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What makes some people born organized?


IsabelC
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I'm borrowing that term from Flylady - it refers to people who seem to keep their house and their life in order naturally, with little conscious effort.

I'm not asking what I can do to be more organized and get stuff done. (I'm already an expert on that. I have already spent way too many hours reading housework books and websites instead of getting the darn housework finished.) I am wondering what makes people the way they are.

What's the nature/nurture split on seemingly effortless housekeeping? Flylady says "The problem ... is that Born Organized people don’t know how they do things; these actions are instinctual for them. They just do them and they can’t understand why we can’t just do them too." Does she have a point or is she talking out of her armpit? Do we all have to learn conscious strategies for keeping everything done and under control, but some of us just haven't been taught properly? Or do some people really have a gift that others lack?

 

My grandmother was my housekeeping idol. I don't think I saw anything dirty, messy or out of place in her house, ever. And I'm pretty sure she never had any books or plans or schedules to tell her what to do. Not only that, but I never saw her in a hurry, or looking stressed. She wasn't obsessive or constantly cooking/cleaning/organizing. She somehow kept the house and garden immaculate without any fuss. My mother is almost the same. When I lived at home she was a little bit busier, as she did work outside the home as well, whereas my grandmother wasn't doing any paid work by the time I knew her. Then there's me, the opposite of a domestic goddess. Obviously having kids at home full time means it's probably a little unrealistic to aspire to my grandmother's heights of domestic goddess-dom, but I'm more like the domestic antichrist. There is always some disaster in progress, something massively behind and some project that has completely stalled. And I just don't get how some people seem to be able to do/complete everything they want to.

But after reading some posts on the talent/hard work thread, I wonder whether Born Organized people really are cruising along effortlessly. Maybe they work insanely hard, but just appear cool and relaxed? Or maybe it's an executive function thing, and I'm too autistic to be a domestic goddess?

 

Edited by IsabelC
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Well, we had less stuff so there was less that had to be put somewhere and kept in place.  Everybody cleaned up after themselves, it was societal norm during my childhood.  Our heating systems were different so there was much less dust.  Eating and drinking was at the table only, there were no candy wrappers or juice boxes (never mind that there was less packaging altogether) that would grow mold under someone's bed.  We had fewer clothes and if they were dirty they went straight into the hamper because nobody wanted to be caught dead with dirty underwear or socks laying around even when we were little.  Where I lived the air was cleaner so windows were cleaned less often.  I am sure I could think of a few more differences but I think the main points are that there were far fewer material things that could lay around and everybody cleaned after themselves or if they saw something that needed obvious cleaning.  In addition kids spent their days outside so we had less time to mess up the house.

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It has to be somewhat intrinsic.  My mom and my sister are the born-organized types; I am not.  It's not that my sister and I had different training or what-have-you.  I'm not sure if they're just more efficient with their use of time (they seem to be always purposefully on the go, though not harried at all--and instead I flutter from one thing to another, constantly getting sidetracked), better at keeping on top of the little things that add up...  I've always been a bit messy.  When I was a kid, my mom finally resorted to keeping my bedroom door closed because even if she had me clean it, my room seemed to attract clutter instantly.  Even now, I'm pretty good at keeping things CLEAN, but not so much de-cluttered.  As for that, my mom and sister are constantly getting rid of things (and sometimes regretting their haste), while I hang onto a lot of stuff thinking I'll get around to using it sometime...

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I am not a housekeeper...not me! But in other things I am very organized. It is because I am bone lazy and I love efficiency.  For example, I despise laundry, but when I worked out of the house, my laundry was always done and done well.  Why? Because I figured it took me less time to just do the damn laundry, hand it up, keep stuff mended etc than to spend every single morning rushing around trying to find socks that matched, or a top without something spilled on it. 

 

Now that I'm not working in an office I seem to have lost my laundry mojo, lol.  But my homeschooling and home management is very organized.  I am a skilled menu planner because I don't like to spend time every day figuring out what we do and don't have and what we should have for dinner. I'd rather spend 30 mins before I go shopping and plan out the meals for the week. I just take a quick peek to make sure I have all the ingredients for each meal, have adequate snacks and then I am DONE for the week. Meals are now on auto-pilot!

