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How to Clean a Messy House When It’s Overwhelming

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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. 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 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. Sound good?

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 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 the house even when you don’t really feel like it.

1. 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 g songs, and I get to work.

2. Listen to a podcast episode

This is probably my second favorite way to get myself motivated because it distracts me from what I’m actually doing. I mean, cleaning in itself isn’t the most enjoyable 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 about the tasks in front of you.

3. 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 time frame as possible.

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

4. 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 their motivation.

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

5. Start with something easy

Another way to motivate yourself to clean the 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 start cleaning a messy house

But my house is filthy! Where do I start?

There really isn’t a single best way to start cleaning a messy house. You 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 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 (without losing your mind)

How to tackle a messy house

Gather all your supplies first

The first step to cleaning a filthy house is to gather all the 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
  • 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.

Give yourself a realistic time frame

I know we all want to know how to clean a really dirty 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 get your entire house done in a single day.

Don’t organize clutter

One main thing you want to remember when you are cleaning and organizing a messy house is– 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, 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.

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 give a new home 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 so that you can maintain all of your hard work.

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.

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!

OKP Life K2 Robot Vacuum Cleaner 1800 mAh, Blue
  • 👩🏻‍🔬This 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.

Related: How to Declutter Your Home Fast

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Do you feel like it’s a continuous struggle to keep your home clean and tidy?

If you answered yes, and you’re looking for more in-depth cleaning and decluttering tips, I highly recommend checking out this course.

It’s called The Organized Home and is 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?

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 light-years away.

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

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

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Judy Sasim

Thursday 16th of September 2021

Thank you for your post! I have been staring at my mess as if I was staring down a gun, completely just stuck, like a deer in headlights. I have been doing your suggestions and having great success. I am so happy I found this post๐Ÿ™‚.

Sosh | Lemons & Lattes

Friday 17th of September 2021

I'm so glad to hear this! Thank you for commenting!


Monday 20th of April 2020

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.

Diane taber

Sunday 29th of March 2020

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


Thursday 26th of March 2020

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.๐Ÿ˜‰


Saturday 8th of February 2020

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

Saturday 8th of February 2020

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.