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Cleaning a very messy house is stressful.

Motivation? Forget it.

One look around and you’re ready to give up before you’ve even started.

As much as I’d love to tell you how I’ve always been the mom with the spotless house– That wouldn’t be quite the truth.

I’ve had my share of times when life was crazy busy. And as a result, housework landed on the back burner.

Found yourself in a similar situation?

Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into how to clean a messy house step-by-step so that you can finally get your home back to a manageable state.

For extra tips on decluttering and organizing your home, check out The Organized Home once you’ve read this post.

How to get motivated to clean when overwhelmed by mess

It can be tough to find your motivation when you’re faced with cleaning a dirty house.

Luckily, there are a few ways to motivate yourself to clean house even when you don’t really feel like it:

Turn up the music

This is by far my favorite way to get motivated to clean my house. I open up Pandora, find one of my favorite upbeat/uplifting songs, and get to work.

Listen to a podcast episode

This is probably my second favorite way to stay motivated because it distracts me from what I’m actually doing. I mean, cleaning in itself isn’t the funnest task in the world, right?

You can listen to a podcast episode, a YouTube video, or anything that captures your attention so that you’re not as stressed over the tasks in front of you.

Set a timer

Next, you can try setting a timer for an hour (or 15 minutes– however long you have to clean) and then try to get as much done within that hour as possible.

This technique works well with music. And you’ll probably burn some calories too.

Watch a cleaning motivation video

Now, there’s another realm of cleaning motivation that I didn’t know existed until recently.

Cleaning motivation videos on YouTube– Many people find these to be really helpful for boosting your motivation.

Just try not to lose track of time doing this. Aim to watch one or two and get to work!

Start with something easy

Another way to motivate yourself to clean house is to simply START.

And the easiest place to start is, well, with something simple that you can knock out fairly quickly.

The idea behind this is once you start and complete a task, you’ll hopefully feel motivated to keep going. More on this in a few!

How to clean a messy house step-by-step

How to tackle a messy house

1. Gather all your supplies

The first step to cleaning a filthy house is to gather all cleaning supplies you will need.

Your items needed may vary, but here are a few things that are almost always on my list:

  • Music or a good podcast to listen to
  • A trash bag you can take around with you
  • A “donate” box or bag

Your supplies needed will also depend on whether you’re in “deep cleaning mode” or “decluttering mode.”

That being said, if your home is truly messy, you will want to focus on decluttering first before you attempt any deep cleaning.

Bonus cleaning tip: After you’ve tackled the clutter in your home and you’re ready to move on to deep cleaning– If you’ve ever struggled to clean streaky mirrors, this stuff is amazing! It’s the only thing I clean my mirrors with.

2. But my house is messy! Where do I start?

You really just have to pick a place and start. Try not to overthink it.

Here are 3 easy places to start (in no particular order– pick one and roll with it):

  • Start by washing the dishes. If I ever have a sink full of dishes, getting those out of the way first always makes me feel accomplished and motivated to keep going.
  • Start by throwing away all visible trash. Another easy place to start is with the trash. See something that was left from the night before? Did your kids leave empty fruit snack wrappers lying around?
  • Start with a load of laundry. Another task I sometimes start with… I’ll do a quick walk through to see if there are any random articles of clothing I can pick up and take to the laundry room. You can’t clean a room with dirty socks in the corner!

3. Focus on small wins

The secret to cleaning a messy home boils down to this simple mindset shift:

👉 Focus on small wins rather than the big picture.

When we experience a “small win,” we also experience a boost of dopamine, the chemical that makes us feel good and motivated (source).

And what’s key when it comes to accomplishing any daunting task? Yes, motivation!

4. Take it room by room and space by space

When your home is truly messy– I’ve found that it’s best not to go wandering around the house doing a little here and there and creating piles everywhere.

Instead, try tackling one room at the time and one space (or task) at the time within that room.

