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6 Thinking Errors That Will Sabotage Your Organizing Efforts

6 Thinking Errors That Will Sabotage Your Organizing Efforts


There are a number of unhelpful thinking styles people tend to fall prey to when they think about their belongings. These thinking styles are also called cognitive distortions. These distortions are ways in which our mind tricks us that something isn't really true. This negative thinking gets us into the trap of thinking biased thoughts about ourselves and our situation. These distorted thoughts often reinforce negative thinking patterns and emotions. 


In my work with clients, I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to rid people of this "stinkin' thinkin.'" I work with people to get them to recognize these thinking traps, to then come up with ways to refute them, and to replace these distortions with more rational and balanced thinking. 


Here are 6 common cognitive distortions, though there are many more:


1. All-or-Nothing Thinking  = "If I don't do this perfectly, I'm a loser." 

You see things in black and white categories with no room for gray. If your performance is sub-par in any way, you see yourself as a failure. 

In my work, I see people who will buy things for their house (a television, new decor items, baskets) but if they can't find just the perfect spot or the right way to use them, they sit in the boxes and bags they came home from the store in. Or they know how they want their pantry to look, but because they feel they can't achieve a Pinterest-worthy image they sabotage their efforts by doing nothing. 


2. "Should" Statements = "I should keep this because it's perfectly good."

You try to motivate yourself with should, shouldn't, must, and ought statements. It's like you have to feel tortured before you can be expected to do something. You often feel guilty as an emotional consequence. By using should statements you are making the assumption that you are obligated to behave in certain ways. 

I frequently come across people in my work who feel obligated to practice strict recycling habits. This often backfires in that they never find the time to break down the delivery boxes to put them in the recycling bin or their sinks are always full with dishes that they can't properly wash out the cans and bottles for the redemption center. These items just sit in their homes and continue to pile up. 


3. Fortune-telling = "If I get rid of these magazines, I'll make a mistake and throw out some important piece of information."

You're wired so that you're always going to predict a negative outcome without realistically considering the odds of that outcome. In a way, you believe your magic 8-ball will always tell you something bad is going to happen.

I've heard countless times from folks that if they throw such-and-such away that they're going to need it, or that they won't be able to stay organized because they'll just mess it up again, or that their loved one will continue to put them down no matter the effort they're putting into getting the house in order. 


4. Mental Filtering = "I cleared most of the clutter off my couch except that one cushion - I'll never finish!"

You have tunnel vision whereby all you see is negative and you filter out the positive. You dwell on a negative detail so much that it clouds your reality. It's like the red sock that turns the load of whites to pink. 

In my work with clients I'm constantly pointing out the baby steps and progress being made on a project, but am frequently met with "but look at the rest of the house," "there are so many more messes," "the clutter is never-ending."


5. Catastrophizing = "If I don't save this item from my mother I'll never be able to remember her again and I'll never get over the guilt of feeling like a horrible daughter."

You either blow things out of proportion or you inappropriately minimize something to make it seem less important. You feel that if something bad happens it'll be a catastrophe of epic proportions that will be unbearable. 

I have heard this sentiment countless times that if anyone knew that they lived like this they would be a social outcast, their friends wouldn't talk to them and they wouldn't be taken seriously in their career. 


6. Emotional Reasoning = "I must need this object or else why would I be feeling so anxious about discarding it?"

By employing this type of thinking you turn feelings into facts. It's the "I feel it, so it must be true" reasoning. This is a tricky thought process because such thinking can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies whereby your thoughts can bring out the behavior you predicted because you changed your behavior to match the thought. 

Our emotional attachment to our possessions can run deep. I frequently hear people say that they can't part with a particular item because it'll be like getting rid of a part of themselves. Or they can't get rid of something that their children made because they would be a bad parent. 


I think all of us whether we struggle with a little clutter or a lot of clutter can relate to a few of these cognitive distortions. When you do recognize yourself getting caught up in one of these faulty thinking traps it's important not to panic. Acknowledge that by recognizing your own patterns of thinking you are on the journey towards changing them. 


Which one resonated with you? How do you work to contradict these unhelpful thought patterns? 



Categories: Mental Health / Hoarding


  • Kim
    Hi Sarah, Yes, I see and hear a lot of these thought processes in our group and also when working with clients one on one. I always mention that when you think to yourself "I might need it someday" that you can make that come true as in Law of Attraction. I will ask if they think that they will be able to get this item if it is needed and in most cases they can.
    8/27/2018 1:28:06 PM Reply
    • @Kim: I love that example you used about the Law of Attraction. I'm going to start using it myself! ;)
      8/28/2018 9:54:56 AM Reply
  • These all felt a bit familiar, but especially the "should" statements. I had amassed a fairly large collection of used batteries, toner cartridges, and other such items to take up to the hazardous waste centre, but never seemed to get around to going. Finally I broke down and threw them all in the regular garbage and I'm starting fresh. Hopefully if I can deal with the stuff BEFORE it gets out of hand, it won't be an errand I keep avoiding. I still feel guilty about it though...
    8/27/2018 10:38:23 AM Reply
    • @Janet Barclay: If it's any consolation, when I went to our spring hazardous waste collection, I waited in line for upwards of an hour before I could pull up and unload my stuff! I completely get why some chores we just put off. I always got a kick out of the expression, "Quit 'shoulding' all over yourself!" Keep that one in mind, Janet. :)
      8/28/2018 9:53:56 AM Reply
  • Cognitive distortions! That term is new to me, although all of the thought patterns you've described are familiar. I've encountered all of them with clients and have experienced some myself too. These distortions often appear more frequently when someone is feeling especially vulnerable. Lack of sleep or extra stress can provide fertile ground for the unhelpful thinking to emerge. For me personally, my husband great for helping me gain a more helpful perspective. And truthfully, his sense of humor goes a long way in these instances. With clients, though, I'm cautious about using humor in these instances. Instead we talk through some of the assumptions to see if we can find an opening for a more helpful perspective.
    8/27/2018 10:19:09 AM Reply
    • @Linda Samuels: Cognitive distortions is the textbook label, but it can also be referred to as faulty thinking, thinking traps, etc. I completely agree that when we are not feeling 100% that we are more likely to go down this route of reasoning. And good point about using humor as a coping strategy. For some, it works, and for others not so much.
      8/28/2018 9:51:12 AM Reply
  • I see a lot of "all or nothing" thinking. It can be a tough pattern to break. I think this is one case where taking small steps with courage can lead to real change. When we see that everything didn't fall apart, it builds our confidence to try a bit more. I also love the phrase "catastrophizing," and it can be very emotional. When the anxiety starts to build, it can be healthy to step back and even shift focus. One of my favorite phrases is, "Let's play the probables." If we can more accurately assess reality, we have a shot at removing some of the air from that expanding fear bubble. Having an outsider's perspective can be very helpful here.
    8/25/2018 4:13:37 PM Reply
    • @Seana Turner: Yes all-or-nothing thinking or black-and-white thinking as it's also called is a big one. And I agree that breaking things down step by step can be helpful to combat this thought pattern. I like your phrase about "playing the probables." It's a nice way to help keep things in perspective.
      8/27/2018 8:57:42 AM Reply

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