5 Small Organizing Projects to Drive Away the Blues

5 Small Organizing Projects

I drove around Los Angeles all day yesterday listening to the radio. Evidently, the publicist for the new Brian Wilson bio-pic Love and Mercy did some excellent work, because the movie was featured on every single NPR show throughout the day.

As a result the chorus from Wilson’s “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is still spinning in my head:

Sometimes I feel very sad
Sometimes I feel very sad
(Can’t find nothin’ I can put my heart and soul into)
I guess I just wasn’t made for these times

And heck, because I’m human, like Brian Wilson, like you, sometimes I also feel very sad. Overwhelm hits and you suddenly realize it isn’t possible to solve every single problem in your life within a 24 hour period no matter how many habit forming articles you read.

What do you do in the face of overwhelm like this?

You start small.

Here’s Anne Lamott talking about how to start small to avoid collapsing under the tremendous weight of mounting anxiety:

“…I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”

I wrote a lot about the benefits of organizing in How Organizing Can Help A Worried Mind. In summary: it’s natural to hit seasons of sadness and depression, but if you’re hitting a point where you’d like some relief, try organizing: it takes you out of your head, takes you out of that self-criticizing loop, gives you a focus, and the small project gives you an invaluable sense of accomplishment in a short amount of time.

We’re starting small, remember? We ended up here by mistaking the 50,000 foot view of our life as a task list so let’s now bring the plane down closer to earth so there’s a simple, but fulfilling win for the day.


  1. Your sock drawer: perfect candidate for our targeted scale so click here to read through the process and see how this very project helped a scandalized politician through a rough patch.
  2. A junk drawer: in the comments for the Easing Mind post linked above, Elizabeth writes about how this very project gave her relief in a depressed season and how it continued to bring joy over time, because “we can find things!” Small projects can be the gift to yourself and your family that keeps giving.
  3. One folder or five documents on your Mac: create a Z_Archive. Click here and go to Action #12 to find out how.
  4. Today’s mail: go the mailbox, grab the mail and immediately walk to your recycling can. Standing over it, go piece by piece, and either put it in the can or move it to the other hand to take action on later.
  5. Pick up three things. This may be the most concise, actionable, and motivating piece of organizing, parenting, and life advice I’ve received in the last two years. I was on a job with my colleague Standolyn Robertson and I was looking down at many, many things and evidently with a look of sheer confusion when she told me, “This is what I would tell my sons: pick up three things.” Reach down and one, two, three. Now they’re in your hands, now you can figure out to do with them. You don’t have to figure out what to do with ALL of that stuff, you just at this moment need to figure out what to do with those three things. (Small frames help!)

Sometimes you feel very sad. That’s natural. If it’s wearing on you though try one of these five projects. See if it doesn’t give you some relief.

What’s the small organizing project that brings you a break from blues? Write it in the comments below, it’ll help you and others.

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  • Moppet201

    This is great Deron! I nearly cried on Sunday looking at the house and going “I’m just so overwhelmed!” Now I know what to do: pick up three things.

  • Deron, like your number 5. above, I found one small piece of advice really helpful back when I was a busy working mom of three busy young kids: the 7-Minute Sweep. I think it was in a book called “The Family Manager.” That author had tons of great advice but that one really stuck and I still use it for myself. Set a timer, and fly around picking up and putting away everything you can for 7 minutes. It was a great ritual for after play dates, before getting ready for bed, before setting the table for supper. Small frames DO work well! And if all five of us were doing it at the same time, it’s a lot like 35 minutes of rally-paced pick up. 🙂

    • Faith! Love the “7-Minute Sweep” idea, will add it to my small frame arsenal. My wife and I have done versions of that with our boys and the presence of the physical kitchen timer ticking, ticking away really seems to add to motivating them to MOVE and SWEEP. Thanks, Faith!