The Balance of Structure and Flow

Niagara River Downstream

When we think about organising in terms of natural systems, there are two factors that contribute to how things unfold. One is structure, and the other is flow. Structure is about the level of containment, and flow is about the level of movement. Managing our living environment effectively requires a healthy balance of each of these factors.

Structure

Structure is like the banks of a river. It defines the space and provides containment and separation. The walls of our homes create a boundary from the outside world and rooms further separate areas by function. Inside our living spaces is a sense of safety and containment which can lead to the possibility of intimacy. In managing our belongings, furniture and storage options help us contain our things within a defined space so we know where to look for them. This could be in the form of of a bookshelf, a wardrobe, or a jewellery box. These containers can also act as limits to the volume to be kept of a particular category of item.

Flow

Flow is like a water moving in a river. It is about movement and energy. The river has its own momentum and finds its way from source to its destination.  Although it is fluid, a stream has a lot of power and can travel a long way quickly. In organising we can think about how objects flow into, around and out of our homes. Objects cannot move themselves, but contain stored energy from their manufacture, and once in the system their presence and movement needs to be managed.

Imbalance

Structure and flow are not good or bad in themselves, but work together. In order to flow, the river requires the containment of the river bank. If there is too much water, the river bursts its banks and floods. This illustrates how difficulties arise when the levels of structure and flow are out of proportion. Too much structure, and the situation feels rigid, restrictive and inflexible. Too much flow becomes chaotic and out of control.

What we call “clutter” or “mess” may reflect an imbalance of structure and flow in relation to our belongings. Perhaps the flow of objects into the space is greater than the flow out, so things are piling up. Or there maybe there is a lack of structure, so things are not contained and become difficult to find.

Balance

The art in organising is to find the level of structure and flow that suits your specific needs. Thats not necessarily in the middle. Some situations benefit from a high degree of structure, and at other times a more fluid arrangement is helpful. A healthy balance offers enough containment to provide clarity, and enough flow to allow for flexibility and comfort.

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