Category: Organising Theory

Posts concerning theories and ideas on which organising techniques may be based.

Seven Elements of Organising

Our view of organising tends to be quite concrete, focussing on discarding objects and sorting the remainder into containers. Its true that organising does involve these activities. However there is a bigger picture. We may be able to recognise a mess when we see one, but its not always obvious why things build up as they do, or what to do about it. Before we start searching for solutions, it would be helpful to understand what is really going on. What would it look like if we stripped organising down to its essential elements?

Drawing on ideas from science and spirituality, organising can be stripped down to some essential aspects, that I am going to call Objects, Structure, Flow, Space, Time, Energy and Consciousness.


Objects are things in themselves, created for a specific purpose. They may be part of the physical world and have physical characteristics such as size, shape, colour, texture, materials, and so on. When we talk about clutter, we are usually referring to objects that have become detached from their place or their purpose. Seen more broadly, objects could be any form, such as a thought form, that has its own unique qualities and identity.


The function of structures is holding, containing, limiting, setting boundaries. Some structures have a high degree of Containment, meaning they hold other things without allowing overflow or movement. Other structures are designed to Direct Movement, rather than limit it altogether. Structures  may be literal physical structures, such as scaffolding on a building. They may also take the form of mental constructs used to guide thinking, such as categories, lists, rules and guidelines.


In this context flow refers to the movement of objects, through a space or a structure. Fluids are so called because they flow easily; flow is in their nature. Solid objects also move, and this can also be regarded as a type of flow. The flow of thinking is influenced by our mental structures such as ideas and beliefs.


Space is the emptiness within which activity takes place. Objects and Structures occupy Space, and Flow through it. Without space, movement isn’t possible. In this sense it represents freedom and potential.


Energy is the impulse to move, the strength to move. Inanimate objects can’t move – people are the main supply of energy which causes objects to move within a space. Movement results from, and creates energy. Movement of thoughts can translate into physical movement of the body, and of objects.


Organising is not something that happens once, but a continual process, it occurs over time. Our bodies never stop operating while we are living, even in sleep. In a similar way, we are always in the process of orienting ourselves in relation to our environment. Time brings factors such as birth, change, decay and death into play.


Consciousness refers to the self aware intelligence that allows active decisions to be made about how all the other Elements fit together. Unlike simple organisms, humans are aware that they are organising their living environments and their internal life, and can make active decisions, and this is a significant difference. We can decide what objects to own, how to organise them, where to locate them. We can also influence our own thoughts and feelings. We need to apply our time and energy for this to happen. Its our capacity to act consciously that draws all the elements together.

Distilling organising back to these essential elements may seem very abstract when faced with a specific task that needs to be done. However it does provide a way of viewing a situation that is stripped of labels, judgements and assumptions.  It allows us to view an organising task according to first principles and to see a situation with fresh eyes. From here we can begin to think about the interactions between the elements, and how they work together to create a harmonious and life supporting envirnoment.

Pink Lotus on a Pond

Seven Realms of Organising

I like to think of organising as a natural, organic process.  As humans we are undoubtedly biological creatures, but many of us a have a sense that we are also more than this. We are complex creatures that defy simple explanations. I sometimes wonder how we can incorporate the many different aspects of what it means to be human into our thinking about what organising really means.

Lets consider seven perspectives on organising based around different aspects of what it means to be human. I like to think of them as realms, as each seems to have its on character and language. We can use these realms to focus our attention on how our living environment supports and reflects our needs, capacities and difficulties in each area.

Organising Questions Using the Seven Realms

Following are questions based on seven realms that I find helpful to consider – physical, social, personal, emotional, thinking (content), thinking (process), and spiritual. I’ve adopted a question format to demonstrate how these areas can be used to focus our thinking.

1. Are basic physical needs being met?

Basic physical needs include food, shelter, clothing, a safe place to sleep, heating, hygiene and sanitation. This is the most primary level of need and is reflected in the very structure and design of our homes. Kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and toilets, are designed to allow us to meet these fundamental requirements. Many of the objects we purchase, even luxury goods, are also pointing to these essential needs. In affluent societies problems arise with excess, as well as lack. Difficulties in these areas can threaten health, wellbeing and survival at a very basic level.

