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If the thought of getting started on a big organizing project doesn’t overwhelm you, chances are somewhere during the process you’ll feel this way. Feeling overwhelmed is a very common mid-stream side effect of getting organized, but it doesn’t have to prevent you from getting started or finishing the job.

Why is it so easy to become overwhelmed while organizing? There are lots of reasons, but here are two big ones. First, the process of organizing is messy and since the goal of organizing is to reduce mess, the midstream mess feels awful. Second, organizing involves a whole lot of decisions. So while you’re creating a mess and stressing yourself out, you have to think clearly and make lots of decisions. Decisions like should I keep this? Where will I put it? What’s the best way to store it? are endlessly coming at you while you organize, and you have to make these decisions while stressed out by the midstream mess. No wonder it’s so easy to become overwhelmed!

Learning how to manage and minimize the midstream chaos and decision-making is one of the best ways to avoid getting overwhelmed while organizing. Here’s one way to do it: focus on high-level organizing first.

With high-level organizing, you group like items together using very broad categories. For example, use groupings like gift wrapping supplies, loose papers, craft supplies, games, etc. At first don’t worry about sorting in fine detail (wrapping paper, tissue, gift bags, boxes, ribbons, tape, etc.) but instead, just get all of the wrapping supplies in one spot, ideally where they will ultimately live. Of course, as you’re sorting, if you see something you know you don’t need anymore, set it into a donate bin or trash bag, but don’t get bogged down in any greater detail than that. This will allow you to minimize decisions and the midstream mess, which means you’ll minimize your chances of getting overwhelmed! Once the high level sort is done, you can focus on the detailed organizing, one section or category at a time. 

Containers with gift wrap supplies

Gift Wrap Supplies Organized at a High Level

This is how I approached my big basement organizing project. In my closet, for example, I decided where I would store my gift wrapping supplies, but in the initial stages, I didn’t worry about the detailed organizing. Once all of the items in the closet were broadly placed into their new homes, I was able to spend shorter organizing sessions doing the fine-tune organizing, such as sorting through my gift bags and tissue paper, deciding which ones to let go of and how to store the keepers. By focusing on placing broad categories of items in their new homes, without worrying about getting things perfectly placed or stored, I was able to minimize the midstream mess and spread out decision making. The result? Faster progress and fewer moments of feeling overwhelmed.

Gift bags organized in metal bucket

Gift Bags After Fine Tuning

Put it into action! Next time you start to feel overwhelmed while organizing, see if you’re trying to focus on too much at once. If you are, shift to higher-level sorting and focus on getting items into the general area where they will be stored. Then, schedule shorter follow-up organizing sessions to fine tune, decide on storage, and finish up your project.

How do you avoid feeling overwhelmed while organizing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Happy organizing!


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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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