Organize vs. Minimize

Organization can feel like a false promise of more. If only you could be more organized, you could manage MORE stuff. You could handle MORE on your calendar.

But the truth is, the sheer quantity of…everything…is inundating us. 

My efforts at organization mostly lead me to feel like a total failure. I can’t organize my dresser drawers, they end up a heap of mess. I can’t organize my purse, it ends up all thrown in the middle. I can’t organize multiple playdates and activities for my kids on a weekend, because I forget things.

You don’t need more bins. More planners. You don’t need ombre’d markers. And you certainly don’t need more self-loathing about being unable to maintain complex systems. What you need is more practice saying no. 

Organization isn’t the answer. Minimalism or better yet, essentialism is the answer. 

I want to start by saying if you're a professional organizer, this episode is probably not for you, but if you are like most of the rest of us, and you've spent far too much time searching for the perfect planner only to purchase it and give up after the first week of January, barely picking it up again, or you've spent far too much time and money searching for the perfect organizational solution at your local store. If only you had the right bins, if only you had the perfect baskets, if only you have the right planner, life would feel lighter, simpler, or would it?

Today we're talking about some of the false promises of organization and what are the differences of pursuing, organizing versus minimizing? Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

I want to start out by saying thank you to Prep Dish for sponsoring this week's episode. Prep Dish is a meal planning service. And let me explain to you how it works each week. You're going to get a list of recipes sent to you. And the best part is the way that the recipes are presented on the first page. You'll find a list of ingredients to buy at the grocery store. On the second, you'll find the list of tasks to complete on Prep Day, which is a day you choose in advance of preparing the actual meals. And on the third, you'll find the final steps to get the food on the table for Dish Day in our house. This usually means setting aside some time on the weekend to take care of our prep day tasks for the coming week. I will tell you that dividing the meal planning up like this has lightened my load so much during the week, especially during the after-school after work, dinner time hustle. If you haven't tried it, you can get two weeks free, go to Again, that's for two weeks free.

All right, back to today's episode. So some of you know that we just moved into a new house. We downsized our space by about 60 or 70%, and I found that going much smaller like this, has required a combination of minimalism, and organization. So I don't want to discount the importance of organization, but I do want to talk about the ways that I have been fooled into thinking that organization is the answer to all my problems. That organization is the key to being able to do it all and to have it all, and if you can't seem to do it all and have it all, it must be an organizational problem.

If only you could just be more organized. You wouldn't have any of these issues. You'd never be late. You'd never forget to bring the snack for soccer practice. You'd never double-book yourself. You'd never have piles of clothes in the corner. You'd never lose the 50 50 raffle tickets that the school sent home for you to sell, side note. I just did that.

The inspiration for this episode came when I was perusing a big box organizational store website, looking for in art supply storage solution for our new home. We're pretty happy with what we have, but I thought I would just see what else out there. And lo and behold, they do have some new stuff in particular something that caught my eye was acrylic organization units. I was looking at this toy and craft storage solution. That was beautiful being that it was acrylic. It was completely clear. And to the eye acrylic looks like these things are almost floating because it's invisible. It's clear, right?

So acrylic storage solutions feel very light and airy. The thing about acrylic storage solutions is they are completely cleared. You can see exactly what's inside of them. So as I'm ogling this toy and craft storage solution, that is completely acrylic thinking about how lovely it would look in my Home, how aesthetically pleasing it would be. I took a minute to look at what was inside these bins. What was inside these bins was ombre markers.

Now I'm using ombre like a verb here to ombre is the act of arranging things. In order of color, you can ombre your books, starting at the darkest blue, going to the lightest blue. You can ombre your clothes in your closet. Visually the effect is beautiful from a practical standpoint, maintaining in ombre' anything can feel like a heavy burden, especially to somebody like me, prone to messiness, and so back to this visual.

So not only were the crans and the markers ombre', but the pipe cleaners were also ombre'. So if I bring this acrylic storage unit home with the intent of creating Something beautiful, like I've seen photographed here, the bar is high. Somebody has got to ombre that stuff, and I have a child that struggles to put the cap on the marker. So I have a strong suspicion that it's not going to be her.

Can we in fact, maintain complex organizational systems that make our home look beautiful and give the perception of lightness? Yes. Does it take a lot of time and effort probably does maintaining complex organizational systems actually add to your mental load and add to the burden of taking probably had the examples I used In the beginning of this episode about buying a daily planner and only using it for the first week, January. That's me. I have done that for many years, buying bins in anticipation of that, being the solution to figuring out how to put all my stuff away. That's also me. I've also been there.

