This question addresses the issue of overwhelm. We have probably all been there: some task turns out to be just that little bit too big and we despair to a point that we are completely paralysed and cannot even find the courage to get started. The annoying part of this is that once we are overwhelmed by something it gains momentum and drags us down a spiral of ever-mounting despair. There’s no way out, it seems, and we have a choice to either potter on or give up.
Often we turn to the default response to deal with overwhelm: “I’ll deal with this later, when I feel better about it.” Sounds reasonable, but procrastinating does not really solve anything here: it just pushes it forward a couple of steps and ensures that you’ll be confronted by it sometimes soon. This is one of the reasons why so much stuff ends up in lofts, garages, storage units and hidden spots in our homes: we simply refuse to take clear decisions and leave them for later – or never.
If you are in that situation and start wondering if you should give up, the way forward is obvious: if the task is too big to deal with, try to make it into smaller tasks that you can deal with separately. “Moving house” sounds overwhelming, but if you separate the tasks out into “how to organise the physical move”, “packing stuff into boxes”, “sorting out the suppliers”, “organising the new school run for the kids”, “cancelling local subscription”, etc. you’ll find that things look entirely different. Of course, it will still involve a lot of work, but defining the tasks properly and dealing with them separately eases the pain considerably.
A move may not be on your mind right now, so let’s look at other stuff, too. One of the common issues I come across is a general sense of disorder that can drag the whole household down. If you are living on your own, the obvious solution is to find a place for everything and taking it back to its place when you are not using it. Sounds overwhelming, right? How would you get from a disorganised place to an organised one without losing your mind in the process?
Easy: make the tasks smaller and you can just do one small thing at a time. In this case, you may not be able to do all at once, or you may not have the time you need, so simply start with one bit. Maybe you can collect all the kitchenware in one place and put them away in a place they belong from now on. YES: you will end up with some orphan items you’ll have to take out of the space you put the kitchenware. That will make you feel like you have not achieved anything because those things now sit in the wrong spot. Look at the whole picture, though: the overall disorder of your household has decreased, and all the kitchenware now has a proper home.
From now on, it’s all about maintenance: making sure that whenever you have done your dishes, things go back into their place. That would involve a secondary goal, though: not putting anything into the empty space whenever you are using those things. The same steps apply to anything else in your household: books, paperwork, clothes, toys, tools, supplies, food, etc.
If you find even these initial tasks too hard to deal with, maybe you need someone to help you? Or you could try and make the steps even smaller. Don’t forget that you are not limited to sorting out particular types of things, you could do a particular (part of a) room, or any other kind of specific task you choose.
If you share your home with partner and/or family, things are a little more complex, because everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to returning things to their homes. Kids tend to be easily overwhelmed by too much – as do many adults, by the way – and need even smaller tasks.
In general, it helps to have enough space to find a home spot for everything you own. If that is impossible, you may have too much stuff! Maybe part of the cleaning has to be letting go of things that do no longer serve you?
The lesson to take away from the question “Can I just…” is simple: anything you do to help things along is a step in the right direction. If you can only manage to do one little thing, don’t get discouraged! You have done one thing, and maybe that leads to another little thing. And all of those ultimately add up.
Think about elements in your life where you have to admit to yourself that things are less than favourable and ask the question. Give it a go.
Here are the first two posts in this series:
The next post will focus on yet another question you may find helpful to move forward with change…
Ask the ClutterMeister
Ideas to help clear away the mess in our homes and in our minds.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.