One thing I’ve heard over and over again from new clients is, “I don’t know where to start.” There’s a lot of places a person can start to get organized; it can depend on how much time you have, how much energy you have, whether you need special tools or to schedule helpers like trash haulers. But one way to start if you are faced with what seems an insurmountable organization task is to create a little blank space.

Clearing a surface and creating some blank space in your kitchen, bathroom or desk top can relieve a lot of stress and give you a sense of accomplishment and hopefulness. Begin by starting at one side or one corner and work your way across the surface, item by item. Make your decisions about the item before moving on to the next one. Is it trash, recycle, donate, shred, actionable, consign or sell, keep? Does it belong in that room? Does it need to be on the surface? If not, do you have a place for it? If so, put it in that place right there and then, with the exception of items going up or down stairs; have a basket or tub for those things and put them away all at once when you’ve cleared the surface.

When you decide an item belongs in a drawer, but the drawer is a mess, put it in there anyway. Now’s not the time to organize the drawer. That will be a separate project. The goal is just to clear the surface with a lot of intention. You are not just shoving everything into a drawer or closet, you are deciding its final fate, whether it’s in or out. There’s a huge difference in the accomplishment factor when you don’t just sweep everything under the proverbial rug.

By the same token though, if you decide an item belongs in the closet, don’t just throw it in. Hang it up or fold it or do whatever you need to do to act “as if” the closet is also organized. Don’t add to the overwhelm in the closet, if possible, by leaving work for later. It’s akin to taking out the trash but just leaving the bag outside the garbage can. Racoons or the wind might scatter the trash all around the yard, creating a lot more work. Obviously, you finish the chore and put the trash in the can.

When you’ve cleared the surface, wipe it down with a rag and the appropriate cleanser. This newly cleared space should inspire you to keep going and will provide a surface to work on the next project, cleaning out a drawer perhaps or organizing some papers or folding tee shirts.

You can also prevent overwhelm by creating blank space in your calendar. Scroll through it and determine what appointments are unnecessary and what can be renegotiated to give you some free time to think, plan or rest.

A rule of thumb for organizing is to always leave about 20% of space to add something new or to give you room to manage your things. A file drawer should never be completely full, for example—it makes it too difficult to file or to find things and also causes a lot of hangnails from trying to reach into jam-packed paper, which not only can cut you but is very drying to the skin. Loose files, aka some blank space, will make your life a lot more pleasant. To get there you either have to purge and shred or buy more file cabinets.

Even in writing, blank space is appreciated and prevents overwhelm in the reader. If you’ve ever read David Foster Wallace and waded through the tiny print of his copious footnotes you know what I mean. You can see in paragraph two, above, that I could probably have broken it up into two separate paragraphs and given the reader a little more blank space, which is so much easier on the eyes and the brain. My apologies!