Oh decluttering and overwhelm. Two of my dearest companions collide in today’s blog post topic, how to declutter when overwhelmed. Today I’m sharing my top tips for decluttering when overwhelmed. Particularly, how to START decluttering when overwhelmed. Deep breath…clear skies clear skies…let’s dive in.
It’s no secret that we’re swimming in too much stuff over here. Slowly, over time, our whole house has become a cluttered mess. It’s a combination of all the things kids hypothetically need, saving things for a rainy day, and just not having places for things.
The clutter in our home goes hand in hand with how overwhelmed I am with our home. There’s a direct correlation between clutter and my mental health.
This is why I’m on a quest for a clutter-free home. Which I know realistically doesn’t exist completely, there will always be clutter, but I want it to be the right clutter. I want it to be half-finished puzzles and artwork in progress.
Not 17 coffee mugs filling the cupboard when I use the same one every single morning. Show of hands, who else has seventy billion coffee mugs only to reach for the same one?! Why do we do this? Someone must have done a scientific experiment on this phenomenon!
Anyway, below are 25 simple decluttering tips that I gathered during my decluttering project that I hope can help you with your coffee cup addiction as well.
1. Don’t Try To Declutter The Entire House At Once
Repeat after me, when one is overwhelmed with the decluttering process, one does not try to declutter the entire house at once. Say it again and mean it this time.
Decluttering is a process and takes a lot of time to work through. You’re not going to do it all at once and shouldn’t expect to.
Just think of how long it took you to achieve a cluttered house. For us, it’s been about 8 years of accumulating things. While it won’t take nearly as long to deal with the clutter, you’re just not going to flip a switch and have a decluttered home overnight.
It doesn’t take much time to work in small sections doing an easy task first, then the next small area, before taking the next big step. If you’re consistent, you’ll start to see big changes over time.
2. Adopt A Decluttering Mindset
This one’s big, adopt a decluttering mindset that decluttering takes time. This mindset shift has saved my stress levels from reaching Mach 10.
I tell myself repeatedly that the clutter in our home didn’t get here overnight and I’m looking for progress over perfection. As long as I keep moving in the right direction and see progress, I don’t get overwhelmed with the remaining clutter. I know I’ll get to it eventually, it just doesn’t have to be right now.
It’s like the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, which I highly recommend reading. One of the themes in the book is about making small changes and doing them consistently. That consistency adds up to big improvements.
Now apply that to decluttering and it’s a simple way to feel less overwhelmed by the task at hand.
3. Make It Fun
Isn’t everything better when you make it fun?! Gamify it, play your favorite music, challenge yourself or another person, reward yourself, drink your favorite cup of tea, or dance it out. The point is, decluttering isn’t always the most fun task so if you can make it more fun, you’re more likely to do it consistently.
Let me tell you a story of a little girl who doesn’t like to pick up her toys. Like many kids, we have a daughter who doesn’t like to clean up. We’ve tried EVERYTHING. What worked?! Making cleanup FUN with a dance-off game.
For me, I’m about as competitive as they get. So I gamified decluttering with a little declutter challenge. But more on that in a minute.
4. Find A Quick Win
Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed and all the clutter feels heavy, I need a quick win. I tell myself, let’s just declutter one surface or one shelf. My favorite places to start are dumping grounds like the kitchen counters, open shelves, or the coffee table.
After they get cleared and the visual clutter is gone, I feel just a little bit better and have more motivation to tackle my next step towards a clutter-free space. Small, quick wins help build confidence and decluttering muscle.
5. Enlist Help Of Family Members
Sometimes a little help goes a long way. It’s also important to enlist the help of family members when trying to declutter an entire home because at some point you’re going to need to deal with other people’s things.
I’ve often gone to my husband for help when decluttering common spaces. We recently had the great do we need our microwave debate and it was helpful to have someone to talk it through.
It’s also helpful to have someone to split the tasks with so it doesn’t feel like I’m carrying the whole task. He can declutter the bathroom medicine cabinet while I tackle the kids’ winter gear.
Just this weekend I enlisted the help of our whole family to gather and sort through the toys, removing ones the kids no longer wanted.
6. Schedule A Decluttering Session
Sometimes what can be done anytime is done at no time. Let me tell you a little story…
Last spring I was adamant about decluttering our home before our eldest was out of school for summer vacation. Did I make any progress on it? Nada. Zilch. El goose egg.
This year, I am once again committed to decluttering our home. Have I made any progress? I’ve removed over 500 items from our home and there’s no stopping me now!
So what changed? I scheduled it. Every day I’ve picked a decluttering task and made space for it by scheduling it in my planner. Do I earn that feel-good check of completion every day? Nope, but I do check it off most days.
7. Tackle That Junk Drawer
It’s like the time management technique of “eat the frog.” Eat the frog and tackle the worst section of your house first. The space you’re dreading? Start there. You get the hardest part out of the way and there will no longer be this sense of dread or big task looming. It’s done.
