Organizing and Anxiety - Help!

Updated on February 08, 2017
P.G. asks from San Antonio, TX
11 answers

I am not as organized as I'd like to be. I'm not sure what my "style" is. And I have a weird issue with being freaked out when things are "too neat". I have an idea that this is trauma related (family/moving/loss), but I'm not sure how to dig it out of my way.

I really don't have the time or $ for therapy for this.

Has anyone else dealt with this kind of thing and what worked for you?

EDIT FOR CLARITY: Most interested in the anxiety management part. If all surfaces are free from all clutter-type stuff, I feel almost fearful. It's not rational, and I KNOW that, but it's there. I think this is the primary road-block for me.

I get disappointed in my cluttered-messiness, but the freaked-out-by-completely-clutter-free is an actual anxious thing.

I'd love to know what organizing "style" fits me (visual, etc), but that seems secondary to the emotional road block.


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So What Happened?

One responder recommended watching the Hoarder Next Door UK, which I did. Within a week, I had a major A-HA! moment about what clutter & no-clutter meant to me on a visceral level. I was able to do some de-cluttering this weekend in a different mindset - I actually feel lighter. We'll see if it lasts, but I'm noticing I'm able to say "I don't need this!" about other things as well. I'm quite happy about this!

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answers from Chicago on


I think you are asking two separate, but related, questions if I understand correctly...
A. How do you become more organized when the organisation itself has the potential to freak you out...
B. How do you deal with the anxiety that gets in the way of becoming more organized...

Is that right?

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Would it help if you decluttered and cleaned and then immediately replaced with something else? For example, get all the stuff off the kitchen island, clean it, then place a pretty vase with flowers there. Clear off a dresser then fill it with a collection of picture frames with your favorite pictures. Buy cheerful placemats then clear off the kitchen table so you can put those on it. Know what you want to put on each surface before you clear it off so you don't feel like you are making an empty space; instead you are making a space to put something that makes you smile. This way your house can look lived in and homey while also clean and interesting.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I agree that your "organization style" is secondary to the emotions that organizing is triggering.

For this this I think your best bet would be professional help.

But if you don't feel that is possible, there are self help books and work books.
There maybe free anxiety support groups offered in the community (library).
Journaling your feelings can also be helpful.

Perhaps talking to a family member would be helpful if there is a family history?

Is there a family history of mental illness? Even if there is a family history, it doesn't guarantee it will be passed on to future generations. Some are triggered by environment and relationship dynamics ( not just DNA).

Another resource may be your physician who may be able to educate you on warning signs of illnesses, better understand your family history and offer other support.

One more thing....some people find comfort in clutter. It's not always functional to others, but it is a type of emotional boundary that forces privacy where none has been allowed. In this sense, being clutter free feels very exposing and can be uncomfortable (no where to hide without clutter).

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

If I understand your question correctly, you want organization & order in your life, but when your environment gets too "sterile" it causes you anxiety. The rest of my response is based on this assumption.

I too enjoy going to other people's houses, & seeing how neat & orderly they are. I then come back to my clutter-catastrophe & want to make it the same. There are a few problems with this -
1. If you simply "organize" with the intention of getting things out of sight, they don't necessarily get put in a logical place, making finding/using them more difficult, & more anxiety-inducing.
2. Many people think that to de-clutter, you need to get rid of stuff. Letting go of your belongings can involve very deep, personal, emotional responses, making the process very difficult.
3. While the idea of clean surfaces & everything tucked away & out of sight is very positive and motivating, to actually do that your space may strip it of your personality, making you feel lost in your own environment.

So, don't try to make sweeping changes at one time, and don't think that you need to be like The Joneses to achieve organization. Baby steps.
1. Is some of your clutter due to things that actually HAVE a place to go being left out instead? Or not tossing trash? (my husband is notorious for leaving the wrappings of food packages laying on the counter when he is done cooking) Identify these things, & change the behaviors. Remind yourself to rinse your dishes & put them in the dishwasher when done, instead of stacked in the sink, for example. Take 5 min each evening to go through the main rooms in your home & put away the clutter that has a home (I find this is a good baby step leading to eventually putting it back when you are done with it. It's hard to jump right to that 2nd step initially tho, so doing it once a day gets you to the same place in the end, & your brain will start to register those items that are always pulled out & need to be returned - you'll end up putting those away as you go naturally after a while)
2. Do you have actual junk that needs to be gotten rid of? Go ahead & toss it - you've already identified it & let go emotionally. Do you have some "big ticket items" that you don't just want to toss, but no longer need/want? Put an ad on Craigslist, or one of the "for sale" groups on Facebook. (holding a rummage sounds like a great idea, but there is a LOT of work that goes into those, storage of items until the big event, & then you are letting go of so many items at one time, it might be more anxiety producing than helpful at this point)
3. Once you have gotten #1 & 2 underway, pick 1 or 2 surfaces that it is important for you to have clean & clear so you can use it - maybe one of the counters in the kitchen for prepping food, or a sofa table in the living room so you can set your purse & keys down when you get home w/o losing them. Pick an item or two to keep there that is a part of your personality in some way (your coffee maker or a set of unique canisters in the kitchen, a pretty dish for keys & spare change on the sofa table). That way, even when the surface is clean & clutter free, it is still reflective of YOU, and encourages you to keep the rest of the area clear to show it off.

