I’ve heard it said that your only as serene as the most chaotic space in your environment. In twelve step programs and sometimes in therapy you might be told, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” If there is shame around one area of your environment, it definitely can mess with your serenity and prevent you from doing things like entertaining at your home or hosting meetings in your office.

The fairytale example of this phenomenon is about the wealthy nobleman Bluebeard who famously had many wives, all of whom disappeared mysteriously. Eventually it is discovered that Bluebeard had beheaded all of his wives and kept their heads in a closet that he forbid anyone to look into. Everything else in Bluebeard’s chateau looked Architectural Digest perfect; the closet full of lovely heads represents the darkest area of Bluebeard’s psyche, the one thing he kept hidden. Bringing it into the light breaks the cycle of shame, secrecy and, in Bluebeard’s case, horror.

Junk drawers, garages and hall closets may not be full of severed heads but sometimes my clients grimace when I look into these areas as if they might be. Once we deal with the deepest area of disorder, there is usually a tremendous upsurge in energy for tackling other projects. Like the famous business book, “Eat That Frog,” says, if you have to eat a frog, eat the biggest, ugliest one first. Typically my clients are amazed and relieved at how much less time and effort getting to the bottom of these neglected areas takes.

Sometimes starting with the secret shame spot allows you to create the room to start shifting other things in the home or office. The most common example is the garage or storage unit that is stuffed full. Until it is cleaned out, there is no room to unburden other areas in the environment. It is like a clog in a pipe—it has to be removed to allow things to flow again. Ideally, you do not purge and organize in order to fill the space with different stuff, but to be able to use it as a landing pad for stuff that is in process as you organize other areas of the home.

I like to clear surfaces in a space first for the same reason. It might seem that getting into messy cupboards would be the first priority, but until the outer chaotic surfaces are relieved of clutter and piles of stuff, there is nowhere to examine the items that would be coming out of the cupboards and closets. So before getting behind closed doors, make sure the beds, couches and counters have been cleared so that you have work space.

If the stuff on the surfaces amounts to a few hours organizing in itself, you might stash it in plastic bins to get it out of the way while you purge the messier interior spaces. Usually the stuff that is out and about is current and that makes it much easier to organize than the old stale stuff that has been stashed in cupboards and closets. Waiting to organize the current stuff after the stale stuff can sometimes be very beneficial and even give you clarity about the more current items and papers.

Getting into the deepest, darkest areas of our spaces is something we put off for too long. If you’re anything like me or my typical clients, once you experience that feeling of freedom and lightness after tackling your “Bluebeard’s Closet,” you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it much, much sooner.