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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 cleaning a dirty 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 dirty house do to your mental health?

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

A dirty home 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.

Messy houses are also linked to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and even depression according to research.

More reasons to clean your house when it’s messy

Aside from the negative impact on mental health, there are other good reasons to keep a tidy home.

For one, a clean house is a safer house.

If you have small children or even pets, a cluttered home presents more trip hazards and places for them to get into mischief.

If you’ve ever had to chase a baby or a toddler around in a cluttered area, you know what I mean.

A clean home is a healthy home.

If you or someone in your family suffers from allergies, a clean house can help reduce the triggers that set off an attack.

Even if allergies aren’t an issue, a cluttered home can attract pests like mice and cockroaches. Just think of the hassle of getting rid of these little guys once they’ve moved in.

A clean home is also easier to sell if you ever decide to put it on the market.

If you’re like most people, the idea of decluttering and deep cleaning your home before a move is daunting.

But, if you have a head start on keeping things tidy, it will be one less thing to worry about down the road.

A clean home is more comfortable and welcoming to guests.

No one likes having company over to a nasty house. It’s stressful trying to rush and get everything in order before someone comes over. And, if they show up unannounced, it can feel quite embarrassing.

When your home is clean, it’s much easier to find things when you need them.

How many times have you spent 10 minutes (or even longer) looking for your keys or your phone?

If your house is messy and cluttered, it’s harder to put things away and know where they are when you need them. This wasted time can really add up over the course of a week or even a month.

You’re more likely to cook and eat at home when it’s clean

I don’t know about you, but when my kitchen is messy, I’m way more likely to want to skip cooking and order food.

A clean and organized kitchen – without any dirty dishes piled up in the sink – is so much more inviting!

Plus, it’s satisfying to see the results of your hard work.

There’s no doubt about it, cleaning can be a lot of work. But, when you see the final results of your efforts, it feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

A clean house can provide a sense of accomplishment and boost your overall mood.

I hope you’re feeling a bit more motivated about this whole process. However, if you’re not quite there…

How to get motivated to clean the house

It can be tough to find the motivation to get started when you are already feeling overwhelmed.

And, if you’re anything like I am, when you’re faced with something you really don’t want to do – you will find a million and one reasons to procrastinate.

But, putting it off until later doesn’t exactly take care of the problem, does it?

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

Turn up the music

I find that cleaning my house goes a lot smoother if I have some background noise to keep me distracted.

I just can’t stay focused if I don’t have something to listen to. So, I open up Pandora, find one of my favorite upbeat songs, and get to work.

Listen to a podcast episode

That being said, you don’t have to limit yourself to music. Listening to a podcast is another excellent way to keep yourself entertained while you’re decluttering or scrubbing away.

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

If you’ve found a great song or something interesting to listen to and you still aren’t feeling very motivated, try to challenge yourself.

Sometimes cleaning the 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 when paired 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 – these are called 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.

Use new cleaning products/equipment

Sometimes all you need to get excited about cleaning your house is some new cleaning products and/or tools.

A couple of my current favorites:

My robot vacuum cleaner – I’ve had this little guy for a couple of years now (he’s due for an upgrade probably), and it makes my life so much easier. Those few little pieces of dirt or grass that randomly get tracked in the house are no problem. I just turn it on and let it run loose usually once per day.

This natural laundry detergent – I’ve been slowly trying to swap over to more non-toxic/natural products, and I finally found a natural one that smells good and actually works.

Turn off notifications or turn your phone on silent for a few

When it’s time to get to work on cleaning your messy house, the last thing you need is your phone going off every 4 minutes.

Silent those notifications, and get to work! (Tough love. I care, really.)

Take before and after pictures

I’ve always been a big fan of before and afters. They are so satisfying.

Turns out, they aren’t just for your fitness goals.

When it comes to cleaning a messy house, taking some before and after pictures can be a fantastic way to track your progress and give yourself a visual representation of how much you’ve accomplished.

Plus, it’s always fun to look back on those pictures later when you’re cleaning out your phone.

Where to start cleaning a messy house

Does this sound like you?

My house is a disgusting mess!

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

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

Your first goal is to simply START. That’s it.

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 (successfully – and 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.

If you’re in deep cleaning mode, bring out the mops, scrubbers, and dusting supplies.

If you are decluttering right now, you may need a few boxes and/or trash bags handy.

Keep in mind, you will probably 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 one 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.

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 a 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 your search history probably contains a lot of how to clean your 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.

declutter checklist

But what if you come across a certain item that doesn’t have a home and 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 it 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.

Daily cleaning printables are great for this.

You can also use checklists for specific rooms like the bathroom and kitchen if you prefer.

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 the 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: Again, 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!

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 (such a good feeling, no?), then you might consider focusing more on “deep cleaning” tasks.

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 those 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!


Sunday 25th of September 2022

This article gave me a place to start. It also made me realize that there are many people out there experiencing the same overwhelming & embarrassing feelings. My problem is I have so little free time, I will organize & clean one area, & by the time I have any time to continue, the cleaned area is cluttered again. I used to be very organized & I’m pretty hard on myself for the shape of my house, then I close my eyes & find a book to read. Just exhausted...& overwhelmed. My friend & I are exchanging dog care for helping with my, yaaaa! Thanks for your article.


Saturday 13th of August 2022

Hi, I just found this article. Thank you, I've inherited my parents home as well four years ago. I have been paralyzed with grief, depression, and battling my own health problems. But lately I've been slowly getting a little better day by day. The clutter and disorganization has honestly overwhelmed me and I just didn't know where to start. I will definitely take your advice. I think I'm going to tackle my kitchen, one section at a time. I think I can get it accomplished pretty quickly, I just need to do it. The shame of letting everything get so out of hand was crippling me as well. I just needed the gentle encouragement of where to start.


Saturday 30th of July 2022

Hi- I'm late to the party but found this article by googling -"how the he** to clean your house when it's a total mess" and everything you mentioned sounds doable and may I say inspiring- I can now move from total shame and bewilderment to action. Thank you!

Sosh | Lemons & Lattes

Thursday 4th of August 2022

This made me giggle. I'm glad it helped! Good luck!


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. ❤️