How to Clean a Messy House When You’re Completely Overwhelmed

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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 and 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!

How to clean a messy house

Instead of walking you through every single step, my goal is to change your mindset so that you can finally get started and then follow through.

If you keep these key tips in mind, you can tackle the mess no matter how overwhelmed you feel.

1. 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!

If you keep this in mind, you’ll be just fine.

2. Gather all your supplies

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
  • Cleaning supplies

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

And, no, you shouldn’t try to do both at the same time. That’s way too overwhelming.

Keep in mind that you will probably want to focus on decluttering the space or room you’re working on first before you attempt any deep cleaning.

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

If you are more focused on cleaning up clutter right now, you may need a few boxes and/or trash bags handy.

3. Just start

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, that’s the secret to staying motivated and getting your home back in order.

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. I’ll do a quick walk-through and throw away anything I see that was left from the night before.
  • Start with a load of laundry. I’ll also look for any random articles of clothing I can pick up and take to the laundry room, and I’ll start those up.

4. Boost your motivation

Instead of focusing on the million and one reasons why you’d rather procrastinate…

Here are some quick ways to keep yourself motivated while you’re cleaning even when you don’t really feel like it:

Turn on some 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 while you clean.

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 anything that captures your attention so that you’re not as stressed about the tasks in front of you.

Set a timer, and get to work.

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.

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

The last thing you need is your phone going off every 4 minutes.

Silent those notifications, and get to work!

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.

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.

Give yourself a realistic time frame

The honest truth is that is probably going to take you a little time to tackle a messy house.

Can you do it in a day? A weekend? Maybe. Maybe not.

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:

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 (and quickly) assign a new home to, 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!

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.

It’s 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.

It’s 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 month or even a week.

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

When my kitchen is messy, I’m way more likely to want to skip cooking and order food instead.

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

And I’m much more likely to follow through with my meal plan and enjoy home-cooked meals like this:

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.

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 and chore charts 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: If you have hardwood or laminate floors, I highly recommend getting a robot vacuum cleaner. I run this little guy often and it keeps my floors feeling clean, even on bare feet!

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.

For extra tips on cleaning and organizing a messy house, check out The Organized Home.

It’s worth it 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 (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!

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  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!!

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      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.

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      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?

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      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 says:

    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.

    1. Leigh Ann says:

      I’m just a reader on here, but I’m so very sorry for the loss of your precious baby. My heart breaks for you and your family! Prayers for healing, strength, and comfort ❤️

  8. Judy Sasim says:

    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 post🙂.

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

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

  9. I read your article . I haven’t started yet . It’s just so depressing that it has gotten like this, I can’t believe a string of events that had gotten me all turned around. I hope to start this today. Thank you, Kathy

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      You can turn it around, Kathy! Baby steps. 🙂

  10. Elizabeth says:

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

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      You got this!

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

  12. 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.

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      You are very welcome. You can do it!

  13. Robyn Rogers says:

    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

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

      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. ❤️

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

    1. Lemons & Lattes Team says:

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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 house…so, yaaaa!
    Thanks for your article.

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