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How To Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed: Step By Step Guide

The feeling of being overwhelmed by clutter is an all too common one. Knowing how to start decluttering your home is often one of those tasks that leave most of us feeling overwhelmed. This can lead to feelings of frustration and stress, which in turn leads to the ‘I’ll get around to that at some point’ mentality.

But as time goes by, the pile grows larger and becomes more difficult for us to handle.

Woman overwhelmed by messy house

We start to think about asking for help from others, but then we don’t want people to see our mess!

You’re about to learn the key to getting started with getting rid of your clutter once and for all!

Learn how to start decluttering your own home, no matter how big the task feels, with a complete step by step guide and declutter plan for clearing the clutter for good.

How To Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed

Quite a few years ago, around the time this website was born, I was a self-confessed hoarder with some terrible clutter habits! The whole situation had me frustrated and every single year I would promise myself, “This is the year I am going to get organised”.

Then another year passed and still, we had too much stuff.

Every now and again I would make progress on one small area and it was great but the big picture was still far too daunting!

Fast forward to today, I still haven’t eradicated every clutter hotspot from our home but the difference is considerable!

Decluttering is now a regular part of our home maintenance and when things do start to feel untidy again, I know where to get started!

And I’m sharing the exact decluttering process I use when getting started with decluttering my house!

How Our Clutter Makes Us Feel

It’s a well-known fact that clutter can make us feel overwhelmed and stressed. This impacts how we feel about ourselves, making it near impossible to have a calm mind when surrounded by stuff.

It’s not just the physical clutter that contributes to feeling overwhelmed, but also the unseen clutter in our minds when we can’t focus and find ourselves struggling to get motivated.

It becomes a repetitive, unhelpful cycle of feeling frustrated, unfocused and helpless – like a prisoner to our own stuff.

If you can relate to feeling overwhelmed by clutter, you’re not alone. But by starting to declutter the areas of your home that need it, you will begin to feel more in control and less overwhelmed, leaving you with a calm mind and a clear space!

Decluttering your home also saves you time, with less to clean and organise. And it saves you money when you commit to buying less!

Where To Start When Decluttering Your Home

Woman decluttering closet

One of the main reasons we find it hard to begin decluttering our homes is because we don’t know where to start. Where do you begin?

Everything seems unsolvable and out of control. The first thing to do is make a list of everything that needs to be done and rank it by size, priority, and urgency.

Instead of seeing our clutter as a whole, we need to see it in tiny parts. This is the first step in breaking down that overwhelm!

Don’t look at your messy bedroom and see overflowing wardrobes and clutter-topped surfaces.

Instead, see each individual drawer, a bedside table, one hanging section of the wardrobe, one corner pile of clothes, one rack of shoes, and so on. On their own, those single areas don’t feel quite so scary!

Start with the smaller items first so that you feel some accomplishment quickly. Quick wins are great for motivation when facing what feels like an impossible task!

You can work your way up from there!

When you feel overwhelmed by decluttering, the best place to start is the easiest place!

This may not seem like a logical place to start, since it isn’t likely to be such an obvious clutter transformation, but when you already feel like it’s all too hard, this is the best way to dip your toe in and get started!

Free 30 day declutter challenge

Remove Obvious Surface Clutter – Part One

The next easy step is to remove some obvious clutter from your home.

Surface clutter is the clutter that you can see, such as the clutter hotspot on your kitchen counters or the pile of shoes at the front door or empty cartons in the corner of the garage.

Surface clutter is often the most intrusive form of clutter because it is there taunting us as we go about our daily life.

It’s always there, always visible and reminding us that we’ve ‘failed’ at maintaining an Instagram-worthy home!

Urgh… no lived-in home really looks that good!

But the surface clutter can get the heck out the door!

Grab yourself a garbage bag or a cardboard box or even an empty washing basket and lets to go work on that surface clutter…

Make your way from room to room and collect anything that is obvious rubbish and put it in your container or bag. Don’t open any cupboards or go looking under beds at this time.

We will tackle the hidden clutter later. For now, you are doing a quick scan of any items you can declutter and throw away right away.

If you’re not sure what these items may consist of, check out this list of over 150 quick declutter items to give you some ideas.

Obvious surface clutter that can go straight in the bin includes things such as junk mail, empty cans and bottles, broken toys, old receipts and shopping lists, newspapers, packaging and so on.

Cluttered room

Remove Obvious Surface Clutter – Part Two

Alright, we’ve lightened the load a little. Now we have our second stage of dealing with surface clutter!

The next kind of obvious surface clutter is large items that are obviously in the wrong place, that you already have a home for.

These tend to be the things people place on top of furniture or dump in corners of a room when too lazy to put them where they belong.

Hands up if you’re guilty of this! *raises hand*

This type of clutter includes items like jackets, sporting equipment, books, kitchen appliances, a pair of shoes or large toys that have their place and can easily be put there.

