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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…
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 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.
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.
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?
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!