How to Work Around Perfectionism when Getting Organized

posted by Aby Garvey 23 Comments

Does the desire to create a perfect space prevent you from getting started on your organizing projects? Even though images in magazines, blogs and on Pinterest make us believe that an organized space is a perfect space, striving to create a perfect home makes getting organized substantially more difficult. When you strive to create a perfectly organized space, you create lots of new problems. So, try this instead:

Strive to be organized enough that you solve the problems you’re having without creating new ones. 

Here’s what I mean. If every morning you rush around looking for your car keys, mobile phone, or purse, solve that. Establish a home for these items close to the door, so you can drop them when you arrive home, and find them easily in the morning. Don’t worry about setting up an elaborate command center, unless that’s the problem you’re trying to solve. Focus solely on the problem you have and fix that.

If getting dinner on the table is a fire drill that often results in calling for carryout and blowing your diet, solve that! Create a simple process for planning your meals in advance so you have the ingredients you need on hand and can quickly get dinner on the table. Don’t worry about creating a crafty meal planning board, until you have a meal planning system that works for you and solves the problems you’re having right now. 

If you forget appointments, solve that. Figure out if you’re properly using the calendar system you have. Often the system that’s already in place is perfectly fine. So instead of conducting an exhaustive search for the perfect calendar system, work through the logistics of using the one you have consistently so it works for you. Once you use it consistently, you’ll have a feel for whether or not it is the right system for you, and more importantly, if it isn’t, you’ll know why. (This is the time to search for a new system.)

planner pad - month view

In a nutshell, focus on solving problems first, and perfecting later. To do this, identify the problem you’re having and then brainstorm solutions. Create a list or a mind map of possible ways to fix this problem. If you’ve spent lots of time on the internet looking for ideas in the past, skip that step this time. Instead, tap into what you already know. What ideas are in your head? What makes sense to you?

After you’ve generated some ideas, pick the solution that solves the problem in the simplest, easiest way. Then, put the idea into action, and live with it for a while. Once you’ve used it for a while, see if it addresses the original problem. Then, perfect it or pretty it up if that will make the system better or more enjoyable to you. Or instead, move onto solving your next organizing dilemma. 

When you strive to be organized enough and focus on solving problems, you’ll find that organizing is easier and more enjoyable.

What organizing problems are you struggling with right now? Do you think this idea could help you move past perfectionism and get into action? Tell me your thoughts in the comments. 


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  • August 30, 2013 at 11:14 am

    This is a perfect reminder to ditch perfectionism and try for good enough. I don’t know how many times I have procrastinated because I didn’t have my ducks in a “perfect” row.
    One problem I have is too many notebooks, which are usually in different places. Even in my tiny one bedroom condo, I lose them. Maybe I should just have one?
    Thanks very much for these tips.

    August 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    I think that either having just one notebook, or defining what each one is used for could help. It’s when we have a whole bunch but they aren’t for any specific purpose that it becomes hard to keep track of all the info. (It’s almost like keeping it in our head…where it’s really hard to keep it all organized. ;) )


    May 6, 2014 at 10:47 am

    This is SO me…I have to have things “just right” before I can work with them and then the paper clutter causes stress…so glad I found this website

    • August 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      This reminds me of another of your posts, about recognizing what amount of clutter is comfortable. I am planning on tackling my Big Studio Clean Up this weekend, and that post – and this one now – has allowed me to look at the bare minimum that is required for me to feel comfortable in that room. I don’t have to DO IT ALL! But I do have to have a comfortable space. Another great tip!!

      August 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      Thank you Lisa! Here’s one more tip. If you start to feel overwhelmed by the Big Studio Clean Up, look for ways to make progress by focusing on just one small area at a time. Small bites can be easier to swallow when it comes to organizing.

      Good luck with the project. Hope it goes great!

      • August 31, 2013 at 6:38 am

        I am struggling with papers, books, magazines, and other reading material littering my bedside table and floor next to my bed. It feels like I have a hard time prioritizing what I should read because it all feels important. I need an organizing system so that I remember what I have that I want to read, but it’s not haphazardly stacked on other”must reads.” Thanks for any tips you have. I’m overwhelmed every night I go to bed Judy looking at all the clutter.

        September 5, 2013 at 10:31 am

        Hi, Meghan,

        What about creating two reading baskets, one for “must read / time sensitive” reading materials, and one for leisurely reading? You could use any container that makes sense to you for your reading “basket” such as an actual basket or a magazine holder or anything else you have on hand that works well for holding paper.

        I have a comprehensive paper organizing class that I teach. Right now it is available as a self-paced class, but I also offer expert guided classes a couple of times each year. You can learn more about the self-paced class here:

        Good luck with your paper!!


        • September 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm

          I’m in the process of rearranging my office. My problem area is finding a filing system that is easy to use. At present, I use a filing box- alphabetical. It’s hard to get at papers, and I forget which letter each item is stored under. I have a list on the front, but having to look it up each time is annoying. I’m thinking of using A4 size drawers- made for storing paper, and coloured labels.

          I also have a problem with too many lists! Still trying to find a solution.

          September 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

          Ease of access is a huge consideration with filing paper! Great idea to use file drawers and address that problem.


