How to start decluttering when overwhelmed: 12 easy steps to get started

by Anousheh

Are you completely overwhelmed with the stuff in your house or apartment? You want to start decluttering and minimizing your life, but you just don’t know where to start? You’re struggling to find out how to start decluttering when overwhelmed?

If you are reading this post, you are probably very familiar with this feeling. As with most things, making the first step to start decluttering is the hardest. In this post, I will show you exactly how to begin your decluttering journey and all the steps on how to start decluttering when overwhelmed!

How to start decluttering when overwhelmed

How do I stop being overwhelmed when decluttering?

1. Take off the pressure

You are here because you feel flooded by your stuff and don’t know where to start. The good news is: overwhelm is just a feeling! It’s a mindset you can work on. So the first thing I want you to do is to take off the pressure.

Simplifying your life is a great goal and will make you feel so much better. Focus on the positive feeling. You don’t need to have the perfect, minimal apartment. Stop looking at all those houses on Instagram that look as if nobody even lives there. That’s not what we want to accomplish here. You want to get rid of the things that don’t serve you. YOU. It’s all about making your life better, so no need to be overwhelmed by this.

It’s okay if you only get rid of 3 things right now. It’s a journey, and getting started, no matter how small, is the first and most important step.

2. Start deattaching from the things you own

As this study shows, one of the biggest reasons why people start hoarding things is that they are emotionally attached to their belongings. Some of the most common emotions we attach to our stuff are hope (“I might someday be the person who uses this”), fear (“What if I need this again in the future?”), and love (“Somebody I care about gave this to me”).

However, our emotions aren’t tied to physical things. Love doesn’t disappear if you don’t keep that birthday card your loved one gave you. You won’t lose your memory of your favorite trip because you got rid of the fridge magnet you kept as a souvenir.

The first step to deattach your emotions from your stuff is actually realizing your emotional attachment. Then start moving away from it.

3. Join a challenge!

window with plants in front

Are you the competitive type? Or do you need someone to tell you what to do every single day to get started? A challenge is a really fun way how to start decluttering when overwhelmed. You can join a challenge to make it incredibly easy to declutter and take away that feeling of being overwhelmed.

My 30-day decluttering challenge shows you exactly what to do on each day of the challenge. All you have to do is follow along. And the best part: it won’t take longer than 30 minutes a day, I promise!

4. Start with baby steps

Okay, you came here because you want to know exactly how to start decluttering when overwhelmed. And breaking down a task is one of the most crucial steps to not feeling overwhelmed.

Let me refer you to one of my favorite quotes here:

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

Desmond Tutu

Break down your apartment or house into small, super easy parts. Decluttering the bedroom can seem like a huge task with no end in sight. But minimizing your nightstand should be quick and easy, right? So tackle these small areas or categories and go through with them. This will give you a feeling of accomplishment and show you that decluttering doesn’t have to be overwhelming at all.

5. Tackle the things that annoy you the most

But help, my house is so cluttered, I don’t know where to start!”

Does that sound familiar to you? I know a lot of people get overwhelmed even thinking about where to start. Should I go for the basement first? Or maybe the closet is a good first step?

There is not that one best place to start for everyone. However, a good place to start decluttering when overwhelmed is the part of your apartment that annoys you the most. That could be your bathroom cabinet because everything falls out when you open it. Or your kitchen drawers, because they make cooking so much harder.

Start with that area. Why? It will give you such a feeling of relief once you’re done. It’s a quick and big win. And with that accomplishment, you can rewire your brain and show your mind: “Hey, that wasn’t that hard, but it was super rewarding!” The motivation and momentum are what’s going to keep you going and get rid of that overwhelmed feeling.

The only exception I would put to this is if you have a big emotional attachment to that area. If you start with decluttering the boxes of stuff your grandma left you when she passed, you are going to be so overwhelmed with the decisions, and you will dread even thinking about continuing. Make it easy for yourself.

6. Think about what you want to keep

minimal bedroom with nightstand

Figuring out how to start decluttering when overwhelmed can be hard. That’s why while going through your stuff, I want you to decide on the things you want to keep, not the ones you want to get rid of.

Deciding against something can be so much harder. If you ask yourself “Should I toss this?”, you will start to think things like “But what if I need it in the future?” Instead, decide what you want to keep because you love it so much.

So the best way to declutter is to take a section, dump everything on a pile and pick the things you want to stay in your life.

If you can’t make a decision for an item, it’s a decision against it anyway.

