Are you Overwhelmed!?

March 11, 2008


It’s one of those days when I wish I had a dollar for every time someone says,  “I’m feeling so overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start.”   If you are one of those people who take one look at your office or home and feel totally overwhelmed with what faces you – the piles, the clutter, the stuff everywhere — then join the crowd because the feeling of “overwhelm” is affecting everyone these days.

Those among us who are chronically disorganized suffer even more with all the decisions to be made and embarrassment of not being able to be organized “like everyone else.”

What is chronic disorganization?  Well the word “chronic” has several meanings:  1. long-lasting, 2. always present or recurring and 3.  Habitual – repeatedly doing something or behaving compulsively.    The word “disorganization” means a lack of organization or orderly arrangement.   Chronically disorganized people have a constant problem with disorganization.   Perhaps this is something they have been dealing with their whole lives and no matter what they do they never seem to get ahead of the problem.   The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) uses this as the definition:  chronic disorganization is disorganization that has a long history, undermines one’s quality of life on a daily basis and recurs.

If you aren’t sure if you are chronically disorganized, ask yourself these questions:

  • Has getting organized been a challenge for you most of your adult life?
  • Does being disorganized negatively affect your quality of life in some way every day?
  • Have you been unable to sustain organization?

There is a very informative book available called, Conquering Chronic Disorganization by Judith Kolberg.    This book has many unique and creative ways to help the chronically disorganized person.    Unfortunately, I do not have room in this article to go over the many imaginative ways the author has come up with to deal with clutter.    Below I hope you will find some suggestions that you will try to incorporate into your daily routine that may help you in some small way.    You never know, some small change can often lead to a big difference.

When you consider yourself overwhelmed you feel out of control and that adds to your stress and anxiety level.  All that additional constant worry and nervousness may make you a difficult person to live or work with.   It can start to interfere with your relationships and your self-esteem.

What can you do about that feeling of being buried by your clutter and piles?   Here are five steps to begin to reduce that overwhelmed feeling and reclaim that sensation of control by putting your focus on what needs to get done and get organized for a more productive day.

Step 1 – Plan, Plan, Plan

This is the most important step.  Without a plan you won’t know which direction to go in or even what needs to be done first.  Many people don’t want to plan because it will take time away from working on the project.   But if you don’t have a goal and a vision of what you want your life to look like you’ll soon feel overwhelmed again.  Without a plan the objects you are sorting have no place to go and you’ll soon develop a bad case of indecisiveness.   While you are planning think about the big picture first.   Don’t get too carried away by the smallest details when you don’t yet know what your big picture is.

Step 2 – Prioritize your list.

Deciding how you’ll tackle this job and where you will start is the next important step.   Have you decided to paint the room?   Then you know you’ll have to remove as much as you can and put a tarp over whatever stays.   Will you be creating a great new filing system to use?  Then you know you need to purchase a file cabinet if you don’t have one.   Look at your plan and then set your priorities.

Step 3 – Get Ready and Choose the Date

Pull out your calendar and plan the date you will start working on your office or home.   Cross it off, mark it in red, highlight it and then don’t make any plans at that time.  Keep your date with yourself and just the act of getting started will make you feel better.

Step 4– Does This Need Me?

You have your plan and you know your goals and you’ve set your date to start the project – now what?    This is where I hear, “I don’t know where to start.”    Taking the first step is always the hardest.   Stand in the room you are working in and pick something up – anything – make a decision on that something.   Here are some questions to ask yourself about the stuff:

  • Does this thing I just picked up need me?  (probably not)
  • Is it a keeper?   Is it beautiful?    Do I love taking care of it?
  • Is this trash?  Would the people at Goodwill be able to use it?
  • Can it be recycled or do I know someone who could put it to good use?
  • If you can’t bear to part with it, ask yourself, “Why?”

Step 5 – Remove, Reuse, Return

After you’ve done all that sorting and asking yourself those hard questions, then continue to follow through and take the items to be donated, return the library books, call a shredding company to alleviate your shredding piles.   Do whatever it takes to complete the job as soon as you can.    Remember the Nike ad – “Just Do It!”

It’s remarkable what happens when you get organized at home or in your office.  You will feel better living and working in that newly cleared space.  You’ll enjoy better self-confident and self-esteem.    You’ll be able to get so much more done each day.   You’ll be saving time, money and space.

Further information:

Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD)

Conquering Chronic Disorganization, Judith Kolberg, 1998, Squall Press

Stevie Organizing Services, SOS, Eileen Stevie



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