Plan your own way

Column by Hallie Beard, Opinion Editor

For elementary students, college students and working adults alike, it seems there’s a year-round pressure from social media, magazines and advertisements to do one thing: get organized.

Whether referring to school, work or the home, the message is always clear – to become a better person with sharp reflexes and a polished, energized spirit, declutter your surroundings, mind and possessions and compartmentalize your life.

The sentiment is fine and dandy – organization is a way to fight anxiety, effectively visualize tasks and make progress seem tangible. But there are major issues with our culture’s obsession with what a Pinterest board might call “#GettingOrganized.”

Walk into Target or Walmart at the beginning of an academic year or even calendar year and what products line the shelves of the office section? Planners. The collection can feel pretty Seussian – big planners, small planners, planners with polka dots and stripes, planners in odd shapes and bindings. Trying to find one is exhausting, and the design elements of some of them seem to hinder any potential for clarity of mind. The problem, though, is that these obnoxious books are seen as the end-all be-all mark of organization, especially for craft-oriented college students.

Each time I buy a planner and try to use it – which has only been a couple of times in my life – I regret it. The pre-made and illustrated layouts often make me feel more anxious and constrained than usual, and the concept of writing out all of my tasks in one singular place drives me into a panic spiral.

This year, I decided to make my own planner. I bought a blank journal that was a size, binding and weight I liked, but after hand-drawing and labeling monthly and weekly calendars for half the year, I realized the pursuit was probably not worth the work it required. Here we are in late February, and I haven’t made a single entry in the masterpiece I created.

According to the Pinterest-fed world, my life is unorganized without typical planning stationery and methods, isn’t it? Without a desk covered in stylish drawers, folders, boxes and compartments, I’m setting myself up to have an unsuccessful semester full of surprises and messy consequences for my haphazard life. Aren’t I?

Nope – not at all. The problem with mainstream products that claim to be the gateway into a perfectly ordered life is that the creators (or advertisers, maybe) assume their perception of organization is a one-size-fits-all deal. It isn’t.

We’re all taught that cleaning our rooms – making the bed, lining items up on surfaces, hanging up our clothes – is good for us, and I don’t dispute that. I take my Friday Cleaning Days very seriously, and it’s relaxing to pull out ye ole Swiffer duster and go to town. But, I don’t bother to make cleaning or organizing a priority during the week when I’m actually getting work done.

Why? Because clean surfaces or organized folders/stationery do not increase my productivity. I’ve tested this theory for years, and now that I have my own apartment and space for gauging results, I know I’m not crazy. Traditional methods of organization and cleanliness often make me feel less productive, more frantic and less sure of what has to be done.

When my desk is covered in papers and my bedroom in clothes, it isn’t a pretty sight, but I know where everything is, and my body is accustomed to dealing with the large yet controlled and habitual mess I create. It’s when I try to “put things away” that I cannot find anything or get tasks accomplished as quickly or easily.

So, don’t let mainstream conceptions of organization make you feel like a mess for not conforming – maybe your brain isn’t meant for Lilly Pulitzer planners or coffee-themed desk boxes.

In addition, why are planning materials – and the concept of organization in general – so heavily gendered? Take a gander through a stationary aisle or Pinterest board and count how many men you see advertised as being interested in organization. Is the idea here that women are simply better at planning, or that women must be more organized to combat their stereotypical emotional side? Either way, it’s a bit strange, and pretty sexist if you analyze the (advertised) media.

Gender issues in media aside: maybe your brain works best in the midst of a little clutter, and that’s OK. You must find the method and environment that works for you and stay true to it. If you’re the eye of a storm in a tornado, so be it. Own the mess.