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Here’s Why Everyone Got So Into Organizing All of a Sudden, According to Pro Organizers and Mental Health Experts

published Oct 11, 2020
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When I left my office one Thursday afternoon in March, nobody handed me a guidebook for what was about to happen to our world. The first week of quarantine went by in a blur of breaking news, emergency orders, and traumatic Costco runs—and my usual coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety (which I have lots of, thanks to genetics and mental illness) were suddenly off the table. I couldn’t go out to a coffee shop to work when I needed to decompress. And I couldn’t seek out live music and a glass of wine when I felt my depression kicking in. In just a few days, my world suddenly shrank down to the four walls I was lucky enough to reside in.

And I was not alone. Collectively, and often in online solidarity, everyone across America sought out new methods of handling the stress, fear, and anxiety of the glowing global crisis. We binged “Tiger King”. Planted victory herb gardens. Baked way too much sourdough bread. Just as quickly as each distraction arrived, it would be swiftly replaced with a new survival method. But there is one coping mechanism that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon: home organization.

Sharon Lowenheim, also known as Organizing Goddess, a blogger who focuses on living large in small spaces, saw a huge surge in people joining her mailing list, as well as journalists reaching out to do stories on organizing when the pandemic first began. In March and April, her subscriptions from the entire previous year doubled. Lowenheim told me she thinks it’s because people have more free time, so they are able to tackle some projects that they have been putting off. “They are also spending more time at home, so they are noticing their clutter more and being more inconvenienced by it,” she said.

Amy Tokos, founder of Freshly Organized, LLC, and president-elect for the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, said her company is also getting more inquiries, website traffic, and scheduling more appointments than ever before. While Tokos is grateful for the popularity of creating clean and organized spaces, she knows it also has to do with the world outside of our homes. “When you are organized, there is less chaos which can bring about a sense of calm and control. It is one of those things that we can influence and control despite what’s happening in other areas of our lives or communities,” she said. 

Through transforming dining rooms to workspaces and creating makeshift yoga studios in the garage, now, more than seven months since the shutdown first began, homes are no longer just places to relax and unwind after a hard day of work. They are community centers, safe spaces, gyms, art studios, and offices. And to help facilitate all of these changes, Americans are turning to home organizing experts for guidance.

The interest in home organizing isn’t just affecting the professional organizer industry and the well-off clients who can afford to call in some help. You might have noticed friends and family that, a year ago, would never have heard of sorting books by color suddenly dropping everything to buy pantry canisters and stacking bins, due to the rising popularity of the Netflix show “Get Organized with The Home Edit.” Since the show launched, exclusive The Home Edit organizers sold at The Container Store—ushered in often as “product” in their on-air makeovers—have been flying off the shelves, including drawer organizers, storage bins, pasta canisters, and more. (The Container Store would not answer sales-related questions for Apartment Therapy, but a representative said “Our customers have responded very favorably to our exclusive product line and partnership with The Home Edit.”)

If you’re someone that has always kept their home organized (and potentially even color coded), the idea of sorting and labeling your stuff is nothing new. So why now, is suddenly everyone interested in transforming their side tables and pantries into curated museum-like works of art? The answer is actually pretty simple and it’s about more than just wanting to fill a quarantine afternoon by tidying your pantry. There’s a deep connection between space and mental health that is causing the giant upswing in home organization.

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According to Lucy Vo, clinical psychologist and founder of the Social Growth Center, the root of using home organization as a coping mechanism has always had more to do with what is happening outside of our homes than inside. She’s not surprised that the chaos and clutter in the outside world is affecting peoples’ physical and mental health, as well as personal relationships, at home. To avoid falling victim to our circumstances, people are leaning into home organization because of a “desire to clear and control everything that we can get our hands on,” Vo said. 

According to Yael Shy, Mindfulness Coach and Author of What Now? Mindfulness for Your Twenties and Beyond, decluttering your home and organizing the spaces you use every single day allows you to feel in-control during a period of uncertainty. People are so easily influenced by their surroundings, Shy said, that it is “a really great wellness practice to remove items from your space that cause you grief and stress.”

When you see a friend on Instagram sharing a before and after of their new organized closet, they’re not just making space for the clothes they wear, they’re setting themself up for success every time they walk in. If the first thing you do in the morning is go to your pantry for cereal and everything is in shambles and you can’t find what you want, that unsettled environment is automatically replicated in your head. You could become stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. On the other hand, if you opened up the pantry to find everything in order, and exactly where you need it, you’ll feel as though things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. And if you opened it to find rainbow-sorted groceries stacked neatly in calligraphed clear bins, that may strike your more aesthetically-minded pleasure centers for an instant hit of that sweet, sweet dopamine you crave. 

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In the last seven months, homes have grown to serve a purpose well beyond sleeping, eating, and spending limited amounts of downtime. “They are a place we now find vital for everything and in order to make that work, most homes have seen rearranging and organizing as not just a luxury but a must for survival,” as Ashley Murphy and Marissa Hagmeyer, co-founders of The Neat Method, a luxury home organizing company, explained. 

Whether it manifests in making your bed every morning or sorting your cluttered junk drawer, when you take time to create an environment that is structured and organized, according to Vo, you may find that it results in better sleep, less stress, improved relationships, and increased productivity. And we could all use something to look forward to right now.