There Is A Big Difference Between Neat and Organized

By November 18, 2011General

Photo by Lana Stewart

I recently realized that there is a big difference between “neat” and “organized.”

When I simply make a space neat, it becomes messy very quickly.

When I make a space organized, it stays neat much more easily and for a much longer period of time.

Organizing a space takes more work, but it pays off in the long run.

How To Organize

So, how do we make things organized? Here are a few tips from a “creative-person-who-is-trying-to-be-a-type-a-organized-person.”

1. Study the space. Let the space get all junky and then study it. What is the space meant for? Do you use it the way it’s meant to be used? If not, what do you use it for?  How do you WANT to use it?

Be honest. The easiest thing to do is organize the way your currently use the space.

For example, we had some bookshelves in our dining room where the kids kept their art stuff. I wanted it to be neat and tidy looking but…it wasn’t.

It was pretty messy because the girls never put the construction paper back in color coded order. They never alphabetized the art books or made sure the crayon boxes all faced the same direction. Seriously, where do they get off?

Ok. Yeah…I never did either.

So, since we didn’t organize the contents of the space to make it look neat, I needed to come up with another solution to avoid the cluttered look.

What did I do? I bought cabinets with doors. Now we just “stuff and shove.”

(Not really. Ok…yeah…sometimes.)

Where was I?

Instead of trying to make the space work and keep it neat all the time, the first thing I did was admit that it’s not going to be a neat enough space to leave out in the open. Sad, but true. Admitting I wasn’t Martha Stewart was the first step towards my success.

Let’s move on.

2. Give Everything A Home. I looked at all the stuff we kept in our “art center” and noted how we used it.

I bought trays for the construction paper, pencil boxes for the markers/pencils/paint, and more trays for the coloring books.

I also made little boxes for each child filled with crayons, scissors, glue and tape. That way, they just need to grab paper and their box for just about any craft they want to do.

3. Label. Label. Label.
Then, here’s the key, I LABELED each box. That way, the kids always know where things go, they never argue about which box is theirs and there is never a question about the contents of any of the boxes.

Now, I rarely have to clean the art center. Everything has a home. The kids know where that home is, and should anything be out of order….we. just. close. the. doors.

In Conclusion

I’ve used the neat vs. organized idea with lots of things. My computer hard drive. The myriad of cables to all my techie gadgets. Our coat closet filled with hats, gloves, scarves etc. My cabinets. My iPhone.

My house isn’t perfect, but it’s also not a pit. That’s cool with me.

What is an organizing tip you’ve learned lately? Click here to comment.

(FYI-This post was originally posted on my old personal blog back in the cave-man days of 2008.)

Leave a Comment



  • Avatar G R Johnson says:

    There is a book I read to help me think of how to define organized vs. neat. It is called The House That Cleans Itself by mindy Starns Clark. So I admit that I haven’t read it all the way through and I haven’t implemented the CONVERT system throughout the house, but hearing that a house can be transformed to fit my behaviours instead of changing how I function to fit a house is refreshing insight!

  • Your idea of putting construction paper in paper trays is great, and it gave me the idea of getting those upright magazine boxes to hold coloring books.

  • Avatar Sharon says:

    All my art supplies are in our unfinished basement (read: I never go down there except when I have to do laundry) and could really use a home where we’d actually make use of the stuff!

    I’ve been working on getting my kitchen cupboards organized. While the disarrayed contents are hidden from view most of the time, it drives me crazy that I have to remove 5 things just to get to the pot or dish that I want to use. I haven’t completely solved my problem, but I’m trying to look at the best way to make use of the space vs just throwing stuff in any which way they will fit. It hasn’t been a one time thing, I keep rearranging as I get new ideas every few days or so.

    Just this morning I separated my daughters spoons and forks into two Styrofoam cups in the cupboard. Before they were mixed together in a shallow bowl on the top shelf where we couldn’t see what we were reaching for. Now I can see exactly where they are, and the two cups take up less space than the one bowl did.

  • Avatar Michelle says:

    I’m looking for help organizing hats, mittens, gloves, scarves, boots, etc., for 7 people in a little front hall/room. We have an overstuffed closet there, 5 hooks and a shelf on the wall, and even a 3 tiered shoe shelf/rack that holds about 10-12 pairs. As the winter clothing gets bigger with the kids’ growth, and we’ve added a baby to the family, I’m wondering how I can keep the space orderly enough to have guests and be able to get through the doorway this winter! It’s always out of control. Any ideas?

  • Kat you are so funny. Great perspective! Thanks!

  • Avatar Erika says:

    I think I can handle the first step: “Let the space get all junky.” Yep, got that covered! 🙂

    Great reminders, Kat. I need all the help I can get!

  • Avatar jen says:

    Great post. Kind of like what Joyce said—-I use a hanging see through plastic shoe organizer and put our gloves, hats and scarves in it. It hangs in my hall closet. Everyone can see it and each little compartment perfectly fits a pair of gloves, scarf or hat. It looks good too—-any suggestions on how to get your kids to actually put their stuff back in there when they are done using it? That’s another story 🙂

  • Avatar Jessie V. says:

    This isn’t really related to this post (although I did enjoy it) but both your blog and Ann’s blog have finally pushed us into sponsoring our first child. It’s been on a to-do for awhile and I just don’t think it would have happened without your blogs. So thank you!

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  • Avatar Kristen S says:

    I have to admit that often times when I read organizational articles that I tend to either 1) Start to get all sweaty and anxious wondering how I am going to accomplish that particular way of organizing with 3 kids under 5 or 2) Give up and say….that’s just not me, I could never do that with the ‘creative’ person I am:) I didn’t experience either of these emotions! I loved this article because it made me feel accepted for who I am… and made me realize that we can adapt to how we are while also utilizing the space we are already using for something in a better way. Thanks!!

  • Avatar David Mark says:

    I could never do that with the ‘creative’ person I am:) I didn’t experience either of these emotions! I loved this article because it made me feel accepted for who I am… and made me realize that we can adapt to how we are while also utilizing the space we are already using for something in a better way, thanks for sharing.