ARTICLE: “The Organized Person: Nature vs. Nurture”

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “Are you born with the gift of organization, or do you pick it up from watching your parents?” Half believe you’re born with it. If you don’t happen to get the genetic “gene,” you’re out of luck. 

My father swears I’ve always been organized. Even as a young girl, I had “systems.” My stuffed animals lived on my bed in a very specific order during the day and on my toy box in another very specific order at night. I never left the house without making my bed. I actually folded and put my clothes away. I had a precise order in which I got dressed, brushed my teeth, and combed my hair. Always in exactly the same sequence. Every time. Genetic? No way. My brothers were slobs. In fact, my mother made them keep their bedroom doors shut, so that their messes wouldn’t bother anyone. So the genetic test fails. 

Perhaps, then, it’s environmental. My mother was a very organized person and kept detailed grocery lists and a budget book. But she could never throw anything away. She washed and reused Ziploc bags. She used a teabag over and over again, until no color came out of it. I can just picture that shriveled little teabag on the stovetop. 

My father was also a huge packrat. He’s a retired Air Force Colonel, so I moved frequently during childhood. I remember certain boxes that dad had that moved from house to house to house. He never opened them. He just kept putting a moving sticker on top of the other moving stickers and carrying it along. I recall asking, “Dad, why don’t you just put that box out for the garbage collectors instead of moving it? You’ve never opened it!” His response was, “I can’t! There might be something valuable in there!” If you have no idea what’s in the box and have never looked for the item, how can it be valuable?

He saved baby food jars from when we were infants and meticulously labeled each jar with the type of bolt, nail, screw…or 3-inch piece of string. He kept them all in drawers in a huge wooden workbench. He never used some of the items he kept…hey, but at least he had it if he needed it. In college, my microwave timer broke. My dad repaired it with a bathroom timer he had kept…for 15 years. He said, “See! I knew that would come in handy some day!” 

I, however, am the queen of tossing. If I haven’t used it in a year, I give it to charity. So it can’t be environmental, because I never picked up those packrat tendencies from my parents.

Truly, being organized is neither genetic nor environmental. Perhaps it’s a combination of many things. I believe, however, that’s it’s definitely learned. It’s a skill that can be taught, just like riding a bike. I honestly believe anyone can become organized with the proper training. Over the years, I’ve recognized that not everyone can and should organize the same way. Getting organized is a process of trial and error and persistence. 

I know this to be true for myself. Even though I exhibited a tendency toward being organized as a child, I was completely at a loss when I had my first “office” job. I had no idea what to do with all the paper, magazines, files, and project information littering my desk. You’re simply not born with a genetic predisposition toward labeling and classifying files. I had to be taught. 

I took my first “time management and organizing” type class in 1988. I was so excited by what I learned, and it so transformed my productivity, that my career from that point on was devoted to the science of productivity. I wanted to change other people’s lives in the same way mine had been changed. Through organization, I found:

· Freedom from chaos,

· More flexibility and creativity,

· Higher productivity,

· Lowered stress levels, and

· Less expense of money, time, and overall resources

Being organized will give you more control over your life and time. But getting rid of clutter is more than just being efficient, more than being more productive on a daily basis, and more than a way to lower stress. Being organized is a key way to find the time and the self-control to start achieving more of the things you want to do. I assure you that digging out from under and staying on top of the clutter in your life is possible. If I could do it, so can you. And the bonus—once you know how and have your systems set up, it is actually easier to be organized than to be disorganized!

© 2002 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at