I know myself well enough to know this wouldn’t work for me. I likely would feel either too overwhelmed to start or wouldn’t be successful which would drop my decluttering motivation even lower. But for some, this is a decluttering tactic that can be helpful.
On the record, my proverbial junk drawer is the kids’ toy shelves. It is the decluttering mountain I will die on.
8. Don’t Start With Sentimental Items First
Whatever you do, don’t start decluttering with sentimental items. It’s a great way to get discouraged or more overwhelmed by the process. We have such an emotional attachment to some of our things and it’s so hard to let them go. Keep them, save them for last. Or don’t even tackle them at all.
The point is, often when we start decluttering sentimental items the process of decluttering feels even harder or impossible. We get that “I can’t possibly let go of my photos/baseball cards/aunt Ida’s sewing box.”
You want to declutter as much as possible before getting to sentimental things. That way, we see how good it feels to release the weight of clutter giving us a little more motivation to downsize what’s sentimental.
9. Take Multiple Passes At Sentimental Items
When you do get to decluttering sentimental items, take multiple passes at them since it gets easier over time.
For example, our youngest is two and we have no plans for a third child. Do I still have all the baby clothes, bottles, carriers, etc.? Yup, I sure do.
I couldn’t stand the thought of letting go of those items after she no longer needed them. It hurt my heart too much to think that there will be no more babies in our lives. So I packed them in totes and stored them in the attic.
I’ve only recently started to go through the baby items. I took a first pass and donated many of the baby/toddler clothes. Then later gave a few special items to a new mom who needed a few things. Then I did a third pass and pared down the clothes to just a few sentimental pieces I want the girls to have later like Easter dresses and their going home from the hospital clothes.
It took a while, and I still have a ways to go, but I’m taking my time and not pushing myself too far with the sentimental items, especially the baby clothes.
10. Make Removing Unwanted Items Easy
When the act of removing items from our home is hard and we’re already overwhelmed, there’s a distinct possibility that it won’t happen.
Come up with a system for physically removing the items from your home. For me, it looks like one, taking the trash out every night. Two, setting up a donation basket to toss things in as I find them. And three, scheduling donation drop-off days. I’m currently dropping off items twice a week.
This works for me but for you, it may look like putting everything in boxes in a shed and doing one big drop-off or scheduling a pickup. Or maybe you only declutter the day before trash day.
Whatever you do, just remove any barriers to decluttering and find ways around your pain points. The goal is to create a system for getting the items physically out of your house as easily as possible.
11. Declutter Room By Room
Another option for decluttering is to go room by room, starting with the easiest room and moving on to the hardest. Tackle the entire space before moving on to the next room. This allows you to focus on one space at a time, letting go of the rest of the house.
This method helps me compartmentalize and not get too overwhelmed. I focus on finishing the entire room I’m working on and tell myself the other spaces can wait until I’m done.
12. Prevent Clutter By Addressing The Source
This method is very proactive in that it’s cutting clutter off at the source. Instead of spending time keeping up with the incoming clutter, take some time and cut it off at the source.
For example, junk mail is a major problem in our home and quickly piles up. How many Uline catalogs does one family need? About once a week, I pick a piece of junk mail, contact the company, and remove myself from their mailing list. If I do this consistently, we’ll have significantly less mail to sort through in the future and less paper to truck to the recycling center.
Another example is if you have a friend or family member who regularly gifts things you don’t need. Have a conversation about it and ask them not to gift things. Although, sometimes this can be hard depending on the person.
13. Create A Decluttering Plan
Some people (points thumbs to self) need and plan and some direction to keep overwhelming feelings at bay. Give some structure to your decluttering and write down some simple steps.
Maybe it’s writing down a master list of every decluttering task you can think of and then going through them one item a day. Or maybe you plan to tackle one space a month. Make it simple and make your plan work for you.
It’s also helpful when you’re making a decluttering plan to know your why. Why are you decluttering? Understanding what’s motivating you can help keep you focused, less overwhelmed, and able to keep going when it gets hard.
14. Create Good Habits For Decluttering
Make decluttering part of your daily life and form good, lifelong habits. Doing just a little decluttering at a time, before your home gets overwhelmed with clutter, is much easier on ourselves and our mental health.
Maybe it’s having a donation box perpetually available to place items in. Or grab just one or two pieces of clothing to donate that no longer serves you when putting away laundry. Each little decluttering habit you add to your repertoire helps prevent clutter overwhelm later.
15. Bring In A Pro
If you can afford it and it feels right for you, hire a professional organizer. There’s no shame in bringing in a pro.
The best professional organizers know that it’s not just about organizing your things. But it’s also about removing the excess before organizing what you have.
For example, a professional organizer won’t just organize all the things in your medicine cabinet and make it pretty. They will first have you sort through everything, paring it down to only what you need before organizing it.
16. Create A Place For Everything
One MAJOR way clutter piles up in our home, there is not a place for everything.
For instance, I’m currently sitting in our kitchen and there’s a pile of ski gear near the door. It pretty much permanently sits there and we trip over it daily.
