My house has been known to suffer from CHAOS—Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. We have four kids, and we do a lot of living under our humble roof.
We’re not tiptoeing around all day. We’re a real family living a happy, messy life.
In addition to a messy family, I also have anxiety, which can make clutter and mess can feel paralyzing. There are many times where I want to tidy things up, but getting started can feel completely overwhelming.
Can you relate?
Over the years, I’ve come to rely on a set of strategies that can help me overcome the hurdle of being overwhelmed by clutter and mess. These methods help me take the first step and then follow through to make measurable progress.
So, I’m here to share with you how to get motivated to clean and declutter, even when your overwhelmed brain is working against you. It is possible.
Whether you’re looking to simply clean your place up a bit or to undertake a major decluttering, these steps can work for you. I hope you find them useful.
How to Get Motivated to Clean and Declutter
1. Work on Your Decluttering Motivation
It helps to have some good reasons for wanting to clean or declutter. Maybe you’re tired of tripping over things or having to put stuff away what feels like hundreds of times a day.
You might be tired of searching through your overstuffed closet for something to wear and be ready to downsize your wardrobe.
Maybe you want to feel more at peace in your home or get rid of some of the many negative effects of clutter. You might want to feel more confident about having people over (or at least not feel embarrassed if the pizza delivery driver gets a glimpse inside your home).
Keeping the floors clean for a crawling baby could be good motivation. Having a sanitized bathroom is good for everyone’s health. You get the idea. Whatever it may be, find your why.
It should be something personal to you and not because you just feel like you should do it. Remind yourself of the reasons behind cleaning and decluttering, and they can feel like important goals rather than simply another chore.
2. Choose a Small Area to Work on
This step is critically important. It may feel like everything is in disarray so that the task before you seems impossibly huge. You’re going to change that.
Pick one specific area that you can tackle first. Don’t even make it a whole room. Think smaller. Here are some examples:
- Clearing off an entryway table
- Getting all the dirty dishes out of the sink
- Decluttering a bookshelf
- Tossing expired food from the pantry
- Mopping the kitchen floor
- Decluttering your makeup and beauty products
- Wiping the kitchen counter
You don’t have to pick the most challenging or troublesome area to start. Choose a task that has firm boundaries and is achievable within a short time.
This task is just to get you started in your cleaning or decluttering effort. It’s intended to be your quick win. You’re going to block out all other clutter and mess so you can focus on this one area.
Mentally, this dials down some of the overwhelm. Tell yourself, “It’s just one small task. I can do this.” Then get started.
3. Don’t Get Sidetracked—Finish Your First Task
Aside from not breaking down a larger effort into small enough tasks, one of the other biggest pitfalls in any cleaning or decluttering effort is getting sidetracked. You know what I mean: you start cleaning the bathroom, and you find a toy that your child left in there, so you go to return it to their room.
Then suddenly, you’re picking up the dirty clothes off the floor of their room and straightening up their toys. You go to put a load of laundry in and remember that you were supposed to be cleaning the bathroom.
Now you have five unfinished tasks and feel distracted and defeated. Your job is to stop this before it happens.
You’ve already set yourself up for success by choosing a small starting task. Now stick to it!
If you come across something in the area you’re working on that belongs in another place in the house, start a pile where you’ll place these items until your task at hand is complete.
Once you have completed the first cleaning or decluttering goal on your list, then you can take a laundry basket and go return the things to their rightful home (or the trash or donation bin if you’re decluttering).
This small trick can prevent you from wasting time and ending up in a completely different area from what you are supposed to be focusing on.
4. Pat Yourself on the Back for a Job Well Done
One of the secrets of how to get motivated to clean and declutter is celebrating your successes, no matter how small. It’s an often-skipped step that can help you crush the overwhelmed feeling.
When you’ve finished your first cleaning or decluttering task, take a moment to step back and look at how great this space looks. You might even take a picture of your accomplishment. Go you!
Don’t worry about the rest of the messy house in this moment. Recognize that you set your mind to something and completed it.
You can choose to reward yourself if you’d like. Prop your feet up and relax for a few minutes. Have a cold drink. Feel good about what you’ve done.
5. Set Your Next Reasonable Cleaning or Decluttering Goal
When you’re ready, you’re going to set your next small and achievable goal for tidying. It could be a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days later. A lot depends on your lifestyle, how much energy you have, and your other responsibilities.
If you can capitalize on the good feeling you got from your first accomplishment and use that as motivation for your next cleaning or decluttering work, great.
But don’t beat yourself up about not getting everything done in a day. Especially if you are a parent or have a chronic illness (including depression), your cleaning and decluttering may be stretched out more.
