Excerpt from Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Organizing from the Inside Out

The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life

by Julie Morgenstern

Organizing from the Inside Out
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    Sep 1998, 256 pages

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My years as a professional organizer and my own background of disorganization have taught me that most of us approach organizing from the wrong direction. When we are ready to get organized, it is usually because we have reached the breaking point; the clutter is driving us crazy and we want instant relief. Due to the accumulated stress of being disorganized, our knee-jerk reaction is to attack first, ask questions later--to just dive in and do whatever we can to gain control quickly.

We don't spend any time analyzing the situation, and typically we do very little planning -- basically putting the cart before the horse. We search madly outside ourselves for the answers to our predicament and grasp wildly at anything we think will "save" us from it. See if any of the following behaviors strike you as familiar:

  • You go shopping for containers to get your clutter problem under control without having measured, counted, or examined what and how much you have to store.
  • You go on impulsive purging sprees, ruthlessly getting rid of as much as you can to create a spare existence, then discover too late that you tossed out something that was important to you.
  • You "adopt" organizing tips from friends, magazines, and books with no thought as to whether they mesh with your personality or fit your situation and needs.
  • You tackle the bits and pieces of your organizing problem without ever looking at the big picture.
  • You grab on to mantras like "reduce your possessions 50 percent," or "touch every piece of paper only once," or "if you haven't used it in two years, get rid of it," in the hope that they will change your life forever.

This leap-before-you-look approach is what I call organizing from the outside in. It fails to look at the big picture before seeking quick solutions, grabbing at all kinds of random tips and techniques. Don't get me wrong: using the clever tips, smart techniques, and snazzy containers on the market is a critical part of the organizing process, but there are several steps you need to go through first in order to know which ones are right for you.

At best, this piecemeal approach creates an incomplete patchwork organizing system, leaving you with lots of holes. After buying a new container or implementing a new tip, you are excited by the novelty and experience a moment of hope, but this feeling soon wears off when the reality sinks in that information and objects are still falling through the cracks.

At worst, organizing from the outside in leads to selecting all the wrong systems, ones that just won't work for you. You try to force yourself to use them, but the effort is too great; after a few weeks you give up, watch the mess return, and consider yourself organizationally hopeless.

Organizing from the outside in fails time after time because it doesn't take into account how you think, relate to the world, pace yourself, like to operate, or your sense of visuals--the total picture of yourself that your organizing system should ultimately reflect.


Organizing from the inside out means creating a system based on your specific personality, needs, and goals. It focuses on defining who you are and what is important to you as a person so that your system can be designed to reflect that.

Successful organizing forces you to look at the big picture, not one small section of the frame, so that the system you design will be complete. It is a nurturing process that helps you focus on discovering what is important to you and making it more accessible, rather than haranguing you to throw out as much as you can and organizing what's left over.

Organizing from the inside out means taking a good look at the obstacles that are holding you back from being organized so you can identify and remove them once and for all.

Copyright © 1998 Julie Morgenstern

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