decision paralysis

Decisions can be stressful.

Do you find yourself procrastinating on making a decision because you’re afraid you’ll make the wrong choice? It may be a small decision, such as choosing whether to keep or donate a dress you haven’t worn in years. Or, even harder, deciding whether to move an aging parent to a retirement community or keep that parent in their familiar home with a caregiver. 

Going back and forth in your mind about all the possible consequences of your choice can be, well, paralyzing. We become so overwhelmed that we often do nothing at all, instead taking a sudden interest in cleaning the house or catching up on a tv show. This phenomenon is known as “decision paralysis”, and occurs when we become so overwhelmed with options that we can’t commit to a final decision. The options are overwhelming because there are too many choices, or they aren’t easy to compare. So we do nothing. 

To make matters worse, some of the biggest decisions are often time-sensitive, and you may end up feeling rushed into making a final decision before you’re ready. This added stress can lead to burnout known as “decision fatigue”, often resulting in an inability to carry out an action even though the decision has been made.

Decision Paralysis

Signs of decision paralysis include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or doubtful of your capabilities
  • Overcomplicating your choices
  • An inability to prioritize 
  • Having unrealistic expectations for perfectionism

If making decisions causes you anxiety or puts you into a state of fear, you are definitely not alone. This frozen feeling is very common. In fact, almost all people struggle with decision paralysis at some point in their lives.

For many of our downsizing clients, decision paralysis is a huge obstacle.  Deciding where to move, what to take with you, and what to do with the rest can create hundreds of decisions small and large.  It can be helpful to recognize how a reluctance to make decisions will impact your progress, and to make a deliberate effort to face it head-on.   

Professional Organizer Rebekah Atwater frequently sees decision paralysis in her clients who need to make changes both small and large.  She offers these pro tips to help you get a handle on decision paralysis before you dive into your downsizing project:

Give yourself grace. Acknowledge that you will need to make many difficult decisions, and that decision-making can be exhausting.  Focus on the most important decisions, and give yourself permission to delegate smaller decisions to others.  

Put it on paper.  We recommend that you make a list of major decisions and to actually write out viable options. It also helps to give each decision an “importance” ranking to help you prioritize which decisions deserve your full attention. Some people find that it’s helpful to also write out emotions or fears that surround the decision. This type of written process clarifies your thinking, keeps you focused, and helps you avoid ruminating.

Narrow down choices. The more options we have, the more likely we are to put off a decision.  Plus, research has shown that people are generally happier with their decision when they have fewer options from which to choose. 

Avoid thinking in binary terms. On the other hand, sometimes we assume that we have to choose between two options. When you are stuck between only two options, both which seem problematic, consider if there is a third option: a hybrid between the two or a completely new approach.

Get an outside opinion. Challenge yourself to talk over your options with three people. Chances are, one of them will have a fresh perspective or a resource you hadn’t considered.

Consider the worst case scenario. Would you be able to cope with and accept the worst outcome? Yes, you probably would. Find peace in writing down a backup plan if your decision turns out to be not the best choice. Decision-making is not a “one and done” activity, it’s an ongoing process that should facilitate adaptation along the way.

Accept your choice. Nip regret in the bud. Make a decision, and then accept that it was the right decision to have made at the time.  There will always be opportunities to make changes in the future, or you may come to find that you can live with the way things turned out. 

The only true mistake is to miss out on advancing your goals or lifestyle because of delayed decisions.  Every decision moves you forward, and the more of them you make, the easier it gets!

Rebekah Atwater is a Professional Organizer and decluttering specialist in Northern Virginia.


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