How to start decluttering when overwhelmed by clutter and mess?


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Have you ever found yourself dreaming about having a clutter-free home, and yet you have no motivation to start decluttering and feel overwhelmed at the very thought of it? 

You think to yourself “why is it so hard for me to declutter?” or “my house is so cluttered I don’t know where to start!”. 

I’ve been there too, and I still sometimes struggle to get to work and start decluttering

Some people might ask: why would you even want to declutter your home? 

Well, decluttering and minimalism have amazing benefits!

Owning less means we have to manage less inventory in our homes, which saves us time and energy.

It’s a lot easier to clean, tidy and maintain a nice, relaxing space.

I also found that I’m a lot happier and more productive with fewer belongings! 

One downside though is that decluttering can be very overwhelming at times, especially when we have a lot of things in our homes. 

This blog post will guide and show you how to start decluttering when overwhelmed by clutter and mess! 

This blog post contains affiliate links which means that if you buy something through such links, I will get a small commission without any extra cost for you. Please read my Disclosure for more details. 

Why is it so hard to start decluttering? Why is it so overwhelming? 

Decluttering can be overwhelming for many reasons, and many things can hold us back from minimizing! 

When we have mountains of things in front of us, it’s normal to not know where to start.

We know that tackling these countless piles of stuff will take a lot of time and energy. 

It might also be a very emotional process if you’re sorting through sentimental items or things that belonged to loved ones who are no longer with you.

Plus, decluttering means that you’ll have to make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions.

You’ll have to decide what to keep and what to let go of, and what you’ll do with all the things you want to get rid of

Sometimes, there is just so much to do that you feel you will give up before the end! 

You might also be struggling because you find you want to keep everything or have 30 years of stuff to declutter. 

You might feel guilty for all the money you spent on those things and the environmental impact it all has.

So if you’re wondering how to declutter when you have too much stuff and feel overwhelmed by the mess, read on!

You may also want to check out my complete guide on how to become a minimalist!

How to start decluttering when overwhelmed? My 17 best tips

1. Make it fun and enjoyable

When a task is hard and overwhelming, we should try and make it as fun and enjoyable as possible.

So before you start decluttering, make sure you wear your comfiest lounge clothes.

That way, you can move easily when going through everything. 

Turn on your favorite music or have a Youtube video play in the background.

You can also listen to a podcast you like while you make decisions if it doesn’t distract you too much. 

It’s a great idea to have a nice snack or refreshing beverage on hand for when you get thirsty and hungry. 

Just because decluttering can be overwhelming doesn’t mean it has to be a huge chore that you dread doing.

You can make it a fun experience, or at least make it more enjoyable. 

Know how to start decluttering when overwhelmed? Make it fun and enjoyable!

2. Get rid of the trash immediately

Whenever I start decluttering and immediately feel overwhelmed with the number of things to go through, I tell myself: “what is the easiest thing I can get rid of?”. 

Usually, the easiest thing you can declutter is trash.

Trash is not something we are sentimentally attached to or something that has monetary value.

It’s also not something someone else would want, and it shouldn’t be in your home either. 

So scan the area you want to declutter and look for trash.

Trash could be anything from packaging to junk mail, to outdated papers and broken or worn-out things that you cannot repair

Getting rid of trash is an easy win and a great way to gain momentum when the task seems too hard to even start. 

3. Declutter the things you forgot you had

If you stumble across something that you completely forgot you had, it’s safe to say that you probably have not used it in many years.

If so, let it go, you will not miss it! 

You can do the same thing with things that you didn’t even know you owned.

If you have lived well without those things so far, why would you need them now? 

Of course, there are exceptions, but if you have things you never use, chances are you’ll never use them in the future either.

So declutter them before you start second-guessing your decision.

4. Get inspired 

Whenever I feel overwhelmed before I start decluttering, I like to find content that will motivate me.

For me, it’s usually Youtube videos or blog posts about minimalist living and decluttering. 

I also love going back to my favorite minimalism books!

Here are the ones that I recommend the most if you’re looking for inspiration: 

Reading inspiring quotes about simple living and minimalism is also incredibly motivating!

