Overwhelmed by Organizing? Here’s Help

When you’re getting your stuff in order, a dose of patience goes a long way. These tips will get you started without all the stress.
Cabin Reach-In Closet

Cabin Reach-In Closet

This reach-in closet offers adequate storage in a two-toned modular system combining hanging clothes, drawers and shelving. A boat oar provides a unique rod for the curtain to conceal all when needed.

This reach-in closet offers adequate storage in a two-toned modular system combining hanging clothes, drawers and shelving. A boat oar provides a unique rod for the curtain to conceal all when needed.
By: Gina Hannah

There's no shortage of advice on getting organized, but getting things in order may seem overwhelming. When it seems like every room in your house is full of piles of stuff, where do you begin? The kitchen? The garage? The stacks of bills and other papers on the table or desk that never goes away?

"Most people don't even start the organizing process because they are overwhelmed by where to start," says Amy Trager, CPO, a Chicago-based professional organizer and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. "Once they begin, most don't realize a realistic amount of time the project will take to complete. They've allocated far less time than is needed, most likely, and stop before they've gotten very far, out of frustration."

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An unrealistic view of how long a project will take, combined with a perfectionist streak, can cause a would-be organized person to freeze in their tracks. "They often feel that if they can't complete the project in a particular way, they might as well not start," Trager says. Combine these fears with a life change such a divorce, an empty nest or a move to a new house, and it's easy to see why many people become stuck. 

"There's always some kind of upheaval with life transitions: things moving into your space from an inheritance or birth or marriage; things moving out of your space from a move, divorce or child moving out of the house," Trager says. "Most important is to deal with the stuff that accompanies these events when you're ready. If you tackle the space too soon, you might not have the wherewithal to pick out a few treasured items and let go of the rest."

"It's also okay to get emotional. Organizing brings up a lot of feelings — loss, joy, anger — everything those items remind you of. Acknowledge it, but don't dwell on it."

The best way to overcome fears about getting organized is to be realistic about your expectations and take your time, Trager says. "For example, if you're overwhelmed with an entire room, start by tackling the bookshelf in there," she says. "Breaking tasks down into steps makes the project as a whole a lot more manageable. Pay attention to how long tasks are taking, and schedule accordingly. Also, keep in mind how long it took your space to look as it does. It's not going to change overnight." 

Once your space is organized, you may find yourself slipping back into old habits. Trager says she sometimes hears from clients she's worked with who are concerned about backsliding, and she works with them to get back on track before they get discouraged and give up.

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Indeed, getting and staying organized is a long-term process. Much like adapting a healthy eating and exercise lifestyle, permanent success doesn't happen overnight. But by consistently taking one step at a time and having a plan for maintenance, you can keep your spaces manageable.

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