 

Before I go to bed I make sure breakfasts are made for the next morning (DH gets up with the kids) and everyone knows they need to have coats ready to go etc, no looking for books or papers. It's all due to sheer laziness on my part.

 

As for housework...I just don't care that much. I don't get any self worth from having a spotless house, I don't judge other people by theirs, it is a non-issue for me. If I can't find stuff, if it gets inefficient, then that is a problem and it will be fixed. But there are a few steps between efficient and spotless, lol.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up really is life changing. Everyone reads it and talks about decluttering. Decluttering is just the first step. It's an entirely different method of keeping house. I read it in 3 days. Get the book, read the book, do the things, send me roses for recommending it. My life is easier now. Everyone knows exactly where everything is and what we have. Less communication, less cleaning, less stuff.

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I think part of it comes from very strong memory and visualization skills. I was always extremely organized. It was one of my biggest strengths. Then I had an injury a few years ago and it's completely changed me. I never could understand people who weren't organized,. I thought if you just kept a list and worked on it, how could you not be organized. Well, now I can never find my list. Even worse, it won't even occur to me that I have a list or that I should look at it. I get a fraction done now in a day of what I could have done in a couple of hours in the past and, for me, it's all about memory and focus. I used to hold so much in my mind that I didn't even realize and now I can't be sure I'll hold anything in my mind, not even things that are really important.

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After observing my daughters, it seems to be an inherited trait.

I have one that just does. not. see the mess.  Her room is in a constant state of disaster.  When asked to clean something, she'll put in way more time than needed to do the task, and will still miss things she didn't see.  She is this way about her personal grooming as well.

On the other end, I have one that is nearly obsessive about order and cleanliness.  Her room is almost spotless most of the time.  She cleans pretty much without effort.  Her personal grooming is very well put together.  

 

Then I have the middle child.  She can clean well, and her room is respectable.  She just isn't obsessive about it.  It gets very teenaged style messy at times, but she can quickly put it to order.  She keeps herself put together well also, but isn't as finicky about it as her sister.  

They are all close in age and were raised the exact same way.  They were all taught how to clean and keep a house in order.  

I personally do not keep my house spotless, but it doesn't take a gargantuan effort to get it clean.  I really, really enjoy organizing things, and a chaotic house (my own) ramps up my anxiety/discomfort.  Big messes don't really upset me, as long a they get cleaned up within a day or so.  We often have a messy kitchen, but it gets cleaned completely up every other day at the minimum.  (dishes usually done daily).  We have a lot of clutter, but we also have a lot of hobbies that collect clutter..lol.  

Now, I grew up with a mother that was  OBSESSED with cleanliness.  Nothing was ever out of place, and if you left a glass in the living room "the house was a disaster".  We spent every weekend doing a thorough cleaning of everything (in a house that was already spotless), and you never, ever left a mess anywhere, not even in your own room.  She also had some mental health problems that tied into that, which made life a living hell.  I swore I'd never do that to my kids, and so far have kept it in check.  

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I think systematic work from early childhood with strategies for staying organized can help but absolutely there are those that are just born organized.  I was not.  I had to work at it.  I wanted to be organized so I did work at it, but I had to be hyper vigil and I at least had SOME basic organizational skills.  EVeryone thought of me as the organized one, which is funny because I was NOT, I just worked really really hard to overcome my lack of natural organizational skills.  Then I had cancer, started homeschooling, run a business, handle the house and I found that I couldn't focus well anymore, couldn't hold things in my head long enough to get it all done.  I now have 35 alarms set on my phone just to get us through the day and I don't get half as much done as I once did.  We still make it but a lot gets forgotten.

 

My mom has set up certain routines to get her through her day and she NEVER deviates from those routines unless she absolutely has to.  She LOOKS really, really organized.  Why does she have such a rigid routine?  The minute she deviates she forgets what she is doing and lots of stuff falls to the wayside.  Lists only go so far.  She struggles constantly to remember to do things that are not part of that rigid routine.  

