How to start decluttering when you’re totally overwhelmed

Chances are, if you’ve found yourself here at From Mess to Minimalist, you’re used to living in a bit of a mess.

Maybe?

Chaos and overwhelm in our homes can be a wonderful catalyst for harnessing some of the peace living a more minimalist lifestyle can bring.

But lets face it, we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff for a reason.

Does this thing bring me joy?

Is it useful?

What if it brings me joy AND it is useful? Does that mean I have to keep it? Does it mean that things that don’t meet those characteristics can’t be kept?

Help!

Here’s the thing — minimalism doesn’t have to happen overnight. And it doesn’t have to look the same for everyone.

Clean, white, minimalist kitchen
Clean, white, minimalist kitchen

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So if you’re stuck in a Pinterest comparison-trap, here are a couple of tips for how you can start to declutter, even if you’re totally overwhelmed:

Stop comparing your journey

Do I need to repeat this one? 

Stop. Comparing. Your. Journey.

Comparison is the the thief of joy.

Every person who shows off their beautifully minimalist homes has a story you don’t know.

You may be comparing your step 1 to someone else’s step 11, and that’s just painful.

But in addition to that, your minimalism doesn’t have to look like mine.

Take it one thing at a time

Do you know what an achievement it is just to get rid of ONE thing?

It doesn’t matter if that one thing is gigantic or tiny. 

It doesn’t matter if it is broken or in perfect working order.

It’s a start.

And you won’t get to the place you want to be in your minimalist journey if you don’t just start somewhere. 

More than that — getting rid of just one item tends to snowball. 

So perhaps you want to start somewhere you know you’ll have a couple of items you can easily part with.

For example, you find a sock that you know the match is missing. Go ahead and get rid of that one item. 

Maybe that will snowball into you checking all of your socks and getting rid of the stragglers.

Maybe it won’t. 

Either way, you got rid of something taking up unnecessary space!

That’s an accomplishment. 

Own your journey

Sure, you need your family to be on board, to some extent. But one of the things a lot of people (especially moms) get hung up on is getting everyone to conform to their desire to purge.

This may be a painful truth, but your kid probably isn’t going to want to get rid of the same amount of stuff you want to purge.

Your husband may have a sentimental attachment to that ragged t-shirt and sees a value in keeping it. 

We don’t get to control our entire household’s minimalist journey.

And sometimes, attempting to do so can actually encourage the exact opposite result. 

So own your journey. 

Make it comfortable for you.

But recognize that your home is full of unique individuals with their own emotional attachments, their own value system, and their own priorities.

Minimalism is supposed to make life easier, lighter, and provide room for better connections. 

But if it isn’t doing that — if it’s causing issues in your relationships, then you’re missing the point.

Woman on couch cleaning cluttered living space
Woman on couch cleaning cluttered living space

Just start

One of the biggest barriers for people come up against when overwhelmed by the prospect of decluttering our homes is that we just delay getting started in the first place. 

So the best tip? Just start.

Even if you just start a timer for 5 minutes. Getting started is usually one of the biggest obstacles. 

Maybe you just throw on some pump up music and commit to an area of your house.

Whatever it may be — just start somewhere.

Where to start

Making a reasonably actionable plan is the key here. 

A couple of places you could consider starting:

  • Broken/unusable items. Chances are pretty high that there are at least a handful of items in your house that just don’t work. Or that don’t work well and need to be gotten rid of. Keep in mind that it can be anything — even something as small as a dried out pen. Every little bit helps!
  • Clothing. Sort through what fits, what doesn’t, and what you’ll likely never wear again.
  • Paperwork. Most people have loads of paperwork that never gets touched. Just start by sorting it as it comes into the house and move on from there. 
  • Bathrooms (or your least packed room). One of the great things about tackling a bathroom is that it can likely be done in one day. Toilet paper? Keep. Empty shower cleaner? Toss. 
  • Cups and mugs. How many cups and mugs do you reasonably need for the number of people you have in your home? Maybe a couple of extra for guests? Likely your cabinets have far more than whatever number you just came up with. 
  • Untouched wires. Anyone else have a box of random wires and untouched electronics. Perhaps that would be a good place to start.
  • Nightstand. Start with a small space

Where does it all go?

Let’s start with the obvious here — trash goes into the trash.

Great.

Now, what about everything else?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of decluttering your home, it may be useful to do a quick internet search for local places you can donate different items. 

Some places are willing to take clothing, but they don’t take housewares, for example. 

Scouting out where you can donate the different types of items you find yourself willing to part with allows you to get them out of the house quickly. 

After all, what’s decluttering if you’re just changing your clutter from being strewn through your home to packed neatly in boxes lining your hallway?

If you’re on Facebook, many places have local Buy Nothing groups that you can join. 

Not sure what a Buy Nothing group is? Typically, its a group thats designated to a very specific area (for example, a neighborhood or a specific zip code). People post within the group things that they’re looking to get rid of (or are hoping to get from others) for free. The goal of a Buy Nothing Project is to share resources so that members of your community are in need of (or would like) without having to purchase them, and also to decrease the number of items that end up in the trash when they still have value for others. 

Another option is selling certain items. 

Boxes and items in empty room
Boxes and items in empty room

Think positively

One of the big hiccups for people is starting out of a place of hatred and overwhelm.

As you’re sorting through the items in your home, instead of focusing on the things you hate — what are the things you love? Your must-keeps?

If you focus on the things you hate, you may be even more overwhelmed.  

Don’t force it

If you put a ton of pressure on yourself to go from mess to minimalist overnight, you’ll absolutely be overwhelmed. 

Your house doesn’t have to be clutter free and pristine overnight. 

So just take a breathe and get started when you’re ready. 

And tackle as much or as little as you’re ready for.

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