How to Start Organizing a Messy House in 7 Easy Steps

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Are you tired of living in a messy home? Do you feel overwhelmed by too much stuff?

Keeping a clean house with kids can feel like a losing battle. And you may have no clue how to start organizing a messy house when stuff seems to be everywhere.

Taking a deep breath is the first step. After all, the thought of organizing your entire house might be a little overwhelming. Marie Kondo tells us it should be easy and might look that way, but creating an organized clean home can be hard work.

Having a decluttering process and organizational system in place can help. Today, I’m sharing some simple steps for how to start organizing a messy house the easy way.

woman stressing over a dirty house


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Why Does Organizing a Messy House Matter?

Living in a messy, cluttered home can affect your mental health and possibly your physical health too.

Research suggests that messy house depression is a real thing. Living in a trashed house can drain your energy, so you’re less motivated to get up and get moving. You might feel overwhelmed or have a lack of interest in normal things.

Over time, being physically inactive or experiencing constant mental stress or anxiety can take a toll.

Meanwhile, other studies show that living with less clutter can improve your mood, sharpen your focus and help you to feel more productive.

In other words, an organized home can be a happier, healthier home. So that’s why coming up with a plan for how to start organizing a messy house is so important.

How Do You Organize an Extremely Messy House?

Here’s the truth about the best way to organize a messy house: there is no best way.

The secret to how to start organizing a messy house is to find a system that:

  • Works with your busy mom schedule and how much time you have to focus on decluttering
  • Allows you to move at your own pace
  • Helps you transform a cluttered house into your ideal vision of a tidy home

Organizing an entire home in a single day usually isn’t realistic, unless you live in a really small space. So the best way to approach it is to break it down into steps or phases and do it a little bit at a time.

Related post: How Often Should You Clean Your House?

How to Start Organizing a Messy House Step by Step

Ready to start tackling the mess in your home? These tips can give you a starting point for creating an organizational system so you can get your home in order and banish the mess for good.

woman cleaning the living room

Step 1: Set organizing goals

Having the right mindset is essential for getting a trashed house back in good shape. You’ve got to know what you hope to get out of organizing; otherwise, you could quickly lose steam and give up.

Jotting down a few clear goals can be a great way to get centered before you start organizing. For example, your goals might include:

Setting organizing goals and assigning a deadline to each one can help you track how much progress you’re making. And seeing how far you’ve come since starting your organizing journey can be a great way to motivate yourself to stick with your decluttering plan.

Step 2: Create a room-by-room plan

You might want to try to organize your whole house all at once but that’s the easiest way to get overwhelmed. Breaking down organizing tasks room by room makes it easier to stay focused on one thing at a time.

So how do you start organizing a messy house by room?

The best way, in my opinion, is to start with the room you use most on a regular basis. For many families, that’s either the living room or the kitchen.

Once you tackle the busier common areas, you can move on to organizing other rooms, like bathrooms, bedrooms and your home office, if you have one. You can leave the less frequently used spaces like closets or the garage for last.

Once you’ve decided what order to work on different areas, you can pencil in time for each one in your busy mom planner.

So you might block off a single day or a block of days for each room. The most important thing is to give yourself enough time to organize each room so you don’t feel rushed.

Step 3: Start small and declutter in zones

If you have your list of rooms to organize, the next step is to pick one and get started. But if you’re still overwhelmed at this point, you can make it easier by working in zones.

So for example, say you want to start organizing the kitchen first. You might use these basic steps to declutter in increments:

  • Start with flat surfaces. If your kitchen counters are constantly cluttered with junk, you can start by taking everything off of them and wiping them down thoroughly. You can then go through each item you removed one by one to see what goes back on the counter and what can be put into a designated storage area elsewhere. For example, you might be able to stash small appliances in cabinets or the pantry.
  • Declutter one drawer or cabinet at a time. Kitchen cabinets and drawers can become a cluttered mess if you’re using them as catch-alls for everything. Pick one drawer or cabinet to work through and don’t move on to the next until that zone is organized. (Pro tip: Investing in some simple drawer organizers can keep the mess from piling back up.)
  • Set a timer. Using a timer to declutter and organize each small area of the kitchen can keep you from getting bogged down or stuck. For example, you might give yourself 20 minutes to clean out that junk drawer or an hour to sort through all the mess you pulled off the countertops. Using a timer can keep you from spending a long time on easy stuff which can keep you from making much progress.
  • Clean as you go. Once you pull everything out, take time to wipe down kitchen counters, cabinets or drawers before putting things back. That way, you can knock out some deep cleaning while you get organized. And you can also wash dirty dishes and wipe down the sink while you’re at it.

You can use this same approach when cleaning out other areas of your home.

For example, if you’re trying to organize bathrooms you can start with the bathroom vanity and toss out expired cosmetics and other small items you don’t need. Or if you’re trying to organize the living room, the first thing you might do is clear off the coffee table or side tables.

Pro tip: You can wear an apron with pockets to hold cleaning supplies or small items you pick up as you go that you can declutter later.

