How to Get Organized when You Feel Overwhelmed

Learn how to organized when you feel overwhelmed and start creating the neat and tidy house you’ve always wanted!

How to Get Organized When You Feel Overwhelmed

A lot of times when I talk to people about organization, I hear the same thing over and over:

“I really want to get organized, but I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know where to start!” 

And I have totally been there and know that feeling well. I’ve walked into a messy, cluttered room with full intentions of whipping it into shape… and then just walked right back out again because it seemed like such an enormous task that I didn’t even want to try. #truestory

But getting organized doesn’t have to be overwhelming or impossible. Most of the time we just need a plan of action to make the project more do-able, so it doesn’t seem like such a daunting task. So today I thought I’d talk about the process I go through when organization feels overwhelming to me (like when I moved into a new house and suddenly all of my old systems didn’t work anymore…?) in hopes that maybe, just maybe, my system can help others tackle their organization overwhelm as well.

Organized pantry with decanted baking items, pasta, and spices

Grab our free organizing guide, 7 Simple Starting Points!

This quick guide gives you 7 simple, practical ways to begin to tackle an overwhelming organizing project. (And once you get started, the momentum will help you keep going until it’s complete!)

How to Get Organized When You Feel Overwhelmed

1. Make a List

Many of my projects start out with me making a list of some sort, and this one is no exception. I just think it’s so much easier to complete individual tasks when you can see the whole big picture laid out in front of you.

In this instance, I try to think of every area of our house that is an organization sticking point. What spaces feel over-cluttered? What systems don’t seem to be working? Which areas do I dread going into because they are messy or unorganized. I write down everything I can think of, from the smallest junk drawer to the largest room. (If you want your list to be cute, I have a free printable blank list in this post.)

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2. Prioritize

Once I’ve written down every area that I want to tackle, I look back over it and decide which are the BIGGEST organization sticking points in our house.

For example, when winter started (and winter is COLD in Pennsylvania, y’all!) I was getting so frustrated because my boys would walk in the house and immediately throw their coats on the floor. Anytime I tried to go through our mudroom, there were coats everywhere and it was a mess. Since that was the organization issue that was bothering the most at the moment, it went high on my priority list.

I went through my list and numbered all of my tasks, with 1 being the most important, then continuing all the way down to the more trivial items.

3. Make a Plan of Attack (starting with your highest priority items)

Some of my organization issues were easy to tackle. Going back to my coat example, I realized that in our old house, the boys had coat hooks right at their height, making it easy to put their stuff away.

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This house just had a coat closet, which was tough for Connor (age 8) to manage and nearly impossible for Caleb (age 5). I had Donnie hang up a shelf with hooks attached that I had sitting in my office, and my problem was fixed.

Other areas won’t be as quick. If there’s an entire room that I need to deal with, I look at my calendar and see if there’s a big chunk of time that I can spare to work on it all at once or if I need to break it down into 15 minute jobs like I talked about in this post. Whatever I decide, I put the time on my calendar as if it were an appointment and make sure I stick to it.

4. Set Deadlines

I like to keep my list somewhere that I can see it often so I am reminded of the tasks I want to tackle. (Also so I can cross off the items that I’ve finished… am I the only one who gets tremendous satisfaction out of doing that?! ?)

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It also helps if I make a goal for myself of what I want to tackle each month. That way I have a deadline, and I’m not just thinking “Oh, I’ll get those things done at some point…” If deadlines are helpful for you, I would write a date beside each item for when you want to have it completed. And if you miss a deadline, it’s not the end of the world! Just keep plugging away at it, even if you can only spare 15 minutes each day. It’s amazing how those small increments can add up over time!

5. Purge like CRAZY!!!

Finally, the single most helpful thing I do when I work on organizing any space is to go into it with the mindset that I am going to purge as much as humanly possible. I’ve found that the biggest reason that my spaces become cluttered and my systems of organization fail is that I simply have too much stuff. And no matter how many pretty bins I buy, if I’m keeping items that I don’t really need or never use, I’m not really organizing; I’m just rearranging my clutter.

