10 steps on starting decluttering when overwhelmed by the mess

decluttering when overwhelmed

How and where to begin cleaning and decluttering when you have too much stuff and are overwhelmed?

When having too much stuff, it is so hard to keep yourself sane. It feels like those things are not only in your house but also in your head.
You probably thought about decluttering for a long time but you are always busy and have other more important and urgent things to do. And then, you almost feel burned out and suffocated because so much stuff has gathered that you don’t even know where to begin.
And that is why you are here.
Following these 10 steps will help you overcome overwhelmedness and finally get yourself to work!

Just think about this: once your space will finally be decluttered, you will…
-have the possibility to be more mindful about the stuff that you buy;
-be more organized;
-finally, relax!

Why decluttering is important?

Decluttering can improve your mental well-being. This includes sleeping better and being more relaxed in your house. Having a neat home will make you more organized and more concentrated on the things that really matter. You won’t spend lots of time finding things that you need or step and break something that you need.
Having a neat house means less dust and mold. You will finally be able to have a clean and tidy place, where is a pleasure to spend time!
It can be life-changing. I mean, you will finally be able to feel cozy and comfortable in your house and besides that, you will replace the energy that you consumed feeling overwhelmed with something more pleasurable.

Ok, now that we’ve got a spike that motivates us to ultimately start decluttering, let us move on.
These are the steps that you can follow if you want to declutter but are overwhelmed by too many things.

How to start decluttering when overwhelmed?

1. Answer the question, why do you want to declutter?

This might be the problem why you haven’t started decluttering earlier. You have to face this question because it will motivate you to get started.
I am sure you have in the back of your mind the answer to this question, but try to verbalize it.
Is it because you don’t have enough space in your house? Or it is because you have so much stuff that you cannot organize it all? Are you expecting a child and need more space? Have you promised your spouse that the decluttering day will come soon? Found out some information about minimalism and want to get started but don’t know how?
Try to answer the question as specific as you can, it will surely help you to get things going. 

Related: Signs that you have too much stuff?

decluterring when overwhelmed

2. Create a positive mindset

Although it doesn’t seem like an important step, it actually is. We often get too emotional when wanting to declutter, it feels like all the stuff is important. BUT, you will firmly be more emotional if NOT decluttering.
Clutter is on its own not a positive word. On top of that, it will take energy out of you to always think about so much stuff that you own.
Luckily for you, I have two pro tips:
if you get emotional about a thing that you own, for example, a backpack that you were wearing during high school, take a picture of it and create a folder named “emotional stuff” or however you want to call it. Yep. It takes literally no space, but you will have the visual memory for that thing. Of course, it is nothing wrong to keep a box with some emotional things in it, but some of those things, if they are too big, won’t fit in only one box.
you will never need that dusty gift that stays in that untouched area of your house. Just get rid of it. Or them. Take a picture if you feel bad about it and say goodbye.

Related: How to Finally Get Into the Decluttering Mindset

3. Create a plan

Now we start taking some action. The plan will help you to reduce stress and be more productive when you start decluttering.
Think about specific areas in your house that you want to declutter. First of all, divide the areas into rooms, then spaces/drawers/closets/cupboards, and then specific shelves (if wanted).
Here is an example

KITCHENcupboards, under the sink, pantry, drawers, fridge
BEDROOMnightstands, closets, drawers, under the bed
KID’S ROOMtoys, closet, under beds
LIVING ROOMTV shelves, drawers
OFFICEpaperwork, crafts, desk drawers
OTHERlaundry room, car, storage room, garage

Related: Minimalist items to keep

4. Create a list of questions to ask yourself when decluttering

Sometimes we don’t really know if we want or not to get rid of some stuff. That is why it is important to set some questions, so when you are in doubt, you can quickly ask yourself some questions and move on with decluttering.
These questions are:
Do I use it? How often?
Do I have another one of these?
Would I buy this item if I wouldn’t have it?
Do I have something else that serves the same purpose?

Try to be sincere with yourself and objective. 

5. Do you prefer dedicating one full/ a few full days for decluttering or doing a little every day?

In case you prefer to go cold turkey, you need to keep in mind a few things:
-write down in your calendar and let know people who you usually communicate with, that those days are dedicated to decluttering;
-once started, don’t stop; this task has to be completed, and now is the best opportunity to do so. Don’t try to convince yourself that you will continue another day.
-take small breaks when needed. Eat a snack, drink some water, dance, and keep going. Try to make these days both fun and productive.

