Ask the Experts

Q: What Do I Do When I’m So Overwhelmed I Can’t Do Anything?

Life gets hard sometimes, and organizing problems can grow so large we don’t know how to begin resolving them. Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you get your life back on track — or implement these four smart tips to restore order.

Q: “After years of crisis, loss, and traumatic situations, I am a 46-year-old single mother picking up the pieces of life. Unfortunately, those pieces have almost filled my 5-bedroom house. Chaos is everywhere. Things have not been cleaned and stuff has been moved around so much there is little organization left. How do I gain control? I feel so overwhelmed that I do nothing and things get worse. My landlord just told me he wants to sell, and the house and yard are such extreme disasters that I am severely stressed out.”  Olderwhelmedsinglemomma

Hi Olderwhelmedsinglemomma:

I truly applaud you for being so open with what you want to accomplish. It’s not easy. I do need to ask: Have you ever thought of working with a professional organizer? Professional organizers are trained and skilled specialists who help people create order where it is lacking, put a plan in place, help you get unstuck and started, and guide you through tough decision-making. The truth is, most people think organizing is something everyone should just be able to do; and it’s simply not.

If you are interested, reach out to the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals ( Its website is set up so you can easily find an organizer by skill set and location.

If working with an organizer is not in the cards for you, here are a few tips to help you get unstuck and started in the short term.

1. Make Getting Started Simple. Get started on a task that is so easy for you or small that success is virtually guaranteed. Start with one small kitchen drawer, pantry shelf or even the front porch. You get the idea. Chances are good that, once you start, you’ll keep going.

[Free Guide: Organize Everything Today!]

2. Set Daily or Weekly Goals. Use my Triple S system – short, simple, and specific – to set daily goals. Try to organize everything in one day, and you’ll end up overwhelmed and frustrated. Specific daily intentions work better. “Thursday night I’m going to tackle the kitchen counter.” “Sunday morning I’m going to sort the clothes on the bedroom floor.” In other words, break it down into small parts so you feel in control.

3. Pair Up to Pare Down. Grab your children and work together! Sometimes “body doubling” (being in an environment where others are doing what you’re doing) helps us to initiate and stay on task. Plus hard work goes faster and more smoothly when we do it with someone else.

4. Cover What You Don’t Want to Discover. One of my favorite tricks to help my clients feel less overwhelmed when organizing is to use my “black tablecloth method.” If you walk into a room in your home and all you see is your clutter, you are most likely going to feel overwhelmed and not know how or where to start. So try draping black tablecloths over the areas you are working on decluttering and organizing. Only expose a small amount at a time so you can stay focused, on track and more importantly, less overwhelmed. In this instance, out of sight will help you NOT be out of your mind!

[What’s My Motivation? (No, Seriously, I Need to Get Started]

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, answers questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to Dear Organizing Coach here!