Step 4: Set rules for sorting

If one of your organizing goals is to get rid of some things, you’re going to have to decide what goes and what stays.

Here’s a simple way to sort your stuff if you have a hard time letting go of things. Organize items into one of four categories:

  • Keep
  • Throw away
  • Donate
  • Sell

As you go through different things, ask yourself if it’s something you really need to hold on to. If it’s not functional or doesn’t have sentimental value, then it might be something you can get rid of.

Items you plan to toss can go straight into a trash bag. Ones that are in good condition that you want to keep but not necessarily display can go into storage containers.

For example, if you’re keeping children’s toys that don’t get played with, you can stash them in plastic containers and park them in the closet, attic or garage.

Items that you think you can donate can go into a cardboard box to be dropped off at your favorite charity. And you can put items you plan to try and sell at a garage sale or on Craigslist in a designated place so they don’t get lost or damaged in the meantime.

Also, don’t forget to include important documents and paper clutter as you organize.

For example, things like birth certificates, social security cards and property deeds are definitely things you want to keep. But instead of keeping every piece of artwork your child has ever made, you might sort through and pick out a few you love the most.

woman sorting clutter

Step 5: Create drop zone areas in each room

Maintaining a clean space with kids means having a place for everything. A drop zone is a small area of your home where things can be collected to be sorted later.

For example, you might keep a laundry basket in your living room as a drop zone for children’s toys. Kids can toss their toys in the basket and at the end of each day, take the basket to their rooms to put the toys away.

The laundry room or mudroom might be the right place for collecting coats, shoes, umbrellas and backpacks. You can create a drop zone in the kitchen for phone chargers, car key keys and mail. 

And you might set up a designated space in a corner of the living room or dining room where kids can sit down and do their homework.

Finding the best place for these zones will depend on how much space you have. But organizing a messy house when you have a lot of stuff gets easier when everything has its own place.

Step 6: Encourage family members to pitch in

If you’re overwhelmed with how to start organizing a messy house, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. You can ask your spouse or partner and kids to pitch in.

A good way to do that is to assign each family member their own space to organize. So kids might be in charge of organizing one area of their room. Or you might ask them to help with sorting out stuff in the hall closet.

Having other people help with organizing means you’re not trying to shoulder all of the burdens yourself. And you might be surprised to learn that kids can do a great job of organizing.

If kids are reluctant to help, you can try different activities to make picking up and putting away or sorting through toys fun. Making a game out of cleaning and organizing was my favorite way to get my kids motivated to help when they were little.

Step 7: Make your organization habits stick

Figuring out how to start organizing a messy house is a step in the right direction. But you could end up with a bigger mess next time if you’re not sticking to your new organized mom habits.

So how do you keep your house clean and organized once you get it that way?

Setting some rules can be a big help. For example, your house rule list might look like this:

  • When you take something out, put it back.
  • Backpacks, coats and shoes need to go straight to the drop zone after school.
  • If you haven’t used it or worn it in a year, get rid of it.
  • No buying new items unless you declutter the same number of items first.

Having some simple rules like these can keep the clutter from piling up. And once you’re able to enjoy a clean, tidy home every day you’ll be glad you decided to get organized in the first place.

busy mom cleaning planner


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How to Start Organizing a Messy House FAQs

Where do you start when a messy house is overwhelmed?

The first time you try to get organized can be stressful. So the best place to start organizing a messy house when it’s overwhelming is to pick one small area to work with. So instead of trying to organize your entire kitchen, pick one drawer or cabinet to start. Once you organize that area, move on to the next draw or cabinet. Being consistent can help you keep moving from space to space and make an overwhelming task feel easier.

What do you clean first in a messy house?

If you’re trying to clean and organize a messy house, you can start with the easiest area first. Or you can start with the area of your home that you use the most. You could also try starting with a chore that you dread the most, like doing laundry. Getting that chore out of the way can make the rest of your cleaning list easier to manage.

How do I get motivated to clean an overwhelmed mess?

When the mess has taken over your home, it can be hard to get in the right headspace to clean it up. So setting some organizing goals and visualizing what you want your clean home to look like can be a huge help. Once you can get a clear picture of how you want the house to be in your mind, you can start breaking down the different steps you need to take to make it a reality.

Should I hire a professional organizer to clean a messy house?

Professional organizers can make cleaning up a messy house easier since they can create a personalized plan for you to follow. And some organizers may do all the work for you so you don’t have to wade into the mess. But hiring a professional organizer could be a waste of money if you’re not changing the behaviors that lead to the mess in the first place.

how to start organizing a messy house pinterest image
How to Start Organizing a Messy House

Final thoughts on how to start organizing a messy house

The last thing you or your family wants is to live in a home that feels overwhelmingly messy and cluttered. If you’re struggling with how to start organizing a messy house, having an action plan to follow can be a huge help. And if you need a little more help with creating decluttering routines, check out this free five-word organization challenge!

How to Start Organizing a Messy House