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How to Organize & Declutter When You Feel Overwhelmed by a Task

By February 11, 2024May 24th, 20248 Comments
Girl lying on a couch in an article on how to organize and declutter when you're overwhelmed.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, feels overwhelmed from time to time when they think about how to organize and complete certain tasks. Personally, when I am feeling overwhelmed, I avoid doing the task. It’s normal to avoid the things we think are difficult to complete. You know without my having to tell you that everyone does this. But the more we avoid doing the task the more overwhelmed and anxious about getting it done we feel. 

Avoidance doesn’t complete the task

Of course, I rationalize my avoidance by working on and completing everything except for the one thing I’m supposed to be doing. I tell myself I have been super productive (which I have been) BUT that one task remains undone.

I am also good at focusing my thoughts. The task that’s creating this overwhelming feeling gets put on my back burner. It stays on my mind, but it doesn’t haunt me until the end of the day when I admit to myself that this task is outstanding. Recognizing this gives me a stomachache. I put the dreaded task on the top of my to-do list for the next day, say my prayers and hope for the best.

That never works.

The more I avoid the task the more onerous it becomes. Thinking about how to organize when I feel overwhelmed is almost self-defeating. My thoughts become cluttered with dire predictions of things that may (or may not) happen. The task grows more and more complicated in my mind until I become exhausted just contemplating it.

Cluttered thoughts

It turns out, the task that was making me feel overwhelmed was much more straightforward and easy to complete than I had anticipated. My cluttered thoughts had truly created a monster out of this task.

Once I decided I was going to do it, I did some investigating online and realized that with a few clicks on my computer I could put this task on the completed list.

It took only 10 minutes.

Imagine that! I spent days feeling overwhelmed at the thought of doing this task. What a waste of time and energy.

Instead of letting feeling overwhelmed derail you from getting organized and completing a task try following these simple steps. They worked for me and maybe they will for you, too.

Simple steps for how to organize yourself when you feel overwhelmed by a task

  1. Take a deep breath and acknowledge to yourself that you are feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Write down on a piece of paper the task or project that is creating this feeling.
  3. Do you have a deadline by which time this task must be completed? If so, write that down.
  4. Do you need to do research to learn how to do this task? If so, assign a day and time to do the research.
  5. Based on your research, how much time do you think you need to dedicate to this task? In my experience, it could take much less time than you anticipate.
  6. When will you start this task? Write the day and time down and be accountable to yourself.

How to start organizing and decluttering when you’re overwhelmed

The only way for me to start decluttering when I feel overwhelmed is to begin with the very smallest step. I look at the pile of things and ask myself which things in this pile I want to keep. Those, I set aside. 

I believe this process works with any project. Think about the tiniest step you can take to move the project forward. When that step is done, ask what the next step is, and, if there is time, do it. 

Time is another thing that can make me, and maybe you, avoid doing a task. We often think we don’t have enough time to complete the task. Instead of thinking about finishing the task in a certain amount of time, set your timer for 15 or 20 minutes. 

Work on the project until the timer goes off. Wherever you are in the project stop. If the project isn’t finished and If you have time available and want to continue working go ahead and set the timer for another 15 or 20 minutes. You’ll be amazed by what you can do in that amount of time. 

How to organize and declutter large spaces

Do you want to declutter an entire room or a whole house?  Acknowledge that it is too much to conquer in a day.

If you want to declutter a room, approach it one wall at a time. This breaks the project down into manageable sections. Consider spending a couple of hours spread over several days on each wall.

Break the house down into sections. Declutter one room at a time. Approach it as I outlined above, one wall at a time. 

Give yourself a timeline. Decide when you want to have each portion of your project completed. You can avoid feeling overwhelmed when you start decluttering this way.  

How to organize and declutter sensitive spaces

Give yourself grace when you begin to declutter a sensitive space. Whatever the space contains, if you decide you want to start decluttering it, then it is up to you what stays and what goes. 

Set a timer and only work for short periods of time. Be firm with the decisions you make. Challenge yourself not to overthink the process and just go with your gut. 

If something is too hard, put it aside for another short decluttering session.

Remember to schedule time to remove the things you are donating, recycling, or tossing.

