6 Decluttering Tips For the Overwhelmed

As someone who has struggled with anxiety for most of my life, I've gotten pretty good at recognizing what my triggers are. Over the years, I've noticed how much of an impact my external environment has on my overall mood and stress levels. Any type of disruption or chaos immediately activates the alarm to sound in my brain, telling me to panic. This could be out in public in a crowded place, but more often than not, it happens when I'm home and feeling like my house is in disorder.

I've always felt a home should be a sanctuary — a sort of sacred space. When it's disorganized and cluttered, my brain feels disorganized and cluttered too. The solution seems obvious, right? Just get organized and stay organized. The problem for someone with anxiety is that getting organized can feel so debilitating and overwhelming that it doesn't seem possible. I used to feel that way too. These tips have helped me approach decluttering in a way that doesn't terrify me, but instead empowers me to make positive changes.

1. Create a Positive Purpose

I'm a big believer in the power of positive thinking. When it comes to staving off anxiety when trying to get organized, your mindset can make or break you. Trust me, I've experienced this first hand. I used to take one look at my cluttered closet with clothes haphazardly thrown in and think, "You've really screwed up, buddy. This is going to take you a year to get organized!" The moment that negative seed was planted, I became so panicked that I determined it wasn't even worth the effort. I set myself up for failure before I even began.

All it took was a little shift in my thinking to get me on the right track to stress-free organization. Now, when I'm ready to tackle a big decluttering project that has the potential to be overwhelming, I start with simply defining why I want to get organized in the first place. I think about how accomplished I'll feel when I complete it. And most importantly, I remind myself that no one is measuring my progress. If it takes me a few months to get one space organized, who cares? I take all of the pressure off of myself and focus on my why.

2. Make a Plan

Just because you're in a positive frame of mind doesn't mean you're ready to put all of your Target storage containers to use right off the bat. Anxiety is unpredictable, but for me, having a plan in place when I know I'm apt to be stressed is critical. Write down everything in your life you believe would benefit from decluttering. It could be an entire room, a certain drawer or closet, or even something like your email inbox. If it actually worsens your anxiety by being unorganized, it needs to go in the list. Then prioritize. What's causing you the most turmoil? What can you live with until you can get to is? Once you have your list of most to least important, you can really dig into the details.

For example, if your number one priority is to get your closet organized, list everything you know you will need to make that successful. Do you need to go through clothes to try them and/or donate them? Do you need to get some extra shelving? Do you need to search Pinterest first? Remember, you have no set date of completion, so take some time with this step and get it all down. I prefer to use the old-fashioned pen and paper method to transcribe my plan, but you can use anything your heart desires. Use your iPad, computer, phone, chalkboard, napkin, the arm of a loved one — I don't freakin' care! Just make a plan!

3. Set a Time and Stick to It

This is the part where I think people can get the most overwhelmed. Getting started is often the hardest part, so even with a plan, looking at all the tasks that you want to accomplish can be intimidating and anxiety inducing. Start small. Pick a day of the week to start, choose from your #1 Priority Project, and set the timer for a time you feel comfortable with. Even if it's five minutes, try it and see how you feel. If after five minutes you feel like you can do some more, then do it. Remember, whether you're taking big bites or small bites, eventually you're going to finish the whole damn thing. Just commit to starting.

4. Make It Fun

This goes along with the notion of positive thinking. Instead of thinking of how you'd rather be doing pretty much anything else in the world than decluttering, pump yourself up for it. As crazy as it sounds, I actually make organizing time my self-care time. I may pour myself a glass of wine or make myself a fancy cocktail to sip while I'm doing my thing. I also invested in a pair of wireless headphones so I'm either listening to music or listening to an audio book. The entire experience is actually something I look forward to. Once you transition from looking at it as a chore to something not only productive, but enjoyable, you will feel so much less overwhelmed and more motivated.

5. Forget Perfection

Unfortunately, the most challenging part of decluttering for me isn't the getting started, but rather the completion. Once I start with my organization, sometimes it's hard for me to stick to the plan I set for myself. Or worse, I set up unrealistic expectations. I get carried away, and if my drawers or closets don't look magazine worthy, I start to panic. Perfectionism is a longtime struggle for me, and I know it is for other people too. Don't let it get the best of you. Stick to your plan, complete your tasks, commend yourself on your accomplishment, and move on. Remember your purpose is not perfection.

6. Make It Stick

Once you've completed your first big decluttering project, it's important to have a "Stick to It" plan. This doesn't need to be involved, but take mental notes (or if you like to write, you can take actual notes) on what you need to do to continue to keep the space organized. Again, this shouldn't be overwhelming, but instead should provide you with some peace of mind. You worked hard to get yourself organized, and not sticking to it is going to land you in the same place you were before.

If you feel like you could benefit from some organization in your life and you suffer from anxiety, don't lose hope! Whether you use all of these tips or a few, or create your own version of them, you have the ability to declutter anxiety-free.