Over the last six months I have been working on some enormous projects. My clients often tell me they have no idea where to even begin when a project, such as a barn, a large storage unit or an entire home, is particularly daunting. Identifying a logical starting point is one of my favorite parts of any job.

One project in particular is interesting because the client and I had completed our work together and her home was nearly perfectly organized. But then the Santa Barbara County fires swept through her neighborhood and although the fire stopped just short of her property, the smoke damage was so severe that she and her family had to move entirely out of the home.

Every possession—clothing, rugs, sofas, beds—had to be replaced or professionally cleaned and was then wrapped in plastic or paper, boxed, and moved back in to the cleaned and freshly painted house. Movers put the furniture into place, unpacked the books and made up the beds, but there were still over one hundred boxes to unpack and racks of clothing to put away.

The client was completely overwhelmed, but because the house had been so well-organized, we knew that every item had a home. But where to start?

I decided to start with the dry-cleaned clothes on the racks; these were the family’s every day clothes that did not belong on the overflow racks we had installed for the woman’s (a fashion designer) very large collection of vintage and collectible designer clothing.

Once the clothes racks were empty and the family closets were filled, we opened the many wardrobe packing boxes and hung the client’s clothing collection in the appropriate racks. Unpacking and then breaking down dozens of huge wardrobe boxes then gave us a lot of space and gave the client a huge psychological lift.

On an overwhelming job, first space needs to be created so that things can be shifted around and finally put into place. Emptying the racks was the key to the whole job; my client was even able to purge a bit more and fine tune the organizing as we worked because we used this process as an opportunity to review the stuff and her systems for storing it.

That review continued as we worked in the same way with her family photos, tools and hardware in the basement, books and even papers in the office. Imagine if we had started opening boxes with no room to maneuver and place to put anything—instant chaos.

Another large project recently was a thirty foot deep storage unit so full the door could hardly close. The client had told me that he wanted to take almost everything to the land fill or a donation site and that his goal was to get out of the unit. However, once my team and I began working, he hit the brakes many times to look through boxes and decided to save a great deal of the items in the unit, at least temporarily so that he could examine them more carefully.

We were able to create a lot of space to enable the client to have room to move comfortably in the storage unit and access all the boxes he wanted to look through. Fortunately, he was truly willing to let several mattresses and a lot of old bulky furniture go.

Getting the bulky items out of the way was the natural starting point for that job. Even before that, the real first step would be to make some calls to research landfill fees and hours, donation sites that accept furniture and any other pertinent items, and a call to a hauler or truck rental company so that the day of the cleanout you are able to move items all the way to their final destination.

I often compare organizing projects to puzzles; it can be challenging, but once the first piece is identified, the puzzle comes together more and more quickly until—snap!—the final piece is in place.