My Personal Experience

I can tell you from personal experience that feeling overwhelmed because you are having difficulty motivating yourself to get organized and complete a task is debilitating. It doesn’t look debilitating to others because, in my case, I am always doing something and being productive. Maybe this is true for you, too.

The lack of progress in one particular area or another can lead to delaying other projects. Don’t let feeling overwhelmed prevent you from getting organized and completing the task. Try using the steps I’ve outlined for you to follow.

FAQs on how to get started with organizing and decluttering tasks

How to declutter/organize your home quickly?

Set a timer, put on some good music, and look for things you don’t use. If you don’t use it, why do you have it – unless you love it. If that is the case, figure out how to display it.

How to organize or declutter someone else’s stuff?

Don’t touch someone else’s stuff unless they are there with you. If you are working with someone to declutter or organize their things, always ask them (without judgment) the reason they have these things. Ask if they need, use, or love it. If the answer is no, they can probably let it go.

How to organize/declutter when company is coming over?

Avoid sweeping everything that is in the way into a box and stuffing the box into a closet. You know you’ll never go through that box. The four prime areas to declutter when company is coming over are the entry, the kitchen, the dining table, and the family room.

Tackle the kitchen while you are cooking. Put things away as you go. Enlist family members to remove things that don’t belong from the entry and the family room and take them to where they belong in. If the dining table is cluttered with papers and school projects, take the papers to your desk, and have the children remove their school projects.

Books that may help

Here are a couple of books that may help you work through feeling overwhelmed and anxious as you approach completing a difficult task. In Kate Varness’ book: Who Am I Now? Realign Your Home and Life she talks about answering some questions.

She asks her readers to think about the problem at hand and to think about pain points. In Ms. Varness’ book, she reviews case studies, the problem facing the person, the pain of remaining the same, the pain of changing behaviors, and the benefits experienced from a change. The sections continue with visualizing success and action plans.

Visualizing success helped me because in my case, the task I needed to do recently could not be avoided forever.

There is terrific advice in Dr. Alicia Clark’s book: Hack Your Anxiety. Her advice is to make the thing that is creating your anxious thoughts work for you. Put your nervous energy to work. Dr. Clark advocates paying attention to whatever the task or thought is that is creating the anxiety and dealing with it.  I put my nervous energy to work figuring out how to get myself organized to complete the task.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and avoiding some tasks, reach out to me for a free 30-minute phone call. We can talk it through and come up with some solutions specifically for you.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, ICD® Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC, and co-owner of Release Repurpose Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia.

8 Comments

  • You are so right. Everyone feels overwhelmed at some point. As I look at the image of the gal on the couch, I can relate. Honestly, that could be me right now, LOL.
    Lately, I’ve had more to take care of than is humanly possible for one person. And, I know all the tricks to getting it done. Nevertheless, I had to stop saying,” I have so much to do” because that was perpetuating the feeling of overwhelm. I had to just do what I know is best and that’s focus and take care of the tough stuff first especially things that had a deadline.
    I’m so glad you posted this now. As it came just at the right time!

  • I love how you didn’t give up and figured a way forward through your procrastination and anxiety. It’s amazing how what you were dreading took 10 minutes to complete. But it’s that overwhelm that, as you said, can make tasks and projects seem much more challenging than they are. For me, I also find that when I’m procrastinating or stuck, I sometimes need to step away entirely, get up and move, switch tasks, or get a good night’s sleep. Then I can approach it with a clearer mind. The significant thing is to figure out what works for you. And bravo, Diane. You did it!

  • Thank you for shedding light on this topic. I found that anxiety motivates me to take action. Not every uncompleted task gives me anxiety. I think it is the way my body is telling me that I need to do this task. When anxiety happens, I usually do it right away. But, if I need to do research, I do that first, then take action later.

  • Seana Turner says:

    I love this idea of “hacking your anxiety.” I once heard a professional suggest you recast your anxiety about an upcoming task by telling yourself that you aren’t nervous, you are excited. I’ve tried that a few times and found it can help. The way I think about a task impacts that way I approach it, and often the measure of success I have in pursuing it. Terrific tips here!

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