2. Does the living arrangement allow for social and interpersonal interaction.

The interpersonal level is where people interact with one another. It’s the level of partners, families, children, and flatmates. The living environment is not just a personal space, but a collective habitat which the actions of everyone have an impact. Homes include spaces that are public and private, for collective or personal use. They also include furniture and objects designed for use by more than one person. Difficulties which impact on this level can inhibit social interaction, or lead to interpersonal overwhelm, creating a strain in relationships.

3. Does the home environment allow for personal expression of each individual.

This is the realm of individualty where each person has their own unique character. Here we are considering personal style and preferences as well as the desire for self fulfilment. Its the area of creative expression and self actualisation and manifests itself in spaces and objects involved in hobbies, interests and creative activities. We may also consider how the style of the environment fits the personality of the individual. Difficulties in this area inhibit personal expression or cut across personal styles and preferences. This can lead to a sense of feeling suppressed, unfulfilled, out of step, or out of place.

4. How does this environment support emotional wellbeing?

Now we consider the realm of feelings. Love, attachments and emotions of various kinds burst forth here. Its about having the safe space to be who you are and navigate the sometimes turbulent river of human emotions. Is this an emotionally safe and nourishing place? This is also the realm of memorabilia and sentimental objects; photographs and family heirlooms reside here. Emotional turmoil and strong feelings affect all aspects of our lives. Strong emotional attachments to objects can create difficulties if they start to swamp other needs.

5. Does this environment support and reflect clear thinking and helpful ideas and beliefs.

Here we shining a light on mental constructs in the form of thoughts, ideas and beliefs. It’s the world of rational thinking, logic and systems; the realm of knowledge, education and skills. We may have books, CDs and other material that reflects our thinking and need for education and skill development. Approaches to organising may be very rational and systematic. Difficulties appearing in other realms my have their roots in unhelpful or self-limiting thinking and beliefs. Overly intellectual approaches may fail to recognise the needs and contributions of other realms. A shift in thinking, or away from over-thinking, can have a major impact on other areas of life.

6. Is the way of life supporting strengths in thinking styles and cognitive processes.

Here we are concerned with the process of thinking, rather than the content. It’s about how our neurological systems work to generate thought, initiate action and control how we perform activities. We each have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to executive functioning. Difficulty getting started, concentrating, paying attention, making decisions, keeping calm, and maintaining energy levels have an impact on how we organise ourselves. Objects in this realm include clocks, diaries, and alarms that help us manage time and activities. Difficulties in this realm are often not recognised or mistaken for problems in other areas leading to unhelpful labels and misguided solutions.

7. Is this lifestyle reflecting and supporting spiritual beliefs?

This question is about how each person views the world is in its essence, and who they feel they are, at the deepest level. Meaning, consciousness, spirituality and faith belong here. This is a very personal matter and often not talked about in the context of organising, yet for many people this is a fundamental aspect of who they are. What we choose to own and how we choose to live can be deeply impacted by our view of life and its meaning. Our homes may contain objects and spaces related to this realm such as meditation rooms, shrines, religious artifacts, holy books, crystals and incense. A sense of connectedness can support overall harmony across all the aspects. A sense of disconnectness or meaninglessness may express itself the other areas.

All Connected

A list of this nature is not intended to be a complete or perfect representation of reality. It role is to act as a tool for focussing attention, in a similar way to  mediation on different parts of the body shines awareness to each area. It draws attention to the parts within the context of the whole, and the connections between the various aspects. Having given attention to each area in turn, and taken action where needed, the whole benefits.

A model like this helps us to remember that these aspects don’t exist in isolation from one another, but are all interconnected. Imbalance in one realm may show itself at another level. Limited thinking or turbulent emotions may display themselves at the physical level in the form of clutter and disorganisation. Cognitive challenges such as difficulties with concentration and staying on task may impede the best of intentions. A sense of stillness and calm at the spiritual level can open the way to clear action. These are just a few of the many interactions between the realms.

Organising solutions (and helpful advice or many kinds) tend to focus on knowledge and techniques drawn from specialised areas. Concentration on specific realms allows the development of specialist expertise, theories, and techniques relevant to that area. This can be a good thing, as a targeted approach can be helpful if the method matches the need. However unless this specialist knowledge resides within a bigger picture, we can get bogged down in narrow or incomplete solutions. Taking a wider perspective that acknowledges the existence of other realms, and the interplay between them, allows for deeper understanding of the complexity of the situation, and opens they way for a common language between different perspectives.

The selection of titles in the Books pages reflect a mix of interests drawing on expertise from the different realms. They may seem like odd companions, but what they share is an interest in how we organise ourselves as complex human beings.