Heal Your Family Through Organizing Styles

The majority of the clients I work with are families.  Not always, but often times when I go to the home what I find is a lot of tension between the family members.  From kid meltdowns to controlling behaviors between husbands and wives, the negative emotions permeating the environment are palpable.

Knowing that clutter and disorganization breeds negativity, it’s easy to understand why there would be tension.  However, there is another culprit at play that once understood shines a light on one of the core problems.  If the family is willing to work with this information that I bring to their attention, it often time becomes the catalyst to healing in the family and in the home.

The Cause of the Tension 

Several years ago, I stumbled across a book called Organizing The Disorganized Child by Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran.  An excellent book to give parents simple strategies to help their kids succeed in school by identifying and applying their organizing styles. I learned that, much like learning styles dictate the way people handle information, organizing styles dictate the way people handle their stuff.  I quickly put two and two together and realized differences in organizing styles may be the source of tension in homes and families.

I put my scientist hat on and went to work, testing this idea out on my clients and was amazed at what I discovered.  But before I go into my findings, let me share with you what each one of these organizing styles are.   As you read them, you will find you identify more strongly with one style over another, but may have traits in each one.

Organizing Styles


Visual Organizers

● Think of missing items in relation to the place they last saw the item

● Need to have all their items visible

● Respond well to color, pictures and other visual cues

● Feel disorganized when their work area is visually overloaded


Spatial/Cozy Organizers

● Think of missing items in relation to the place they last used the item

● Need to have all supplies within reach when doing school work

● Need to have their work area cleaned off

● Feel disorganized when their work area is a mess


Chronological/Sequential Organizers

● Think of missing items in relation to the time they last had the item

● Access information chronologically

● Think with numbers

● Remember dates, times of events, and the order of events

● Keep stacks of paper on their desks that may appear messy, but there is a certain order to the piles

● Memorize best through repetition

● Feel frazzled when their work area is not in order

I bet as you were reading some of these you were saying, “That’s totally me.”  You probably could see your spouse and/or kids in these traits too.  Even though as you read through these styles and can easily identify with some or many of the traits, you may not have even realized you, your kids or your spouse even had them.  It is for this exact reason, I have found, that the tension, stress and strife exist in the home, families and lives of the people I work with.

Not Knowing Your Organizing Style 

By not knowing your organizing style, you may be trying to set up your environment, manage your things and use systems that don’t work with your preferences, needs and the way you think.  This often times  leads to a break down in the system, dissatisfaction in the space and feeling bad about yourself because you just can’t make things work for you the way you are being told you should or is the “right way.”  Compounding the problem  is when you know what your organizing style is, but you have a partner that has a different style from you and they are always trying to make you do things their way because they think it’s the right way.  What’s the most damaging, in my opinion, is when a parent imposes their organizing style on their child.  I have seen how devastating this can be for a kid, causing them to develop low self esteem and not knowing what really works for them.



Clash of the Visual and Chronological

A common scenario I see that leads to tension between couples is when one spouse has a visual organizing style and the other is chronological.   The visual organizer usually is the one with the messy desk loaded with piles of papers and lots of visually stimulating things around them like artwork, pictures and colorful knick knacks all taking up desk space and the wall space around them.   The chronological styled spouse will have a desk that is clean and bare and usually with labeled files and a digital system to manage a majority of their information.  Because the visual has a messy desk, the chronological assumes they are not organized.  But if you ask the visual where something is, they would probably say, “Oh, its in that pile on the corner of the credenza about half way through the pile.”  The chronological will exclaim, “Your desk is so disorganized.  You should put these papers in a file in the file drawer.”  But because the visual has the fear of out of sight out of mind, they immediately put up their defensives, feel misunderstood, not honored and the fight begins.

It’s one thing to not know your organizing styles or those of your family members.  But it’s a whole other thing to know that’s how your family members work and you don’t honor it because it’s not your way.  That will only lead to fights, resentments, poor self esteem, low cooperation and strained communication.


Find the Healthy Balance 

Now, I’m not saying that the visuals should be able to get away with having their stuff on all the flat surfaces or the cozy/spatial can have free reign of the living room with all of their bean bags, stuffed animals and blankets or the chronological gets to have their way with the minimalist look in every room.  A healthy balance needs to be struck between all family members by being able to operate in the way that works for them but still honoring the needs of each others organizing style.  Not an easy task, but it can be achieved.

By finding that healthy balance between organizing styles,  you can decrease the tension in your home, increase the cooperation and communication, boost self esteem and create a more harmonious environment where everyone thrives, feels understood, honored and loved.



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