How to Organize Your Environment To Stay Motivated


Were you to wander into my apartment, there are a few things you’d probably notice right away.

  • Firstly, this girl has a lot of organized piles of stuff
  • Secondly, there are NO dirty dishes in her sink (though, there are squirrel salt & pepper shakers)
  • Thirdly… actually, she has a weird amount of squirrel related items.

Ah, quite the peek into my living space. While these facts don’t give a ton of information, I can tell you that those three observations are a pretty revealing look into the way I use my environment to help me stay motivated. Say, huh? Piles, clean dishes, and squirrels are supposed to showcase motivational cues? Sure! Here’s what I mean…

It’s taken me quite a while but I’ve realized how the environment I create around me can completely steer my focus – for better or for worse. When I’m in a place I feel comfortable in, watch out world – I’m on a mission! When I’m someplace that’s uncomfortable or chaotic… let’s just say I’m less likely to believe that I can reach for those stars. Thus, the more I organize my environment to my liking, the more likely I am to stay motivated and on task.

In the case of the three observations above, I’ve answered to these questions:

  • What is my ideal level of organization?
  • Are there any areas where I’m are naturally inclined to be more organized?
  • What details set the environment apart from others?

In my case, I work better in an environment that allows for organized mess. I feel a little stiff in spotless spaces. That being said, I do have some areas of my life that I naturally like ridiculously organized, which explains my predilection for always having my dishes done. If these areas aren’t organized, then I’m more likely to be distracted. Lastly, I’ve also made efforts to make the environment my very own via my (unique) collection of squirrels stuff. Simply knowing the kind of personality I like my environment to have allows me to incorporate it in a way that makes me feel at ease and able to focus.

Now, you don’t have to answer these specific questions to get a gauge on the kind of environment that helps you stay motivated (though they can help!) but it can be good practice to consider your surroundings and think about how you can use them to your benefit. When you feel comfortable in an environment that you interact with and feel comfortable expressing yourself in a space, you give yourself greater authority over the area. That in turn can give you a sense of authority over other parts of your life!

To help you make the most of your space, here are a few tips to set up the kind of space that will keep you motivated in your financial (or other) goals:

Ask: what kind of environment inspires you the most?

I used to buy these really nice, leather journals thinking that they’d inspire me to write beautiful things. Instead, I felt a weird pressure every time I started writing in it, which stunted my creativity. In this case, the aesthetic of the environment had an impact on my writing. When I found a notebook that was simpler, ready for wear and tear, that’s when I was able to focus on my writing tasks rather than being hung up on keeping up with an aesthetic of perfection that wasn’t doing it for me. This won’t be the same for everyone! Some people function better with that leather journal.

Pick out some of the details and see where you can apply them to the organization of your environment. That might mean a sparse and highly organized space for those who value minimalism, or organized piles for those (like me) who function better with a little bit of mess.

In other words, channel your perfect “notebook” and see how you can apply these qualities to your environment.

Define your motivation and incorporate it into your space

There’s more to reaching a goal than simply repeating the mantra of “go, go, go.” You have to know where it is that you’re actually going and more importantly, why you’re going there! To keep invested in your goal, organize your environment to your advantage by incorporating at least one reminder of purpose behind any of your goals. Essentially, showcase the reasons you want to reach the goal.

  • If you want to get out of debt so you can travel, post photos of your intended destination.
  • If you want to save for a downpayment on a house, put up a picture of a dream home.

In my apartment, I have a big map with a few pins on destinations I’d like to visit. This helps me to stay motivated with my travel savings and general financial fitness! A simple, motivational visual will help you to assign greater meaning to your task and ideally help you to remain invested in your goal.

Post reminders to help you stay focused

Set up your space with physical reminders of tasks. Post-its can work here. A white board check-list is also a great tool. Effective reminders will be ones that don’t blend into the background of your life and that continue to be noticed day after day. If possible, attach these reminders to things that are already a part of your daily habits. For example, there’s a classic tip for people who often forget their lunch when leaving for work: Put your car keys in the fridge with your bagged lunch.

You can utilize the same technique with reminders for steps to reach your goals – pair them with things that you interact with on a daily basis. Maybe that means putting post-its on your bathroom mirror or notes in your lunch. Piggy-back reminders on the habits that already exist as an easy way to optimize the patterns that you’ve already established.

Use your senses to your full advantage

Ever noticed that you naturally feel more relaxed when surrounded by a certain color? Or that you work best next to a window or natural light (or maybe when you’re NOT next a window)? Maybe you get into a groove when smell coffee or light a certain scented candles? These are natural responses to positive sensory details. Sight, smell, touch – all are are powerful convincers to your brain. They can be surprisingly effective in evoking certain emotions or even inspiring focus. If you can use environmental details to evoke clarity or relaxation, you can create an environment anywhere that’s beneficial to your goals.

Take note of any sensory clues that you’ve notice make you feel more relaxed or even more focused and incorporate them into your environment. By utilizing these sensory additions into a space, you can create an environment that inspires positive reactions rather than negative responses, thus freeing up your mind to focus on things other than thoughts of physical or environmental discomfort. Little tricks that please your senses go a long way in encouraging an environment that helps you to get down to work.

Experiment with various set-ups

Recognize that what works best for someone else might not be the thing for you. Instead research and experiment with different forms of space organization before committing fully to a single one. Ultimately, you want to organize your space in a way that feels comfortable rather than distracting. Move things around, switch up a single room, and have fun with setting up your perfect space!

Your space can have a huge impact on the way that you approach your financial goals, though you might not think so at first! But by taking stock of your surroundings and taking note of the ways you can rearrange or reorganize to better set the ideal environment you can incorporate even more motivation and focus into your plan. A happy space can give you just the oomph you need. And don’t worry, you don’t have to incorporate squirrels!

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  • Kathy from CT

    Great advice.

    • Claire Murdough

      Thanks Kathy!!

  • Claire, I can so relate to how you think. I went through the same thing with buying expensive, fancy journals. One of them is just collecting dust on my desk because I’m too intimidated to write anything in it. Ha! Also, I’ve always been a neat freak, and I used to be really self-conscious about it. There seems to be a stereotype that writers are messy and disorganized, and I always felt like less of a writer for having a neat and organized work area. Silly, right? But you’re right on the money about being comfortable in your environment so you can effectively express yourself. Great read, lady!

    • Claire Murdough

      Garsh Kristin, thanks so much for the comment! I swear it felt like such a grand revelation when I finally realized my writing was being stifled by leather bound notebooks. Hitting the right balance of dusty and spotless has been trial by error but well worth the effort and experimentation. I say this as I look at a stuffed dog in a birthday hat and a T-Rex action figure on my desk :p