Now your goal right now isn’t to fully declutter every surface in your house. Heck no!

That’s way too overwhelming and we are not ready for that kind of commitment!

No, right now you are simply putting a few key items in their rightful place. This means only picking up the items that definitely do have a home and leaving anything that you’re not entirely sure about for now.

A great way to do this is again by grabbing a basket or box, picking up items from each room and putting away the stuff you have collected as you make your way around your home.

This has actually become a daily evening habit in our household, where I do a 5-minute daily pick up each night before bed putting away those items before they build up again. This has been a huge game-changer and one you can start even before you finish decluttering your home!

Okay, surface clutter is looking a little less clutter-y! How does that feel? Remember, baby steps are absolutely fine. Progress is progress!

Make Your Declutter Checklist

If you love lists or need a little help staying focused, creating a decluttering checklist is the best next step.

This is also the perfect way to break down each area of your home into tiny, easy mini-projects so you can stop seeing them as an entire room of clutter and excess belongings.

Instead of an entire room or an entire dresser, think of it as one drawer to tackle.

I like to grab a notebook and visualise each room of my house and write down every single area of that room that may need my attention.

You can also do this by moving from room to room as well if you are having trouble visualising.

For example, this is how my checklist would look starting my kitchen declutter:

  • Top kitchen drawer
  • 2nd kitchen drawer
  • 3rd kitchen drawer
  • 4th kitchen drawer
  • Saucepan cupboard
  • Plastic (Tupperware) cupboard
  • Plates & bowl cupboard
  • Glassware cupboard
  • Under sink cupboard
  • Pantry top shelf
  • Pantry second shelf

Okay, you get the idea. I break it down into the smallest compartments so that most tasks will take between 5 and 15 minutes to complete.

If you need a few very specific ideas, these 10-minute decluttering tasks will help you get going.

No matter how overwhelmed we are feeling, most of us can work towards a 5 minute declutter project to get us started!

I repeat this process for my entire house until I have a full house checklist with every small space.

This might seem excessive, but when your feelings of overwhelm are holding you back from action, 50 five or ten-minute tasks feel a lot less scary than going headfirst with a full room declutter!

Declutter your home checklist

The Essential Decluttering Questions

Before we kick off our first easy and quick declutter task, let’s cover the essential decluttering questions you should always ask yourself.

  • Do I use this item?
  • If yes, when was the last time I used this item?
  • If no, what reasons do I have for keeping it?

Don’t fall into the trap of keeping something because it may provide a practical function in future. If there is no guarantee you will use it in the near future, chances are it’s taking up valuable space in your home that you don’t really need.

And often, replacing that item as needed is more cost-effective than the unnecessary stress and extra cleaning time taken to store excessive stuff in our homes.

If you are still on the fence about keeping an item, consider how much space it takes up and what value it has.

Could it be better used by someone else more in need? Do you even have the space to store it?

One of my favourite pieces of decluttering advice is the confining method shared by Dana White from A Slob Comes Clean, in her book Decluttering At The Speed of Life.

She designates a set space or container for each collection of items and if she has too much stuff to fit into that container (i.e. a shelf, a drawer, a box), then some of the items must go until they all fit.

Setting yourself similar boundaries will help you work your belongings down to a manageable quantity during your own declutter.

Find Dana’s book along with my top 10 books about decluttering recommendations.

The Easiest Place To Start

You will hear different recommendations with where to start on your declutter and organisation journey, but there’s no denying that when the task feels enormous, you need to pick something that feels easy.

That easy place will be different for some of us, depending on the way your home is designed, but the first place I start is always the toilet!

Yes – the toilet!

We have a separate toilet, which is almost a zero clutter zone. At worst, there might be a stray toilet paper roll the kids have failed to put in the bin or an empty bottle of toilet cleaner that needs throwing out.

It’s literally a 30-second job!

Find your equivalent to the toilet in your home. For you, it might be a bathroom countertop. Just the countertop. Nothing else.

Go there right now. Yes – right now! And throw away any rubbish and remove anything that doesn’t belong in there. Then come on back here and read on.

Did you do it? If so, pat yourself on the back! You are officially on your way to getting your clutter under control!

How To Declutter Each Space

Woman decluttering her house

Time to clear out some space in your home! The way to start decluttering any space is to clear it first.

This first step really is unavoidable, but the only way to really declutter an area is to first remove everything.

This is the other huge reason why you should declutter small zones rather than full rooms because there is nothing more overwhelming than removing everything from a room and make a decision on it!

But a single drawer emptied of its contents is quite reasonable and not an all-day ordeal!

Have 3 boxes, tubs or trash bags on hand to help you with your declutter projects. This is how you will manage the stuff you remove from each area, without feeling a new version of overwhelm.

