I remember when I was too overwhelmed to start decluttering. It was awful. I had no idea what needed to be done, where to start, or why my house always looked like a tornado came through it.
Maybe you look around your home, and you aren’t happy with what you see. It is a mess. You feel like all you do is clean, and still, the mess creeps back in a day, maybe two.
You may feel angry with yourself or your family for letting it get this way, but you have no idea where to start. It all seems incredibly overwhelming.
It is when you start to recognize the mess that never goes away that you are half-way there to fixing it. You are no longer clutter blind, and you want something to change. The problem is, you have no idea where to start.
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Here are 15 steps you can take when you feel way too overwhelmed to start decluttering:
1 – Simply start
I know it sounds crazy when the problem is you have no idea how to start, but simply start. It’s kind of like going to the gym or on a much-needed walk. You don’t want to do it, but once you start moving, your body and your mindset feel so much better.
Stop making excuses, and simply start. It’s the tough love you need to give yourself today to feel better tomorrow.
2 – Start small
You aren’t trying to declutter your house in one weekend. While that may work for some who already have a fairly clean and clutter-free home, if your home is a cluttered mess, it is going to take some time to get it all done, and that’s ok.
It took you a lifetime to accumulate all this clutter. It won’t all be gone in a day.
3 – Set a timer for a short time
You don’t have to have a marathon decluttering session. Let’s be honest, that’s not how most of us want to spend our time. If you set yourself up to be decluttering all afternoon, you will never want to start.
Pick a short time, 5, 10, or 15 minutes, and set a time. That’s it. When the timer goes off, stop if you want. If you are on a roll, then, by all means, keep going, but you don’t have to.
If you declutter just 15 minutes a day for 5 days a week, you will have devoted 5 hours to clearing the clutter from your home in a month!
4 – Make a plan
If you say, “I will start decluttering one day soon”, it will never happen. No one wants to declutter their home, so it is the task that always gets pushed to another day.
Make yourself a plan. Actually write out your plan, “On XX day at XX time, I will set aside XX minutes to clear ______ space.” Now, write it down on your calendar, put an alarm in your phone, or wherever else you track your day.
5 – Create a starting ritual to build a new habit
Part of habit building means training your brain to do something new. It doesn’t always come naturally, so you have to give your brain queues to do something new and outside of the norm. Some habit experts suggest creating a starting ritual.
One of my favorite starting rituals is to create a special playlist for the task at hand. For example, every time I work out, I start with the same song. It doesn’t matter what songs follow that one if I want to switch things up.
Every day for two weeks, I played that same song whenever I started my workout. Now, even when the song comes on randomly, I feel the urge to put on my workout clothes and get moving! It’s weird how the brain works.
You can do the same thing for getting motivated to start decluttering when you are feeling overwhelmed.
If you aren’t a big music person (me), you can use Amazon Music to pick a playlist for you. There is even a playlist called “Cleaning Your House”. Easy-peasy.
6 – Ask for help
When I was too overwhelmed to start decluttering, part of it was the result of carrying around the unnecessary burden that I had to go at it alone.
Ask for help!
Ask your spouse to help you tackle one closet, one bookcase, etc, or ask your kids to go through one toy box with you.
If you need someone to watch the kids, call in a favor with a neighbor or family member. If you must, declare Saturday morning a surprise movie day for the kids and get to work!
7 – Fill a bag
You’ve got a plan, your playlist is ready, the kids are entertained, but maybe you are still feeling too overwhelmed to start decluttering. Where to start?!
Fill a bag. That’s it.
If you have a big mess, fill a big bag, like a garbage bag. It is super motivating when you are done and you have an entire bag to toss or give away.
You can start with trash, obvious giveaway clothes, or something else easy and with little emotion tied to it. Don’t start with your sentimental stuff. If you do, you will remain stuck!
8 – Break a large space into manageable tasks
We talked about starting small. The same goes for when you have an entire room to tackle. You can’t eat an elephant in one bite!
Take a large space and break it up into small, manageable tasks. If you have a junk room / storage room (been there), then break the room up into zones.
You can start with one bookcase, then move on to a shelf in a closet, and then move to under the bed. Don’t try to clean and declutter the entire room in a day if that seems too overwhelming.
9 – Find a place that will make a difference
When you are too overwhelmed to start decluttering, sometimes it helps to start in a place that will make a noticeable difference for you and your family (and not be too hard to accomplish).
My favorite noticeable place to work is in the entryway. It is the first place you see when you walk into a home, and that first impression stays with you as you and gives you a sense of calm as you walk in every day.
In fact, the noticeable difference can be something as simple as tackling shoe storage. Sometimes, shoe storage can be nothing more than an organized mess! Create a simple solution that gets shoes off the floor and organized neatly.
You can also develop a solution for purses, book bags, etc. Something as simple as adding a few hooks to your entryway closet or a hanging set of hooks near the door may fix your clutter problem when entering the home.
10 – Create a calming place
My absolute favorite place to declutter first is your bedroom! When you start with your bedroom, you accomplish two things.
First, you are starting with mostly your stuff. Secondly, you are creating yourself a retreat that is calming and relaxing, away from the craziness of the rest of the house. Sure, no one sees your bedroom, but you do.
When you have a more minimalist bedroom, you are giving yourself a place to retreat every morning and every evening that isn’t chaotic. It is the best feeling in the world, and it is why I suggest people start there if they want to feel calmer in their home.
11 – Listen to a motivational podcast
Sometimes, you simply don’t want to get off the couch and clean your house. I get it.
If you are still feeling too overwhelmed to start decluttering, put in your headphones and listen to a motivational podcast.
Specifically, you can listen to some of my favorite minimalist podcasts to get you moving and to inspire new behaviors in your home!
12 – Listen to a motivational book
I’ve become obsessed with listening to audiobooks from Audible. I love Audible. I try listening to books from my local library’s digital collection, but oftentimes, more popular books are on a long waitlist, and I get any book I want immediately when using Audible.
13 – Take it out!
One way to keep yourself motivated and not feeling too overwhelmed by clutter is to get the clutter out of your house…immediately!
When clutter leaves your home, you have more space. More space quickly motivates you to keep forward momentum, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed.
14 – Donate, don’t sell
One area I see people getting hung up on when starting to declutter is the thought of simply letting go of items. It is money you’ve spent, and attached to that is GUILT!
Guilt sucks. It will stop us from moving forward in our decluttering journey. Please, get rid of the guilt now by donating your stuff and letting your guilt go with it.
Donating isn’t a complete loss of money either. You can track your donations in It’s Deductible, and get a decent tax deduction. We got a sizeable deduction the year we did our big clean-out! If you download the app, it is super easy to keep track!
15 – Plan a reward
Finally, when you are too overwhelmed to start decluttering, make sure after setting your goal, you also plan yourself a reward.
When we have something to work towards, it can make all the difference in our brains in terms of motivation.
Your reward doesn’t have to be anything crazy. It could be something like this, “After decluttering this entire bookshelf, I’m going to donate all my read books and treat myself to one new Audible book.” Or, “After clearing out the playroom, I’m going to treat myself and the kids to homemade cupcakes.”
You don’t have to get crazy and expensive with your rewards. Keep it simple, but make it fun! A treat is super inspiring to keep moving forward!
When you are feeling too overwhelmed to start decluttering or if you feel like you are stuck, try any number of these suggestions to keep your momentum moving forward.
You don’t have to keep living in chaos. You deserve a little calm in your life, and you can do it.