Where Do I Start?

A small step changes everything. Where do I start?

Here are some comments I frequently hear:

“My house is a disaster!”

“My kids make the mess faster than I can pick it up.”

“My husband dumps everything all over when he comes in.”

“I don’t even know where to begin.”

If this sounds like something you might say, and you’d like to make a change, here is my advice:

1. Focus On What You Can Control

Many times we get frustrated because we are trying to get organized, but the people we live with won’t “get on board.” This can be very difficult. Since you can’t control the behavior of others, initially focus on spaces that are primarily yours. Maybe this is your bathroom vanity, or your desk. Work on developing good habits with your own belongings. Others may (or may not) pick up on your new habits, but at least you’ll have a few spaces that you can count on being in order. Over time, negotiate a few ground rules for the public spaces, such as the living room or the dining room. This way, you can incrementally expand the sphere of order in your home.

2. Start With The Bothersome

When you are deciding where to begin, focus on what is driving you crazy.

– the table you see when you first walk in the house?

– the pile of shoes that always ends up all over the floor?

– the mass of business cards that never got filed?

Ask yourself, “What aspect of my space makes me cringe?” or, “What situation makes me feel like a failure?”  THIS may be a good place to start. Making visible progress – especially in an area that has been giving you grief –  is incredibly motivating. As we conquer one area, we feel energized to move on to another. Again, remember to begin somewhere that is under your control, so that your accomplishment is not quickly undone by someone else who is not committed to the process.

3. Chew In Bite-sized Pieces

How many times have you gotten motivated to organize a space, dumped the contents out all over the room, gotten interrupted, and then didn’t have the time to finish the job? The result: you have a bigger mess than when you started. This can be very discouraging. When you are trying to decide where to begin, remember to start small. By this I mean, select an area that you can complete in the allotted time.

For example…

~ instead of working on “the garage,” work on the shelf at the bottom of the stairs

~ instead of clearing out “the closet,” begin with your pants, ties or belts

~ instead of pressuring yourself to clear off “your desk,” commit to sorting a stack of magazines

~ instead of trying to organize “the kitchen,” begin with one drawer

A great place to start is with what is commonly known as the “junk drawer.” I’m not a fan of this moniker, because people generally don’t buy junk. Instead, this drawer might contain tape, pens, paper clips, scissors, a ruler, coupons, post-it notes, stamps, etc. To make this space work effectively, empty it out, wipe it clean, and remove what doesn’t belong (such as the hammer you stashed inside when company came over and you didn’t have time to return it to the garage). Now look at what you want to put back inside, and use drawer organizers to assign specific spaces for each item. If many people use the drawer, add labels to each little section so everyone knows where things go. Be sure to avoid stacking things on top of each other, which is a quick path to chaos in a drawer. Now, get rid of the “junk” mentality, and redefine this as your “command center” drawer.

As you complete each small project, you can move on the next. I know one woman who cleans out one drawer or shelf in her kitchen each weekday while cooking dinner in January. By the end of the month, her kitchen is finished!

*    *    *    *    *

A large project can seem overwhelming, but it isn’t impossible. Taking the first step is often the hardest part. Remind yourself that even small progress is a reason to celebrate.

Is there an area of your space that you wish were organized? Can you imagine a way to begin?

34 thoughts on “Where Do I Start?”

  1. I like how you give concrete examples of situations that we can identify with. In addition. the concept of breaking things down into smaller, doable tasks as a way to propel momentum is a great strategy. Sometimes the BIG project can overwhelm us to inaction, but doing a little at time is realistic AND manageable.Success breeds more success.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Learn One Amazing Secret That Helps You Let GoMy Profile

    1. Success breeds success – I love that! And I think the opposite is also true… very discouraging to try and fail. Overwhelm is a big hurdle in this aspect of life, one of the reasons POs can be helpful. I have clients who say things like “That area scares me!” I love being able to say, “Well, it doesn’t scare me, so here we go!”