 

Her best friend, conversely, was always organized.  They grew up together.  Their moms were pregnant at the same time.  Mom's best friend just naturally knew how to stay organized.  Mom was always at her house and her friend would think up clever knew ways for them to organize their baby doll clothes or the shoes her closet, etc. and even after she had health problems in her later years she still stayed incredibly organized.  House immaculate with seemingly little effort, she worked in a law office and everyone turned to her for keeping the office organized, etc.  She had excellent organizational skills and certainly experience over the years honed those skills but she was definitely born with them.

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Eh, I read the Lifechanging Method book, but it didn't change me.  I wish it had, but it didn't.  I am trying.  The woo woo "find joy or release those things" seems pretty out there for me.

 

Honestly, this is an excellent question.  DH doesn't believe me when I tell him that at work I am highly organized and keep things straight.  But, because of this thread, I had to think about it and realize that I can be organized at work because the method was shown to me and I was told that was the way I had to do it.

 

Apparently it isn't intrinsic for me because unless someone shows me and sets the method up, I can't seem to come up with one.

 

Maybe I need to hire a home organizer to help me, although not now, we are moving, so right now, I just need to purge as much as I can and box up as much as I can and move......

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What makes people good at anything? They just are. Genetics, environment, personality, experiences, all combine to make people uniquely them.

 

And some people work very hard to develop those same skills. I'm terribly disorganized, but the older I get, the more tools I've developed to help me keep my life just a little more in order.

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After observing my daughters, it seems to be an inherited trait.

 

 

My oldest cannot see mess.  She is a really smart girl, but if you ask her to find something, she will never see it, and forget she is looking for it... I remember asking her to get eggs from the fridge when she was a young girl - it would take her sooooo long to find the dang eggs - and they were just right there, always on the same shelf.  She is so messy. She leaves her things around and loses her shoes and keys every day.  She is a great helper and was always willing to do chores as a kid.  I like to think of her as the absent minded professor type.  She lived at home this summer after finishing her mission (LDS) and we worked on helping her establish patterns and rules - like "keys always go on the hook" "purse in the coat closet" "phone on the end table".  And though she has been doing her own laundry since she was 12, she seemed to need me to help her set up the "two baskets, one for darks, one for lights, do a load when it's full" system.

 

When her younger sister was about 3, she was so excited to show me her dresser drawers - she had filed her shirts in her drawers, by color, standing up so you could see them all.  She just likes things tidy.  She is a teenager now and her room is still very tidy.  She keeps her shoes organized in her closet.  She folds her sweaters on the shelves in her closet and keeps her hang ups color coordinated.  Sometimes I find her in the kitchen just cleaning up and tidying. She says it just feels good to have things all clean.  She is also smart and sweet, but just doesn't seem so absentminded.  She is a good finder. 

 

Both girls were taught to tidy up after themselves as toddlers.  Both learned to make their beds.  Both have done chores all their lives.  They just seem to have a different way of looking at life. 

 

I am not a born organized, but I have established patterns that have helped me keep the house up.  I always make my bed.  I have a laundry sorter (no clothes on the floor).  I do a little laundry almost every day. I keep the dishwasher ready to be loaded.  I do a quick tidy up each morning.  It took me a few years to figure out that doing a little every day makes a huge difference.

Edited by wendy in HI
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I can see the mess, but it either paralyzes me because I'm overwhelmed or I get distracted while trying to deal with the mess. I tend to be a perfectionist about things and if it can't all be done just right, then I feel like I shouldn't do it at all. Oddly enough, my OCD mother knows my house is often a mess and still compliments me on how organized I am in some really busy areas of my life.

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Maybe it helps to be the oldest in the family who has to do pretty much all the chores? 

 

It didn't help me and it might have even hurt. I've been doing housework since I was nine years old, when my mother was working double shifts to keep us from being hungry and on the street. I hate housework. I'm tired. I don't want to do it anymore. And regardless of how many years I've been at it I've never learned to be efficient (my mother btw, was a terrible housekeeper).

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I feel a bit bad for my hubs. He grew up with a militantly neat freak mother.  And then he ended up with me.  Anything but neat.  He never complains.  I asked him once if it bothered him.  He said no not at all and I figure if I start complaining then I'd have to do all the cleaning myself.  LOL

 

Mine complained once, early on. I told him he was welcome to take care of anything that bothered him. Oddly enough, it no longer bothered him. And he's never complained again.

