in different ways with new jargon and promises to appeal to different people.

Did I find any advice that was new or fresh? Or life changing?

No.

Maybe because I have been organized for so long and self correcting my habits that I don't have a need for this type of advice. The way a frugal person doesn't need to read books about how to save money.

As for new and fresh, the tenets were repackaged as pseudo sage messages, interspersed with anecdotes and personal journeys and organizing advice with snappy new names or coupled with mnemonics. I suppose the the idea is that if only we could remember the order of steps to being organized our problems would be solved.

I should say right now, before I offend my fellow organizers who have authored these self help titles, that I am not in any way saying their books are not useful. I am sure they are for the right person. I often tell clients, if they need a book, to read as many as they can to find the one definitive approach (and author) that works for them.

I also suggest they use the library because the irony of being the organizer helping clients downsize organizing books is not lost on me. There is a reason new organizing books appear every year (just like diet books) and if you have trouble with maintaining a set amount of possessions that works for you and the space you have, more knowledge on the topic can only help.

Organizing has always been very gendered, but it's not just a problem for women. My male clients will tell you so.

Organizing has always been very gendered, but it's not just a problem for women. My male clients will tell you so.

Like the number of diet books out there that could be reduced to one, there should be a definitive Michael Pollan type book that cuts through the clutter of too many books about a subject troubling to our society. Michael Pollan's book simplifies eating/ diet/ nutrition advice.

I wish there was one small, minimal book that cut to the chase (in all subject matters) for people who are not interested in doing a literature review just to get better at something. I think I'll write the book and get a developer to write an app. Anyone know a developer?

So, I get asked often, what's the real secret to success for the organized?

Of course, I can only speak for myself: I value the results of being organized and controlling my environment more than nearly all other things I spend my time on.

Let me simplify further - I am concerned entirely with the results. Less stuff means  more time to read, think, write, play with my kids and work. I'm not minimalist - but I keep a low inventory.

Also, I am not and never have been rich. Still, I long for the environment of the wealthy who have staff to attend to the unpleasantries of domestic life: they live in clean, organized spaces. So every couple of days I release my inner housekeeper/ butler/ personal assistant and she does what needs to be done in a maniacal flurry while the lazy me goes out for a cigarette.

Now that I've come out as multiple personality disordered (and for the record, I have not smoked in over a decade), what to make of the professional organizer who's admitted to a longing to live like the wealthy as motivator?

I won't apologize for wanting to outsource the drudgery so I can spend my life in leisure pants.

Another burning question: once organized, how to maintain?


They key could lie in how long term dieters achieve maintenance of weight loss. It's a lifestyle. When thin people gain a little weight over the holidays they correct their habits, quietly restraining themselves at every meal to eat less than they want. They skip a meal or two once in a while. Thin people say no. That's one thing I've noticed, they know how to say "no, thank you, I've had enough."

When will we as consumers learn to say, no thank you, I have enough stuff?

Maybe we consumers have to learn to say no thank you to the $100 cart at Target.

I must admit that I consider myself savvy to seductive branding but have always found shopping at Target irresistible - what's that about? As an urbanite, suburban retail stores like Target are an irresistible marvel of space and endless choice in popcorn scented shopping.

Challenge yourself, when you're at Target or IKEA or whatever big box retail store to say no thanks. Just walk away from your cart when it starts to fill up with things you don't need.

Ok, maybe get the toilet paper, but leave the rest.

The key for me is in leading a life with an organized approach (or insert whatever your vision of the ideal life is here) until it's just... how you live your life.

Finally, I can't end without saying that having to move 31 times in your life really forces you to practice frequent evaluation of personal stuff. On top of that, moving frequently means everything else is always changing. So I have to embody order and routine - it's my security blanket. Order and routine are my home.

Marta Blair: Smart Babies Love This Artist

Marta Blair: Smart Babies Love This Artist

More Time, Please. Test Driving Apps for Life and Work Improvement

More Time, Please. Test Driving Apps for Life and Work Improvement