(One “small win” at the time to keep your motivation up!)

For example, let’s say you’ve made it to your bedroom. Because this room is a disaster, naturally, you have no idea where to start cleaning.

Rather than focusing on the entire room as a whole– here’s what you do:

Pick one space within the room. Maybe this is the cluttered nightstand?

Forget about the rest of the room and only focus on cleaning off the nightstand first.

Once you’re finished, rinse and repeat until the bedroom is clean.

5. Give yourself a realistic time frame

I know we all want to know how to clean a cluttered house FAST, but you have to be realistic.

A realistic time frame for YOU will depend on how messy your home actually is, how much time you have to dedicate to cleaning, etc.

Instead of saying you’re going to tackle your entire house in X amount of time, set smaller, realistic goals to avoid getting overwhelmed and giving up altogether. (Again, taking advantage of those small wins!)

6. Don’t organize clutter

One main thing you want to remember when you are cleaning and organizing a messy house– Try to avoid organizing clutter.

I once had a box of DVDs stored in my basement for 2 years– and never touched them. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true.

I considered getting a new storage shelf to organize them all, but then I had an epiphany.

Why spend money on a new shelf to “organize” something we never used anymore?

OUT they went. (Remember that donate box I suggested?)

Moral of the story:

If you’re trying to organize something you no longer use, you’re really just organizing clutter and creating more work for yourself.

Which brings me to my next tip…

7. Purge ruthlessly

The less clutter you have, the less “stuff” you have to clean and organize overall. Facts.

As you’re cleaning, keep your “donate” box close by and keep this in mind:

If you have an item that’s cluttering up your space that you have not used or even thought about in the past year, go ahead and toss it.

Be honest with yourself.

Unless this item holds sentimental value, it likely doesn’t serve a purpose for you anymore and won’t be missed.

Related: 50 Easy Things to Declutter Right Now

Daily cleaning routine/schedule

The best way to avoid cleaning a dirty house again? Try to do a little housework every day so that you can maintain all of your hard work.

Here is a sample cleaning routine you can do every day to keep your home neat and tidy:

  • Make beds
  • Wash dishes/unload or load dishwasher
  • Empty trash for kitchen and bathrooms
  • Wipe down counters and table
  • Put everything away (give it a “home” if it doesn’t have one)
  • Sweep and vacuum
  • Put a load of laundry away and start another if needed

Deep cleaning house checklist by room

Once your home is manageable again, then you can focus on deep cleaning.

Here are some ideas you may want to add to your to-do list eventually.

You can approach deep cleaning the same way we talked about before– once space and one room at the time. Don’t overwhelm yourself!

All rooms (including hallways and entryway)

  • Vacuum and shampoo carpet/clean wood floors
  • Vacuum/clean throw rugs
  • Clean windows
  • Open windows to allow some fresh air flow
  • Wipe down baseboards
  • Dust light fixtures and/or ceiling fans
  • Launder curtains
  • Dust ceiling corners
  • Vacuum/wipe down vents
  • Dust/wipe down decor and shelves
  • Declutter even more and organize as needed

Kitchen

  • Scrub and disinfect inside and around your sink
  • Clean out fridge and freezer
  • Dust/wipe down top of fridge and any other neglected surfaces
  • Clean behind fridge and other hard-to-reach places if possible
  • Clean microwave inside and out
  • Clean oven and stovetop (don’t forget to remove the knobs!)
  • Clean backsplash
  • Wipe down any other appliances you have
  • Wipe down cabinets and hardware
  • Tidy/declutter cabinets and drawers
  • Declutter pantry (toss expired food items)

Dining and living room

  • Clean/polish table and chairs
  • Dust/polish end tables/coffee table
  • Clean couch and other furniture
  • Vacuum under couch cushions
  • Launder throw blankets and throw pillows

Laundry/utility room

  • Wipe down washer and dryer
  • Clean any other sinks or surfaces
  • Clean behind washer and dryer