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Eh, I read the Lifechanging Method book, but it didn't change me.  I wish it had, but it didn't.  I am trying.  The woo woo "find joy or release those things" seems pretty out there for me.

 

 

 

I avoid books like that for the same reason. I find joy in many things, but a neat, organized house (my house is clean, just disorganized) is not one of them. And books telling me to release things or make a vision board (I've read books like that) or whatever, are all woo to me.

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Energy. Aside from EF, etc - energy.

 

I was once an organized person. Chronic illness killed it. Even worse is seeing and knowing what needs to happen but being physically unable to do it. I save my daily store of energy for kids. It's frustrating though. We used a weekly cleaning service for years - that helped. We've moved and haven't found a new one, so things are starting to suffer. It's not terribly visible yet, but I see the spiral.

 

The BO people I know are all very energetic. Highly functioning, rarely sick types. I think that helps.

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I think part of it depends on personality. I am married to a logical, sequential man. I am random, global. He tends to be far more organized. I get a ton done, but it's usually messy during the doing portion. 

My youngest dd is a natural logica/sequential person. 

Also, add, adhd seems to affect ability to organize- we've seen this in our home. 

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I don't know--looking at my room as a child and my house as of a few years ago, I would have said that I was deficient in the organizing genetics. And it drove me crazy. It was like I knew things were not right for me but couldn't do much about it. I went gluten free about two years ago. I don't think it was coincidence that shortly (within weeks?) of the diet change I started to see what I needed to do. It was conscious in that I simply set down on paper what I needed to happen, then timed those activities and scheduled them for the days of the week when I had the time to do them. Clutter didn't magically sort itself, but suddenly I could be calm and methodical in dealing with it. My mood change was pretty dramatic with the elimination of gluten in my diet, which went right along with a number of physical symptoms that disappeared at the same time (GI distress that had been almost constant, temper issues, joint pain and overwhelming inhalant allergies). 

So in my case, was I really "born organized" but couldn't function because of food allergy issues? I don't know. I will say that so much of becoming organized had to do with being able to see what needed to happen and then being able to come up with a good plan to deal with it.

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I think its a mix.  One aspect I've noticed is sensitivity to the surrounding environment.  I am very introverted - I need to expend energy to really notice my surroundings in a specific kind of way.  Otherwise, I pick up the ambiance (a messy room) but not the specifics (stuff all over the floor.)  And even then I can pretty easily ignore it either because I am distracted or I don't want to deal with it.

 

Others, like my dh, are very attuned to the details of their environment.

 

I also think that some people are better than others at organizing their tasks and work.  I'm actually ok at that, but I've met people who are just illogical in their approach.

 

But - I also think habit and such makes a difference.  People who are in teh habit from childhood of putting things always away, for example, or doing a morning cleaning routine, will always have that to fall back on without much effort.  I think that in the 20th century, cleaning and household management went through a period where they didn't get much respect, and a lot of people never learned those kinds of skills and tricks and routines.  My mom learned about how to clean efficiently and effectivly in home ec, and later in nursing school as well.  She's good at it, and fast.  She has all the tools organized properly, and she does things regularly without having to think about it much.  I didn't even touch on that stuff in school, and I didn't want to learn it from my mom because at a kid, I thought that housework was just stupid grunt work.

 

 

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I feel a bit bad for my hubs. He grew up with a militantly neat freak mother.  And then he ended up with me.  Anything but neat.  He never complains.  I asked him once if it bothered him.  He said no not at all and I figure if I start complaining then I'd have to do all the cleaning myself.  LOL

 

Mine grew up that way too and I corrupted him.  ;)

 

To answer the OP's question, I firmly believe it's a combo of genetics (being able to do it) and caring (wanting to do it).  I'm fully able if I wanted to, but I don't want to.  I don't subscribe to those who feel one must have a clean house or one is a failure of some sorts.  I like my house the way it is (it would never be featured on Hoarders, but is also not a candidate for Better Homes and Gardens).  When/if I don't like something, then I change it.

 

If one can do it and cares, all is well.

If one can do it and doesn't care, all is well.  (My situation.)

If one can't do it and doesn't care, all is well.

