Where to Start Decluttering When the Mess is too Much to Handle

You’re completely overwhelmed by the thought of decluttering and have no idea where to start. Every time you try, you’re paralyzed and can’t figure out what to do. Here’s where to start decluttering especially if you’re already overwhelmed.

You’ve done the research and read tons of articles. You probably even downloaded a few checklists but still can’t get started.

Some of the articles advised you to start with the room that’s bothering you the most. Others suggested starting with your bathroom because it’s the smallest and easiest.

The rest said to start with your bedroom so you have one clutter-free space in your home to relax in.

Most of those articles told you to visualize the finished room. You’re supposed to imagine what it will look like and how you plan to use it.

They probably even suggested you create a decluttering plan and schedule.

That’s all very good advice and exactly what I would suggest in some situations, but that isn’t going to work for you.

You can’t decide which room is bothering you most because they all are. You can’t visualize the finished room because you’ve seen it messy for so long.

You just don’t know where to start decluttering, and that is completely normal. It’s actually one of the biggest decluttering roadblocks most people face.

So give yourself a break and let me tell you exactly where to start decluttering.

woman sitting in messy living room trying to figure out where to start decluttering

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Where Do I Start to Declutter My House?

Start right where you are! You don’t even have to get up yet.

Seriously, you’re looking up how to declutter and where to start, so it’s pretty safe to assume the room you’re currently in is cluttered.

If you’re like most people, you’re sitting on the couch in the living room reading this. Look around the room, make a mental note of the clutter, then get busy.

1. Take a Picture Before You Begin

I know it sounds like a silly waste of time, but take a picture of the cluttered rooms right now. These ‘Before’ pictures will be surprisingly helpful during the decluttering process.

They document your starting point, act as a visual reminder of how much progress you’ve made, and can help you stay motivated throughout the process.

If you’re doing a big decluttering project, enlarge the picture and print it out, then display it somewhere in the room you’re working on. It works best if you put it in a highly visible spot.

Every time you feel the frustration and overwhelm creeping in, or you feel like you’re getting nowhere, hold your ‘before’ picture up and check out the difference. You’ll be able to see all of the progress you’ve already made.

You can also take progress photos as you finish up with each decluttering session. These photos help document your decluttering progress much like a picture shows your progress while losing weight.

You see yourself every day, so you don’t really notice the changes but somebody who hasn’t seen you in a few months notices the differences immediately.

The only way you see the changes is by looking at the scale and paying attention to how your clothes fit. With your cluttered mess, the pictures act as the scale and the clothes.

Take your pictures, then we’ll get started.

2. Eliminate the Garbage

Grab a garbage bag and pick up any obvious garbage in the room. The obvious garbage is the stuff that doesn’t require a decision.

The paper plate and napkin your son used for his afterschool pizza are obvious garbage along with his empty soda can. These are things that you don’t even have to think about. You can tell with one glance that they are garbage.

If that broken universal remote causes you to hesitate because you think you can fix it, then leave it for now. You want to keep moving and quickly and just clear out all of the obvious garbage.

Once that’s done, and before you move on to the next step, take another picture. Compare it to your starting picture and pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve already made!


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3. Remove Stuff That Belongs In a Different Room

Once the garbage is gone, start decluttering things that belong in a different room.

Large baskets will make this task a little easier and quicker. Place one basket for each ‘other room’ at the edge of the room you’re working on.

As you pick up the things that don’t belong in the current room, put them in the basket for the room they do belong in. Work through the room in a logical pattern.

Once you’re done, move the basket to the room that stuff belongs in. If it drives you crazy to just move the basket of stuff because you feel like you’re just moving clutter around, go ahead and sort through it.

Just remember, if you’re dealing with the clutter in the basket from another room, you’re not dealing with the clutter in the room you started with.

Here’s the sequence I follow to declutter each room.

4. Clear the Floors

I start with my floors because nothing annoys me more quickly than tripping over something in my home.

Remove all the things that don’t belong on the floor in your room. Pick up all of the shoes, backpacks, cat toys, and other random objects that would pose a trip hazard.

Place each item in the baskets or move it to its regular home.

If you haven’t been taking pictures in between each step, it’s time for a progress picture now!

5. Declutter Flat Surfaces

Move to the flat surfaces next. Flat surfaces are highly visible and can make your home look extremely messy even if it isn’t.