Bedrooms

  • Wash all bedding
  • Rotate/flip mattress if needed
  • Dust/polish dresser and nightstands
  • Clean mirrors (this stuff is my favorite)
  • Replace or wash pillows
  • Declutter/organize closets as needed

Bathrooms

  • Clean mirrors
  • Clean/sanitize sinks
  • Wipe down bathroom counters
  • Clean showers, bathtubs, and toilets
  • Clean drains
  • Add septic treatment if needed
  • Check expiration dates on medications and/or makeup

Once you’ve cleaned up your messy home…

You will need a realistic plan to keep it that way.

👉 The Organized Home shows you how to set up easy systems to help you maintain an organized home.

If you’ve struggled to keep your home clean and tidy in the past or you’re looking for more in depth cleaning and decluttering tips, I highly recommend checking it out!


Those sparkly clean floors and organized spaces may seem like they’re light-years away.

But with the right mindset, some elbow grease, and a solid plan…

You can clean a neglected house and keep it that way.

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how to clean a messy house

10 Comments

  1. Thank you ,.
    I have lived by this rule” there is a place for everything and everything has a place!!”
    However the past few years I just let everything go, nothing had a home..
    And yes you guessed my home is in disarray.
    I decided it’s time now to correct this mess I created, I read your information on how to get started, you have inspired me to get moving. All you said was exactly how u do things.. just was lost at where to start. You have helped believe it or not,.
    Just need to get moving and keep moving with small things and work my way to larger tasks.
    Thank you!!

    • Sosh | Lemons & Lattes Reply

      I’m so happy it helped, Mary! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great article! I think having a designated spot for everything is such a key to having an organized house. This also helps dissuade your from buying things you don’t need, because you don’t want to make a spot for it ?

  3. I agree with almost all your ideas, but one. If you are cleaning, it makes sense to pick a space and start cleaning. But, if you are “decluttering” you need to see all you have of something in order to decide what to keep and what to toss. You need to go around the house and get all your shoes in one spot, pick what to keep, and toss or donate the rest. If you do one “space” at a time, you will think about shoes multiple times, at least I will because I have in season shoes in the front hall, out of season in storage, fancy heals in my bedroom, etc. Books should be gathered from all rooms to decide what to keep, etc. By doing this, you only visit that topic once.

    • Sosh | Lemons & Lattes Reply

      I see what you’re saying, and I agree if your main goal is to downsize your belongings.

      But if your house is a total mess, I’ve found this approach to feel a lot less overwhelming because you’re focusing on small wins as you move along. Once you’ve gotten your home back to a manageable state, then you can go back and focus on decluttering even more. I hope this makes sense.

      At the end of the day, if you’ve found an approach or a strategy that works for you, that’s awesome! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  4. What do you do with the stuff that doesn’t have a home, needs a home but you don’t know where to put it? This is where I struggle. Does this mean I don’t really need it then?

    • Sosh | Lemons & Lattes Reply

      It could mean that you don’t really need it, but not always. This is where I would either make a quick decision to either toss or assign it a new home. If I’m “speed cleaning” and I come across more than one item like this, sometimes I’ll put them all together in one place to figure out or organize later when I have more time.

  5. Great artcle!! One of the best things I did to help keep my kitchen counter cleaned off was designating one of my kitchen drawers to only hold mail that has been gone through each day and placed into one of four folders: 1. bills to be paid 2. mail to keep for taxes 3. school/college mail for kids, and 4. anything health/insurance related.
    I have a huge basket full of DVDs in my basement that I havent watched in at least 2 to 3 years…..guess it’s time to donate them.😉

  6. Diane taber Reply

    Hi I just want to start cleaning the house really quickly and thouroghly.and make the house sparkle

  7. I lost my baby two years ago and I let my house go. We no longer entertain people and I want my life back. Thank you for this.

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