If one can't do it and cares, that's when these threads or similar help books come about.

 

Hubby has morphed into my category.  The nice thing about that one is there's very, very little stress with it.  There seemed to be tons with his mom.  If one little thing were out of place she'd really get stressed...  I can't fathom living that way, but it worked for her with her house.

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Hubby has morphed into my category.  The nice thing about that one is there's very, very little stress with it.  There seemed to be tons with his mom.  If one little thing were out of place she'd really get stressed...  I can't fathom living that way, but it worked for her with her house.

 

Yeah I could not hack that.

 

It's crazy because now my MIL lives alone.  She spends most of her time cleaning.  At one point she broke a wrist or something so she could not do as much.  It totally freaked her out that she couldn't clean her house.  How messy could her house get if she lives alone?! 

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I am very good at seeing systems, and prob have good EF.  So, I am totally capable of keeping anything organized. Like I said, I love efficiency and hate waste. But I also only  have so much energy and there are always things I will like to do instead of others, so I pick and choose.

 

When we had one small child and a tiny one bedroom apartment, our place was very tidy.  DS1's baby toys fit into a small box I had used for picking apples, his clothes fit into one drawer, dh and I had the energy to clean the apartment from top to bottom every friday night, after the baby was asleep.  I spent friday during the day doing our laundry and it was ready to fold while we ate dinner, then we would blitz the apartment. We had a system, I had a card for each room, we each took a card, there were things that were done weekly and bi-monthly and monthly. It gave us peace of mind. If the floors were messy, well, I knew they would get cleaned on Friday night. That didn't rule out daily tidying up, I see that as different from actual cleaning the space.  We also had an evening routine and the place was picked up well before we went to bed every night.

 

 

Yeah, things are different now, lol.  We have shifted priorities out of necessity. We can easily not see the dirt and if we are focused on a different set of systems, well, that's life.  The daily tidying up isn't too bad...not too good either, lol, but obviously we can live with it.

 

Right now all our skills are focused on just getting people where they need to be, getting homeschooling done well, making sure there is enough food in the house, keeping up with the laundry, dh's job is much more demanding than when he was a student, and he often needs to write at night.  The actual picking up etc obviously comes last these days....and real cleaning is half hazard. Now that the kids are older we are trying to address that, but there is always something going on that seems more important.  And that's ok with me at this time in my life.

 

But I am good at seeing systems, breaking things down into logical steps, dealing with issues when they are small. I'd rather bring in a small handful of garbage from the car every day than have to pull out bags of trash three times a year, for example.

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I have a vision (mental?) problem and I cannot see disorder. My brain can't comprehend it. I can't drive because of it. I'm organized out of necessity, it's not effortless.

 

I agree with this. My two messy kids have been shown to have visual processing problems. The really messy one was recently tested so I remember the specifics. She has a figure-ground and detail problem. We were told she can't process complex visual information. I think both would do better if their environments were kept more organized but it's such a struggle.

 

My other dd who hasn't ever had a need for such in depth testing had vision therapy for an eye muscle issue. She is super-organized. My last one also tends to be more organized. She also had vision therapy and her organization skills noticeably improved afterward.

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I can see the mess, but it either paralyzes me because I'm overwhelmed or I get distracted while trying to deal with the mess. I tend to be a perfectionist about and if it can't all be done just right then I feel like I shouldn't do it at all. Oddly enough, my OCD mother knows my house is often a mess and still compliments me on how organized I am in some really busy areas of my life.

 

This right here is me exactly! I cannot stand a mess. I am a neat freak that can't clean, lol. I get so overwhelmed and don't know where do start. I am a horrible "manager". I can't seem to delegate jobs, come up with schedules etc.Ive been so close a few times to having everything in order but can never keep it up. I just shut down. It doesn't help that I have 5 kids 9 and under who are home 24/7 and a husband who is gone 24/7.

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I read something about this about 30 years ago that was kind of interesting to me...that people have different definitions of what is clean or done.  For me, the laundry was always "done" when it was out of the dryer.  Then I read about people who called it "done" when it was put away.  So I sort of stepped up my game.  But then I heard about people who *fold underwear*.  And *I* was DONE.  That's just crazy talk.  

