If you do you are not alone! Many people suffer from IICP at some point.  I know that I have and so have plenty of our clients. In case you’re wondering, IICP stands for Intimidation Induced Clutter Paralysis and it’s a very common affliction!

Why clutter is intimidating

Many folks who contact us for support report that they simply do not know where to start when facing an overwhelming decluttering task.

Some who experience IICP feel foolish. They think, it’s just stuff. Why in the world do my own things intimidate me!? Some people may also feel embarrassed or ashamed that they have IICP. They beat themselves up and think “it’s my fault that all this clutter is here. I should be able to handle it.”

The truth is, it’s not your fault that clutter is intimidating or that it makes you feel bad. It’s very human to feel overwhelmed by big projects. A great challenge, such as decluttering a room or closet, can set off the amygdala, the fear center in the brain.  Some of our clients actually experience panic when facing certain types of clutter.

In the words of psychologist Dr. Robert Maurer,

The brain responds to big challenges by triggering the amygdala, the fear center in the brain. If the challenge is perceived as too great, if the person stumbles, the fear becomes crippling and the person gives up, often with despair or self criticism. If the steps are small, the fear mechanism is quiet and the brain develops new habits from the repetition of small steps.

Pay particular attention to the final sentence in the quote from Dr. Maurer above:  “If the steps are small, the fear mechanism is quiet and the brain develops new habits from the repetition of small steps.” I love so many things about this observation!  Mostly I love that there is a solution to the problem of triggering fear that is not even that hard: take small steps. We can all do that, right? And, as a bonus, the repetition of small steps helps the brain to develop new habits. Developing new habits is, of course, the real key to lasting change. I could do a whole workshop or teleclass on clearing clutter by just unpacking those two thoughts and applying them to real life situations!

When a project feels insurmountable, it’s a very human response to freeze and to take no action. Many organizing projects have big end goals: moving, remodeling, downsizing, getting rid of paper, and more. It’s no wonder that you feel paralyzed about where to start! That’s why the best remedy for IICP is to break your decluttering and organizing projects (or any project, for that matter!) into small, manageable steps.

How to interrupt the intimidation cycle

The key to getting past intimidation and paralysis is to narrow your focus. While keeping the goal in sight, focus on small, short-term goals that are much more manageable. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Make a list: before you start any project, sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm a list of all the steps the project includes. It might help to write down an estimated time for each action step. Then you can plan to tackle one step at a time!
  2. If you’re decluttering a closet, your list might look like this:
    • Set up boxes for items to keep, donate, toss, and relocate
    • Sort all items on the closet floor
    • Sort all items on the hanging rod
    • Sort all items on the closet shelf
    • Put items from the keep box or pile back into the closet
    • Count final number of shoes to keep in order to research an appropriate shoe organizer
    • Arrange Salvation Army pickup for donation items
    • Take out the trash
  3. Create time limits: set a timer for 10 -15 minutes and just start. When you brain knows that the end is in sight (10-15 minutes away!) you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed. Declutter whatever grabs your attention for ten minutes and then STOP. By chipping away at the project in 10, 15, or 30-minute increments, you’ll make slow and steady progress toward your goal. Take a short break. If you wish to continue, set the timer again.
  4. Create location limits: break your project down by working on one area at a time. If you’re decluttering your attic, start with one box or shelf. The smaller the area, the more manageable the step!

Note: You can make decisions about the sorted items as you sort each small group or after you have completed sorting. You might even try it both ways and see which way reduces overwhelm. Being mindful about your feelings as you go through this process will be the key to your success.

Even though you’re breaking your project down into manageable action steps, this doesn’t mean you forget about the big end goal! After all, that goal is often an important motivator. It will help you to stay energized and remind you why you’re decluttering: to create a yoga room, a music room or a guest room, to feel more ease and joy, or to prepare to move to a new home. However, if you only focus on the big goal it’s easy to become overwhelmed, which can lead to IICP. Decluttering is about “both, and:” you focus both on your big end goal and celebrate the small, manageable steps. (Click to Tweet!)

Set yourself up for success

There’s no right or wrong way to break projects down into measurable action steps. Try one or more of the suggestions above and stick with the ones that suit you best! In order to be successful, it’s critical that you bypass or calm the amygdala by making slow, incremental changes.

The following steps will help you feel empowered and ready to tackle ANY decluttering project:

  • Set up receptacles (bags, boxes) for trash, recyclables, donations, items to return to other people, and items to relocate. A “relocation” box is so helpful! Whenever you find something that belongs in a different room, simply put it in the relocation box instead of breaking your focus to put it away.
  • Allow time to relocate the items in the relocation box at the end of your session.
  • Put dates in your calendar for a donation pickup, trip to the dump, and any other follow up tasks.

Now you’re off to the races!

Have you tackled a big decluttering project recently? Did you use the slow and steady method or did you do a marathon (a la Marie Kondo)? Please share in the comments below!

Discover more ways to mindfully declutter your home or office here! >>



Do you suffer from clutter paralysis? It's very normal. Learn why the brain reacts with overwhelm to big projects, and how to overcome your paralysis!