5 Organization Tricks for Highly Sensitive People

published May 23, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

In an ideal world, your home should feel serene and rejuvenating, and organization can play a huge part in accomplishing that. Ever notice how a cluttered room makes it hard to focus or wind down, or the way a disheveled dresser can interfere with your daily routines? While pretty much everybody can appreciate a neat and orderly space, for highly sensitive people who are more aware of and affected by their surroundings, keeping things organized is a mental health and well-being necessity.

If you identify as an HSP, tailoring your organization process to your needs can help the project feel less daunting — and help you create a space you feel totally peaceful in. 

Here’s what you need to know about staying organized as a highly sensitive person, according to a therapist and pro organizer who identify as HSPs. 

What is a highly sensitive person? 

Psychologist Elaine Aron first coined the term “highly sensitive person” in the 1990s. Think of high sensitivity as having a heightened nervous system. According to L.A.-based licensed marriage and family therapist April House, highly sensitive people more easily notice external stimuli (think bright lights, loud or persistent sounds, large crowds, strong scents, or rough fabric textures). On top of picking up on these things, HSPs are also more bothered by them — for example, a scratchy t-shirt might feel like nails on a chalkboard.

Emotionally speaking, House says HSPs are typically big feelers with perfectionistic tendencies. Having too much to do can feel super overwhelming for an HSP, as can uncomfortable physical environments. For all these reasons, House, who has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, says HSPs tend to be strategic about avoiding uncomfortable, upsetting, or overwhelming situations, whether a crowded party or a disorganized space

One important note: While therapists recognize highly sensitive traits, it’s not an official diagnosis. But, House says it often correlates with diagnosable conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or chronic pain. 

What role does organization play for an HSP?

For an HSP, home is often a sanctuary — the one place they can decompress from overwhelming stimuli — so it’s important for that space to feel comfortable. “Because HSPs are so easily overwhelmed and sensitive to their environment, organization is crucial,” House says. “Even more so than other people, the adage about external chaos breeding internal chaos couldn’t be more relevant for HSPs.” 

Lots of factors can contribute to what feels comfortable for an HSP. Caroline Solomon, a pro organizer in New York, says visual clutter can be especially irritating for more sensitive folks, so it’s unlikely an HSP would be drawn to open shelving or busy, maximalist design. Instead, she says, HSPs tend to like and benefit from more minimalist spaces, where everything has a dedicated, ideally not visible, home.

Here’s the catch: For someone who’s easily overwhelmed, the process of getting organized can also feel like a lot, and maybe even trigger some uncomfortable feelings. That’s why, if you’re an HSP, it’s so important to do projects at your own pace and organize your space in a way that feels both visibly comforting and sustainable. 

Whether you’re highly sensitive yourself or you want to create a better space for you overall, here are some steps to take that might help. 

Mindfully declutter. 

According to Solomon, the first step to an HSP-friendly home is decluttering. The simple presence of too much stuff can irritate a sensitive nervous system, so it’s important to pare down wherever possible. Plus, decluttering makes it that much easier to organize the belongings you don’t want to part with. 

Because you’ll be more likely to throw in the towel if you get overwhelmed, take baby steps toward decluttering. Organizing an entire room might feel too taxing, so instead, focus on a drawer or cabinet to start. It may also help to organize with areas that feel less emotionally charged — your junk drawer or medicine cabinet, for example, might feel more doable than your clothes closet or drawer full of old photos and cards. Once you decide on an area, Solomon suggests setting a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and deciding what stays and what goes. 

Make clutter invisible. 

Once you determine what to recycle or rehome, it’s time to organize what you’ve kept. The key, Solomon says, is to focus on reducing visual clutter. Audit your space and only keep out what you use on a daily or weekly basis. 

For example, if you have toast for breakfast every morning, leave your toaster on the counter. But if you don’t drink coffee very much, tuck your coffeemaker away and pull it out when you use it. In the bathroom, keep your most-used skincare and makeup products easily accessible in a medicine cabinet, basket, or bin, and store other items in a linen closet (or wherever you have room). 

Try to use closed containers whenever you can for smaller items. While Solomon says hiding visual stimuli can be a game-changer for HSPs, you’ll only use your stuff if you know where it is. That’s why she recommends using bins or baskets with labels. “That way, you can easily pull out what you need, but you’re not seeing what’s inside,” she says. 

Keep your self-care tools front and center.

As an HSP, it’s important to create dedicated areas in your home for self-care. Prioritize easy access to anything you use for self-care. While House says having these items visible will remind you to use them regularly, it’s also important to tamp down stressful clutter by finding a pretty way to organize and display them. 

For example, you could designate a woven bin for your favorite herbal teas and label it, or you could tuck your favorite soft blankets in a basket next to your couch.

Choose soothing organizational tools. 

For some people, using an old delivery box to organize is a great way to save money and reduce consumption. But for HSPs, form and function are equally important. Spend some extra time picking out organizers that feel calming to you, since they’ll contribute to the overall vibe of your home. Solomon recommends picking bins, boxes, and baskets in neutral colors and soothing, woven textures, such as rope, canvas, cotton, or linen. 

Be kind to yourself. 

For HSP folks who tend toward perfectionism, it can be helpful to decide on “good enough” results — you’re human, and your home may not feel the way you want it to all the time. House also recommends taking frequent breaks to recharge during the organization process as needed. “Mindfulness, meditation, a bath, soft music, or hot tea can all be good options for calming, self-soothing, and grounding,” she says. 

In the vein of self-compassion, try to keep people-pleasing in check. For example, rather than relying on a Pinterest board or a friend’s advice for organizing your things, tune into your own intuition. “Even if it takes longer to finish the project, the time and effort is an investment in the future enjoyment of your personal space,” says House.