Flat surfaces include countertops, tables, buffets, nightstands, and desks. Just clear the top flat surfaces right now, you’ll get to the storage areas later.

Remember you’re only worrying about the stuff that doesn’t actually belong in the current room.

6. Clear Off the Furniture

On to the furniture and piles of jackets, throw blankets, and laundry. Pick up anything that doesn’t belong and put it into the appropriate basket.

Remove any pillows that don’t belong. Check between and under your cushions, but don’t worry about dust bunnies and couch lint right now because you’re only decluttering.

Remove any furniture that doesn’t belong. This is where I’m constantly putting away tv trays or ottomans that belong in a different room.

7. Declutter Cupboards, Cabinets, and Drawers

Depending on the size of your home and rooms, this step can get overwhelming. Work on each cupboard, cabinet, or drawer one at a time.

Make sure to declutter inside of any storage type furniture including ottomans, hutches, and tables.

8. Declutter the Rest

Now it’s time for the hard part. It’s time to make some difficult decisions and go through the stuff that’s left in the room.

Follow the previous pattern of floors (area rugs included), flat surfaces, furniture, cupboards, cabinets, and drawers.

Decide which items you’re going to keep in the room. If you’re having trouble deciding to keep or toss, ask yourself a series of decluttering questions designed to help you make those decisions. Here are a few to get you started.

Do you love it? If yes, keep it.

How long has it been since I used this item? If you can’t remember, it’s been too long and you need to get rid of it.

Are you likely to buy this item if you saw it in the store for the first time today? If not, maybe it’s time to get rid of it.

Don’t forget to check the 14 Places Most People Forget to Declutter.

Related Articles:

Declutter sign - where to start

How to Keep Your Decluttering Momentum

Now that you’ve started, here are a few tips to help you keep your momentum.

Work in Smaller Chunks

You don’t have time to declutter the entire house, and thinking about it overwhelms you and keeps you from doing anything.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re not going to declutter your entire house in a day. Think about decluttering a certain part of a certain room as one session. That makes it achievable.

Declutter Any Time You Can

If you’re cooking dinner, declutter the cooking utensil drawer while you’re waiting for the roast to brown. Watching tv? Declutter the coffee table drawer.

Declutter in Stages

Decluttering is an ongoing process. If you have trouble making decisions, declutter in stages.

Do an initial declutter that removes the easy stuff that you don’t struggle with. Once that’s done, work through the entire space again and deal with the items that require tougher decisions.

Celebrate All Progress

You should celebrate every step of progress. Remember that even one small step forward is still a step forward.

Be proud of every bit of progress you make. Just don’t celebrate by buying more stuff!

How to Maintain Your Decluttered State

Once you finish decluttering your home, you need to maintain it or you’ll end up right back where you started. Below are a few tips for maintaining a decluttered home.

Related Article: Keep Your Home Clean and Tidy

Have a Place For Everything and Everything in Its Place

Make sure that each item in your home has a designated place. Having a place for everything makes things easier to find, helps others know where to put it when they’re done, and keeps things tidy.

If you can’t determine where something belongs, it might be time to get rid of it.

Create a One In/One Out Rule

Create an exchange rule for bringing new items into your home. For every new item that is brought in, another item has to leave.

This rule works really well for clothing, toys, and kitchen gadgets!

Establish a Tidying Routine

Make tidying part of a daily routine.

Designate just fifteen minutes after dinner or some time during your day for everybody to tidy up parts of the house and return any clutter to its designated home.

A living room so cluttered you don't know how to start decluttering


Even though you’re fully aware of the different ways clutter can negatively impact your life, it doesn’t make tackling the job any easier. You can read books and articles, binge watch decluttering television shows, and still not be able to figure out where to start.

Start where you are. The minute you realize clutter is on your mind, that’s where you need to start. Make a mental note of the clutter in your room and follow the decluttering roadmap.

In order to keep your momentum, work in smaller chunks and declutter any time you have a free moment.

Once you’re done, maintain your clutter-free home by designating a place for everything and create a tidying routine to make sure everything is in its place at some point during the day.

Please celebrate and share your progress in the comments below.

Cluttered room, how and where to start decluttering
An overwhelmingly cluttered living room is a good place to start decluttering

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