How to tackle overwhelming clutter

Clutter isn’t just a physical problem. When your possessions cover every surface in your home, spilling out of drawers and toppling out of cupboards, it affects us mentally. Moreover, our physical environment can have a huge impact on our emotional wellbeing. So it’s no surprise that when the clutter is bad, it’s overwhelming. You don’t know where to start. You can’t imagine a time without clutter – but at the same time, you can’t imagine willingly going on like this.

When the clutter is really overwhelming, you want to make a big impact. Decluttering one item a day isn’t going to have the immediate impact that you want it to. Instead, you want a big ‘push,’ to really tackle the overwhelming clutter.

Block out a day – or a full weekend

You need a good stretch of time for this. You need to block out a good stretch of time, ideally during the day, when you can do this. Personally, I’d try to do it alone – so if you have young children, get your partner to take them out for the day. If you desperately want company when you’re decluttering, or if you want your partner there, that’s fine, but make sure you keep focused on your purpose and don’t get distracted.

Decide on your vision

Spend some time beforehand thinking about what you want your home to look like. Give yourself a reason for the clear spaces that you will create: I want a clear space here so that I can prepare food easily. The floor will be clear so that we can play one game at a time. Try to imagine this in as much detail as possible.

Work out your exit strategy

Not for you – for the stuff you’re going to get rid of. Will you be able to take things to the tip/charity shop etc very quickly? Don’t have things lying around once you have decided to get rid of them – you will find them making their way back into your newly decluttered space.

Ideally, you want to get the decluttered items out of the house on the day you declutter them, before you start questioning your judgement!

Clear a working space and gather your equipment

You will also need bin bags and boxes. The boxes will be for putting away – things that have a home, but haven’t been put away. Work until the box is full, then put it ALL away. If you have several children, you probably will find it useful to have a box per person.

If paper clutter is a big issue for you, have a separate box for paper clutter. Put anything paper-related into that box.

Identify your biggest win

Choose a room downstairs – living room, kitchen, dining room – where the clutter is very noticeable. If it feels like it’s noticeable everywhere, start in the kitchen.

Start small: immediately throw away anything that obviously needs getting rid of. Then work from one side to another, clearing everything. Either put it away or declutter it. If you know you want to keep it, but don’t know where it should go, put it in your chosen space.

Be strict with yourself. Keep working until the space feels clear. Keep working until it’s done. I know it’s exhausting, but getting one room done will be absolutely motivating for you.

You will probably end up with several ‘putting away’ boxes, a paper clutter box and a lot of things to get rid of. Get rid of them as soon as possible.

Put the paper clutter to one side for now, and put away everything in the the tidying box.

Then move to the next room.

Once you’ve worked through the downstairs, you will have a group of things that you didn’t know where to store. Decide if you really need them, and then decide where to put them.

Tackle the paper clutter separately

Paper clutter is a very separate and distinct category, in my experience. Once you’ve tackled the main living areas, you’ll probably need a day to set up your filing system and to work through shredding and scanning the other bits and pieces.

Decluttering happens once – kind of

You will find yourself eventually really enjoying the decluttering results. You’ll feel lighter and happier. You’ll find you have more time, as you will be able to clean, find things and enjoy your home. Most importantly, you’ll no longer be overwhelmed by clutter.

But you might find you need to repeat this process a couple of times. The first time round, you’ll keep things that you don’t really love, but that you want to love. That’s fine. The second time around, you’ll be more aware of what you really do love and really need. The third time around, you’ll have refined your vision.

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  • This is really helpful. Thank you. Our worst room is the study which is full of paper clutter. Are you going to do a post on tips for clearing paper clutter please?

    • Yes, definitely. I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by paper clutter when really – spoiler alert – we need very little!

  • When you mentioned putting things away “in your chosen space”, what do you suggest when the chosen space is still filled with other stuff? My frustration / overwhelm is that well-meaning friends who emptied a massive storage unit for us just put stuff everywhere, willy-nilly, in our home so my “to keep” box of items can’t be put where their home is because that space is also stuffed with more stuff! This is where the overwhelm often consumes me: I want our home open, spacious, organized but there simply is NO place to put what’s staying and it completely drains us, rather like a vicious glitch in the computer that loops and loops. Suggestions appreciated for what to do with the items in the “keep” box when the “chosen space” isn’t free, please.