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Ask the Organizer: I don’t know where to begin organizing in my house. Help!

by respaced on March 9, 2012

The bathroom can be a good place to start organizing when you have limited energy.

Question: I would love to get organized, but when I look at the piles of stuff in my house (and there’s piles in every room), I don’t have the slightest idea where to begin. I’m so completely overwhelmed! So I end up not even trying to get organized. Can you offer me some advice so I can figure out where to begin?

Answer: Not knowing where to begin is a very common predicament when we try to get organized. For some of us, when we take a look around our messy room, our brains don’t break the mess down into individual piles that could be sorted through one at a time. We don’t see the parts that make up the whole. All we see is EVERYTHING all at ONCE. So of course, we feel completely overwhelmed, because it WOULD be completely overwhelming to tackle the entire pile in one sitting.

There are two directions you could go here, depending on your circumstances and your abilities. If you are dealing with depression, ADHD, health problems, limited mobility or other situations that limit your energy or attention, start in the corner of your house where you can have the biggest impact with the least amount of effort. For example, the bathroom might be a good spot for you to start organizing, because there are generally fewer items to sort through in the bathroom than in any other room of the house. Because organizing the bathroom will go fairly quickly, you will start building a sense of competency around your organizing skills immediately, which will allow you to feel more confident tackling harder-to-organize rooms like your home office.

Also, rooms that tend to have bigger items to sort through are easier to organize than rooms with lots of little things to sort through. For example, your kids’ big plastic toys will be easier to organize than your craft room with its myriad of tiny pieces and endless supplies.

Now if you are not dealing with health issues that affect your energy or attention, I recommend that you start where it hurts the most so you can get relief the fastest. Pick the corner or room that causes you the most stress and acts as the biggest clog in your house to getting things done and keeping things picked up. This space might be a lot of work to organize, but you will end up making a profound difference in how comfortable and functional your home feels.

To this end, you might want to start by sorting through your household papers such as your mail and the papers in your filing cabinet. For many people, paper management is difficult and yet not managing their papers can cause big problems such as late fees, overdue fines, missed appointments and dates, problems with the IRS and more. Getting your papers organized will have a large, positive effect on your stress level and it will start making your home “work” more effectively immediately.

Wherever you choose to start, once you have started sorting through the items in a room, continue to work in a clock-wise direction. This way you won’t miss any items and you will be able to visually see the progress you are making, something that you won’t see if you jump around. Steadily clearing swathes of a room does wonders to boost your morale and keep the momentum going.

Finally, if these tips don’t help you or if your health issues are too severe to allow you to organize your space by yourself, you might benefit from the services of a professional organizer. Organizers are specialists at working in difficult or complex organizing situations. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

It can be hard to know where to start an organizing project, but these strategies will allow you to find a direction that works for you.

**Have a question about organizing or time management? Submit it to my “Ask the Organizer” feature and I will answer it here on my blog. Email your questions to or ask it in the comments below.

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