Ever wondered how to get organized when you are overwhelmed? Do you feel like you’re in over your head? Are you struggling to keep up with the daily demands of your life?

You’re not alone. In fact, according to researchers from the American Psychological Association, “Americans are struggling with the basic decisions required to navigate daily life as the effects of pandemic-related stress continue to take a toll, especially on younger adults and parents.” Work-related stress is also at an all-time high, as seen in a survey by Deloitte where 77% of respondents said they have experienced burnout at least once at their current job.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, staying organized is often the last thing on your mind, but did you know cleaning can positively impact your mental health? In times of stress and chaos, getting organized can bring a sense of order and give you peace of mind. Spark positive change in your life through organization with our helpful decluttering tips.

Find out how to get organized when you are overwhelmed by reading below.

How does getting organized benefit mental health?

It’s no secret that mess “messes” with our heads. Clutter creates distractions, hinders concentration, and increases frustration—especially when we’re struggling in other areas of our lives. Taking control of our physical space can profoundly impact our mental health. According to the mental health resource website Very Well Mind, some of the benefits of cleaning, organizing, and decluttering include:

Gaining control of your environment

Often, when we struggle with our mental health, it can start to feel like we are losing control of our life. Clutter can even contribute to these feelings as it accumulates—almost like the mess has a mind of its own.

One way to empower yourself and regain that sense of control is to get organized. A study by the University of Connecticut found that people often turn to repetitive tasks like cleaning as a coping strategy when feeling anxious or stressed. If you are feeling overwhelmed, cleaning, tidying, and organizing are all great ways to bring some order to your environment.

The BEST Decluttering Tips for Anyone Who’s Overwhelmed by Ronald L. Banks

Boosting your mood

Did you know that simply having clean sheets and making your bed can help you get a better night’s rest? Your surroundings have a major impact on your overall mood. Clutter is unpleasant to look at, even more unpleasant to tidy, and can cause feelings of frustration, stress, and anxiety. In fact, researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) have found that cluttered and disorganized spaces negatively affect our mood and can lead to an increase in cortisol, your body’s stress hormone.  

In order to eliminate the chaos in our minds, we first need to eliminate the chaos in our environment. Making positive changes to your home or office, such as getting organized, will help you feel better about yourself and your surroundings.

Improving your focus and attention span

According to a study conducted by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, “multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

Translation: if you’re surrounded by clutter, you’re more likely to get distracted. It’s like driving through an obstacle course—the more hurdles standing in your way, the longer it will take to reach your final destination. By removing obstacles, or in this case clutter, and putting them back where they belong, you make it easier to complete the tasks at hand. Having a clear work or living space will help you stay focused and on track.

How can I get organized when I’m feeling overwhelmed?

The most difficult part is getting started. Finding the motivation to get organized is challenging when your mind is occupied by the other things you have on your plate. That’s why we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide to help get you on the path to organization.

How to be organized when overwhelmed
1. Speak to a professional. They can asses your mental health needs, help you better understand your situation, and provide guidance and coping strategies.
2. Set achievable goals. If they're too vague or challenging, you may find yourself demotivated if you can't complete them in a reasonable time.
3. Start with small tasks first. Break down your do-to list because it's easier to imagine completing them.
4. Stick to a schedule. Setting time limits or blocking out tie in your calendar to clean, adds an extra layer of "achievability."
5. Celebrate your achievements. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy after you complete each task.
Summary of the 5-steps of how to get organized when you’re feeling overwhelmed

Step 1. Speak to a professional

Before you start tidying, you’ll need to address the root cause of how you’re feeling. Getting organized is a great start to feeling better, but it isn’t a catch-all solution. Feeling overwhelmed can be caused by a number of reasons including stress, anxiety, burnout, or depression. If you are feeling overwhelmed for any reason, we always recommend speaking to a professional.  

A professional can assess your mental health needs, help you better understand your situation, and provide guidance and coping strategies. There are many types of mental health professionals including counselors, clinicians, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health nurse practitioners. You may also want to speak to someone in your human resources department, as many workplaces offer access to mental health resources. If you are already speaking with a mental health professional, you can skip to step two.

Step 2. Set achievable goals

Once you’ve addressed your mental health needs and are ready to get down and dirty, it’s time to set some goals. Making a list of goals will help you determine where to start and what needs to get done. Plus, every time you check off something on your list, you’ll get a sense of satisfaction knowing that you’re one step closer to getting organized.

