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shift the focus to the stuff

As a professional organizer, I often am on the receiving end of comments like: I’m so stupid, why did I let this happen? Or some people say: I’m a slob, I’m a packrat, I’m a collector just like my parents and things like: I’m so lazy, if I were not so lazy my house wouldn’t look this way. Can you relate? Do you call yourself out? What are the names you call yourself or the things you say to yourself? Are these things on repeat? Do these nasty phrases cycle through your mind over and over again? Shift your focus away from calling yourself names and onto the real problem, the clutter.

You are more than a messy, disorganized room or a messy house. Jonda Beattie and I are trained professional organizers. We see you as a person first. Then we look to see what we can do to help you with the disorganized space. We want to know about you and how you want your home to function so that the things it contains work for you.

Seriously, it does you no good whatsoever to call yourself names. Nor does it do any good to blame yourself. Blame serves no purpose. Further, blaming yourself will not make the clutter disappear. Shift your focus away from yourself and think about your next step.

Take responsibility for your actions or lack thereof and do so without blaming yourself. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Shift your focus onto clutter that is laying about

Is there so much stuff out making your home look messy because there is no place to put it? Maybe the problem is not so much you but the available storage in your home. There are a couple of ways to fix this.

  1. You can take a critical look at the storage available to you in your home, weed out what is being stored (maybe you no longer want those things), and put your things away.
  2. Decide you need better storage. Still weed that which is being contained now and then invest in better storage.

Things as reminders

Did you intentionally leave things out to remind you to do certain tasks or errands? Next time, schedule a day and time to do the task or the errand. Corral the ideas on a list either on paper or in your phone.

Delayed decisions

Maybe the problem is not that there is so much stuff but that you don’t know what to do with it. In this case, get help. You can enlist a non-judgmental friend or family member to help you put things away. You can also look for a professional organizer in your area by going to (The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Specialists) or (Institute for Challenging Disorganization). Both these organizations list professional organizers. Search for a professional organizer in your geographic area.

CHAOS (Can’t have anyone over syndrome)

Is the clutter problem such that you don’t want to invite anyone into your home? Do you feel embarrassed and ashamed because of the way your home looks? Shift your focus away from your feelings and start creating a vision board for the way you want your home to become. You can do this by clipping out pictures from magazines or by going onto Pinterest and making a virtual vision board.

Be honest and acknowledge the problem

The first step to conquering the clutter is to acknowledge where the problem is coming from.

Are you telling yourself the truth?

  • Is it because you don’t know how to deal with the clutter or is it because you don’t want to do this by yourself?
  • Is it because the problem is overwhelming?
  • Is it because you’ve been telling yourself for so many years that you can’t that you now believe that this is an impossible task?

Change the words you have been repeating to yourself. Start saying I can (add with help). Find the help you need and get started. Now is as good a time as any.

Shift the focus away from yourself and onto the clutter. Whether you are working to conquer the clutter on your own or with help start small. Pick one small area to start and work in short segments of time. Little by little you will see improvement.

If you want to do this great work on your own but also need some accountability, Jonda Beattie and I run a virtual clutter support group called: Clear Space for You. Remember you are more than the way your home looks. Be kind to yourself and then get out there and conquer the clutter.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® ,a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia



  • Being kind to oneself is so important. And perhaps that’s the most challenging part of changing habits and patterns. There are the physical aspects to our clutter habits and then the psychological parts.

    Reaching out for help can make such a difference with changing space, behaviors, and the way we treat ourselves. Getting support is a form of self-care and can do wonders for changing the negative scripts.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Kindness matters in all aspects of life. Treating yourself kindly encourages others to do the same. Thank you so much for commenting, Linda.

  • Seana Turner says:

    I’m always surprised by the power the words we speak to ourselves (and about ourselves) have. We really do listen to ourselves! Definitely just speaking a positive mindset can make a difference. Even if you are standing in chaos, you can still say, “I am becoming an organized person.” And then as you say, finding what the true hurdle is will get you focused on the right issue.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      I think finding an appropriate mantra can be a big help. Thank you for commenting, Seana.

  • Great advice! This past weekend, we decluttered and brought things together for my daughter’s rental home for her junior year. We just had to do it and get things done. Having a deadline really does help get moving. Having her and her roommates make decisions has been the biggest challenge. They didn’t want it to be piecemealed together. So, now it looks like we need to do some prep work on some of the used furniture. But, at least they are all in one place, the garage. Thanks for sharing!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Having a deadline can be a big help – you know you just have to move forward in time for … Good luck!

  • Julie Bestry says:

    So many people instinctually focus on themselves, and negatively at that, in a way that asserts that they are unchangeable: “I am broken/lazy/stupid.” You are so right that by focusing on the clutter, it’s much easier to accent what is changeable: “This stuff is covering the desk. I can take it off the desk. file or toss it, and next time, not put it smack in the middle of the desk.” By following your precepts, focusing on the stuff rather than the self, the accent can be on what is able to be changed! Plus, we’re less likely to insult inanimate objects than we are to insult ourselves, and as you show, getting to the “why” assures the greater likelihood of success!

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