7. Take out the trash first

When you begin to declutter, start with the most obvious and easiest thing first. That is why I would always start with the trash.

Say you’re decluttering your office and you start with the paperwork. Put all of the obvious trash on a pile and throw it away immediately. This will not only give you more space to work with. It’s also incredibly satisfying to see this immediate result. We as humans are wired to always seek instant gratification. You can use this to your advantage. Seeing results after taking baby steps is what’s going to motivate you.

Things you want to donate can be your second easy pile. Just gather everything that’s probably not going to make you any money and donate it. This is a quick step to get rid of many things. And the feeling of stuff you don’t want anymore leaving your house is what will keep you going.

If you’re overwhelmed with what to do with the things you decluttered, you can check out this post on how to get rid of old clothes.

8. Set a time limit

Hourglass on table

A great way how to start decluttering when overwhelmed with too much stuff is to set yourself a daily time limit. You could start with 15 or 30 minutes a day.

Set yourself a timer, and start going through your stuff until the timer goes off. After that time, you will stop. If you’re in the flow, you can keep going a little bit, but not for too long. Setting a time limit automatically divides your decluttering journey into little bite-size pieces. It will prevent you from getting caught up and draining yourself from decluttering for 3 hours straight.

And once again, this will show you and your brain that decluttering is an achievable task you don’t have to dread. If you want to tackle your entire apartment on a weekend, that is just overwhelming and failure waiting to happen. Also, you are less likely to procrastinate, because you know it’s only 15 or 30 minutes and then you’re done for the day.

9. Ask yourself questions

This is one of my favorite tips when it comes to so many things, and also when it comes to how to start decluttering when overwhelmed. And you will hear me say this over and over again because it’s that important.

The best way to gain clarity is to ask yourself questions.

And also, ask the right questions. If you keep asking yourself “Should I keep this or toss this?”, you’re not making your life easier. Go deeper. So a good way to figure out how to start decluttering when overwhelmed is asking questions like:

  • Have I used this within the last 6 months?
  • Does it make my life easier on a regular basis?
  • If I lost this today, would I buy it again?
  • Do I own something that serves a similar purpose?
  • Could I borrow this from someone if I need it?

10. Just start

coffee and book on side-table with a plant

This might be the most obvious step. But to be honest, that’s why it’s also the most important and effective one. You are probably overwhelmed because you are dreading the experience. You see this huge task ahead of you and keep thinking about the best approach to decluttering your house.

But the most important step if you’re overwhelmed with too much stuff is to just start, even if it’s the smallest baby step. Just get rid of one thing. Right now, do it! Grab one thing you don’t need anymore and get rid of it.

There you go. You started decluttering. Was it that hard? Probably not. There’s no need to get rid of everything in your house within 10 days. The first steps are what will give you momentum and keep you going. Need inspiration? Check out these 37 things you can declutter right now.

11. Follow a guideline

Following along to steps someone else has already planned out for you takes out the guesswork and makes you take action. If you’re reading this, I know you are still figuring out how to start decluttering when overwhelmed, but you’re probably not decluttering.

But that’s what you should be doing right now! And that’s why following a guideline makes the process so much easier for you. No need to make that many decisions on your own. Just follow a step-by-step guide.

You could start with the 30-day decluttering challenge for a kickstart to your decluttering journey in general.

Or you could tackle your rooms or categories individually. Start decluttering your office with this guide on how to organize paper clutter. Or follow along here for decluttering sentimental items.

The work has already been done for you, so why not profit from it?

12. Get yourself a decluttering buddy

person folding clothes

Make yourself accountable by telling your family and friends about your plans to minimize your life. Telling other people will already make you feel like there’s no turning back.

And maybe you will even find someone who gets inspired and wants to join you on your journey to minimalism. Decluttering with a friend makes the task so much more fun. Also, having someone question your decisions every now and then helps you along the process.

Bonus tip: Create habits and routines

Obviously, we not only want to declutter and minimize our home for now, we also want to keep it that way.

So while you’re starting to declutter, start creating routines and habits for yourself so you can easily keep up the clear space. Designate a home to every item you own and take 10 minutes every evening to put everything back where it belongs. Follow the “one in, one out” rule and always get rid of something when you buy something new.

Establishing these systems is what’s going to make it easy for you to stick to a clutter-free environment in the long run.

What is your best tip on how to start decluttering when overwhelmed? Share it in the comments below!

Do you want to save these tips so you can always reference them when you feel overwhelmed? Pin this post to your Decluttering Board so you always have it handy!

how to start decluttering when overwhelmed

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