Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Possibly it is a personality defect of mine, who knows.  When I enter my house or office and if the area is not organized, I cannot think.  Instead, I begin organizing -- picking things up and putting them away. 

In my vision of how the world should work, everything would be organized, nothing left out of place and certainly nothing left on the counters.  Alas, this is not the way that I live my life.  Instead, I am constantly organizing, though never quite organized,

When I lose something, I don’t begin to look for the item.  Instead, I begin to put items away, creating order and, out of this process, often finding the item that I am looking for.  Though this drives my husband crazy, the process often works – I not only find the item, but also create an ordered environment that makes me feel better.

Organization was not always my mode of operation.  When I was a child, I shared a bedroom with my older sister, Kathy.  I can vividly remember the line drawn down the center of our room with tape.  Yes, we literally had a line to split the room into two parts, hers and mine. 

Kathy’s side was organized and neat.  My side was a mess -- with clothes, stuffed animals and dolls everywhere.  I can remember my lack of organization driving my sister crazy - hmm maybe that’s the reason I enjoyed it so much?

This lack of order continued when I went to college, I often searched for things (clothes, books, assignments) by digging through piles.  However, I soon began to change. Periods of organization and order began to pop up.  On the occasional odd weekend, instead of going out and joining in the fun, I would spend the entire night cleaning and organizing my room, creating a feeling of great accomplishment.   

Somewhere during my 20s, I underwent a transformation and began to be more orderly on a consistent basis.  Compared to other life transitions, this one might appear to be small, even inconsequential.  But a recent study suggests that that transition might add years to my life.

“Do Conscientious Individuals Live Longer?  A Quantitative Review” (Howard and Kern, University of California Riverside, DOI :10.1037/0278-6133.27.5.505) was published in the journal Health Psychology and addresses whether personality traits -- particularly conscientiousness – affect health.

The study looked at three facets of conscientiousness: “responsibility / self-control (socially responsible, self-controlled and not impulsive); order (organized, efficient, and disciplined); and achievement (achievement, persistent and industrious).” 

The meta-analysis, which synthesized data from 20 previously published studies of 8,942 participants in six countries, and was undertaken to determine if conscientiousness improves longevity and, if so, which aspect has the greatest effect.

The conclusion: “Individuals higher on conscientiousness were less likely to die at any given age than those lower on conscientiousness.”  In other words, conscientious people tend to live longer.

The next question was which aspect of conscientiousness had the greatest impact on longevity.  Contrary to what their initial hypothesis had predicted, the authors concluded “responsibility was less strongly related to longevity than achievement/order.”

Nowadays, I feel as if I spend a great deal of my time putting things away and trying to create an orderly environment.  With two children in elementary school, this process can become quite challenging, and currently I am in the process of trying to figure out the best way to transfer the habit of being orderly to my children rather than creating order for them.  This is no small task.

While this ongoing and unachieved quest for order has not resulted in any great achievements, my hope is that it will.

In the meantime, my desire to help build habits of orderliness in my children has grown stronger.  Not only will it improve my current living environment; who knows? Maybe it will help us all live longer.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.