    1. Overwhelm when staring at big projects can be such a hurdle. No amount of progress is too small, so just keep breaking it down until we can say, “That, I can handle!”

  2. It’s funny because I have a house cleaner here right now and it’s soothing to hear my house get cleaned.. so soothing. I have to do things in bite-sized pieces, as you say. Otherwise I get paralyzed by task fright and I just scrap it all. Not good!
    Tamara recently posted…A Chance to Win a gb Pockit!My Profile

    1. “Task fright” is such a good phrase! I get it too. Sometimes I just have to summon courage to take the step – especially in an area where I have low confidence in my knowledge & ability. I often find if I wait a bit, I finally get in the move and then I go for it.

    1. I agree – there needs to be some payoff to get me going, and if the space is already well-organized, I tend to avoid it. This is why I love working with clients! The challenges… and rewards… are huge!

    1. Seeing that one spot you changed is like an optimistic “rush” every time you walk by. A similar reason why I start with surfaces first, and then move into drawers and cabinets. Seeing is believing:)

    1. That’s a really good point, Jill. It tends to be a repository for mindlessly stashed items. Frankly, very little that I do mindlessly ever seems to have very good results.

  3. Seana, I love your posts! I also find it helpful to tackle smaller tasks of the larger project. If the project is too large and I try to plan to do it all at once, I will find every excuse I can to put it off for another week. It would probably help my sanity if I could find a new house for my sons to live in (lol . . kidding). Thank you for sharing your posts with us at Brag About It! Pinned and shared 🙂
    ~Laurie

    1. I love Brag About It… and getting to visit new bloggers. Your community is so terrific! I completely agree with finding reasons to put the large task off. I do the same thing. Gotta start small enough that I’m happy enough to go for it.

    1. It can be hard to keep working when you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere – for me as much as for anyone. Love seeing the evidence of the effort:)

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Jessica. I find that working to change something that others quickly undermining is just about one of the most de-motivating experiences you can have. We may want others to change, but much better to start with ourselves, and then hope to bring others along. Parents do have the right to set rules and boundaries with their children, but even in this situation, children will be more likely to embrace the system if their parents are “walking the talk.”

    1. Funny how a name can have power over how we view something, isn’t it? We really do believe the words we use, so why not put that to our advantage!

  4. I love your first point on just focusing on what YOU can control. Many times I find that while working with just one member of the family on their organizing goals it motivates others to make some changes. Starting with yourself can sometimes create a domino effect.

    1. That’s the hope, right? At least don’t start with an area that will get wrecked within an hour of finishing – that is just depressing!

    1. Exactly! “Momentum management” is actually part of our job. It can be easy to become discouraged, especially if you don’t see the progress. Having an improvement that you can see and touch and enjoy is wonderful for keeping you moving on the next area:)

    1. Not only is overwhelming, but the project can quickly get out of hand. Small progress, accomplished consistently, moves mountains!

    1. I think it is pretty much human to put off the unpleasant. I get anxious, though, when things are hanging over me, so starting always decompresses me a bit. Tiny steps are actually the bedrock of progress!

  5. The tip about breaking goals or to-dos down into smaller tasks is so great. Anytime something I’ve got to complete feels too big to get done, it really helps to take it apart and view it as smaller pieces that are easier to get done one at a time, and it definitely applies to any kind of home improvement project. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Totally agree that it applies to home improvement projects, John. Anything that is large and amorphous is difficult to tackle. Well defined, incremental steps are how we work through all situations, so might as well relieve the tension of the big project and give ourselves permission to work in smaller segments.

  6. Wow, this is really awesome advice. It’s so important to figure out the best angle to approach such large projects and to decide what areas need the most attention and work. This will help make everything seem less overwhelming and stressful and will make for the best results. Nicely done! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Morgan. Prioritizing can be very helpful in decompressing overwhelm. Big projects can feel intimidating, but a small step seems doable!

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