Finally, if you are anything like me, you have enough clutter to keep you occupied for a while, to the point that you don't know where to begin. The thought of tackling this can be overwhelming to the point of causing us to NOT address it. Write down an area you want to work on - either space or behavior. And then break that down further. Use that as a starting point.

For example, organizing your entire kitchen might give you a nervous breakdown. But wiping down the stove every night after cooking is doable. In order to do that, you need to remove pots/pans/dishes from the stove. So now maybe your sink & counters are cluttered with dishes. So moving on, loading the dishwasher with dirty dishes every night is doable (once you take care of the 1-time backlog) And so on - each new step you add to the process is doable, because it builds on something you've already taken care of & have under control.

Check out The Flylady for more great resources - these are not all necessarily hers, but I was inspired by her approach & personalized it for my needs.

I hope this helps!! T. :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Your question is confusing to me. Are you asking for organizing tips or what to do about your anxiety? Maybe I need more coffee or you can re-word it since you haven't gotten any responses. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Can you keep one room totally organized, pantry, laundry room, a closet. Start out with one room and a few minutes a day sit in that room and try to calm your anxiety.

Best of luck

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answers from Portland on

I too am not sure what you're asking :)


I have an in/out filing type system. So there's always some clutter to deal with, but it is getting dealt with. I have one counter in my kitchen for my stuff. As long as it gets stuck there, I know it will be seen and either filed later or tossed. It's very manageable. I'm not an extreme person and I don't like extreme mess or extreme tidy - I'm somewhere in between. I find if a place is too sterile, you feel bad leaving a dirty cup on the counter.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Try focusing on the root of your anxiety FIRST. It sounds like getting through the emotional road block is key in your situation. If you can't afford therapy, try two things: checking out therapeutic books from the library AND looking at therapy on a sliding income scale. They charge you based on what you can afford. Look for one in your area. Second, see if your health care offers therapy appointments, usually only for the co-pay. Sometimes 1-3 visits can help. If clutter-free freaks you out, then you need to look at what works for you. Clutter free counters bring back bad feelings? Keep them at least not super cluttered and over the top crowded. Do try and have a place for everything. Your mail can be kept on the a wicker basket or metal tray. Keys should always be kept in the same place so you can find them...preferably by the door so you can grab them on the way out. Keep bills on a desk....even a desk counter in the kitchen. On counters, try to keep to a 5-7 things rule. Don't ding yourself for not being uber organized....that is only adding to the stress. Also, it's a personality type meaning some people are just super organized by nature. They see something and can immediately remedy it's messiness (this is not me and I don't berate myself for not having that gene. I do, however, TRY my best.You need to do what works best for you. Be kind to yourself and get to the root of your issues. You do not have to have a magazine cover worthy home, however, being a bit organized knowing where your keys are, your cell phone etc. all help take the stress out of daily living. Best wishes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Try the kon Marie method. The book recommends decluttering before storing. You can find many free videos on you tube describing it. It also calls for you to visualize what your tidy home will look like. You thank the items you part with for comming into your home and for teaching you ie - thanks for teaching me that bright orange is not my color. You blouse can go to the donate pile where you might cause someone else joy. You unused crystals bowl that aunt Jane gave me as a present served me well as a token of aunties love but you can go now.

Might help you with some of the anxiety of letting go.

F. B.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

My home office and bedroom are now super tidy (I still need to purge items from the closet) thanks to coming across a tv show from the UK called 'The Hoarder Next Door' on You Tube. It is a better-done show with a stronger therapeutic aspect than the types done in the US. Although I am not a hoarder, there are certain thought processes that applied to me and I would guess, to many people. Anyway, I found it very motivating. I wish I could access more of the series. Perhaps it could help you not only to tidy, but to be mindful of the Whys that are confusing you at this time?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

What about this? Clean out your closets. Get rid of everything in them that you don't use or is just taking up space and you don't really need it. Like duplicates of stuff.

Then go one room at a time. Get rid of stuff you don't need. If you do that, then you can leave things sitting out that you LIKE. Instead of thinking about them as "clutter", think of them as your "decor". Have shelves? Put things you like on shelves. Then it's not technically clutter. It's your pretty things on shelves. And they don't have to have anything to do with each other. Your "style" can be eclectic...

The important thing to is to get rid of stuff you don't need so that your house isn't filled with "stuff". As you get used to the new look, if you want to pare down more, do it a little at a time. If you take your time about it, you will get used to it and it won't make you feel bad. You will actually feel accomplishment...

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