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How To Start Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed

 Posted by Stacey Himler on February 21, 2022 at 9:00 AM

How To Start Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed

Are you tired of walking into your home only to see piles of stuff everywhere you look? Are you about to downsize and don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. Everyone has to deal with clutter at some point, and it can be quite stressful. Here are some ways to successfully declutter when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

What Does Clutter Mean to You?

In the Merriam Webster dictionary, clutter as a noun is defined as “a crowded or confused mass or collection” and “things that clutter a place.”

That leaves room for interpretation.

Clutter is personal. We each have our own definition of clutter based on our beliefs, experiences, and preferences. One person may view anything out of place as clutter, and another may enjoy having more things. The first person may want to get rid of as many items as possible, while the second may just want to free up some space. Neither is wrong; clutter looks different for each of them.

So, what does clutter mean to you? Say the answer out loud or write it down. Defining something that is causing you stress can really help to manage the feeling of overwhelm, because now you’ve clearly identified what you’re up against, so to speak.

Check Your Mindset Before Decluttering

Now that you’ve identified what clutter means to you, there are some steps you can take to identify and manage your negative emotions about decluttering, so you can get started with confidence.

Identify your block. Clutter is a common source of stress. But the reasons why may vary from person to person. What is it about clutter that overwhelms you?

  • Do you feel you must declutter because someone wants you to?
  • Are you embarrassed by the clutter?
  • Are you afraid to start going through your things because they will bring up difficult emotions or memories?
  • Are you frustrated because you know the end goal you want, but you just don’t know where to start?

Reassure yourself. Everyone has clutter in their lives. It is normal to feel overwhelmed about it. Sometimes realizing you are not alone is the first step to successful decluttering.

Commit to being patient. Clutter accumulates over the years. Even if you do declutter regularly, it can be a time consuming process. If you’re someone who works better with a deadline, many people participate in a 30 day decluttering challenge—that can be a great way to quickly declutter before downsizing, or give your home a reset if clutter has really built up. Even with a deadline, patience is still key to feeling less overwhelmed.

It’s ok to keep things. Sometimes when decluttering, we get so focused on getting rid of things that we may feel guilty about deciding to keep an item. When you declutter, you don’t have to get rid of things that are truly useful and bring you joy. The goal is to get rid of things you don’t want, need, or love anymore so you can have space for the things you do want, need, and love.

Ways to Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed

Sometimes, the best way to handle decluttering is to just jump right into it, even for just 10 minutes. Here are some quick and easy ways to get started when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Start small. Pick one small goal to focus on. Whether it’s one item a day, one shelf of one closet a week, one storage bin—pick your ‘one’ and begin decluttering.

Schedule time. Many of us don’t declutter because we don’t have time. But to have time you really do have to make time. Set a reminder on your phone or mark a regular “appointment” with clutter on your calendar. Then set a timer while decluttering to stay on track.

Declutter something right now. Yes, you read that right! Stop reading this post right now and declutter something if you are at home. Grab five to ten things that you know you can declutter (we all have them in the back of our minds somewhere!) and put them in a bag or box. If you’re not at home, jot down the items and collect them when you can.

Done? Congratulations! You’ve started decluttering! You can set a timer for yourself to do this each day if you’d like. For example, every afternoon at 3:15, take a quick break and find five to ten more things to declutter. Treat it like a game and it becomes less stressful.

Where to Start Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed

A lot of people feel stuck when it comes to decluttering because they don’t know what room or area of the house to tackle first. Creating a methodical plan can help you feel motivated. Here are some ideas on where to start:

  • Big mess. You could start with the biggest, messiest area, the one that is making you the most stressed. The idea is that you will feel so accomplished once you’re done, that the rest of the decluttering will feel fairly easy.
  • Small mess. Alternatively, you could start with something easy and small, such as a junk drawer or one shelf of your pantry. When working incrementally, you will start to feel the momentum. Decluttering will feel more achievable when it’s divided into small portions.
  • Bedroom. Another idea is to start in your bedroom so you have a clutter-free sanctuary in your home while you declutter the rest of your house.
  • Entryway. You may want to declutter the entryway first, since it’s often the first area you notice when entering your home.
  • Living room and kitchen. A lot of time is spent in your living room and kitchen. You may feel most accomplished if you start there.
  • Work like a clock. You might prefer to declutter methodically through your home, room by room, going clockwise through the house. This removes any stress associated with choosing a room.

Tips for Successful Decluttering

These tips will help you feel less overwhelmed as you work towards your decluttering goal.

  • Be realistic. Set attainable goals for yourself, and set a reasonable time for decluttering sessions based on your need. If you’re moving, you may be in more of a rush and need to get more done in a shorter amount of time. If this is the case, Caring Transitions can help!
  • Collect garbage & recyclables first. It can be surprisingly motivating to see how much clear space that alone creates.
  • Focus on the task at hand; don’t get caught up in everything you need to do at once.
  • Use a checklist if you need!
  • Focus on progress, not perfection. Our belongings and spaces are always evolving and there is no “perfect” answer when it comes to decluttering. If you are happy with your progress, that is perfection.
  • Break it up. If you’ve got a lot of space to declutter, or a lot of things—or both—break it up into more manageable, bite size sections. For example, work through a large bookshelf one shelf at a time.
  • Be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself out loud. Give yourself encouragement as you would a friend.
  • Get support. Ask friends and family members to help and support you, even if it’s on the phone or a video call.

If you’re stressed about downsizing, Caring Transitions is here for you. We offer compassionate assistance with relocation, downsizing, estate sales and online auctions.