The Magazine Illusion

Magazines and Organizing

I’ve noticed that in recent years “getting organized” has become one of the staple topics in most women’s magazines. In one respect, I’m pleased by this trend: it acknowledges the widespread struggle many people have with organizing their space and belongings. If you feel disorganized, you clearly are not alone!

On the other hand, there are a few common elements in these articles that may be less than constructive:

~ They tend to result in people feeling guilty.

Readers look at a photo in a magazine of a beautiful entryway or color-coded folders and think, “My house doesn’t look like that. What’s wrong with me?”

~ The headlines often minimize the time required for a good solution.

“Organize your whole house in a weekend” is probably not realistic, unless you are already very organized and just need to spend a day putting everything away. This isn’t to say you can’t make great progress in a weekend – you can! But if you aren’t able to complete your whole house in 2 days, you aren’t a failure. It typically takes about 40 hours to organize an entire house, and larger homes or homes with stockpiled clutter can easily take longer.

~ Not every idea is a good fit for every reader.

It may be possible to refurbish an old, ugly filing cabinet into a piece of beauty… and if you are handy and enjoy projects, go for it! But if your old file cabinet is bent/covered in rust/doesn’t close well, or if you are not handy or have no workspace, then this may not be the solution for you. It might be easier to just pitch the old filing cabinet and buy a newer, well-constructed piece. And you shouldn’t feel like a loser because you didn’t reclaim the old one.

~ There is a heavy emphasis on products.

Ever see a photo with arrows pointing to the latest “must have” organizing gadgets? While these products may be genuinely handy, they probably are not necessary. I can organize almost any space with some basic bins, cardboard boxes, and common household items. Getting organized doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money on supplies.

~ There is a blurred line between organizing and decorating.

Frequently when I examine an article about a reorganization of a room, I see that the “after” space is not only organized, but completely redone. The walls have been painted, new furniture has been purchased, curtains have been added, etc. And all of this is terrific – it just isn’t necessarily organizing. Getting organized is about clearing clutter and setting up systems so that you can find what you need, when you need it. The idea that a room needs to be totally redecorated in order to be organized makes the task seem more intimidating (and more expensive) than it needs to be.

~ The “after” photos are staged.

Remember: magazines are visual media. They use every tool at their disposal to make a space look beautiful and appealing. Stylists bring in fresh flowers, add lighting, position happy children playing on the floor… whatever they can to get the desired effect. You can have a very well organized space, and it still may not look like a photo in a magazine. It’s sort of like the family favorite casserole; it tastes delicious, smells fantastic, and gets gobbled down every time you serve it, but it might never be featured on the cover of Bon Appetit.

*     *     *     *   *

The purpose of this post is NOT to bash magazines. Magazines are entertaining and often full of great ideas. There is even one publication – Getting Organized Magazine – which is very practical and which I highly recommend. So if you enjoy perusing magazines for inspiration, new products or clever ideas, then by all means, buy a copy and enjoy!

BUT, if reading these articles is making you feel guilty, unsuccessful or overwhelmed, then it is better to pass them by. Why spend your money to feel badly about yourself?

Where do you get your most helpful ideas for getting organized?



photo credit: Mr . X via photopin cc