How To Start Decluttering When It Feels Overwhelming

Clutter stresses us out. So does decluttering. An organizational expert explains how to declutter and avoid becoming overwhelmed.

We’ve all been there. The mountains of mail, the overstuffed closet. From tools to toys, clutter just becomes part of the background. Even the neatest among us accumulates a lot of stuff. When do we do something about it?

“I think you know in your gut that it’s time to start letting go,” says Mary Cornetta, chief executive officer of Organized Overall. “[It’s time] when the clutter really starts to stress you out, you’re misplacing things more frequently, and the floors and countertops are starting to disappear.”

But knowing you need to declutter and actually decluttering are different things. It’s hard to take that first step because the task seems so overwhelming. It’s not hopeless, though. If you’re ready to start, Cornetta’s expert techniques will get you on the path to organization, without the stress.

Start With the Easy Stuff

The first things to go? “Anything with an expiration date,” says Cornetta, who also founded and owns Sort and Sweet professional organizers.

Getting rid of “no-brainer” items like expired medicines and stale food works wonders for your confidence. Open up your medicine cabinet and check the bottles and boxes. Next, tackle the pantry. Ditch anything expired or empty.

“As you gain confidence in your decluttering skills, you can move on to a space like your closet,” says Cornetta. It’s hard to part with our things, so it pays to start with something that doesn’t require much thinking. If it’s out of date, get rid of it — no decision-making needed.

Pick a Small Space

Cropped Hands Of Person Preparing Food On TableNatalia Kostikova/Getty Images

Another way to jump into decluttering is starting small.

Most of us have a junk drawer in the kitchen, or several. Cornetta says decluttering a small space like a drawer, your purse or a backpack is a great first step, especially if you don’t have a lot of time. “Doing a little decluttering is better than doing none at all!” she says.

So take 15 minutes and go through your sock drawer. You’ll feel better and gain confidence to tackle bigger spaces.

Bring in a Friend

Friends are there for us through thick and thin — job changes, breakups and the daily grind of life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about the prospect of decluttering your home, enlist a buddy to help.

This works great for people who work well in teams, says Cornetta. And if a friend won’t tell you those old jeans have to go, who will?

Professional organizers are an option too, Cornetta says. And don’t overlook your family members. “If the clutter is your partner’s or kid’s, it’s really important to include them,” she says. “Not only is it their stuff to make decisions on, it takes the load off of only you.”

Make a Schedule

If you’re eager to declutter but can’t seem to kick-start the process, Cornetta recommends scheduling dates on your calendar. Scheduling declutter days will keep you from backsliding, too. Clutter seems to magically accumulate, but knowing there’s a declutter date around the corner can ease your mind.

“Look at the year ahead and schedule two closet decluttering days, four for skincare, makeup and medicine, and monthly or bimonthly sessions for the pantry,” Cornetta says. Choose a schedule that makes sense for you and stick to it.

Make Your Bed Every Day

Senior Asian woman doing her morning routine, making up her bed at home. Let's get the day startedAsiaVision/Getty Images

Do you make your bed? It’s a great way to get you in the right frame of mind for decluttering and staying organized, says Cornetta. “This simple 60-second act will set the tone for the rest of your room (and day),” she says.

Most people make their beds at least some of the time, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you’re one of the bed-making majority, make the effort to do it every day to give yourself a boost. And if you’re not, it’s a great time to start.

Declutter Regularly

If you’re struggling with clutter and need another incentive to streamline, here’s a tip: If you can make it part of your routine, over time you’ll reduce your workload around the house. A clutter-free home means less time spent cleaning and searching for things.

“Having less stuff means having less to clean up or tidy,” Cornetta says. “Decluttering regularly is really the most powerful way to stay organized.”

Ally Childress
Ally Childress is a licensed electrician and freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas.