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How to Clean a Messy House When It’s Overwhelming

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Trying to figure out how to clean 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. As a result, housework landed on the back burner.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, I want you to take a deep breath. All hope is NOT lost. And you CAN regain control of your messy home again!

Today, I’m sharing my best tips on how to clean a filthy house so that you can finally get your home back to a manageable state.

For extra tips on cleaning and organizing a messy house, I highly recommend checking out The Organized Home once you’ve read this post.

What does a messy house do to your mental health?

One of the reasons house cleaning is so important has to do with mental health.

A messy house can affect your overall sense of well-being.

When everything around you looks like a war zone, it can leave you feeling helpless and out of control.

A messy home is also linked to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and even depression according to research.

How to get motivated to clean a messy house

It can be tough to find the motivation to get started when you’re faced with cleaning a trashed house.

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

Turn up the music

I find that the house cleaning process is a whole lot faster if I crank up my favorite playlist.

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

Listen to a podcast episode

If house cleaning house is a lot more fun for you when there’s a little background noise, this can be a fun option.

This is probably my second favorite way to get myself motivated because it distracts me from what I’m actually doing.

I mean, cleaning when your house is messy isn’t the most enjoyable task in the world.

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

Set a timer

Sometimes cleaning house is a lot more manageable if you give yourself a hard and fast time limit.

For example, 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 time frame 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 (although you can find these on TikTok as well).

The first time I heard of these, I’ll be honest with you– I rolled my eyes a bit.

Who gets motivated to clean by watching others clean? Well, turns out it can be more motivating than you would think!

Just try not to lose track of time doing this because you can easily get sucked into these and lose track of time.

Aim to watch one or two and get to work!

Where to start cleaning a messy house

But my house is filthy!

My house is so cluttered I don’t know where to start!

First, I want you to do your best to push those frantic thoughts away for a moment.

Your first goal is to simply START.

When you’re already overwhelmed by the mess, the best place to start is with something easy.

By starting with something simple that you can knock out fairly quickly, you’ll get a small win under your belt.

And, as you’ll soon find out, that’s the secret to staying motivated and getting your home back in order.

So, where are some easy places to start?

In no particular order, here are my top 3 easy places to start:

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.

Do you see anything you can throw away that was left from the night before?

Did your kids leave empty fruit snack wrappers lying around?

Take a few minutes to put it away. You’ll be surprised at just how quickly the house starts looking better.

Start with a load of laundry.

Another task I sometimes start with is laundry.

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!

how to clean a messy house

How to clean a messy house (without losing your mind)

Gather all your supplies first

The first step to cleaning a messy house is to gather all the 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
  • A “handle later” box, bag, or spot
  • Any cleaning supplies you’ll need

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 the space or room you’re working on 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 works amazingly well! It’s the only thing I clean my mirrors with.

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!

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 a time and one space (or task) at a 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? Or maybe it’s your closet?

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

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

With this strategy, you won’t get as overwhelmed, and it’ll be much easier to keep up your momentum as you move along.

how to clean a messy house

Give yourself a realistic time frame

I know we all want to know how to clean a disgusting 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!)

You do not have to clean your entire house in one day.

Don’t organize clutter

One main thing you always want to remember when you are cleaning and organizing a messy house is this:

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.

This brings me to my next tip…

Purge ruthlessly

The less clutter you have, the less overall “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, it’s time to handle 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.

But what if you come across a certain item that doesn’t have a home, needs a home, but you don’t know where to put it?

That’s where your “handle later” box/bag/space (whatever you decided when you were gathering your supplies) comes into play.

You will likely come across items like this as you’re cleaning your home.

If it’s something you can easily assign a new home to (real quick), then I would go ahead and do that.

But if it’s something a little more complicated, put it aside to handle later when you have more time.

The reason I don’t recommend figuring it out right then and there?

If it takes you longer than a couple of seconds to decide, that will waste time and distract you from your main goal– cleaning your messy house!

How to keep your home clean and organized

Once you’ve tackled your neglected house…

What’s the best way to avoid cleaning a filthy house again? How do you maintain all your hard work?

Establish a daily cleaning routine/schedule

One way (and probably the most obvious) is to try your best to do a little housework every day.

The best way to do this is to add certain tasks to your daily routines. And then do them every day until they become a habit.

Habit tracker printables and apps are great for this.

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

Bonus tip: If you have hardwood floors, I highly recommend getting a robot vacuum cleaner. I run this little guy every single day and it keeps my floors feeling clean, even on bare feet!

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OKP Life K2 Robot Vacuum Cleaner 1800 mAh, Blue
  • 👩🏻‍🔬This OKP K2 robotic vacuum cleaner is for your daily home clean.

Train yourself to declutter as you go

Another way to keep your home clutter-free and tidy is to create a system of decluttering as you go.

For example, if you purchase a new pair of pants or jeans, get rid of at least one item in your closet before you add the new one.

Make the process even more effective by making it a 1 in and 2, 3, or 4 out rule.

How to start organizing a messy house

Do you feel like it’s a continuous struggle to keep your home clean and tidy? Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

And I don’t mean hiring an expensive cleaning or organization service.

There are some excellent online courses you can take that are jam-packed with more in-depth cleaning and decluttering tips that are actually realistic to implement.

The one I personally recommend is called The Organized Home.

It’s worth checking out if you need a little extra help establishing easy systems to help you maintain a clean and organized home.

Why continue to struggle if someone else has already figured it out, right?

how to clean a messy house

Next steps

Once you’ve tackled some of the clutter in your home and you can finally see your floors again (woohoo!), then you might consider focusing more on “deep cleaning” tasks.

Since deep cleaning is a topic of its own– We’ve dedicated a whole separate post to it that you can read here!

Once you’re ready, you can approach deep cleaning the same way we talked about before– one space and one room at a time.

Remember not to overwhelm yourself. Celebrate small wins!


Those sparkly clean floors and organized spaces may seem like they’re lightyears away.

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

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

Please pin this post to help others tackle their messy homes!

Donna

Monday 13th of June 2022

Thank you! I have started cleaning making good progress. Your list of 7 things to keep on top seems doable thanks again for your post.

Robyn Rogers

Saturday 16th of April 2022

Thank you for your encouragement and step by step break down of tackling an overwhelmingly disorganized messy house. I have inherited my parents home. Both passed in 2020 within 2 months of each other and I have been putting off organizing and sorting their 52 years worth of accumulated possession. Although they weren't hoarders, they seem to have kept every item of paperwork they received over 20+ yrs. Alot is helpful like owners manuals, maintenance records, etc. The rest, 20 years of all utility bills, Dr. Statements, taxes etc., seem unnecessarily excessive. Worst is old magazines, phone books, etc. My mom was a historian/genealogist and kept alot of extremely interesting efemoral items as well that would have otherwise been lost to time. I am grateful for her meticulous preservation of my family's history. I am compelled to continue this as well as display many interesting artifacts. You have been an absolutely wonderful inspiration and encouragement to me in starting this monumental task. I appreciate the way you have simplified and presented, step by step, achievable goals to help accomplish, stress free, what I've been avoiding for nearly 2 years. Thank you for your help. God bless you. Peace Joy Light I pray for you and your family. Amen

Sosh | Lemons & Lattes

Monday 6th of June 2022

Thank you for your sweet comment. I think paper hoarding is something a lot of us do. I am trying to get better at this myself. That's awesome that your mother saved so many neat historical items! I hope the cleaning has been going well for you. I'm so glad the tips gave you some inspiration and encouragement. ❤️

Ladybug

Friday 1st of April 2022

Due to Vivid I have been indoors for almost 3 years. I have gained weight and let my master bedroom go to pot. I hope to start cleaning out this room by the end of this week. Start an easy exercise plan, and get out more often after I clean out this roim.

Thank you so much for this article, it is something I plan to do, thank you for the advice on how to get started.

Sosh | Lemons & Lattes

Friday 1st of April 2022

You are very welcome. You can do it!

Natalie

Thursday 6th of January 2022

This was so helpful. It really helped me get started. Taking baby steps. Thank you.

Elizabeth

Saturday 27th of November 2021

Pray for me. I am about to begin a very scary journey. Into our living room. If I can locate it.

Sosh | Lemons & Lattes

Saturday 27th of November 2021

You got this!