          • September 2, 2013 at 11:37 pm

            Thanks for the tip about letting go of perfectionism. You hit the nail on the head! I have so many areas I’ve been desiring to get organized… but they never get done. You made me realize I’ve been procrastinating b/c I think I can’t achieve the perfect space I long for. I will now allow myself to make small quick improvements and forget about “perfect” for now.

            September 5, 2013 at 10:32 am

            Great Susie! Glad this idea connected with you.

            • September 4, 2013 at 9:59 pm

              This article is wonderful. I am unorganized with everything. Which I’m bipolar so it makes the mind cluttered too. I forget doctor appointments, bills, things coming up. I have been trying since January to get organized and I have a calender/notebook/planner, I carry in my pocketbook and look at at least twice a day. One of my main problems is this; my boyfriend’s grandmother passed away 2 years ago, leaving him her big house. We decided to rent my smaller one and move here. The big house part is great. The problem is the big house was packed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, and anywhere in between with about 80 years worth of yard sale things, thrift store items, and anything else she could horde up. We had paths to walk from each room to the next. Now that a lot has been boxed up, given away, sold at yard sales, and trashed, there still are mounds to sort through. This makes me feel very chaotic and then I don’t know where to start. I feel overwhelmed and not motivated. I like your idea of fixing one problem at a time. Thank you for a wonderful blog.

              September 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

              Thanks for your comment Donetta. It sounds like you’ve been making great progress with eliminating items in the home so far. Maybe you need a little break before tackling the next layer. :) I also think working on it one area at a time will help. Having even one room settled and peaceful will provide great energy and motivation for tackling the next area.

              Congrats to you for all the progress you’re making toward your goal of being more organized!


              • September 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

                All my life, I’ve preferred big chunks of time in which to do stuff, even though that’s not how life tends to work. ;-) I think it’s because I’ve not good at estimating how long something will actually take.

                I’m thinking about a “one task or 30 minutes” approach.

                What suggestions do you have about estimating or working with smaller pieces of available time?


                • October 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

                  Great post Aby. It explains why you should never buy the “perfect” organizing system before you have looked at the real problem.

                  • January 31, 2014 at 8:01 am

                    Very practical and basic tips ! Thanks a heap for the encouragement. :-)

                    • March 3, 2014 at 2:57 pm

                      Thanks so much for encouraging us to release perfectionism- this is hard for me. I am a perfectionist is everything, but it doesn’t make life easier by any means! I have fibromyalgia and am disabled because of it. This means I clean one area as well as I can in a given day or time period, but the next day or time period must move to another area before the first is done because it is so much in the way. Now I have 2 areas started and the first may be coming apart again. I have rooms not seen by anyone that visits and they need to be done, but visible areas are the priority. I spin in circles! Some days I can do nothing due to the fatigue and pain. I hope your site and blogs will help me. As I begin, any words of wisdom?

                      March 14, 2014 at 3:34 pm

                      Hi, Donna,

                      Do you feel as if you can let go of the perfectionism a bit? Is there anyone that can help you catch up so you can focus your limited energy on keeping up?


                      • March 14, 2014 at 3:41 pm

                        Donna, I encourage you to check out ( She breaks down decluttering and cleaning your house into a weekly 1-hour “home blessing” for basic upkeep and 15-minute daily “missions” for detailed cleaning and decluttering. I think the 15-minute intervals and a cleaning cycle that tells you exactly what to do to keep things neat could be a big help to you — I know your energy and wellness vary from day to day, and who wants to expend all that precious energy on housework?

                        I find that what I’m learning from Aby and from FlyLady complement each other beautifully. The most important — and the slowest — change is moving from looking at housework and decluttering as “chores” to seeing them as acts of love and self-care that I deserve, and as activities that can be fun! Sometimes I have to repeat that to myself over and over! But progress is progress, however glacial its pace. I’m glad to be moving in a good direction, however gradually, and I hope with all my heart you will be similarly blessed!

                        • April 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm

                          Love the info provided on this site

                          April 22, 2014 at 2:28 pm

                          Thanks Kelley! We appreciate the feedback.

                          • August 3, 2014 at 5:01 am

                            Funny thing is most people don’t understand the thinking of a perfectionist. My mom laughed at me when I told her that was one of my biggest mental blocks. She said if you were really a perfectionist your house would be cleaner. My mind says it would be if I had money to go to IKEA and the container store, had a laptop and printer and a label maker. Then again my perfectionist mentality would probably bring back some borderline ocd tendencies if I had all that. Now I am disabled and physically cannot do alot of cleaning. Luckily for me hoarders and how clean is your house came on and my house pales in comparison. So I don’t get any negative comments anymore. I am tired of the clutter and made intensive detailed check lists with the help of blogs and together with my pain killers I have been motivated to do one thing at a time even if that means sitting every three minutes. I used to believe if I can’t do it all at once what is the point and would get frustrated my body won’t cooperate with what I want to accomplish. Thank you for your blog

                            August 4, 2014 at 11:26 am

                            Your mom’s comment about “If you were a perfectionist then your house would be cleaner” is one I hear often, even from people struggling with perfectionism. I think it’s fantastic that you understand that this is a block for you, something that is preventing you from being where you want to be. That is the first step to making progress and moving forward.

                            Thanks for sharing your comments. Good luck to you on your organizing journey!