I have an entire blog post filled with minimalism quotes, so feel free to check it out! 

5. Have a “maybe” pile

Having a “maybe” pile when decluttering is not something I recommend having every time you declutter.

Because sometimes, we need to make decisions straight away if we want to make serious progress. 

But from time to time, when the task is too overwhelming, having a “maybe” pile can make us save time and reduce our decision fatigue. 

It means that whenever you come across something you’re not sure about, you can quickly set it aside and move on.

You don’t get stuck on one thing, which would prevent you from making progress. 

Revisit your “maybe” pile at the end of your decluttering session, or leave it for when you have more mental clarity and energy. 

But make sure to revisit it soon, and do not leave it in a corner for several months. 

Having a maybe pile is a great way to start decluttering when overwhelmed.

6. Get rid of things you’ve not used in a few years

If you have things laying around that you haven’t used in many years, let them go unless you know for sure that you will need them in the coming future.

These things probably do not reflect your lifestyle anymore, and some of them you may no longer even like.

Some might be broken or outdated. 

So if it’s been a long time since you’ve used something or you don’t remember the last time you did, let it go. 

Read more: 14 life-changing minimalist rules to live by

7. Do a little every day

If the space to declutter is too overwhelming to tackle, know that you don’t have to do it in one go.

You can decide to tackle it little by little, one day at a time. 

Even if you only declutter one or two things each day, the total will add up over the weeks and months.

While the progress seems slow, doing a little bit every day is realistic and doable for most people.

Even if you have a very busy schedule, you can probably find a few minutes here and there to tackle a drawer or a cupboard.

The huge decluttering project will be broken down into tiny steps, but in the end, you’ll realize you’ll have done it effortlessly. 

Each day, you can celebrate a small victory, and over time, it will make a massive difference! 

Read more: 30-day declutter challenge: how to declutter your life in 30 days?

8. Remember why you want to start decluttering

When you struggle and don’t know how to start decluttering, remember why you want to start this project in the first place. 

Is it to have a tidier home?

Do you want your space to be easier to clean? 

Are you moving across the country soon?

Are you downsizing and moving into a smaller house? 

Do you want less visual clutter around your home and more peace of mind? 

Are you dreaming of having more time and energy to do the things you care about? 

When you remember why you want to tackle this decluttering project, it gives you the motivation to get to work and not give up. 

9. Don’t think about what you’re going to do with the items afterward (just yet)

When we go through our belongings, we often think about how we want to get rid of unwanted items or how we want to organize things we decided to keep right away. 

However, while it is an important step, I recommend thinking about it at the end of your decluttering session if you feel overwhelmed. 

For now, just focus on the decluttering decision.

Do you want to keep the item or not?

Don’t make it harder for yourself by making extra decisions now. 

Don’t burden your mind thinking about where you will donate the item or where you’re going to store it in your home. 

It’s a job for later! 

Wondering how to start decluttering when overwhelming? Don't think about how you're going to get rid of items afterward.

10. Set a timer and get to work

When you feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to start decluttering, set a timer for 5, 15, or 30 minutes and get to work. 

Try to find as many things to declutter as possible during these short bursts of time.

When the time is up, stop decluttering. 

Knowing that you only need to work on your space for 5, 15, or 30 minutes makes the task a lot more manageable.

It signals your brain that you have a given period of time to make progress, but you don’t have to finish the whole project. 

You only need to commit for a few minutes, and then, you can stop guilt-free.

It’s completely doable!

11. Take a box and fill it

Similarly to the previous point, another great example of how setting boundaries makes decluttering less overwhelming is by taking a box and committing to filling it. 

You don’t have to declutter your whole house in one go.

You just need to fill this box.

Easy, right? 

It is not hard to do it, so it will not appear as a massive task.

What I love about this method is that we often gain momentum while filling the box.

We usually end up decluttering many more things than what fits in it! 

12. Ask for help

Sometimes, the task is just too big for us to tackle alone.

Sometimes, a closet full of clothes, an overflowing pantry, or a garage filled with 30 years of clutter is too much for us. 

In those cases, remember that you don’t have to do all of this alone.

Ask your spouse, some friends, or family members to help you! 