 

But the thing that was interesting about the article was that it talked about how our definition of "done" affected career choice, and how career choice impacted "done."  At the time, I taught high school English, and that article talked about how teachers have to have a lower expectation of "done" or they would never move along.  You've got 30 kids in a class, 5 classes a day...and if you have a strict definition of Done, you'll lose your mind.  ALLLL the kids won't have all their work in on time.  ALLL the grading won't be done to perfection.  ALLLL the kids won't do their best work on any given day.  You have to lower your expectation of Done and it affects other areas.

 

I havent' taught for 30 years; I had another job that I was really good at because I could deal with a loose definition of Done.  But there were a lot of jobs I could not do at all because they have to be done and done right.  Detail oriented stuff...precision stuff.  Accounting.  Not for me.  

 

I'm garbling this to death, but maybe it will make a little bit of sense.  

 

Now that I have more time, and I am at my house almost 24/7, I see a lot more detail and my housekeeping is better than it was.  But I still won't fold underwear.  

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Oh my goodness I have wondered about this topic, so often. I am organizationally challenged, big time. I just can't see how to do it the way others can. I look at my organized friends lives (pantries, garages, books, to name a few places) and I am blown away. They are so good at it!!

 

On the flip side, I am often times embarrassed by the way my house, car, etc looks. It doesn't bother me until I think oh gosh! people are going to think badly of me because I'm unorganized.

 

Sorry for the ramble... Just nodding in agreement with these posts.

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I don't know--looking at my room as a child and my house as of a few years ago, I would have said that I was deficient in the organizing genetics. And it drove me crazy. It was like I knew things were not right for me but couldn't do much about it. I went gluten free about two years ago. I don't think it was coincidence that shortly (within weeks?) of the diet change I started to see what I needed to do. It was conscious in that I simply set down on paper what I needed to happen, then timed those activities and scheduled them for the days of the week when I had the time to do them. Clutter didn't magically sort itself, but suddenly I could be calm and methodical in dealing with it. My mood change was pretty dramatic with the elimination of gluten in my diet, which went right along with a number of physical symptoms that disappeared at the same time (GI distress that had been almost constant, temper issues, joint pain and overwhelming inhalant allergies).

So in my case, was I really "born organized" but couldn't function because of food allergy issues? I don't know. I will say that so much of becoming organized had to do with being able to see what needed to happen and then being able to come up with a good plan to deal with it.

This is me! Dh thinks I'm crazy but removing gluten takes the clouds away for me. I feel like I think clearly and my house is much more organzied with about 1/2 the effort I spend when I am not eating right. I fell off of my diet though and I can't seem to get organized enough to write down a meal plan and get the groceries. I know I have EF issues but with a clean GF diet all if my issues seem to go away.

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I think I could become organized with the right tools, but getting there is not easy for everyone. You need to have space, time, etc. Decluttering is a huge help. Easier to make a home for items if you have less items to home.

 

I flip flop between thinking Marie Kondo has the right idea and the woman needs help. Seriously, read the Amazon reviews lol.

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I don't know--looking at my room as a child and my house as of a few years ago, I would have said that I was deficient in the organizing genetics. And it drove me crazy. It was like I knew things were not right for me but couldn't do much about it. I went gluten free about two years ago. I don't think it was coincidence that shortly (within weeks?) of the diet change I started to see what I needed to do. It was conscious in that I simply set down on paper what I needed to happen, then timed those activities and scheduled them for the days of the week when I had the time to do them. Clutter didn't magically sort itself, but suddenly I could be calm and methodical in dealing with it. My mood change was pretty dramatic with the elimination of gluten in my diet, which went right along with a number of physical symptoms that disappeared at the same time (GI distress that had been almost constant, temper issues, joint pain and overwhelming inhalant allergies).

So in my case, was I really "born organized" but couldn't function because of food allergy issues? I don't know. I will say that so much of becoming organized had to do with being able to see what needed to happen and then being able to come up with a good plan to deal with it.

Interesting. I know when I feel physically well and well rested I tend to tackle things in an orderly way whereas when I'm tired I'm very scattered. So if you were physically unwell all the time it probably made a big difference dealing with this.

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