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If things are broken, stained, or unusable, I throw them away. If the items aren’t in bad shape but I don’t use them anymore, I’ll either sell them on a site like Craigslist or donate them. I know it can be hard to get rid of things. I always find myself thinking, “But what if I need that someday…?” But the reality is, I don’t know that I’ve ever ended up needing an item that I’ve gotten rid of later. If I haven’t used it in the past several months, I probably won’t use it in the future either. And the more ruthless I am about purging, the easier it is to keep my spaces organized in the long run.

So that’s my strategy for getting organized when I’m feeling overwhelmed! I know that organization can sometimes feel like a completely daunting task, but I also know how much calmer and less stressful our life feels when our surroundings are uncluttered and we can find everything we need. Yes, it takes some time and commitment, but in the end, I feel like the time I put into organizing really ends up saving me a lot of time in the long run, and that is well worth it!

What are some organizing projects you’re planning to tackle this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Have a wonderful day!

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33 Comments

  1. Great post Abby. I too am a list maker and find it helps enormously. Another tip I have used and continue to use when feeling overwhelmed is to say the phrase “nut and bolts”…what are the nuts and bolts of what I have to do? Once broken down into its constituent parts, most jobs seem less overwhelming and more manageable.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Love that, Sarah! Thanks so much for the tip! Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

      ~Abby =)

  2. II’m doing this right now In my kitchen. Just one step at a time . I’m thinking
    The month of March is kitchen month. Then move on to other rooms..
    I can get overwhelmed .

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yes, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed! One thing at a time is always helpful! Hope you’re having a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  3. Tess Mickelsen says:

    Hi Abby,
    Wonderful post as usual! I am still stuck in my-house-is-a-wreck mode, preventing me from proceeding with anything important, such as getting my blog going. My problem is I have an entire room, yes a whole bedroom with a decent sized closet, to devote to my home office … this should be a good thing, right? But it’s a dumping ground for everything, and I just have no organization. I cannot afford to buy new furniture, so I have to make what I have work. I am sorely lacking in drawers in there … I have only 3. So, I need to knuckle down and get to it. I will use your tips here, and in the 15 minute blocks post, to try to make some headway! Thanks so much for the inspiration!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Tess! Happy organizing! <3

      ~Abby =)

  4. Kristel Miley says:

    I loved reading this! My blog also focuses on organizing, and I am obsessed with to-do lists. Your suggestions are amazing–thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Aw, so glad it was helpful for you, Kristel! <3

      ~Abby =)

  5. K Ann Guinn says:

    Oh, my! I was just at your niche webinar, and was drawn in to read this post because of the word, “overwhelmed” in this post. I find myself easily overwhelmed by organization issues, as well as life in general at times. I think I should start reading some of your posts and make a plan.

    I definitely agree with the purging. This does not come naturally to me (whereas my mom has no problem throwing things out without emotional stress), but I am slowly learning to love simplicity more and more.

    The first thing I want to focus on is my blog. I need to take some serious steps in that area before I take on a bunch of home organizing projects. The other area that keeps on building up and seems non-stop is paper clutter! Didn’t Donnie write a post about this very thing? I need to read that one at some point too.

    One step at a time. Thanks for all your help in blogging and life. 🙂

  6. Briana Kim says:

    I have a very similar system too! I am a to-do-lister haha I need to always make a list and set deadlines for each task. Otherwise, I know I will either forget or procrastinate 🙂 Totally agree with what you said about getting immense satisfaction from checking things off your list lol! However, what I’m bad at is No. 5 – Purging. I’ve been putting off decluttering but I know I should start soon!! Thanks for this great reminder 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful, Briana! Hope you’re having a wonderful week… happy decluttering! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  7. I am not a ‘natural organizer’, it’s something I’m working at and have just started using lists. Your closest’s look so beautiful! Great post Abby! I also just started my own blog after reading your ebook (ok, I read it for the first time a couple of years ago. ;)). I have so much to learn!!!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Thank you so much! So glad it’s been helpful, Dawn! <3

      ~Abby =)

  8. I find that when I start with Purging (#5) it takes removes as much of the overwhelm as it does the clutter! It also helps make the list a little shorter. #4 is what I really need to work on, there always seems to emergencies that come up and put me off my deadline, but the lists are always a great motivator to get back on track.