The point is to remember your first success and build on that momentum. Tell yourself, “I can do this if I set a reasonable goal.”
Even when I did my whole-house decluttering effort Marie Kondo style, I broke it down into chunks and took a few weeks to get everything done. Some areas, like the garage, had to wait for even later.
As you set one goal after another, you may start to feel up to tackling slightly bigger cleaning and decluttering tasks. That’s great! Just don’t make your goals so large that you have trouble finishing and get discouraged.
It is possible to one get your entire house organized by working one small step at a time.
If you start to feel overwhelmed again, you can always take a break until you’re ready to start at step 1 again. Doing your best is all you can do. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Working towards having a clean house can have many benefits, but be careful about having unrealistic standards or perfection as the goal.
6. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
You know what? You don’t have to do all cleaning and organizing yourself. Look first to anyone who shares your home with you. They should be able to pitch in!
Even if your partner or kids don’t agree with your decluttering goals or minimalist lifestyle, they can still help pick up after themselves. Ask your partner to help out with specific tasks, and give your kids age-appropriate chores.
If many hands pitch in together, it makes the work go a lot easier and quicker. Plus, it can be more fun. You can even make a game out of it.
For example, I challenge my kids to each pick up 10 things and put them away. It makes the task seem like it won’t last forever, and they whine less than when I simply say, “clean up.”
You can also enlist the help of people outside your home. See if a friend or family member can watch any little ones while you get some focused time to clean or declutter. Sometimes you can get a lot more done without the littlest “helpers” around.
7. Make Cleaning and Decluttering a Little More Fun
We’ve already talked a little bit about how to make cleaning fun with kids. You can make the chore more fun for yourself too. Or, if not fun, at least more tolerable.
Put on some good music. Listen to an audiobook or a podcast. I never fold laundry without a good Netflix show on.
When possible, use cleaning products that have a pleasing scent to you.
Think about the reason you’re doing the task and how great it will feel when you accomplish your goal. You could even think about a small reward for yourself when you finish.
8. Maintain Your Clean Home With a Soft Hand (Not an Iron Fist)
Once you’ve cleaned or decluttered one or more areas of your home, of course you’ll want to try and keep these spaces tidy.
Strategies you might use include the “one in, one out” rule or the “one touch” rule. You might try to get into a more regular cleaning routine so that maintenance becomes easier.
For example, doing the dishes after dinner each night might become a habit, or a quick evening pickup of toys from the living room floor. Once again, be sure all of this effort isn’t falling on your shoulders alone if you can help it.
Do your best with regular upkeep but understand that you need to live your life.
Especially if you have kids in the home, things aren’t always going to be picture perfect. Most of the images you see on Instagram aren’t reality.
Remember, at the end of your life, chances are you’re not going to look back and wish you’d kept your home cleaner. So, try not to stress too much if things get dirty or out of place for a little while.
You don’t want to be so focused on maintaining your home that you miss out on making enjoyable memories in it. It’s not a museum—it’s your living space.
While cleaning is never just a one-time effort, decluttering and minimalism can have many lasting benefits, including less time spent cleaning and tidying in the future so you can focus on more meaningful parts of life.
What Are You Waiting For? Start Cleaning and Decluttering!
I hope these steps have given you clear ways to get motivated to clean and declutter your home. I know it can feel overwhelming when there seems to be so much mess and clutter everywhere.
By starting small, staying focused, getting help, and making things a little more fun, you can achieve your cleaning and decluttering goals. So, take a deep breath, muster some energy (dig deep), and see if you can get started.
Even a little movement in the right direction can help you build momentum. The smallest achievements are still successes worth celebrating, and they add up.
When you experience the good feelings that can come from a clean and decluttered space, your efforts will have been worth it. For more decluttering inspiration and helpful tips, check out the best books on decluttering.
I’ve been battling some fatigue and depression during pandemic lockdown, when my whole family is also cooped up together and making more messes. I found breaking tasks down into small goals to be essential.
One day I might set my mind to wiping down the bathroom sinks. Another day, I decided to declutter my nightstand. Each evening, my husband and I try to have the kitchen table totally cleared.
Rather than “doing the laundry,” which is essentially never-ending, I’ll commit to folding and putting away one hamper’s worth in an afternoon.
Some of the house may look a wreck sometimes, but all of these are small steps in the right direction. I use the energy I can find right now to do what I can. Remember, perfection is never the goal, so don’t let that stop you from getting started.
Over time, through small wins, you may feel your cleaning motivation grow. You’ll be practicing good habits than can get you closer to a clutter-free home.
These strategies have helped me, and I’d love to hear if they help you too. Best of luck!