Confession time: There’s a place in my house that I need to declutter. And every time I walk into it, I think about how badly it needs to be done and how nice it would feel. But whenever I contemplate working on it, I also find myself fearing that I’ll end up not completing the project, making a bigger mess, and instead come up with 10 other things I need to do that aren’t that job and that space gets ignored for another day.
It’s called procrastinating.
According to this article in Psychology Today, and this one from mnmlst.com, clutter is really just a visual result of procrastinating.
If you’re anything like me, one of the biggest causes for procrastinating is feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes it seems easier to avoid taking on a large task (even subconsciously) when the very thought of it has you overwhelmed. But the reality is that avoiding (i.e. procrastinating) only makes more work for you in the long run. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, how do we break the cycle, conquer the procrastination and take on that daunting decluttering project without getting overwhelmed (or making a bigger mess in the process)?
How to declutter without getting overwhelmed: 8 Best Tips
A little planning goes a long way. Set aside some time to dedicate to this project. Set it as an appointment in your calendar and show up. Pick times when you can realistically get things done (nap time, after the kids are in bed, a couple of hours on a Saturday) or arrange child care (friend, grandma, sitter…etc). If you dive in without taking a bit of time to prepare, you’re probably going to be dealing with a ton of distractions and interruptions, and will be more likely to get frustrated, discouraged and give up.
Make sure you have the tools you need before you start
Gather up some boxes and bags (I like to put the items I’m donating into boxes so they don’t get mixed up with trash). Plan what you’re going to do with the stuff you’re not keeping and be ready to get it there, pronto! Small trips to the donation center, a pick up, donation bins, a local church, shelter or nonprofit organization…there are endless options. Make sure you know what they’re actually accepting and have a plan to get your stuff there as soon as it’s ready.
Shameless plug: I go over a lot of this in my FREE Totally Simplified mini email course. Jump in if you’re ready to get started with the right tools and strategies to fit your life as a busy mom. You’ve got nothing to lose (except clutter and chaos) and a lot to gain!
2. Delegate and decide on your strategy.
Managing expectations before you get started is key to decluttering without getting overwhelmed. Are your kids old enough to help? If they are, do you want their input? There is no right or wrong answer, but it’s a good idea to decide how you want to forge ahead now so you don’t get stuck (and held back) on this later. I outline the best options for dealing with kid clutter without the guilt in this post if you need some guidance.
Talk to your partner. Is this game on for everyone, or are you a one-woman show?
One of the best ways you can declutter without getting overwhelmed is to have a clear picture of each person’s role before you begin. Is this a project you could both chip away at? If so, come up with a plan together so that you can get it done faster.
Even if the rest of your house isn’t on board with you (yet – because once they see and understand the benefits of this they will get there…eventually), you can still pare down a lot so don’t let that stop you. It’s completely fine to take this on independently, just be sure to have the conversation ahead of time so that you aren’t expecting more than your significant other is willing to give. Maybe your plan is to have a designated space where things requiring feedback from your spouse will go. Maybe they don’t want to be involved at all and are willing to entrust all the decision making to you. Maybe they aren’t ready to let go of anything right now (again, that is ok – you can just focus on your own items or family items that don’t require a decision from your spouse for now – remember, progress over perfection).
And be aware of other ways you can delegate – Can your spouse take over all kid/home responsibilities as you work on this? Can your kids help by picking up their toys or keeping their rooms clean so you have space to work?
Most importantly, be sure to get on the same page with your spouse and family in terms of managing your expectations of one another for this project. When you know the plan ahead of time, you’re less likely to be held up by a disagreement or misunderstanding later.
3. If you really want to declutter without getting overwhelmed, easy does it
Don’t start with the biggest, hardest, mess, especially if you haven’t been working on decluttering for very long. This is something that gets easier as you go along. Give yourself some small wins first. Consider starting with something that you’re not emotionally tied to – like under your bathroom sink, or, pretty much anything in your bathroom. Once things get rolling and you get some momentum going, it gets easier and easier to keep forging ahead and work through the tougher decisions.
Related: 25 Things You Can Declutter Quickly (in five minutes or less)
4. Start Small
Yes, the idea of a totally clutter-free, organized, bright happy home may have you squealing in delight like a kid who just found out they’re going to Disney World, but, Woah Sparky, hold on. When you really think about how you’re going to get from where you are now to where you want to be, that goal can start to feel beyond reach. It’s not! You can totally get there, you just need to set your sights on some smaller goals on your path to your ultimate goal.
Start with one room, or even just one part of a room. For example, when working in our basement, I divided it into quadrants. I went shelf by shelf in each quadrant. If I had gone down there with the goal of purging the entire basement (which has served as our storage unit/dumping grounds for as long as we’ve owned a house), I would have been too overwhelmed to start (which is exactly why it hasn’t been done before).
Additionally, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you have 20 minutes to work on this project, don’t start dumping shelves or an entire dresser-worth of things to sort through. You’re not going to be able to get through all of it in 20 minutes (unless you’re a really quick decision-maker, but let’s be honest, a lot of clutter is due to avoiding decisions). That’s how it turns into an even bigger mess that you make excuses to avoid the next time you’re supposed to be working on it. Take it shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer or section by section. This is how you’re going to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
5. Give yourself enough time to declutter (without getting overwhelmed)
Once you’ve been working on it for a little while, if you can swing it, give yourself a weekend or a day to really get to work. Send the kids away or make arrangements with your spouse to be hands off for a day or weekend and focus all of your time and energy on knocking out this project. Start the night before as soon as the kids are in bed. Get up early and work, work, work. Allow someone else to worry about snacks, dinner, and all the other things that you typically would handle. Stay focused on your project. This is your marathon.
Related: How to declutter when you have no time
6. Schedule a pick up or drop your donations to your desired donation center ASAP.
The longer they sit in your home, the more likely they are to become clutter again. Don’t let any of this hard work go to waste.
7. Rinse and Repeat.
Odds are, you’re not going to feel done with this project in just one weekend. Unless you’re focusing on just one room, you’re probably going to need to go through this process a few times before you feel like you’ve purged to a point of satisfaction. Go in waves. Work through this once, see how things feel. Then next month do it again.
8. There are no rules.
Don’t pressure yourself to declutter a certain number of items or feel like you need to limit yourself to meet other people’s standards. It’s great that Sally has purged her kids’ toys down to just one toy box, but that may not be realistic for you and your family. Spoiler alert: It’s not for mine, and I’m ok with that. This is about what works in your life. Sometimes we get so caught up with trying to reach unrealistic expectations of ourselves that we forget why we even started it the first place. What the end result looks like in your home may not be what it looks like for someone else. That’s totally ok. In fact, that’s what we want. This is about your life. Not someone else. You do you!
Do you find yourself procrastinating on a decluttering project because the idea of where to begin has you overwhelmed? Share your experience or ideas in the comments below!
If you’re ready to clear the clutter and chaos in your life, get my free mini course, Totally Simplified. This 7 day email course will give you the tools and tips you need to get started decluttering any space in your home. Even if you’re a busy mom with no time! Plus, you’ll get access to our private Facebook group where we share our wins, struggles and find some accountability to get this job done! I hope to see you on the inside!
Thanks for sharing! It is way less overwhelming when there is a plan!