  • STEP ONE – Remove everything from the area you are decluttering
  • STEP TWO – Throw rubbish in one tub, put items you plan to donate in a second tub and anything that needs to be put in its correct place in a 3rd tub.
  • STEP THREE – Give the area a wipe-down or dust as needed
  • STEP FOUR – Put back anything you are keeping (be as ruthless as you can)
  • STEP FIVE – Throw the trash in the bin straight away
  • STEP SIX – Donate any unwanted items that are in good condition ASAP.

Repeat this process on each space you want to declutter, during each decluttering session, crossing them off your decluttering checklist so you can see your progress unfold!

It Will Take Me Months To Declutter All My Stuff!

I hear you. The idea of decluttering your whole house is overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it all in one go to achieve lasting results!

When I began my declutter, I broke the task down into bite-sized pieces and tackled them one at a time.

This allowed me to work on that single space and feel that little sense of achievement with each new space that was organised and downsized.

In fact, decluttering can be a bit of a lifelong process if you aren’t prepared to go full minimalist. There will always be new things coming into our home, but once you do this entire process, it will take a whole lot less time in future and be a lot less daunting!

It can be hard when you feel completely overwhelmed, but many of us have been there and if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, it’s going to get easier each time.

Best of all, you’re going to start seeing the impact of your efforts and that is the ultimate way to get motivated for decluttering.

Set yourself a realistic and achievable goal. It might mean doing 3 small declutter projects a week as your target or 1 big and 1 small zone per week.

And if the mood strikes, don’t hold back! Keep on going because you are on a roll!

If you are the type of person that prefers a structured routine, my 30-day declutter challenge is perfect for you! Some of these projects may be a little bigger than those we talk about in this article, so break them down smaller if you are still feeling overwhelmed!

Should I Donate Or Sell My Unwanted Items?

Donation boxes

One of the biggest personal roadblocks for me when it came to decluttering my house and letting go of all the things I had collected in my 30 something years was the very thought of money wasted.

This is a very common reason that holds so many of us back from getting rid of the stuff we no longer need.

While I could downsize relatively easily (with practice), I was determined to recover some of the costs, trying to sell most of it instead of donating.

This just meant my clutter moved from one part of my home to another, sitting around for months waiting for it to magically get sold and make me some money.

It rarely happens like this.

If your clutter is causing you anxiety, get it out of your house as soon as you can!

Donate it to someone who needs it and consider it a good deed instead of worrying about the money wasted.

After all, those items sitting around your entire house collecting dust is equally wasted money so it might as well go to someone who will use it!

The exception is if it is a high-value item, selling can be worthwhile but choose carefully if you have the time or willingness to do the selling or plan to start decluttering immediately before holding a garage sale. Then donate what doesn’t sell.

How To Declutter Sentimental Items

I know this can be a hard one. Whether it’s old baby clothes from when your kids were little or your grandmother’s china teacups, sentimental items are highly personal and I understand the emotional attachment to keep them no matter how little you use them.

The good news is it doesn’t really matter where these things live as long as they are not cluttering up your home!

If you can’t bear to part with them, make a space for them, within reason, remembering that container rule having items fit within the available space.

And if you are not using these things, perhaps make an exception and donate them or offer them to another family member.

After all, who says holding on to that precious old teddy bear means the memories are lost. They will live on even if you do decide to part with the sentimental items.

What If It Isn’t My Clutter?

When you live with others, there is that extra clutter to contend with that we may not own or have a say in.

This can be downright infuriating when the other members of the household aren’t committed to changing their ways.

Instead of getting upset, consider the benefits of a clutter-free home for everyone and set some boundaries.

For example:

  • If your partner likes to leave their shoes in the living room, make it easy for them to adapt by placing a shoe basket in the corner.
  • Get your family involved in the daily 5-minute tidy up habit, encouraging each of them to put away anything that has been left out before heading to bed.
  • Politely decline when well-meaning friends or family members offer to give you their unwanted items.
  • Create new traditions with your children where they donate 3-5 old toys before each birthday and Christmas.

Unlike decluttering your own things, you will need to use a bit of gentle persuasion and encouragement when it comes to helping others get rid of their clutter.

If you can’t get rid of their clutter, or get them on board to downsize their stuff, don’t let it upset you so much!

Often leading by example will have others around us mirroring our good habits! Fingers crossed…

Decluttering your home can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.

The right decluttering strategies will help you know where to start decluttering even when you feel overwhelmed, tackling small sections at a time rather than as a big, scary whole-house project!

If an item no longer sparks joy or you simply don’t need it anymore, do yourself a favour and get rid of it! Free up space in your home and in your mind, taking the stress out of the task and making room for more important things in life!

Just say YES to clutter-free living!

Keep up the momentum with these decluttering tips & organising tips:

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How to start decluttering when overwhelmed