Why? It has no home. Our tiny coat closet is overstuffed and the shed is jam-packed mostly with things left from the previous owners of our home.
It’s easy for clutter to pile up when there isn’t a right place for everything you own. Declutter what doesn’t matter and make space for what does. To the dump goes the old sheep farming equipment to make space for our skis.
A great example of how we created a space for everything was in our tiny but organized nursery space. We made sure we had only what we needed a place for everything we needed.
17. Envision How You Want Home To Feel
Over the last year, when I walk into our home it feels heavy. Overstuffed and overwhelming. Disorganized and dirty. Because it’s hard to clean when clutter is piled. I don’t want that.
I envision our home to be cozy, with places to land and relax, to serve its people well. This vision motivates me like no other.
How does your home feel right now? Now think about how you want it to feel.
18. Create A Decluttering Workspace
It’s like the old saying, sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, which can also be applied to decluttering. Make a temporary decluttering workspace and contain the chaos in one zone to keep the mess from overwhelming your entire home.
For me, I took over the dining room table. It’s been a helpful spot to sort through the baby clothes, organize toys, and gather tools to determine if we need three routers. Spoiler…Colby says yes, yes he does need three routers and can justify it.
We mostly eat together as a family at the kitchen table, so the dining room is a rarely used space perfect for a decluttering project. Find what works for you, be it a cabinet or a shelf in the closet.
19. Attack Visual Clutter
Sometimes when deciding how to declutter an overwhelming space I find I’m most overwhelmed by the visual clutter. Start there and clear just one surface then see how you feel afterward.
For example, our kitchen is often a dumping ground. When I’m overwhelmed by it, I just tell myself to clear one surface. Often it’s the table or the kitchen island. It gives me a quick confidence boost and motivates me to work a little deeper, like weeding out the cookbooks I no longer want.
20. Make Small Decluttering Goals
Set small goals that are achievable to help you get the ball rolling on your decluttering journey. Focusing on these small goals makes quick progress and often pretty easy progress.
Achieving small goals early on can help alleviate some of the overwhelming feelings it takes just to start.
Even if it’s as small as sorting through your daughter’s overstuffed sock drawer and removing 10 pairs. That’s a solid goal and a great place to start.
21. Remove Unwanted Items From Your Home Right Away
One of my biggest barriers to decluttering in the past has been not removing the items from my home right away. I would pile up donation items, pack them in boxes, and not remove them from our home only to find the kids tearing apart those boxes. Back to the drawing board.
As soon as I recognized that I was much more successful at decluttering if the items were removed from our home immediately, the clutter, stress, and overwhelm of dealing with unwanted items went away.
Make a plan for removing items from your home. What donation center are you going to? When is it most convenient for you to go? What items do they accept? How are you going to remove large items? Can you take the trash bag out right after decluttering?
Then take those items out as soon as you can.
22. Participate In A Decluttering Challenge
Grab a buddy and participate in a simple decluttering challenge. The basic premise is to remove one item from your home on day one, two items on day two, three items on day three, and so on. Keep removing items until one person can’t continue.
A challenge like this makes it fun, gives you an accountability partner, gamifies decluttering, and eases you into the process.
23. One-Minute Rule
I shamelessly adopted Gretchen Rubin’s one-minute rule and it has been life-changing. The idea is that if it takes less than one minute, do it right away so tasks don’t pile up.
When you apply this concept to decluttering, it looks like tossing the junk mail right away instead of placing it on the counter to deal with later. If I let the junk mail pile up, dealing with it starts to become overwhelming.
The one-minute rule has helped me immensely with putting clothes away. Instead of piling clean clothes on our bed, they find their way into the drawers.
24. Touch Everything Once
Similar to the one-minute rule, I crafted my touch everything once rule. One of our clutter problems is we tend to move clutter from one surface to the other without ever actually dealing with it.
To prevent clutter from accumulating to an overwhelming level, I apply the touch everything once rule. So instead of getting the new batteries home from the store and placing them on the counter just to put them away later, it’s immediately taking the batteries out of the packaging, placing them in the battery storage bin, and tossing the packaging.
25. Keep A Donation Bin Handy
Finally, have a dedicated donation bin or basket to accumulate unwanted items. Then, if you come across something that is no longer wanted during your time at home, you can simply place the item in the basket.
When it’s full, pack it up and take it to the donation center. It’s a simple system and if other members of your family are also on board, it’s an easy decluttering habit to create.
Celebrate Your Success
Before I leave you to your own decluttering devices and you choose a strategy to try, make sure you celebrate your success. Figuring out how to declutter when overwhelmed is hard. I’ve been there, in fact, I’m still in the process of literally and figuratively digging myself out of the overwhelm that is our home.
Know that every item you toss or donate is one small step toward the home you dream of. It takes time but consistency will pay off. Celebrate it!
Carry on my decluttering warriors!
Pssst…What is your favorite tip for how to start decluttering when overwhelmed? Do tell me your favorite tips and tricks! I love learning about what does and doesn’t work for others.