Barriers to Getting Organized, And How To Deal With Them

I'd Love To Get Organized, But...I Can't Decide What to Toss.

If you're having a hard time making decisions, you can try several different approaches.
  • Try using these questions from the Clutter Emergency Card to help decide what's important and what's not.
    • How long has it been since I used this?
    • Do I like it?
    • Does it work properly - is it broken?
    • Do I have more of this kind of thing? How many do I need?
    • If I keep this, what will I get rid of to make room for it?
    • Can I locate this information somewhere else (probably on the Internet) if I need it?
  • Get a buddy to work with you. A friend can help you think through what's important to keep and provide the moral support you need.
  • Some days, you're just more easily overwhelmed than others. Choose a day when you're calmer, more focused, or feeling more in control.

I don't know where to start. I don't know what to do with any of this!
Try these tips when you're trying to attack an out-of-control area with lots of clutter.

  • laundry basket
    Force yourself to actually look at individual items, maybe even picking them up one by one to help you focus.
  • Start with the first item you see that you know what to do with. If it's trash and you're going to put it in the garbage box, or it belongs in a certain drawer or file elsewhere in the house, grab it and put it in the box you have for trash or in the laundry basket to be put away later. You are using the Clear the Clutter strategy, right?
  • Spread things out a little. Then force yourself to look at individual items. When you're looking at a pile or stack of stuff, you can be overwhelmed and see the forest rather than the trees.

As you eat away at the mass of stuff, you'll probably find that there are actually very few items that you truly don't know what to do with. Once you've removed the items that you already know what to do with, you may see groups or categories emerging. It's easier to create a home and store a group of similar items than an assortment of individual, unrelated items.

I'll never get through this stack of papers. I've gone through these papers before, and I just end up putting them back into one big stack.
When sorting papers, don't wait until you are completely finished to set up files or other containers for the categories you sort them into. Have file folders and labels, an accordion file, or envelopes on hand when you start going through the stack. Even if you're only part way through the stack when you have to stop, don't restack the papers you've already sorted. Put each category of papers into a file or envelope and label it. Either store those files, or keep them temporarily with the large stack, so you can continue to sort more papers into those files.

I am afraid I'll need something right after I get rid of it.
Try this "hedge" approach. Put the item(s) in a box. Seal the box with tape, and write a date on it for six months from now. Put the box in the garage or basement, someplace out of the way. When you come across the box and the date has passed, toss it out without opening it.

For paper or pieces of information, ask yourself, "If I need this information again, can I get it from somewhere other than this piece of paper?" The information may easily be accessible on the web.

I have to leave things lying around to remember to do them.
A to-do list is a substitute for the visual reminder of leaving the actual thing lying around. We tend to think "Out of sight, out of mind." But if you leave papers or items lying out in the open as a reminder to yourself, what often happens instead is that it becomes a part of the landscape. Now it's sitting out and adding to your clutter, and you still don't remember to do it. Better to put it away and add the task to your to-do list.

I put things on my to-do list and I still don't do them.
Is one item repeatedly left undone, and you continually copy it onto each new to-do list? Ask yourself, Do I really plan to do this? Is there some barrier to my getting this done? Is there an initial step that has to be done before I can actually attack the task? Is there something about this task that makes me anxious or uncomfortable?

I don't know where to put this.
Before you can put something away, it has to have a home. You're just creating clutter inside your storage areas when you take a whole stack of unsorted papers and stash it in a drawer. So make a file folder label a box, or identify simiilar items to put it with so that there is a logical home for this thing.

I can't get rid of this: it's special because...
Maybe someone special gave it to you. Or you bought it on a special trip. Or it was a wedding gift. If the item really holds a lot of sentimental value for you, try to decide how to display or enjoy it in your home. Or, consider preserving the sentiment without preserving the actual item. Some people take photographs or make collages of these kinds of things so that they can hold onto the special feelings those items evoke while taking up much less space.

I can't get rid of this. It cost too much!
Like hanging onto losing stocks until they are worthless, we hesitate to get rid of unwise purchases because it confirms our poor decision and makes the loss "real." Try to rationalize your way through this decision: Even if you paid a lot for it, hanging onto something that is useless to you just makes you feel worse by reminding you of your mistake every time you see it. Could someone else use it? Can you donate it for a tax deduction? Or could you do something corny with it, like use it as a centerpiece for a dinner party or use it for an oddball conversation piece at your office?

laundry basket
I'm afraid to toss this information - it has my Social Security number, financial accounts, or other personal information on it.
You are right to be concerned. Identity theft and fraudulent financial transactions can result from the wrong person getting their hands on your information. Luckily, the solution here is fairly simple; either rip the documents carefully (some people even throw away different parts of the document in different containers) or get a shredder. Shredders are pretty inexpensive and can make quick work of those documents.

I can't put it away - I'll never find it again.
If you store an item close to other similar things, you should be able to figure out where to look for it, even if you don't remember. If you've put things away and later couldn't find them, you may have been "stashing" things to get them out of sight, rather than really deciding where it should be stored and identifying a permanent home for it.

I know how to do this, and I should be able to do it. But somehow I just can't make myself do it.
Does logic say, "Get rid of it," but you just can't bring yourself to deal with it?

Instead of focusing on the item, focus on what it means to you or what feelings it evokes when you think about tossing it. Try to identify all the thoughts and feelings you have about the item or how you obtained it. See if these examples will help.

  • One woman still had almost all her clothes she had purchased over the years. She said she wanted to get rid of them, but she just couldn't do it. She was frustrated that she couldn't part with clothes she knew she would never wear again.

    When she tried to identify her thoughts and feelings about those clothes, she remembered the clothes she had as a child. She never had a new outfit of clothes; all her clothes were hand-me-downs. When she grew up and was on her own, she bought new clothes for herself. Most of those items of clothing were still in her attic. She finally realized why they felt too valuable to be tossed away even though she knew she would never wear them. This realization could have allowed her to finally dispose of the clothes. Or perhaps it simply helped her understand why it was so difficult to consider getting rid of them. In either case, she would be more comfortable with her decision and less frustrated.
  • Another woman found it difficult to organize anything in her home. After much thought and discussion, she said she felt that, as a child, her parents acted as if things were more important than she was. When she spent time organizing her "things," she felt that she was putting more value on those possessions than on her children.

Once you recognize the emotion that is holding you back, you may be able to toss, give away, or organize the clutter. Or, you may feel less frustrated at your seemingly illogical behavior and be able to stop worrying about it.