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Cleaning a messy house is hard when you don’t know where to start.

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? No clue how to START cleaning a messy house?

Today, I’m sharing the tips I’ve learned that will help you bring your home back to a manageable state!

How to clean up a messy house

Items needed:

How to tackle a messy house

1. Start small

When it comes to cleaning a truly messy house, the secret to getting it done (without losing your mind) all boils down to THIS:

Focusing 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!

Where to start cleaning a messy house? Try starting with one of these small tasks to get your motivation ball rolling:

  • Start with 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 great place to start is with the trash. See something that was left from the night before? Did your kiddo leave 10 empty fruit snack wrappers lying around?
  • Start with the dirty clothes. 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!

After you’ve gotten started– Give yourself a pat on the back, because that’s the hardest part (really).

2. 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.

3. Give yourself a realistic time frame

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

4. Don’t organize 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…

5. Purge ruthlessly

The less clutter you have, the less “stuff” you have to clean and organize. 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 (lots of) 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

Once you’ve cleaned up your messy home…

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

If you’ve struggled to keep your home clean and manageable in the past, I highly recommend checking out The Organized Home.

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

(Let’s be honest, when you’re a busy mom, that’s the hardest part!)


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

But with the right mindset, some consistency, and a solid plan….

You can clean a messy house and make that dream a reality!

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how to clean a messy house

11 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. Thanks for this post! I’m reading this while stuck at home with my kids during the Coronavirus quarantine. With everyone at home, my house is an absolute mess. Your advice has been a lifesaver, I’ve just been trying to clean a little at a time and it has really helped me manage things. I’ve been reading all kinds of cleaning blogs to keep myself busy during this time, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your cleaning and organizing blog posts!

  8. 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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