Emotional Boxes and Your Clients

Definition of an Emotional Box: A container filled with contents causing a client extreme anxiety, stress, or worry.

As a professional organizer,  I identified this unique phenomenon with my clients in the late 1980’s. In the mid 1990’s I coined the term Emotional Boxes  or E-Boxes.

I found it was helpful and reassuring to my clients to put certain items into a dedicated “Emotional Box” or a small file folder when the client was extremely anxious about the material. This compartmentalization of emotional material allowed me to continue working with the client (on overall organization) rather than have the client have an emotional upset during our work. This material primarily shows up in residential space, but some client’s may have emotional material in their workspace or in-home office.

Almost everyone I meet, has some type of material that causes an emotional response. You don’t have to be disorganized to have some e-box material.   We all have something, if we have “lived” a life.

Emotional boxes have material that fall into the following general categories:


  • Material from suicide, deceased, accident
  • A decision they now regret or are troubled over
  • Misappropriated material


  • Financial ruin (bankruptcy papers, checks marked NSF)
  • Proof (canceled check, legal paper, photo showing evidence,  correspondence)


  • Thesis not turned in
  • Incomplete legal actions
  • Manuscript not submitted
  • Incomplete art or creative work


  • Journal
  • Love letter
  • Letter from or copy to another individual (Step 9 of 12-step program)
  • Incest or sexual assault documentation
  • Recovery work material
  • Stalker letter or material
  • Rejection letter from publishers or agents
  • Rejection or dismissal letter from  academic program


  • Past traumatic event
  • Current legal, medical or financial situation
  • Internal Revenue Service notices or letters
  • Upcoming life change or legal situation

I encourage professional organizers to consider using “emotional boxes” with their clients. The “emotional boxes” respect and acknowledge that the items are “emotionally” important and yet still allow the pace of work to proceed.

Please visit my website for more information on the full publication of Emotional Boxes.

Note: Clients in extreme denial about their current or upcoming situation are those that need to be actively  encouraged to seek mental health or therapeutic support or counsel.

1 Comment

Filed under Client Management Strategies, Knowledge, Organizing, Techniques, Terms

One response to “Emotional Boxes and Your Clients

  1. Fred

    Terry’s e-boxes are a most valuable concept and tool. To me the most difficult e-box to handle is the one involving guilt or a deceased loved one. I bear testimony to this, although I’m not a professional organizer. My first wife died 37 years ago yet I cannot even read her dozens of manuscripts of plays and novels, much less throw them away. It took an ultimatum from my second wife to get rid of her personal effects a couple of years after she died. Then there is a close personal friend who died 6 years ago at a premature age. I still have a tremendous number of his things. I find it difficult to deal with. Terry’s right; it has to do with guilt. It’s not genetic necessarily, because my sister doesn’t suffer from this at all.

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