How Do I Begin to Declutter When I Feel Overwhelmed By My Stuff

Last week I was asked twice by people in totally different circumstances, how a person can begin to declutter, when they feel overwhelmed both by their “stuff” and their emotions, as well as the very thought of tackling the task.

The most challenging step when decluttering is the first – beginning.  But once you can begin, you’ll be surprised at how much obvious trash you can eliminate, and what a “dent” that can make.  Just beginning and making that first “dent” will give you a sense of relief and accomplishment that can encourage you to continue.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  So, as the Chinese Philosophy Lao-Tzo says, begin gradually, with a single step.  Some days you will do better than others, you may even miss a day and that’s OK.  But everyday be proud that you have made the decision to begin.  Gradually you will be able to achieve your goal.

Decide what your goal is! Do you want to create a safe, happy, stress free environment for you and your loved ones to live in and enjoy? Do you need to create a more efficient home office? Do you need to organize closets or bedrooms to create a smoother day to day life for the whole family? If you are decluttering a loved ones home – your goals may need to be determined with other family members.

What you need to accomplish in order to live and/or work in your home, alone or with those you love, creates your goal. Having a goal shaped by your life values and reinforced by your intentions will give power to your actions. Your goal will become your greater good and when you struggle with decisions you can check your answer in relationship to achieving it.

TIPS:  Begin decluttering your home.

  • Make an appointment on your calendar every day, or every week to declutter.  If daily set a timer for 15 – 30 mins, then stop.  If weekly, set a timer for an hour or so, and then stop.
  • Create 4 or 5 bags/boxes:  trash;  donate/give away;  put away;  sell;  look-at-later;  not sure.
  • Pick one area – a drawer or counter corner, table top, closet in one room. Stay focused only on that area.  If working in a closet, work only on like items say shoes, or blouses each session.
  • Do not try to read or take things from an area to put them away, simply place them in the box or bag designated “put away” or “look-at-later.”
  • Try using the “3 second rule” and the “handle only once” rule.  Make quick decisions and don’t second guess yourself once you have decided. Your initial intuition is usually right and the more you declutter the more you will exercise your intuition.
  • When your timer goes off – immediately take trash outside and throw it away, and immediately put your “donate” items in the truck of your car to drop off as soon as possible.
  • “Put away” items in that bag.  If there is no home for an item, either remove something to make space for it, or rethink whether you really need it. (See ELININATION tips at the end of the post.)
  • Now pat yourself on the back!! Be proud – you made a start… take a walk, call a friend, relax.

Starting slowly like this, in small time increments, will help to eliminate the possibility of overwhelm and frustration.  Setting short appointments for yourself everyday will create a good habit for the future to have a regular, quick, decluttering sessions.  Making decisions about what to do with “stuff” will gradually become easier, as you realize that you can throw away, donate and recycle items without any repercussions, and the worst case scenario is that you can always replace it if and when you need it.


  • Does it fit? Have you or husband or kids outgrown it, or lost weight since you bought it?
  • Does it work? If it’s been broken for months, chances are you’re not going to fix it and haven’t missed using it.
  • Do I love? Sometimes we hang onto gifts because we feel guilty about getting rid of them.
  • Does it have a home? If not, can I get rid of something else to give it a home?
  • Do I need it? How many of this item can you realistically use?
  • Is it in good shape or tatty? Sometimes we have favorites and simply wear them out!
  • When did I last wear or use it? If you have used or worn it in 6 months chances are you won’t unless it’s gown or piece of emergency equipment.
  • Can a friend help me? Setting a time for a friend to help is a commitment that is more difficult to break.
  • If you or no one in your home is using it – donate it so that someone else can!
  • Got large household items? Consider a rent/lend it to a neighbor program.


  • Going forward find out what kind of organizer you are, like with like, color with color, size with size – this can make it easier for you to stay organized.
  • Spend 15 minutes every day picking up and putting away – 4 things in the morning and 4 things in the evening.
  • If you get it out – put it away, that goes for the kids and your husband too!
  • Check out my previous post about creating a message center in the entrance way to deal more efficiency with mail and school notices.


  • odulakyapi says:

    I’ve been watching the older episodes of Hoarders, and recognized some of the symptoms immediately. I’ve started cleaning up after watching an episode, and realized it was a great motivation. Especially seeing the difference after, if the cleaning is a success. I’ve never been as bad as level 2 / 3 but I may have slipped into level 1 type of hoarding where there is a lot of clutter, maybe less than knee deep, I have generally kept an untidy and dusty home. First episode I watched made me clean, it was just an instinct, just like a reflex. I ceased it and carried on watching and cleaning after, until all the rooms were clutter free.

    Then I realized that there is some great reward in doing a little routine pick up around the rooms, folding the clothes and putting them away, at different times of the day. Just a few minutes of dusting and I feel much better, or four or five items of clothing around a room put away and it feels much lighter. The best is the after effect; the spouse comes home and we move around feeling the difference which makes our mood much better after greeting ( I believe that it is a very important moment in a married couple’s day). If the space is clean and organized he takes care to put away his own mess, or if I just feel like I will start tidying up, he decides maybe he can do some stuff in the next room , or do some chore listed to do in the bathroom / kitchen. I don’t even need external motivation any more, just knowing that I’m definitely going to get a good feeling in return is enough, even if it is only appreciating the wide space to walk on without knocking anything. It also eases my mind greatly when I think about raising a baby. I may need some help, but I can confidently say that I can raise a child and show responsibility in keeping a clean and safe home.

    I find that de-cluttering small piles have a really positive effect on the psyche, one feels more confident and better knowing that one it is a responsibility owned and taken care of, it’s something that has now stopped being overlooked by me; I have just made an effort got a little goal accomplished; and frankly it is a nicer way to greet the person one lives with, family room-mate, pet.

    I took away a very important note from discovering what hoarding is, how one prevents it and how one needs to organize their living environment: No plastic boxes, or as little as 1 -2. Plastic boxes give the illusion of storage, when they are a trap to stack up things. Cardboard boxes can be obtained and should not be used for long term storage. Of course this is for my experience of living in an apartment with no garage space. I have made this a mental note, and I am avoiding buying plastic boxes. My mentality is, if it doesn’t fit into the storage furniture, it needs to be reconsidered.

    Anyway, thanks for your inspiration.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences and story!! What a wonderful inspiration to anyone who struggles with the idea of clearing their clutter on a regular basis to be able to enjoy their family and their space. We personally, and our lives are constantly changing, so the “stuff” we need around us is also; regularly re-evaluating our wardrobe, furniture, and other possessions is a must. As William Morris once said: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Thanks again for your comments!!

      • odulakyapi says:

        Thanks for replying. I thought my comment might have gotten into some sort of spam filter, but of course you must be very busy. But your reply got me to re-read my lengthy comment, and I’m happy to say that the effects do not seem to be temporary. I am clinging to this ability to keep a clean home.

        Thanks again for the inspiration you helped me find.

  • Jennifer says:


    I have my own website about simplifying and decluttering, but I find even I sometimes need to be refreshed by others’ articles and encouragement. Your writing comes across as positive, clear, and helpful. Thanks!

  • I was trying to retweet you re: living west of Mississippi. I have a teenager, he is 16. We live in California. My mother was (bless her heart) a hoarder. She passed in January. I’m so overwhelmed in our 1-bdrm house but I want to let my son.have the germ. I freeze when I start decluttering.

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