We all have them: the ever-present flat surfaces that seem to be forever covered in piles of something, whether it’s papers, jackets, books, toys or groceries. We purpose daily that we’re going to get a handle on it, but we come home exhausted or get distracted by our incredibly busy lives and end the day feeling even more overwhelmed because we added yet another pile.

The feeling of being overwhelmed and drowning in stuff is real. But there is a solution.

Remember that baby steps are still real steps. Set a 10-minute timer and tackle just one pile. Just one. Each member of the household can race to see who can rehome anything that doesn’t belong, like toys in the dining room, the fastest. You can do the same while food is cooking in the microwave, waiting for the kettle to boil or while listening to two of your favorite songs. You can do this one or more times per day. Be sure to reward yourself afterward.

Cellphone alarms are an excellent way to accomplish this. My daughter and I call them “timed chores.” When the alarm goes off, you hit snooze for another 10 minutes. One person can accomplish six tasks in an hour. Multiply this by however many people are in your household, and you can see that you absolutely can tackle all of those piles that seemed daunting. Use the same strategy for any other task.

Editing your stuff

Do you struggle with losing your keys, wallet or phone under piles of stuff? Create a permanent spot for them, preferably near the front or garage door. Years ago, I found a small wooden planter box and painted it to match my decor. I kept my keys and pager in it when I was at home. I never had to go looking around for either. You can do the same with a small tray, or by always keeping both next to your phone charger.

The same goes for purses and backpacks. There should always be a permanent station for backpacks near the door you frequently use to leave your home. It can be as simple as a hook on the wall, or a more elaborate hall tree with individual cubbies for backpacks and purses. If you live alone, a small table by the door can hold your tray or dish for your keys and phone, while your purse or backpack can hang on the back of the same door, ready to grab as you leave the house.

The trick is that a backpack should always be kept on its hook or in its cubby unless it’s in use. This means as soon as you walk in the door, you take it immediately to its “home.” It doesn’t get left on the floor, a table or a chair, or forgotten in the car. Every day it’s in use, take a few minutes to edit the contents. Editing means sorting what needs to stay, what needs to be dealt with – whether it’s recycling or shredding papers – or what needs to be signed and returned. Is there trash in the backpack or purse? Are there supplies that need to be replenished? If you take five minutes to deal with all of that at once, you won’t have a mess to clean up later in the week.

Purses and wallets need to be edited frequently, too. Wallets can hold an amazing number of small pieces of paper that you’ve written important notes on. Deal with those notes on a daily basis. Decide whether that business card information from someone at a networking event is crucial to add to your contact list on your phone or computer. Either way, don’t feel guilty for recycling it. In fact, don’t feel guilty for recycling or shredding any of the papers from your piles. You’ll be reducing the monumental overwhelm you feel as you walk around your home or office.

Less is more: more peace, more feelings of calm, more life in your life. You can do this.

Los Altos Hills resident Lyn Rogers is a professional organizer and owner and CEO of Lyn At Your Service. For more information, visit LynAtYourService.com.