  9. Alina @ DeclutterBlog.com says:

    Purge like a crazy is just for me! I also realized I keep rearranging my clutter with no use. Now every week bags of stuff are leaving the house.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Love it!

      ~Abby =)

  10. Hi Abby! I too am a compulsively organized person. My friends often ask me how I stay so organized with two kids in a small house. My first thing to tell them is similar to what you did with the coats in your posts. You should always visualize how your space will be most efficiently used. Like your coat situation, it couldn’t be solved until you figured out why you were tripping over coats all the time. For me, it was my boys’ art supplies. I had a desk that I kept my “office” supplies in and their “supplies” were kept in a low cabinet in the kitchen area. I picked up art supplies out of the kitchen like five times a day. Exhausting! Both spaces were organized, but it was clearly not working. A lightbulb moment made me realize that I just needed to switch. I put their stuff in the desk and mine in the cabinet. Viola! I don’t pick up art supplies anymore. The desk is much more functional and, let’s face it, they use that desk more than I did. It is definitely a continuous process.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Thanks so much for sharing, Debbie! Have a wonderful week! <3

      ~Abby =)

  11. I just finished purging my entire house for the first time ever. I wanted to get it done in March and just went for it making it top priority. I did one thing at a time and found that once I got momentum it went faster and I could go on to the next task quickly. Now I’m not cleaning all the time and I can spend more time with my family and not feeling like I need to be doing something else (like cleaning.) Thank you so much for your article. It’s such a help to keep me on track especially since I’m new to this new way of living and we’re probably going to move soon.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yay! So glad it has been helpful for you, Jaimee! <3

      ~Abby =)

  12. I am an obsessed list maker!! I’d be completely lost without them (I have a binder full of multiple lists for different things like personal, blogging, family & house!). I get completely overwhelmed at times (especially with all of the kids’ clutter and toys!) and I had gone on an organizing kick in the distant past, but I have realized that the house is well overdue for a reorganization and this is the year I will tackle all of those projects! The kids’ bedrooms are first on the list (almost done my tween to teen room makeover for my daughter!! So exciting!). 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      That is exciting! Happy organizing, Ann! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  13. I need to organise and I feel very overwhelmed – this post came at just the right time 🙂 Over the last 3 and a half months, our household has taken away at least 10 boot (trunk) loads of STUFF that we no longer needed to a donation centre. And there is still so much to do! Sometimes it feels like our house will never be neat and ordered, but your tips in this post have given me a new strategy to try out. Lists, priorities, time management and purges are the way to go! Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Aw, yay! So glad it was helpful for you! Hope you’re having a wonderful week!

      ~Abby =)

  14. Admittedly I am not big on blogs, but your site changed my perspective. It’s fresh, informative and inspiring! Great job and looking forward to more of your input to help bring some more order to my busy life!

    Thank you!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Victoria! <3

      ~Abby =)

  15. How can I change the email address I use to receive your emails of your blog posts?

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Hi, Lynda! Can you shoot us an email at hello {at} justagirlandherblog {dot} com and we’ll get it worked out for you? Thanks!

      ~Abby =)

  16. Hi Abby; hope all is well. I really needed this article. I have had to pack up, and move things in our apartment for carpet cleaning, then for painting, then for cabinet glazing. It’s a mess and way overwhelming. I think starting with the list will help me get started. And yes I love making lists and checking off completed tasks. Thanks so much again. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yay! Happy organizing! 🙂

      ~Abby =)

  17. Patricia Galloway says:

    Even a list is overwhelming to me. So I write each task on an index card. That way I can easily rearrange the priority order & focus on one thing at a time.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      That’s a great idea, Patricia! Love that!

      ~Abby =)

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