Organized vs Tidy. They’re Not the Same Thing.

I want to talk today about a simple concept:  I want to pose that there is a difference between being ORGANIZED and being TIDY. 

tidy vs. organized

Why is this something to spend time on?  Well, because sometimes, people can confuse “tidy” or “orderly” for “organized”. Organizing is also about making sure you have what you need, and not getting deluded into thinking that being orderly means you’re organized. 

What are the signs of someone who is tidy-but-not-organized?  When collections appear to be neat and orderly, but your SUPPLY does not match your DEMAND for the items: 

  • Pens:  A lot of these come free, so we consider these to be low-risk to acquire, and then they’re small, so they’re INDIVIDUALLY not an issue, but as a collection, they are. So you have 50, 100, more?  Some probably still work, and you’ll discover if they do when you go to grab one and try it. 
  • Crayons: Your kids are still in coloring phase (kind of), so you have a plastic container full of crayons, broken and whole. There are over 100 crayons in there, even though your child really only uses about 10 colors. 
  • The counters are CLEAN, but the drawers are full, because everything has been swept into them, in order to have a clear countertop. 
  • Scrap paper:  Do you save all the little notepads from every hotel, every charity who sends you one, every job you’ve had?  You now have a stash of 20 pads of paper, taking up half a drawer in your kitchen.
  • Entertainment collections(we’ll be tackling these in a few weeks):  Sure, movies are sorted by genre and alphabetized by title or by author, but, are you using these? Are they a current part of your life? All of them? 
  • Your mail is neatly stacked. The envelopes haven’t been open in a few weeks, so you don’t actually know what’s in them. 
  • You have a beautifully stacked pile of magazines that you haven’t read, that date back to 2012. 
  • Disposable items like fast-food silverware: again, they were free, and they’re “handy”. You have enough to bring with you for lunch the next 30 weeks. 
  • You also have soy sauce, duck sauce, wet naps, ketchup packets, and relish packets.  You don’t actually ever have food that doesn’t already come with these, so you haven’t used any of the stash, but it’s in a neat drawer organizer, so you can see all that you have.  
  • You have fabric remnants and leftover supplies from previous craft projects. They’re sorted by size and color and style.  You’ve used maybe 1% of the items a second time, after the original project. 
  • T-shirts: If you just went through your clothes, you know that, for many, this is a category that can get out of hand…  Sure, they’re nice and neat now, but are you wearing them all? 
  • Linens (next week’s challenge is all about this): Table cloths, dish towels, and even rags:  Sure, they’re useful, and you have them stacked nice and neat now.  But do you use them? 
  • You have a drawer full of chargers and cords. They’re wrapped up neat and tidily. You haven’t touched any of them in 18 months, and are not certain you know what they go to any more, or, if you still own what it goes to, if you know it. 
  • Spare tools / supplies, like screws, nails, nuts, bolts, washers, etc.:  Yes, they’re all in neat caddies and you can find what you need. If you really had to guess what percentage of the items in your collection you’d use in the rest of your lifetime, would you even get 20%? Do you NEED a full supply of every one of these sizes and shapes on hand, for a construction-emergency?
  • You have plastic shopping bags folded neatly in case you need them. You even did the fold-them-into-triangles project you saw on Pinterest.  You have 200 of them, and you don’t have a dog to clean up after. 
  • There is a neat little bowl full of keys.   You have no idea what they go to, but they’re all there.


Here’s my point:  Don’t be confused that something that LOOKS organized means you ARE organized. When your space is still full of items you don’t need, and it is contributing to clutter, even if in a visually pleasing way, you’re only building and shifting piles of different items. These piles aren’t truly bringing value to your life…  and it’s time to look at the piles in a different way.  




  1. Sabrina Quairoli

    Love this! If we were taught how to organize maybe we wouldn’t get these terms confused. I’m definitely sharing this one. Thank you.

  2. Ellen Drlap

    I love these distinctions. It’s real something to think through.

  3. Mollie

    Thanks for this! It is also a great tool to reference when a client is explaining why they don’t need to downsize, because the excess is contained neatly.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thanks for reading! I’m so glad you see it as a helpful tool for you when you’re working with your own clients, Mollie!


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