If no one is available and you have the financial means to, you could even hire a professional to come and help you declutter. 

Not only is decluttering with another person a lot more fun and less overwhelming but it will also help you declutter faster and make tough decisions! 

13. Identify your emotions 

When you’re struggling with a decision, try to go inwards and think about what you truly feel about the item.

I once struggled to declutter a worn-out t-shirt that my grandma gifted me years ago.

After thinking about it, I realized that it was not the t-shirt I was attached to.

I was the kindness of my grandmother who was no longer here with me. 

While this t-shirt reminded me of her, I knew it was time to let it go.

I was attached to the memory of my grandma, not a worn-out t-shirt. 

Identifying your emotions can help you understand why you’re struggling to let something go and why it is important to you.

In the end, you might hold on to the item or decide it’s time to declutter it. 

Either way, it’s important to get clear about what you feel to make the best decision and not have regrets afterward. 

When you’re struggling with a decision, identify your emotions so that you can know what you truly think about the item.

14. Progress, not perfection

If you don’t know how to start decluttering when you feel overwhelmed, know that you don’t have to complete this project today, or even this month. 

You don’t have to go through all your belongings in one go and make thousands of decisions in a short period of time. 

The key to decluttering success is to make “progress, not perfection” your motto!

Don’t push yourself too hard, and be gentle with yourself.

Any progress is a great step in the right direction! 

Accepting that you cannot do everything overnight will take the pressure off yourself.

It will make starting decluttering less overwhelming! 

15. Stop the influx of things into your home 

Decluttering is awesome if you want to maintain minimalism in your home, embrace a simpler life, or make cleaning a lot easier! 

But if you constantly bring new things into your home, you will never seem to make any progress. 

So to make decluttering less overwhelming in the future, stop impulse buying and commit to only bringing in things you need, use, or love. 

Say no to useless freebies, and ask for gifts you truly need or want.

Also, remember to unsubscribe from mailing lists (both digitally and physically). 

All these tiny steps will make decluttering so much easier!

You will get to see all the progress you’re making, and you’re not adding to the number of things you have

16. Keep a list of decluttered things

A few years ago, at the beginning of my minimalist journey, I started a list of all the things I’m decluttering.

I don’t go into details but roughly write what I’m decluttering each time. 

Let me tell you, this list is so long now! 

Every time I feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to start decluttering an area of my home, I look at this list and feel so proud of myself. 

I look back at all the progress I’ve made, and how much simpler my home is now.

It always encourages me to go on and get rid of more things I don’t want anymore.

Keeping a list of things you’ve decluttered will remind you of how hard you’ve worked at decluttering your home to make your life better.

You see that, over time, decluttering things here and there really adds up! 

It shows you that you don’t have to tackle too much at once because progress is made over time.

This makes starting more manageable and less overwhelming! 

17. Ask yourself the right questions

When decluttering your home, it’s important to ask yourself the right questions.

Choosing them wisely and answering them as honestly as possible will make you see the items from a new angle.

I have an entire blog post with 50 helpful decluttering questions you can ask yourself when going through your belongings.

Make sure to check it out!

These questions will help you easily decide whether you want to keep something or let it go.

You’ll see that the decluttering process is so much easier and hassle-free when you ask yourself the right questions!

Final thoughts on how to start decluttering when overwhelmed with clutter and mess

I hope this article about how to start decluttering when overwhelmed with clutter and mess helped you and that you could tackle the decluttering project you’ve been dreading to begin!

Sometimes, we start going through our belongings and it doesn’t seem like a huge task.

We get rid of things without thinking too much or doubting our decisions, and the process goes smoothly. 

But I find that, more often than we’d like to admit, decluttering can feel incredibly overwhelming!

It can be a task we constantly postpone because of that. 

But if we never do the work and reduce the clutter in our homes, our lives get so much more messy and stressful!

How do you start decluttering when you’re feeling overwhelmed with clutter and mess? 

Please, tell us about your best tips by leaving a comment! 

If you need more guidance to declutter your home, my blog post about my best decluttering hacks will definitely help you!

And don’t forget to share this article with your friends to help them have a peaceful, clutter-free home! <3 

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