How to Start Decluttering when Overwhelmed

[9 Steps] How to Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed + FREE Checklist

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Are you feeling totally overwhelmed with your clutter? The thing is, that feeling is actually a natural part of the territory, so don’t for a second think that you’re alone!

The biggest problem with overwhelm is that it causes us to shut down and end up doing nothing at all. It’s a catch-22.

So, how do we start decluttering when overwhelmed?
By ignoring the bigger picture and just doing small, bite-sized chunks.

The easiest way to stay focussed and motivated is by following a step-by-step process so that your brain doesn’t need to make so many decisions – it just follows the next step.

Let’s get stuck into it! Don’t forget to print out your FREE Decluttering Checklist to help you with the process.

? Decluttering Clothes (how to be ruthless!) >
? 60+ Clutter-free Gifts >

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How to Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed

STEP 1: The Checklist

The first thing you’re going to do is grab a pen and some paper. Now I want you to walk around the house and write down the name of each room that needs to be decluttered.

Under the name of the room, jot down any notes you may have. You might want to take note of the particular spaces within the room that need to be tackled.

For example, you might have KITCHEN with Drawers, Pantry, Benches and Fridge that need to be decluttered.

There is a method here and it’s not to make you feel more overwhelmed. By organising your plan on paper, you will start to feel more in control of the tasks ahead.

As you complete each section (even if it’s only a drawer), you get to tick it off the list and feel a sense of accomplishment with each milestone you reach.

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Checklist for Decluttering

DETAILS: 3-page Checklist [FREE]

  • Instructions
  • Spaces for creating your own decluttering checklist
  • Printable (print as many pages as you like)

UPDATED: September 2022

FORMAT: PDF Word document (instant download)

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STEP 2: Boxes

Trash, Donate, Sell Boxes

The next step in how to declutter when feeling overwhelmed is to get yourself three big empty boxes (or baskets – use whatever you’ve got on hand).

Each box needs to be labelled:

  1. TRASH – Old and broken items that need to go into the bin
  2. DONATE – Useful items that can be given away or taken to an Op Shop
  3. SELL – Valuable items that you can make some money on

These three boxes are your organisational friends. Whenever you’re working on decluttering a space, make sure you’ve got these three boxes on hand so that you can easily sort as you go.

You can add a fourth box labelled ‘Recycling’ if you like – but if that’s just adding too much pressure, then don’t feel like you have to.

STEP 3: One Space at a Time

Clutter Drawer

Now that you’re organised with your checklist and boxes, it’s time to roll your sleeves up.

The first space that you should declutter is the one that will have the biggest impact. Starting with a space that will make you feel the greatest sense of achievement will help to keep you motivated.

For you, this could mean a space that you look at the most (e.g. entry way or kitchen). Or it may mean starting with your relaxation sanctuaries, the bedroom or lounge room.

Whichever space you pick, you’ll feel so much better once you get to the other side of the task and much more motivated to keep it going.

Decluttering Tips:

  • Put the boxes right next to where you’re working so that you can easily categorise each item and throw it into the relevant box.
  • Set yourself a goal. Whether it’s 30 minutes on a timer or a specific space that you want to complete, it really doesn’t matter. People are generally hardwired to work more efficiently when there’s an end goal in mind.
  • Trash and donate as much as you can. Only valuable items are worth keeping to sell as that is another time-consuming task.
  • Once you’ve gotten rid of as much as you can, then you can focus on organising what’s left.
  • After the space is completely decluttered and organised, then you can think about adding storage solutions to the notes section on your checklist. I wouldn’t rush out and buy anything until you’ve completely decluttered the house as you may find boxes and containers as you go, which would be perfect for organising the different spaces.

STEP 4: Empty the Boxes

Declutter Discard Keep

Next step in how to start decluttering when overwhelmed is to empty those three boxes from your first decluttered space.

  1. TRASH – Take the trash box directly out to your big outdoor bin and empty it.
  2. DONATE – Find a space to store all of your ‘Donations’ and keep adding to it throughout your decluttering process. You may want to put the things directly into the boot of your car to drop straight to an Op Shop or charity bin as soon as you’re finished.
  3. SELL – Find a space to keep together all of the things that you want to sell once you’ve finished decluttering.

Now that your boxes are empty, they are refreshed and ready for the next area of decluttering.

STEP 5: Tick Off the Task


Once you’ve completed decluttering a space, make sure you tick it off your checklist.

The whole reason for the checklist isn’t to add extra work, but to give you a sense of achievement with each milestone that you reach. There’s something so completely satisfying about ticking things off a list!

Another benefit of having a running list is to add notes as you go. That way you can get your ideas out of your head and onto paper, which will stop the overthinking and overwhelm.

You may be clearing out a drawer and think, “a few boxes or compartments in here would be perfect to keep the bits and pieces organised.” Go and jot it down in the notes section of your checklist as a reminder for later.

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Checklist for Decluttering

DETAILS: 3-page Checklist [FREE]

  • Instructions
  • Spaces for creating your own decluttering checklist
  • Printable (print as many pages as you like)

UPDATED: September 2022

FORMAT: PDF Word Document (instant download)

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STEP 6: Move on to the Next Space

Closet, Declutter

Now that you’ve decluttered your first space and ticked it off the list, it’s time to move onto the next space.

