Dear Juli,

My house is a complete mess. I simply do not know where to begin. I can’t even look at some of it anymore. It’s easier to just close the door. I don’t know what to do first. Can you give me some ideas? – Judy B.

Dear Judy,

Juli Shulem

You are not alone! Unfortunately, ignoring the situation will not make it magically disappear. If the entire place is a mess, it also will not become cleared up and organized in a week or even a month, so a consistent strategy for going through it will be necessary. Here is my advice to you – and this applies to offices, as well:

1. Stop the Cluttering Process: Be diligent about not adding to the clutter and don’t bring in any additional items beyond the essentials to live on (food, toiletries, etc.). That will at least begin to arrest the problem.

2. Create a Master List: Begin by taking a clipboard with a lined pad of paper and going through the house or office room-by-room, noting everything that needs to be done in each space. Give each room its own sheet of paper. Be specific, such as: “Return library book on dresser,” “Hang clothes on chair,” “Put medicine bottles back in bathroom,” etc. This list will seem daunting once done, but it gives you a very clear picture of what you have before you and provides a navigational guide for the next steps.

3. Plan Time Daily: Schedule time each day to begin working on one area of a room. It needs to be consistent to keep you on track. Set a timer for each block of time so you don’t end up working longer than you realistically have available. Aim for at least 30 minutes each day and more if your schedule allows. If you can, wake up 30 minutes earlier than normal and use that time expressly for clearing and organizing. This won’t take time from your regularly scheduled activities.

4. Garbage Out! One of the best methods I have used with clients is to start by only seeking “trash-worthy” items and getting them out of the rooms. Put “blinders” on to everything else in the space (ignore things you need to fix, return, act upon) and just gather up and discard all the trash and recyclable items. This will immediately reduce the volume of clutter all around you.

5. Give yourself a reward: It’s not easy to push past the feeling of overwhelm or resistance and get rid of stuff. Give yourself a goal and reward yourself for a job well done. Since you won’t be able to realistically get through an entire space in a day, reward yourself for smaller, attainable goals daily or weekly. Every little bit brings you closer to completion.

This should give you a good start. There are many more steps and options for the actual organizing process. This strategy, at least, gets the process going and can help dissipate the stress associated with de-cluttering a large area. Remember, if it took years to gather the clutter, it won’t be cleared up in a day. Be patient with yourself and know that consistency works. If doing it on your own just seems too much, you can get a coach or someone to help you through the process and hold you accountable.

As I like to say, if it isn’t servicing you, it is burdening you.

Thank you for your question and watch for next week’s article for help with other areas of organizing, time management, and life management. You are invited to submit questions and pose problems for Ask an Organizer, which Juli will address in her column. Email her at to submit your questions, and please put “Question for Column” in the subject line. Juli is a certified, professional coach with a focus on efficiency and productivity, and a specialty in dealing with those who have AD/HD.


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