How to Start Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed

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When you’re asking yourself how to start decluttering when you feel overwhelmed, you need the advice of a professional organizer. I understand first-hand how a busy life, a big life event or chronic health issues can lead to clutter and make it difficult to start decluttering. These 40+ tips will help you start now and make progress.

woman in white bathrobe with notebook over her face with title text reading How to Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed

I’m the mom of three, a professional organizer and have moved into 25 homes myself (thanks to the military). I truly understand how clutter sneaks up on us and how it can be such hard work to declutter.

I’m a firm believer in the power of simple steps and simple strategies to conquer clutter. These more than 40 tips and encouragements really work. I’ve included many different approaches so you can choose what will work best for your personality and your situation.

Why is decluttering so overwhelming?

There are several factors involved in clutter becoming overwhelming:

  • Often the reason clutter has built up is due to physical or mental health challenges. The challenges are real and legitimate.
  • The other big reason that you have too much stuff may be that life got busy. There may have been a major life event, but lots of time, it’s simply the day-after-day-after-day busy life that got in the way.
  • The items that need to be decluttered involve making difficult decisions about sentimental items.
  • The task of sorting through years’ worth of stuff seems insurmountable. You just don’t know where to start.
  • There is guilt or shame attached to the items you need to sort through.
  • You are simply too busy with work, family and life to add the additional task of going through items and decluttering feels like just too much to tackle.
  • You need to gain the cooperation of family members and that can be difficult to coordinate.
row of coats hanging on metal rod with hat hanging on end of rod

Benefits of decluttering

Make more livable space in your home to enjoy your life, your family and your friends.

Be proud to invite friends to your own home. You can be proud to share your entire home without having to shut off different rooms from guests.

Save money because you will be able to find the items you need and not spend money on duplicate items.

Save time by finding just what you need right away.

You’ll have a safer, healthier home. No more tripping hazards or unsanitary trash.

Remove the visual clutter that makes you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

books and binders organized by color on white shelves

How do you start decluttering when you are overwhelmed?

There are several different methods to work through decluttering. You should choose the decluttering method that works best for your situation and daily life. If you find that the first method you choose isn’t working for you, evaluate why and then choose another method to try.

Start with removing any trash from the space.

  • Actual trash
  • Empty bags
  • Empty cardboard boxes
  • Excess packaging that isn’t needed
  • Broken, damaged or stained items

Pick a starting point, a corner of the room, and work your way across the room. You’ll be able to work your way through the entire room by starting in one corner.

Remember to focus on progress not perfection. Often we expect a perfectly organized room right away and this unrealistic expectation sabotages meaningful and realistic progress. The clutter was not created in a couple of hours, so it won’t be cleared up in a few hours.

Start with a small area so it’s not too daunting and you can score a quick win.

Grab a laundry basket, walk around the room and look for smaller items that belong in a different room. Place them in the basket and then put them away where they belong.

If you’re the type to set a big goal, break it down into smaller next step goals. The big goal can be too overwhelming, but smaller steps are manageable.

  • For example, if your big goal is to declutter your garage, break it down into smaller goals
    • Remove broken equipment
    • Remove toys and sports equipment that are no longer used
    • Remove old or no longer needed chemicals and tools
    • Recycle empty cardboard boxes and bags

Make decluttering fun by using a decluttering scavenger hunt checklist.

Look for the quick decluttering win. The easy win is motivating and will keep you going onto different areas.

  • Pick up the dirty clothes laying around the room
  • Put away the shoes laying by the door
  • Pick up the paper clutter in the kitchen
woman writing in notebook with blue pen

Schedule your decluttering session on your calendar. Scheduling each decluttering session is a great way to make decluttering a priority. Clutter builds up because you’ve delayed making decisions about what to do with each item. When you schedule decluttering, it’s a mindset shift and a real game changer in making progress in decluttering your entire home.

If you’re working in a garage, basement or storage area with larger items, removing the large items you no longer want may be the easy way to get started. This also works well if you’re working in a small space. Removing the large items will give you more space to work.

Commit to not bring new items into your space until you’ve met your decluttering goals. At a minimum, using the one-in-one-out is an important step towards clearing out clutter. This means if you bring a new item into your home, you have to remove an item. This is the simplest way to keep the clutter from growing.

Decide if the best way for you to declutter is to schedule a marathon weekend declutter or break it down into small quick progress tasks.

Use the KonMari method – if you’re feeling overwhelmed, I recommend this method only if you have help. If you have someone, a professional organizer or friend to keep you focused, the KonMari method can work for you. But the method has you pull everything out first thing and this can just become more clutter, and give you a hard time knowing where to start.

Use the 20-20 Rule to help you make decisions about items you think you should keep “just in case.” If you don’t need an item, but find yourself wanting to keep it just in case, ask yourself:

  • Can I replace it for less than $20?
  • Can I replace it in less than 20 minutes?
  • If the answer to both questions is “Yes”, then declutter the item. If you do find that you need the item in the future, it will be easy to replace with a quick trip to the store.

Use an organizing challenge to keep you motivated.

  • I created an organized home challenge that leads you through decluttering and organizing 5 areas of your home in 5 weeks.
  • I created a Declutter to Donate challenge because it often helps you make those tough decisions when you focus on good intentions and declutter to help others. – Coming soon!

How to stay motivated to work towards a clutter-free home

The first step is just get started. Don’t focus on the entire house, focus on decluttering one item at a time. This is a case of working one step at a time through your decluttering plan.

Focus on the small wins. The clutter didn’t build up overnight, so realistically it won’t be decluttered in a few hours, or even days. Decluttering can be a big project, and every next step is a move toward your goal. Every one of those baby steps is a step towards the finish line.

Rather than focusing on piles of stuff that can be paralyzing, look for one item to remove from the pile.

  • Trash or recycling
  • Item to donate
  • Item to relocate to it’s proper location
  • Item you borrowed that you need to return

Stop periodically to recognize the great job you’re doing. If you’re not able to see it yourself, then have a family member or friend encourage your progress.

Begin practicing good habits to maintain your work towards maintaining your decluttered space. These 10 habits are a great place to start learning how to be organized.

Looking for more decluttering help?

neatly organized living room blue couch & white round table with title text reading 30 Day Declutter free checklist

30 Declutter Challenge – A step-by-step 30 day declutter challenge to help you clear the clutter and organize your home to make the space and time for what’s really important to you.

collage of decluttering checklist pages in blue and red

Simple Decluttering Checklists – Created by a professional organizer to help you work through the decluttering and organizing process on your own with the guidance and support you need. These checklists and decluttering tips work for any area in your home.

woman sitting on bed with stacks of folded clothes with title text reading 25+ Tips For decluttering Clothes

Decluttering Clothes Everything You Need to Know – The ultimate decluttering clothes guide with more than 25 practical tips & all your most common questions answered by a professional organizer.

Be sure to pin these tips for how to start decluttering when overwhelm sets in so you know right where to find it when you need help.

You can find all our best decluttering ideas in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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One Comment

  1. These are great tips on starting the process of getting organized! Often, the hardest part is just getting started, and these ideas are a good jump-start.

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