Follow the same steps:

  1. Put the boxes next to the space you’ll be working on
  2. Set your goal (whether it be a time limit or a task)
  3. Sort the clutter first and get rid of as much as you can
  4. Organise the space with what’s left
  5. Empty your boxes at the end of the task
  6. Tick it off the list

STEP 7: Donate Items

Donation Box

After you’ve finished your declutter session, it’s time to pile those donations into the back of the car and drop them off to the nearest charity bin or thrift store.

It’s important to get rid of the donation items as soon as you can for two reasons:

  1. If the ‘stuff’ sits idle, it will inevitably become another overwhelming task that never gets done.
  2. People will be tempted to rummage through the pile and reclaim items that were destined for another home.

STEP 8: Sell Items

Sell It

Now that you’ve completely decluttered your house, trashed the rubbish and ditched the ‘give away’ stuff, it’s time to sell those valuable items that you’re left with.

Take photos of the things you want to sell and get them up for sale online as soon as you can.

Places to sell used valuables:

  • Gumtree
  • eBay
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Craigslist
  • Local Buy, Swap, Sell groups

Alternatively, you can host a garage sale if you’ve got a lot to sell. This could be especially successful if you live on a busy road with lots of weekend traffic.

Pop a sign out the front and on the nearby corners. You can also advertise on Gumtree in the ‘Garage Sale’ section and on Facebook in local community/ garage sale groups.

STEP 9: Reward Yourself

Relaxing, Feet up

Once you’ve ticked all of your tasks off your decluttering checklist, it’s time to pat yourself on the back and reward yourself. You’ve just finished a mammoth task and the energy in your home will feel so much better for it.

Now you can kick back with pizza and a movie (or however you like to relax) and enjoy your clutter-free space, without any guilt!

Celebrating your achievements as you go (not just at the end) is actually one of the most important steps in how to start decluttering when overwhelmed. Feeling that great sense of accomplishment as you journey through it.

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Extra Tips for Decluttering

Permanent ‘Donations’ Box

Keep a permanent bag or box in your car boot for ‘Donations.’

Whenever you come across things that can be donated, add it straight to your boot for your next Op Shop run. This is especially good for kids clothes and toys as they grow out of them.

Only Sell Valuable Items

Given that you’re already feeling overwhelmed with the whole decluttering task, I highly recommend sending the majority of the ‘still good’ items to the charity bin.

Taking photos, listing items and selling them is another huge task… which can be overwhelming.

Stick with only worrying about selling the particularly valuable items and give away the rest. It’s just not worth your time and energy!

Everything Must Have a Home

Once you’ve got your spaces decluttered, you want them to stay that way, right? Well, the easiest way to keep things clutter-free is to clean as you go.

Make sure that every item in your house has a home – a regular place that it lives. Whether that be in a drawer, container, corner of the kitchen bench, hook, shelf… wherever you decide that each thing needs to live.

As you’re going about your day-to-day life, always put items back in their rightful home once you’re finished with them.

The hardest part may be getting the other household members on board here. Maybe if they’re involved in having to clean it up, they might appreciate the ‘clean as you go’ system a bit more themselves.

Sentimental Items

Box of old photos

When considering how to start decluttering when overwhelmed, sentimental items can play a huge role in feeling the dread of the task.

Over the years we accumulate all sorts of items that either mean something to us, or mean something to the people who gave them to us.

Are you still hanging on to Great Grandma’s old teacup that you’ve secretly always hated, but would feel super guilty for getting rid of? We’ve all received gifts and hand-me-downs that we never really liked, but have always felt obliged to hang onto.

? READ: 60 Clutter-free Gift Ideas >

The thing is, when someone hands you a gift, they are handing the reins of responsibility over to you. If the gift comes with strings attached, due to the other person’s expectations, then that’s their shit, not yours.

“You are not obliged to keep anything due to the expectations of others. That is their energy to own, not yours.”

If someone doesn’t want to see something they gave you go to the bin or the thrift store, then you can respectfully hand it back to them for the keeping.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way. What about sentimental items that you do want to keep, but just don’t know what to do with?

I would suggest packing them up nicely in a box and storing them in the top of a cupboard somewhere. That way, you’re not looking at them as clutter anymore, nor did you have to make the decision to get rid of them. Problem solved!

Do a Surface Declutter

If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, but you’re looking around knowing that the clutter is getting on your nerves, then do a ‘surface declutter.’

  • Rubbish – Grab the bin and walk around collecting any rubbish you can find and toss it.
  • Donations – Walk around the house and collect anything that can go into your ‘donations’ box in the boot of the car.
  • Re-home – Take a stroll and see if there are items lying around that can be quickly and easily put back into their homes.

15-Minute Decluttering

If you’re still not sure how to start decluttering when overwhelmed, you could go for the 15-minute decluttering method.

  • Only declutter for 15-minutes per day
  • Choose one small space to focus on and just do that (a drawer, a corner, a table, a shelf etc.)
  • If doesn’t have to be a big deal – you’re just doing a little tidy up while listening to a podcast or watching Netflix, right?

Decluttering is Exhausting


There’s no getting around it, decluttering is exhausting work! Not just the physical aspect of moving, lifting, shifting, organising and sorting, but it’s hard yakka mentally as well.

You will find yourself having to make many decisions throughout the decluttering process, which will leave you feeling drained by the end of it.

Just know that you’re going to feel tired by the time you’ve done a large chunk of decluttering, so allow yourself some time to kick back and rest afterwards. Plus, don’t forget to take breaks as you’re decluttering, so that you can recharge your batteries throughout.

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