Secret of Adulthood: Things Often Get Messier Before They Get Tidier.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


This phenomenon can be very frustrating. I spend an hour clearing-clutter, and my apartment looks worse before I started! Moving stuff into the trash, into recycling, or out the door to a thrift store or a friend takes time. I remind myself of this Secret of Adulthood when I’m feeling frustrated.

How about you? Do you find that things often get messier before they get tidier?

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  • This is so true! I just cleaned out my garage and the first thing I did was pile everything right in the middle of the floor. It was much worse than when I started. But, that allowed me to see where things might fit better and how to organize everything. It also allowed me to make piles of “keep”, “trash”, and “donate”. Now that I’m done, it’s much more organized.

  • Lisa Butler-Giamporcaro

    I read a great article once by a physicist who explained the phenomenon…and will try to relay it in my simple and wholly inadequate way ; ) It went something like this: Before a system can re-organize itself into a new, and perhaps higher, form of organization, it has to break apart so that it is able to come back together in a different way. I often hold on to this concept in times of ‘chaos’ – when my life seems messy – comforted by the fact that what is happening to me is just a process of life and that I must be transmuting into something better!

    • Vance McClenton

      This is basically the explanation of entropy. The theory of entropy basically says that everything will tend to degrade to become more and more disorganized, and that it takes energy added to that thing in order to reorganize it (or keep it organized). If you want to take your house as an example, it will naturally start getting messier and messier, more and more disorganized unless you put in the effort to clean it up, organize it, etc.

  • Hazel Thornton

    It’s inevitable during an organizing project. As a professional organizer I have to remember to tell my clients to expect it, and ask them to trust me that I’ll leave their space useable (if not completed) by the end of the session. If they’re working on their own I ask them to consider their tolerance for temporary messes (how big and for how long) and not bite off more than they can chew!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    For de-cluttering, I like FlyLady’s suggestion not to pull out more than you can put back within an hour. Your one shelf at a time suggestion is also good. If you pull out ‘everything’ you are going to wind up shoving it all back in out of sheer despair.

    But sometimes you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs . . . I’m in the latter stages of a bathroom/bedroom renovation. Construction debris is gone, but boxes are still waiting to be unpacked into the space and small details still unfinished. I keep hanging on to how much I am going to love it when this brief (but eternal seeming) period of disorder is past.

  • The Sages

    Not only is it true literally (physically), but also emotionally…I did not see that coming!

    • Caroline Donahue

      I agree completely!

  • Malori Saline

    We have this problem especially when my husband helps to clean a room. He likes to take everything out of that room, put it in another room, and then put everything back in where it belongs. This can be frustrating for me because it seems to make the cleaning project take much longer and I feel like he is making another room messy instead of cleaning up the first one! But once everything is put back in the room, I realize that we have thrown away a lot of things and found specific places for a lot of things that would have otherwise been shoved into a closet or drawer. I feel a lot better once it is done, I just need to work on finding the patience in the process…..

    • Anj

      I am about to do the same thing as your husband, I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      • Heni

        My son cleans like this too, I react with frustration yet can see here its just another way to get the same result.

  • julie

    I’m a finisher — but this is a very bad thing for my waistline! I simply cannot tolerate knowing that there are only few cookies left or one scoop of ice cream. This is why i often buy food items in single serving sizes. Not so great for my food budget, but much better for my calorie budget 🙂

    • Ahmed

      Agree with you Julie.

  • Leslie Rieger

    This completely describes my house right now! We’re cleaning out our back rooms and it’s just a mess because I seem to have saved absolutely everything I’ve ever acquired. My living room is full of things I’ve dragged out to sort. But hopefully soon it will start to get better.

  • Anj

    I’m currently moving house and combining it with a massive clear-out, and despite having put a third of my possessions on the car-boot sale pile, am absolutely sick to death of the sight of my bags and boxes stuff. What a ridiculous cycle we go through in Western, capitalist society – buy stuff, get sick of stuff, clear out stuff, buy more stuff. Anyway, I am going off topic here – thank you for the reminder that it does have to get messier before it gets tidier; that was just what I needed at exactly the right moment!

  • Christy King

    Oh yeah. I’m completely incapable of cleaning/organizing anything without making a mess! Yet another reason to have less stuff. Then when you organize, the mess takes up less space.

  • Joelle

    I can’t tell you how relieved I feel upon reading this. I have given/gotten rid of more things than ever and my house is a disaster. I just gotta keep going. Thanks!

  • Tamara Scantlebury

    I like the idea of not just sweeping under the rug but to clean house all the way. Once this daunting task is completed your home feels lighter and has a certain aura of peace in it. Besides the emotions that you experience it makes your home cleaner for the next time!

  • Christine

    This is so true! As someone else mentioned, this saying could work in an emotional sense as well and applies to life in general, sort of like a “learning from our mistakes will benefit us later” type thing.

  • Deborah

    This is particularly evident when the items in question were hidden — in a closet, a drawer, a cupboard — before you started dealing with them. Once you haul them out into the light, things seem disastrously disorganized, but as long as you keep at it, this phase is temporary.

    Maybe the thing to do, when engaged in one of these larger-scope endeavors, is simultaneously to address a (small) surface that was visibly messy before you started, as opposed to one that had a closed door and seemed “neat” from the outside. That way you get a little instant gratification and a reminder of the order to come.

  • Holly

    But the thrill of throwing it away, recycling or donating is just so strong that you keep going. Then the reward of seeing a neatly organized closet, room or space is motivation to do it to another area.

  • Brigitte

    Thanks for the reminder. My husband and I are about to prepare to move for the first time since all four daughters are grown. Very daunting. My biggest problem is over -sensitivity to their feelings about their stuff. Not to mention my own tendency to save things.

  • Theresa

    I agree with this that many things in life have to get messier before they get organized or finished.

    I think of big writing projects or assignments this way too. Often in the research and writing stage, ideas, concepts and my own thoughts get “messy” and can get overwhelming. It is at the editing stage that all that messiness is refined, or tidied up.

  • Justine Farrar

    Twenty-six and living on my own for two years – it is a constant mission to clean my apartment. However, when I know it needs sorting, I will tend to realize that I have much more important things to do first (such as eating), and will endeavor to promise myself that I should clean it shortly after. After inevitably failing at this, it usually gets a good clean & sort about an hour or two prior to friends arriving, thus earning myself the “your apartment looks great” points, and perpetuating the well established cycle of cleaning.

  • Yasmin

    “Things often get messier before they get tidier” seems a statement made after my own heart. My teacher used to say there will be order out of chaos. I have had this experience in life umpteenth times yet this simple observation is really awesome. Moreover it gives strength to carry on when things get too overwhelming whether it is cleaning, carrying out multiple tasks, packing or unpacking and even while reading a long to do list, because there is a looking forward that things will look better than before after all is done. My strategy is to take baby steps in such situations and I find this very helpful.Gretchen you really know how to raise awareness about such little facts that are indeed steps to a better self understanding.

  • Barbara

    I was just sitting here procrastinating (by reading this!) when I am in the middle of decluttering & this just called out to me & made me smile…..I’m now off to get all this stuff out of the door…