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How to Declutter When You’re Overwhelmed by the Mess

With the release of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series on Netflix, the idea of clutter-free living is being embraced by people everywhere. But what do you do when the clutter is overwhelming? Today I am sharing simple strategies to help you get started when you don’t know where to start.

A messy home office space filled with clutter, stacks of books, papers, and more.

Feeling overwhelmed by clutter and mess?

For many of us, the process of letting go can be daunting.

You might even say paralyzing.

Unfortunately, it initially seems easier to close the door or shove it all under the bed.

But, this really isn’t a solution and it’s not how you want to live.

The emotional overwhelm of clutter is no joke, but it’s not anything that you can’t overcome.

You just need practical strategies to make the process more manageable.

Let’s take a look at some specific ideas for how to declutter when you feel overwhelmed or anxious about starting.

10 steps to start decluttering when you feel overwhelmed

Shoes are scattered on a bedroom floor as a woman in the background is on her hands and knees, decluttering her closet.

Here’s the thing about decluttering – the process actually starts well before you even open your closet doors, kitchen cupboards, or go down into the basement.

In order to be successful at making permanent strides toward a life with less, you need to be mentally prepared.

You see….the process of decluttering actually starts in your mind.

1) Know Your Why

Blue paper with a rip revealing text that says "what's your why?"

This concept is essential for keeping you on task when the decluttering process becomes difficult.

Understanding your reasons for wanting to have a clean and clutter-free home is essential.

When you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the clutter and the work that needs to be done, just take a moment to think about why you want to declutter in the first place:

  • Are you tired of cleaning and picking up all the time?
  • Do you need more free time for relaxation or family activities?
  • Feeling ready to move on to a new chapter of your life?

Once you are clear on your why you should write it down and post it somewhere that you can refer to it often:

  • The fridge
  • Your screensaver at work
  • Or writing it on a mirror with a dry erase marker are all great ideas.

Even sharing your goals with friends or on social media is a good move as it will make you more accountable.

During the process, if you start to feel frustrated or anxious, take a pause and come back to your why.

2) Set Aside Time

A page of a day planner, a pen, and post-in note arrow pointing to the words "declutter day" written in black text.

The first step to getting a handle on your feelings about decluttering is to understand that nothing needs to be accomplished overnight.

Map out a general timeline for the project, knowing that your timeline can be extended slightly, if necessary.

Be sure to include specific days and times for each room and/or area.

Having a time frame provides structure, but allowing wiggle room takes away the pressure.

If you struggle to find the time in your schedule to get anything done, be sure to check out our Take Back Your Time Toolkit.

3) Have a Plan

A cardboard box filled with clothes labeled "donate" in black marker.

Having a plan is essential to the completion of any goal you hope to accomplish.

Decluttering is no different.

You will want to write down specifics like:

  • The order you wish to tackle your clutter
  • How many rooms or areas you would like to complete each week
  • The steps you will take you to sell valuable items and where you will donate the rest

Outlining your steps ahead of time can go a long way toward making it all seem more manageable when you find yourself having a hard time making a decision.

Your plan also needs to be customized to meet your individual needs and your personal strengths and weaknesses.

For example, if you are easily overwhelmed I actually suggest that you steer clear of the KonMari Method. Her entire strategy relies on “taking everything out to begin”.

For those of you like me who are sensitive to clutter, or if you haven’t developed good decluttering skills, this is going to be a disaster.

Related Post: 4 Reasons Why I Don’t Follow the KonMari Method: Practical Pros and Cons

The same is true about decluttering areas in a specific order.

While I love the strategy of targeting different areas over time, it’s important to consider what you think will be the most difficult areas.

Even if someone else says “Start Here!” – you need to know that if that particular area is a challenge or sentimental for you – you want to move that further down the list.

4) Start Small

A single cabinet drawer full of various office supplies organized neatly with drawer dividers.

Nobody decides to run and marathon and does it the next day.

When you are emotionally attached to the items in your home and have a hard time getting rid of them, you are going to need to start with baby steps.

A great strategy is to use a timer and limit yourself to 30 minutes to begin.

I also suggest that you focus on small areas instead of entire rooms which can increase the feelings of stress and overwhelm.

5) Just Get Started!

A note that reads "get started today" pinned to a cork message board.

It’s true that the hardest part is often actually getting started.

If you have followed the steps above, you are prepared with concrete ways to be productive even when you feel overwhelmed with decluttering.

At this point you should be feeling energized and excited to begin.

Below are some of my most popular decluttering tips to make quick progress and see immediate results:

More Decluttering Posts:

A clean and organized clutter-free kitchen counter with a fruit bowl, cutting board, and kitchen supplies set out neatly on the counter.

FAQs About Decluttering

How do I stop procrastinating when it comes to decluttering my home?

Honestly, you just have to decide that enough is enough.

I procrastinated to the point where I was unhealthy, unhappy, and just completely overwhelmed.

It took hitting rock bottom for me to realize that something had to change.

The reason I got started was that I realized that if I always did what I had always done, I would always get what I always got.

And I couldn’t do it anymore! The idea that I could come home after work and not have to clean, nag at my kids, and then do laundry all weekend was what made me give it a try.

So decide at this moment that you are ready to get started.

How do you attack clutter?

A battle isn’t won in a day. Instead, it takes a series of strategic and specific steps to win.

The same is true when you are battling the clutter in your home.

In order to stay motivated, you need to see progress quickly.

Here are the steps that I recommend:

  • Set a timer: In the beginning, just go for 10 – 15 minutes to find items in your home that are broken or no longer wanted.
  • Start with the easy stuff: Don’t start with your closet full of collectibles or items you saved since junior high. That’s way too tricky. Start in an area of the house you are not as attached to.
  • Ditch the duplicates: Find things that you have multiples of like mixing bowls and spatulas and decide to get rid of your least favorite.

How can I declutter fast?

  • Get rid of the trash first. Anything broken or that you can no longer use needs to go.
  • Don’t organize and clean as you go. This will take up precious time. Go back and do that later.
  • Ask a friend to help. If you are the type that takes forever to make a decision, invite your bestie over to help. They will tell you which clothes are out of style or don’t look good on you and help you make all those tough decisions.
An image of a pile of clothes with text overlay that reads "how to declutter when you're overwhelmed by the mess"

One Comment

  1. We’re having a baby at the end of the summer and I want our house to feel like a home, it’s been such a mess lately! Thank you so much for sharing these tips, we’re getting a dumpster rental this weekend and getting rid of our junk once and for all. Thank you so much!!

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