Make sure that your goals are specific and achievable—if they’re too vague or challenging, you may find yourself frustrated and de-motivated if you can’t complete them in a reasonable time. For example, instead of vague, general goals like “clean my office,” you’ll want to aim for more task-specific, smaller goals like “organize paperwork on my desk” or “sort out stationery supplies. ”Keep your list handy, so you can refer back to it anytime. We recommend using one of these 5 task management apps: 5 Apps for a Better Work-Life Balance in 2022.

Step 3. Start with small tasks first

Looking at your mess as a whole can be even more stressful when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You may feel like there’s too much work to be done, and it may seem like an impossible task to tackle head-on. In the previous step, we recommended breaking down your to-do list into smaller tasks because it’s easier to imagine completing them. They’re simple and achievable.

A good place to start is one of life’s greatest sources of clutter: paperwork. Whether you’re sorting through your desk or your junk drawer, paper clutter can find its way into every inch of your space. And it can come from any source—your contractor that still uses paper invoices, your daily coffee receipts, business cards from a recent networking event, or even recipes you were saving for later.

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Step 4. Stick to a schedule

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about getting organized? Chances are, it’s the amount of time it’ll take to get it done. Time is money, or so they say, and while you might not be earning actual dollars by cleaning your space, your time is valuable.

By setting time limits or blocking out time in your calendar to clean, you add an extra layer of “achievability” to your organizing goals. Keep these time limits relatively short, 30 minutes to an hour at most, so that you won’t overwhelm yourself. This will help you manage your own expectations, and you won’t have to dread spending hours of your free time cleaning.

Set a timer as you clean and when the timer goes off, even if your task isn’t complete, move on. You can always pick up where you left off next time. Setting strict time boundaries with yourself will help you get into a routine and prevent you from burning out.

Step 5. Celebrate your achievements

Stay positive about reaching your goals by celebrating your progress. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy after you complete each task. This could be anything from eating a snack you love to going for a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. Rewards trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical in your brain that boosts your mood and motivates you to repeat specific behaviors. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to trick your brain into enjoying decluttering, but it will definitely help motivate you to keep doing it!

Bonus: Decluttering tips to boost your success

Alongside our helpful guide, try these 3 helpful tips to make getting organized even easier.

Decluttering tops to boost your success.
1. Ask your friends and family for help. Two (or more) pairs of hands are better than one; you'll be able to sort through your belongings faster with a little help from your loved ones.
2. Take breaks. While we don't recommend taking so many breaks that you lose your momentum, don't force yourself to keep going if you're feeling stressed.
3. Purge your unused/unneeded items. Realistically, if you haven't used it recently, chances are you probably also won't use it in the future.
Summary of the tips to boost your decluttering success.

1. Ask your friends and family for help

Any task appears more daunting if you have to face it alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your personal network—friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues—for support. Two (or more) pairs of hands are better than one; you’ll be able to sort through your belongings faster with a little help from your loved ones. You can even make a fun event out of it (think Marie Kondo-themed party!) and reward your guests with snacks and drinks for their help. Even if they can’t be there physically, knowing they’re cheering you on as you take on the challenge of getting organized can be calming and motivating.

2. Take breaks

It’s important to remember to listen to your mind and body. Although step four does mention keeping your cleaning sessions relatively short, you may still find yourself needing a break in between for whatever reason. While we don’t recommend taking so many breaks that you lose your momentum, don’t force yourself to keep going if you’re feeling stressed.

It’s okay to take a breather, drink a glass of water and relax during the process. Remaining calm and clear-headed is important so that you can accomplish your task to the best of your ability. You know yourself best!

3. Purge your unused/unneeded items

Ask yourself, “When was the last time I used this item?” If the answer is longer than a few months, you can probably get rid of it. A major contributor to clutter is simply having more stuff than you need. You’ve probably held onto things with the thought that they might be useful someday. Realistically, if you haven’t used it recently, chances are you probably also won’t use it in the future.

Consider selling or giving away old clothes, books you’ve already read, excess stationary supplies, and unused cosmetics. Toss out items that are broken, stained, expired, or damaged in any way. Removing unused or unneeded items will create more space for the items you use.


Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between hoarding and clutter?

This article provides tips to organize manageable levels of clutter. This can range from an untidy desk to a disorganized home. If your clutter impedes on your ability to live a normal lifestyle or to use the rooms in your home for their intended use, you may have a hoarding disorder. Hoarding is a mental health condition characterized by a need to save or collect items. Parting with these possessions will usually cause the individual emotional distress. Most people with a hoarding disorder do not recognize that their hoarding is a problem, so if you are reading this article, chances are you do not have a hoarding disorder.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a hoarding disorder, please reach out to a mental health professional to better address your or their needs. For more information about hoarding disorders, check out this comprehensive article by Cleveland Clinic: Hoarding Disorder


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