However, if you decided to declutter little by little, it is important to divide tasks day by day. Start either by one room each day, or one small area each day (on the 1st of January I will declutter the area under the sink; on the second of January the pantry and so on). You could try a decluttering challenge from Pinterest, it should be fun.

decluterring when overwhelmed

6. Start by decluttering a high-impact space in your house.

When feeling overwhelmed, motivation is important. For motivating yourself, you can start by decluttering a part of your house that has the most mess. By doing so, you will most likely enjoy the clean and uncluttered space and will want to keep up with good work in other areas of your home.
This is an optional step. Honestly, it is mostly a tip than a step that I hope will help out some of you. 

7. Start big

If you are overwhelmed by decluttering, it means that you have lots of mess to deal with. It also means that you probably have big items that you want to get rid of. So, start with them.
It will surely feel very liberating to get rid of those big items that take out so much space in your house.
Place them in your van and leave them at a second-hand store or try to sell them.

8. Follow the plan that you have made in step nr 3

Now, take each space in your house and declutter all the things that you don’t need. Again, if in doubt about an item – ask yourself the questions listed above. Categorize those items into those that you want to sell, throw out, or donate. If you don’t want to get rid of an item because you feel emotional about letting go – again, take a picture of it so you have the memory of it. Take a break if feeling too overwhelmed: treat yourself with something sweet and keep going. You’ve got this!
Also, don’t forget to ask yourself the questions from step nr 4. The questions are especially useful when you are not sure if you want or not to declutter a specific thing.

9. Organize after you decluttered.

This step is very important. It will help you not only to be more organized but also prevent you from cluttering the space again.
So take time to organize everything that you own. Put things into categories and maybe even invest in some organizer boxes/bins.

decluterring when overwhelmed

10. Be mindful about stuff that you buy

Now that you know how overwhelming can it be to have so much stuff, try to create a minimalist mindset. Buy only items that you truly need and be intentional with the stuff that you use. It is important for your emotional and mental health, so don’t skip this major step!

Related: 20 Effective Ways to Stop Buying Stuff you Don’t Need

Mistakes to avoid when decluttering

  • Don’t declutter hobby items. Even though you haven’t used them in a while, think twice before decluttering them. You probably did not use them because of lack of time, and not because they don’t serve you a purpose. 
  • You have spent a lot of money on an item, so you won’t declutter it, even if you don’t use it. Just sell it on Marketplace or another place, you will feel so much liberation afterward. 
  • Trying to be an extremist minimalist. Don’t leave for each purpose one item and get rid of the rest. Try to be rational. For example, you surely could live with one pair of jeans only, but do you want to?
  • Being too sentimental. As I mentioned before, it is best to take photos of those items that you feel emotional to let go of. Read How to get rid of sentimental items?
  • Don’t declutter other people’s stuff. Let them deal with their stuff themself, especially if it is a grown-up. For children – try to declutter together. Otherwise, it should not feel overwhelming for you, because it is not your stuff (Minimalism with kids – how to start?)

How to prevent overwhelmedness when decluttering?

Inhale and exhale

It is important to breathe deeply when you feel like all the mess is over you. Just think that it is possible to declutter all the mess. And better now than later.
There is a way to use breathing as a way to relax. In order to do that, your exhalation has to be longer than your inhalation. For example, inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 6-8 seconds. And repeat at least 10 times every time you feel like you can’t do it. It is going to make a huge difference!

Be kind to yourself

Keep remembering that it is ok to feel overwhelmed. Offer yourself a treat if you need it, turn on the music or tell yourself that after you are done – you are going to go to your favorite coffee shop.
Just don’t be harsh on yourself. Take it slow and at your own pace.

Ask friends and family for help

Two minds are better than one, in particular when you have to deal with so much stuff.
You probably live with someone. Try to ask them for help with all the mess, especially because it is probably not only your stuff but also theirs.
Otherwise, ask your best friend or your mom to help you with decluttering. They can help you not only physically but also emotionally, so you don’t feel hopeless in all of this.

decluterring when overwhelmed

How to know for sure that you don’t need that thing?

If you came across some item that you actually don’t know if you need or not, I have a solution for you. When decluttering and feeling in doubt about some items – place them in a box. Leave the box somewhere where you won’t see it. Leave it there for a few months: 2-3 months maximum. If you haven’t touched that box, or even forgot what is in there, then it is for sure that those items don’t serve you any purpose.
On the contrary, if you needed something from that container, then it is yours.

Create clutter-free habits

Don’t rush on buying stuff that is on sale or that you think you will need one day. It is not only bad for your mental health, but also for your budget, and on top of that – for the environment. 
Creating clutter-free habits is not an easy task. It is something that you learn over time, so don’t punish yourself if you have bought an item that doesn’t have a purpose. See it as a lesson. Next time you will know better.

Related: Your COMPLETE clutter-clearing guide