How to Start an Overwhelming Organizing Project

Learn how to start an overwhelming organizing project to make it more manageable and bring order to your space!

How to Start an Overwhelming Organizing Project

I admit, there have been times when I have walked into a messy room with the intention of getting it organized and then walked right back out again because the task felt so overwhelming!

I mean, who can forget these doozies?

Messy Garage Before Photo

our garage at the beginning of 2018

Messy Basement Before Photo

our basement just a few weeks ago

I may write about organizing pretty often, but we still have spaces that have become a huge, overwhelming mess! I’m thrilled to say that we managed to tackle our garage last year (See the reveal here!), and the basement is well on its way to becoming organized (UPDATE! The basement is finished! See the organized basement here!), but each one has been a hard fought battle.

With both the basement and the garage there was definitely a time when I looked at it and thought, “How do I even start?”

It’s hard to offer a “one size fits all” solution to the question of how to start when a space is SO overwhelming because every person and every room is so different, but I thought I’d share how I typically begin a big organizing project so that if you’re in a similar situation, maybe my tips and ideas might help to give you a starting point.

How to Start an Overwhelming Organizing Project

My getting started process can basically be summed up in one simple phrase: Create some space.

The thing that is often overwhelming about very messy spaces is that many times there is not even room to walk, let alone try to get anything organized. When I can’t even move through the room, I feel frozen and unable to continue further, so I have to create some space.

For me, this is typically a two-part process.

Step 1- Remove the Trash

In a space that’s as messy as my garage and my basement were, there is inevitably a good amount of trash that can either be recycled or thrown away. In our garage it was cardboard boxes. In the basement it was wood scraps and sawdust.

So the first thing I did in both spaces was grab a garbage bag and start packing things into it to be recycled/thrown out. (For the cardboard boxes, I ended up breaking them down and wrapping them up in tape like our recycling service requests, but you get the idea.)

Basement Floor Clean and Cleared of Trash and Clutter

Our basement floor after just picking up the wood scraps and using a shop vac on the sawdust. Already an improvement!

The thing that’s great about starting with the trash is that it’s an easy decision. I’m not talking about sentimental items that we need to decide whether to keep or throw away. I’m not even talking about items we may or may not use far into the future. The only thing I’m looking for on this very first pass is true junk that I know definitely needs to go.

Typically, removing the trash creates enough space that I can at least move around a little bit in the room. Once I get all of the trash out of the way, I can move on to step two.

Step 2- Begin Putting Like Items Together

Ideally, I would love to be able to move everything out of the space. But typically with an overwhelmingly unorganized room, there is so much stuff that getting it all out isn’t really an option.

So after I got rid of the trash, the next thing I began doing to create space in our basement and our garage was moving like things together. I would just grab a few things that were in a similar category and start a pile with them.

In the basement, I grabbed a bunch of Donnie’s little tools (like hammers and screwdrivers) and put them in one pile. I grabbed all of his saws of all different shapes and sizes and put them together. I gathered up all of the Kreg Jig supplies and made a pile, etc.

Tools Organized by Category

Many of the items in the garage were larger, so I had to maneuver some things around, but eventually I managed to get all of the bikes together, all of the lawn and garden equipment together, all of my kids’ outdoor toys together, and so on.

As I was putting like items together, it allowed me to see everything I had in that one category. From there, I could make better decisions about what we should keep, and what could be moved to a donate/sell pile to be discarded.

It’s not rocket science and it’s not hard to do, but sometimes it is helpful to at least have a simple starting point, especially when we’re talking about a space that is as overwhelming and messy as ours were! I find when I can create space by getting rid of the trash and putting like items together, it gives me the momentum I need to continue on with the project and eventually complete it. And that’s the goal all along, right?!

I know that there are many ways to start a project like this one, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments too– how do you begin an overwhelming organizing project? 

More Organizing Strategies

If you’re looking for more strategies for getting organized, these posts may be helpful:

How to Organize Every Space in Your House (This post will help you continue the organizing process in your space after you’ve completed the two steps mentioned in this post!)

How to Get Organized When You Feel Overwhelmed

How to Get Organized When You Have Trouble Letting Go of Things

How to Get Organized When You Don’t Have a Lot of Time

How to Get Organized Without Spending a Lot of Money

How to Get Organized When You Live in a Small House

Thank you so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!


  1. Ellen | Ask Away Blog says:

    People all too often skip the first step of removing the trash but i always have to remind them that it’s not only the easiest part but you absolutely MUST do it to free up space to work.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      YES YES YES! So important!

      ~Abby =)

  2. Patricia Galloway says:

    Thanks Abby! This is just what I needed to go back & begin to tackle the room I shut the door on & walked away from b/c it was so overwhelming.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you! Happy Friday! <3

      ~Abby =)

  3. Liz Dujka says:

    Thanks Abby. My garage looks like a twin to yours. And it is overwhelming for sure! I have made it my mission to convert it into my design studio in 2019. I have done the remove the trash step a couple of times and then walked away because of other things needing my immefiate attention. My hubs got very sick in August, then in Oct. he had a hip replacement, then the holidays were here so now I am hoping to have a “little time before my shows begin and his next surgery in April arrives. Thanks for the motivation and proof that the only way we will ever “eat the elephant” is ONE BITE AT A TIME! Happy 2019. ♡~Liz aka Junktion Alley. http://www.facebook.com/junktionalley

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yay! So glad it was helpful for you, Liz! You can do this! Your own design studio would be so awesome!

      ~Abby =)

  4. Reem Faruqi says:

    thank you for posting this!! This was our basement . I love how real these photos are. They made me feel a little better :). We still have a long way to go but this is so helpful. Thank you again!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you. Hope you’re having a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  5. Gailann McKee says:

    I need help in getting organized.

  6. Katherine says:

    Often times with big organization projects like the garage, it can take a long time. Since it takes so long, I like to have bins with people’s names on them (like one for my husband, one for the kids, and one for me), if it’s something they can organize themselves or should be the one deciding how it’s organized, I’ll tell them to look in the bin, donate anything they don’t need, and then organize it themselves.

    Sure this takes more time, but it takes some of the work off of me. And once the space is organized, you can tidy it up in this way and make your loved ones put away their own stuff that you gather in their bin.

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Love this idea, Katherine! Thanks so much for sharing. Have an awesome week! <3

      ~Abby =)

  7. Hi! What organization system is shown in the after photo? It looks great and I want to replicate it? Thanks 🙂

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Hi, Whitney! It is the IKEA Algot system. IKEA recently discontinued their ALGOT system and replaced it with BOAXEL, which is very similar. I talk about it in this post: https://justagirlandherblog.com/organized-garage/. Have a great week!

      ~Abby =)

  8. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Bonnie! Hope you’re having a great week! <3

      ~Abby =)

Comments are closed.