When I was in college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what classes I should take to get me there. And since I had an interest in several different subjects, I started working towards a couple different minors to go along with my business major.
One of those minors was Psychology.
I realize that a Psychology minor doesn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with a Business major, but I was very interested in so many of the Psychology classes… and the information I learned has actually come in handy many times over the past 10 years (seriously, how have I been out of college for 10 years already!)
Anyway, one of the psychology lessons that has really stuck with me over the years is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (I’ll explain more below).
It’s interesting for me to see how his theory of a hierarchy of needs has played out at various point in my own life, and how I can see it affect other people’s lives as well — specifically when it comes to the “need” or desire for more organization.
I’ve heard and seen it over and over and over again — someone desperately wants to create order in their life, to get more organized, to simplify, but for whatever reason, they don’t… or can’t.
While I realize there are countless reasons why someone might not follow through on their intent to get more organized or better manage their time, I do think that taking a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs could shed some light onto a deeper reason for disorganization.
But first, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me quickly outline the general concept.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow (a psychologist in the 1940’s) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs… and that when one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next need, and so on.
The earliest and most widespread version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as a 5-tiered pyramid. There have been some additions to this 5-tiered pyramid over the years, but for the purpose of this post, I’m sticking with the original 5 levels of needs.
1. Biological and Physiological Needs
This first group of needs is extremely basic — oxygen, water, food, warmth and sleep.
If you don’t meet these biological and physiological needs, you will die. Period.
2. Safety Needs
This group of needs is not completely necessary to sustain life, but when our basic safety needs are not met — security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear — life can be very harsh and unenjoyable.
Whenever I think of this group of needs, I always picture the war in the Middle East and assume many of those people do not have their need for safety met. There is no security, order, law, or stability in those nations — and it’s no huge surprise that they are crumbling.
3. Love and Belonging Needs
This group of needs is something we all require in different amounts — friendship, intimacy, affection, and love.
We all have an innate desire to belong and to be loved. Even extreme introverts need to have some sort of connection to, and relationships with, others. In fact, you can even see this need for love and belonging in animals.
From the moment we are born, we need physical touch (this is why it’s so important to do “skin to skin” with new babies) and from a very early age, we can very quickly tell when we do (and don’t) belong in various situations. Bullying and suicide are two very real consequences to an unmet need for love and belonging.
4. Esteem Needs
We all have the desire to achieve greatness, to master a skill, to better ourselves and to improve, to become more independent — it’s there when we are born! However, we will not act on these desires unless our other, more basic, needs have already been met
**This is the “need level” I’m going to focus on later in the post!
5. Self-Actualization Needs
Once all your other needs are adequately met, you are capable of realizing and achieving your own personal “highest potential” — self-fulfillment, personal growth, peak experiences, etc.
Maslow estimated that only 1% of people ever get to this level. I’m not sure if this percentage has changed or not — but the point is that not everyone gets to this level or stays at this level all the time.
Many life experiences such as divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, depression, anxiety, chronic illnesses, etc. will prevent people from reaching the highest level.
I thought this social media version of the pyramid was humorous!
The interesting thing about this hierarchy of needs is that we must satisfy the lower-level needs before meeting the higher-level needs. Once the lower-level needs have been reasonably satisfied, we can begin to work towards reaching higher levels.
For example, if your plane crashed in the middle of the ocean, your very first instinct would be to get above water so you could breathe. Once you were above water, you would then most likely look for land (or at least something to float on).
Once you found land, you would probably try to start a fire to boil water, then look for food, and then create some sort of hut or tent or shelter.
Only after all of these very basic survival needs were met, might you consider developing a relationship with any fellow passengers, or dwelling on the fact that you might never see your family members and friends again.
And you certainly wouldn’t be worried about getting a promotion at work, buying the latest and greatest technology, having any sort of prestige, or taking some time away for personal growth.
Here are a few more examples.
Victims of physical and emotional abuse lack the security and stability (level 2) they need to lead a happy and fulfilled life, so it very difficult for them to achieve the love and belonging (level 3) they want and require. Instead, they often end up looking for love and belonging in all the wrong places (their abusers) and are sure that if they leave their abusers, no one else will ever love them… so they stick around and continue to be abused.
We talk about being in “survival mode” when we are extremely tired, overly busy, recovering from an illness, or bringing a new baby home because we only have the ability to meet our basic biological (level 1) and safety (level 2) needs. We certainly don’t have the time or energy to devote towards personal growth, or mastering a new skill.
Anyone suffering from any type of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness will spend most of their time and energy simply trying to fulfill the most basic (level 1 and 2) needs that they won’t be able to reach the higher levels.
Studies have shown that children who get a good breakfast and sleep well at night will do much better in school (I have no sources to link to right now). This is most likely because their most basic needs are being met which frees up more energy for higher needs (to learn and grow and become more independant).
So… what on earth does this have to do with organization?
I would consider cleaning, organization, time management, and simplifying to fall under the umbrella of “Esteem Needs” (level 4). They are tied into our innate desire to improve ourselves and our environment.
This means that if the more basic biological, psychological, and safety needs aren’t met… AND if the needs for love and belonging aren’t met, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t be able to meet your esteem needs either (no matter how badly you want to).
Obviously, this is not the case for every single person and situation, and I certainly don’t want to offer this theory as an easy excuse for those of us who just don’t feel like picking up after ourselves or getting up 15 minutes earlier so we aren’t always running late.
However, I do honestly believe that we are all motivated to achieve certain needs (and we do all desire to have some sort of order in our lives), but we can only get there once other needs are met. If our more basic needs are NOT met, we will be constantly fighting an uphill battle in our quest for simplicity, organization, productivity, time management, etc.
This is not to say that it’s impossible for someone to bypass the lower-level needs and still achieve a higher-level need; but rather, it’s to try to shed a little more light onto a potential deeper, more complex reason for disorganization and poor time management.
I’ve often joked with Dave about how he is such an integral part of my business life (even though he literally does nothing but proof-read my posts) but we both know that I could never do it without him.
Not only is his salary and health benefits nice to have (so I don’t have the pressure of being the sole provider for our entire family), I also couldn’t do it without his love, support, encouragement, and willingness to help out with the kids and around the house.
Thanks in large part to Dave, I have fulfilled my biological needs, my safety needs, my love and belonging needs, and can use whatever extra energy and time I have to focus on my esteem and self-actualization needs. Although I don’t have endless time and energy to put towards self improvement or personal growth, I know that I wouldn’t be able to keep doing everything I’m doing if it wasn’t for him.
I realize this is a fairly long and complicated post… but I feel like the hierarchy of needs is something you should consider if you feel like you have been unable to meet certain needs (like getting more organized) and you can’t figure out why.
Instead of beating yourself up over it, you might make more progress by trying to dig deeper and figure out if you have other, more basic needs that are unmet and causing strain or stress on your life.