We all have attitudes, stories and ingrained habits of behavior that can sabotage our organization and productivity. Recognizing these sabotaging patterns is the first step toward getting into a new groove.

Overwhelm: It’s easy to look at an overstuffed garage or a closet that hasn’t been purged since the 1980s and feel that cleaning it out is a task on par with Hercules cleaning the Aegean stables. If you don’t remember the myth, there was 30 years’ worth of oxen manure from 3,000 oxen to clean out, so Hercules got creative and diverted a river to complete the chore. If he would have relied on a shovel, representing old, ingrained attitudes and thinking, he’d still be shoveling.

Sometimes the “one item at a time” approach won’t work and we have to take drastic, or at least entertaining, measures. Hire a hauler to make it magically disappear (the David Copperfield approach); hire an organizer to sort through it for you so that you can keep some of it (the Mary Poppins approach); or get a team of friends together and hold organizing parties at each person’s house until everybody has completed a clean out project (the Ya-Ya Sisterhood approach).

Depression and lethargy: So many things not related to the stuck organizing chore can factor into depression and lethargy. Consult with your health professionals about things that might be causing the down mood—a lot of the time depression is rooted in body chemistry and is not about circumstances. When I am dehydrated, haven’t slept well, have overeaten or haven’t moved and stretched my body sufficiently, all I want to do is crawl back into bed. When I just take a moment to chug water and stretch, I often am very surprised to find that I am in a better mood and have the energy to take on the task at hand.

Perfectionism: If you are a perfectionist, you may feel that it is not worth even beginning a task unless you know exactly how to do it. You may feel you need exactly the right containers and tools at the outset. You might feel that unless you have the absolutely perfect home for each item you wish to donate, you are not going to donate at all. It is ironic that many people live with disorder and broken possessions because they insist on perfectionism or nothing. The best way out of perfectionism is through—tell yourself a new story.

You might tell yourself that you will at least sort and organize one category of items and then purchase the perfect, fresh containers. I always have to talk myself into doing yardwork—I’m a perfectionist living on an unruly acre and a half of madcap, perfectly imperfect, nature. I have to tell myself I will rake one section or prune one plant. I often get into it and keep going, but the important thing is to give yourself permission to only do the minimum if that’s all you can manage. “Progress, not perfection” has become one of my favorite sayings.

Consistency or lack of: The things you do every day are so much more impactful than the things you do once in a while. If you get your e-mail in-box to zero every day, you will reap the benefits because missing even a day or two can quickly result in a distressing backlog. Exercise a little every day (fitness and good mood) rather than run a marathon once in a while (injury and exhaustion). Put things away daily rather than wait until the house is a cluttered mess. Clean out the car nightly rather than drive with a week’s worth of detritus that rattles and rolls around and maybe even smells (dirty laundry, a forgotten cantaloupe under the seat) that are a continual nuisance. Consistency prevents overwhelm.

Over consumption: When you mindlessly over-shop, you can add to existing organizational and financial problems. Are you shopping to pass the time? Out of fear of running out of something (as so many people did during the California 2020 wildfires and during Covid)? Having a little extra of everything can prevent having to run a lot of additional errands, but find the balance of enough and too much. If you have cases of toilet paper and paper towels parked where your car should be in the garage, you have over done it.