I know that there are people out there who love ombre their markers. If you find that calming and almost meditative to you, then do it. Absolutely. But I would venture to say that many of you listening have experienced something similar. You've experienced this idea that you are in some way lacking or failing. If you can't maintain organizational systems. Because I do believe that organization can feel like this false promise of more. If you could only be more organized, you could manage more stuff. You could manage more on your calendar, you could do it all and you could be at all.

But here's the truth of living in the time that we do. We are inundated with the sheer quantity of everything, the quantity of choices that we have to make day in and day out, whether you're choosing a brand of peanut butter, organic non-organic crunchy, creamy, creamy, and crunchy blended together, or almond butter, cashew butter, sun butter, or when you're buying a planner, when there's a thousand on the market, or how do you juggle all of the activities for your kids, karate, swimming, Spanish, Mandarin, yoga. There are so many possibilities out there. And if there's a soccer class for your 15 month old, does that mean you need to put your 15 month old in soccer to give them the headstart that they need? And if you don't do all the classes. Is your child going to be missing out? And what if you can't afford to do these classes?

Is that going to affect your child's ability to get into a topic? Diversity? Not only do we have an abundance of choices that weigh us down, but then we also face the guilt about having to choose about having to prioritize. We face guilt about not being able to do it all and to have it all and to be at all. And I think much of that guilt causes us to lean heavily into organization or into the hopes of better organization. When we would really be served better by leaning more heavily, into minimizing, more into essentialism, focusing on fewer, more important things in our lives. Every single one of us faces decision fatigue. We have stuffed organize our stuff. We have stuffed organize our days can organization help. Yes, but for many of us, it's not enough. And for many of us, it can make us feel like we're lacking.

And like we're failing. I'll never forget pre kids. One year from my husband's birthday, I organized our coat closet. We lived in Chicago. So we had a lot of gloves and hats and jackets, especially considering it was just the two of us. The dog owned more jackets at that time than I do now. And as, his birthday gift. I bought bins and baskets and I labeled them all one with gloves, one with hats, one with scarves. And he was so happy because he is naturally inclined towards a system like this for me, a system like this is a lot to maintain, even though it is fairly simple and straightforward. He was overjoyed by this closet organization. And it lasted probably two or three weeks before I let it completely fall apart, which means I was putting gloves in the hat, basket and hats in the scarf basket. Things were falling on the floor. One more of my efforts towards organization had fallen short

Years and years for me to truly understand the value of living with less. The value of minimizing, rather than just organizing, because organization was never the answer for me. But now I stand by my motto that I don't take on more than I can handle because I can't manage a hundred shirts in my closet. It'll turn into chaos, but I can manage 10 shirts. I can't manage 20 pairs of jeans in my drawer, but I can manage three. I can't manage long hair because I end up throwing it up in a ponytail, letting it look messy, but I can manage short hair. That only takes me five minutes to dry and style.

I can't manage a Saturday with six things on the calendar, but I can manage a Saturday with two things on the calendar. Now, if I struggle with managing these types of things as an adult, there's a very good chance that my kids are going to struggle as well. So not only do I make sure that I don't take on more than I can handle, but I don't give my kids more than they can handle, because if I give my kids too many toys and they can't manage to get them cleaned up and they get stepped on and they get broken and they're not taking care of, they're not played with and they're chaos. What happens as a parent, you're going to get frustrated. You're probably going to find yourself, shaming, your kids.

Can't you keep this stuff cleaned up. Don't you take care of anything. Don't you appreciate the things. I gave you. But what if we could take a step back and realize that maybe we've given them more than they can handle moving towards a life with less means that I've had to practice learning how to say no, learning how to say no to acute sun dress at target, learning how to say no to a toy that I think my kid would really love, learning how to say no to a play date on an already busy weekend.

Learning that I don't just need more bins or the right bins or the right planner. I don't need to ombre my markers. I don't know the self-loathing that comes along with not being able to maintain complex systems. What I need is more practice at saying no, and more practice setting limits, not just with my kids, but for myself as well.

So my key takeaway for you today is if you have bit off, more than you can chew, if you've taken on more than you can have handle, you're allowed to scale back, you're allowed to start saying, no, you can absolutely start right where you are today. Thanks so much for tuning in. I hope you've enjoyed this episode. If you have a moment, leave a rating or review on iTunes, that helps the show to reach more people. I appreciate you and have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.