So you have this big goal to “get organized,” and you’ve read books, maybe even looked at some YouTube videos to get inspired. Still, when you approach that room, that desk, that garage…you’re stuck. Sometimes there’s so much going on in the space that it truly is difficult to know where to start. Paperwork? Books? Boxes of stuff left over from cleaning out the car? If you choose to open up shoeboxes of receipts, will you just screw things up? That first decision is often the toughest.

I recognize that there’s a certain amount of stress involved too. The other day I was checking out at a store and the topic of me being a professional organizer somehow came up. “Wow, that must be so stressful,” the clerk mused. Her comment startled me. I, of course, reassured her that there is tremendous fun and satisfaction in what I do, but walking back to my car I did some thinking. It’s good for me to be reminded that for many (most?), organization seems unattainable. Not only do people worry about where to start, but if they actually get started on a project, are they going to do it right? 

Let’s say I’m with a client who struggles with ADD/ADHD, and they nervously ask me where we’re going to begin. The question assumes I have a mystical way of determining the most advantageous location for starting. Sometimes I’ll suggest we go with immediately taking out anything that falls into a “trash” or “recycle” category (those decisions are usually easiest). Sometimes I’ll take one drawer and work them through a decision-making process for all of the items.  Another trick: I have clients take a paper towel tube, look through it, and scan around their space.

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Copyright: vizualni / 123RF Stock Photo

This allows them to see smaller pockets of disorganization, and choose a spot that seems approachable. While instinct is involved in how much to tackle in one session, where we start really doesn’t matter. 

So breathe deeply, and take the pressure off of yourself. A little organization is better than none at all, and you aren’t going to goof anything up by trying. If you start from the entry to the room and work inward, you are making progress. If you work through sorting everything that covers the corner of a table, you are making progress. Even if you only open and categorize a few days’ worth of mail, you are making progress – and hopefully learning as you go. And that is really the crux of it – learning what patterns have occurred (there are always patterns), learning how to reconfigure habits, and learning how to move forward in a way that works. That’s the part of organizing that’s important. And just maybe, if you can get yourself started, you’ll be amazed at how far you can go.

Sara Skillen is the owner of SkillSet Organizing based in Franklin, TN. Her mission is to help busy people from all walks of life manage their stuff, their time, and their technology. An active blogger and speaker, her tips and ideas have been featured in Fast Company, Angie’s List Experts, and NOU Magazine, as well as her own blog “Sorting Through the Haystack.” Sara is an Evernote Certified Consultant and became a Certified Professional Organizer® in 2015.

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