What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Clutter

As a former shopaholic turned minimalist, I understand what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by clutter—but I also know how to tackle it. These simple decluttering tips will help you get started, even if you feel like you’re drowning in too much stuff.

"What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Clutter" in a white box with a mug and bowl of fruit sitting on a table in front of a window in the background.

Overwhelmed With Too Much Stuff

Once upon a time, I had a wardrobe so big that I turned my entire guest bedroom into a closet. I had floor to ceiling Ikea built-ins and custom racking to house my enormous shoe collection (well over 100 pairs!). 

And that was just one room in my house. My kitchen cupboards were brimming with op-shop finds, and an assortment of dinnerware (for the parties I dreamed of hosting but, of course, never did because my house was such a cluttered mess). 

There were also plastic storage tubs everywhere, piled in corners and under the stairs. I’d moved several times with these boxes and honestly, I don’t even know what they contained. Still, I wasn’t ready to let go. Instead, I would “organise” by periodically moving them from one room to the other.

I’m sharing this because I know that I’m not alone. You might not be a shopaholic but, if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet that you’re overwhelmed by clutter. At some point, things got out of control and now, you feel paralysed. You want something different for your home and your life but you have absolutely no idea how or where to begin. 

If this resonates with you, take a deep breath. Let’s tackle your stuff together.

How To Start Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed

The first thing to know is that feeling stressed and overwhelmed is usually less about how much clutter you have and more about your confidence in dealing with it. Believe it or not, this is good news. 

Why? Because decluttering is a skill. You might not feel capable now but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there eventually. It’s like learning to drive. At one point, it probably felt completely unnatural and overwhelming to sit behind the wheel of a car. But now, it’s second nature. 

One day, you might feel the same about decluttering, but regardless, have faith that not knowing what to do is natural at first. Don’t beat yourself up or compare your progress to others. Instead, give yourself permission to learn and make mistakes. 

Embracing a beginner’s mind will help you overcome the paralysis, so you can find the courage to get started. Then try these five simple steps that will help you declutter your home, even when you’re overwhelmed with too much stuff.

It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at. - Elizabeth Gilbert

STEP 1: STOP ADDING TO THE PROBLEM

If right now, a pipe burst in your home, how would you respond? 

Sure, you’d find a bucket—but then what? You’d turn the water off at the source. 

Of course, you’d want to clean up the mess ASAP, but it’s obvious that there’s no point in cleaning while water is pouring out everywhere. The same logic applies to decluttering your home. 

Before you start clearing out your unwanted goods, you need to take a long hard look at where your clutter comes from. For most people, a good place to begin is with your shopping habits. 

Sit down and take 10 minutes to reflect on the shopping you’ve done in the last month. If you use a debit or credit card, it’s helpful to review your statements. What are you buying and is it contributing to your clutter?

If so, I highly recommend you check out this article, where I outline four common reasons why people can’t stop shopping (along with practical strategies you can implement right away). 

Don’t skip this step. It doesn’t matter how much you eventually declutter—if you haven’t learned how to stop clutter from entering your home, any results you get will be short-lived.

Related Post: How to Stop Buying Clothes You Never Wear

STEP 2: WORK ON YOUR MINDSET

The next thing I highly recommend doing is working on your mindset. I know—this isn’t typical decluttering or organising advice—but honestly, it has made the biggest difference on my own minimalist journey

Over the years, I’ve learned that the things we own are a reflection of our thoughts and beliefs. This is why letting go is so hard. You’re not just decluttering “stuff”, you’re also decluttering old identities, fears, insecurities and so much more.  

It can be messy emotional work but don’t let it scare you. As with anything, the key is to start small.  

I recommend an approach that I refer to as Mindful Decluttering. It involves clearly defining what you want from your home and life, and then consciously working towards that vision by decluttering and letting go.

It’s a mindset shift from scarcity to abundance. Decluttering is not about giving things up. Instead, it’s about editing your home and life, to make more space for the things that matter most. 

To help you, I created a free guide with step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting tips, and even a workbook. You can get instant access by subscribing, using the form below. (As a bonus, you’ll also receive my regular newsletters with special offers, personal stories, and lots of tips—but don’t worry, you can unsubscribe anytime and still keep the guide.)

STEP 3: CHOOSE ONE SMALL PROJECT

Once you’ve done the groundwork (and by “done”, I mean taken the first few steps—because these are lifelong practices, not to-do list items), then you’re ready to take the next step: Choose one small project to start actual decluttering. 

I’ve written an entire post on where to start decluttering and I highly recommend that you take a quick look. Deciding where to begin is about so much more than choosing a specific space to declutter. It’s also about picking a strategy that’s aligned with your goals. Get this right and it’s much easier to stay motivated in the long run.

STEP 4: SIMPLIFY DECISION MAKING

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to create structure and boundaries. Ultimately, this will simplify decision making and relieve a lot of the stress that comes with decluttering. 

Practically speaking, this looks like writing some hard rules about what does or doesn’t belong in the space you’re working on. Think broadly and take a big picture approach before you start making decisions about individual items. 

For example, let’s consider your closet. What rules can you set for yourself there? Are there colours, fabrics, or certain styles that you no longer want to wear? (Personally, I don’t wear yellow, I’m done with polyester, and I don’t have anything that’s dry-clean only.)

Decide on these rules ahead of time and then, when you’re decluttering, you’ll have structure to help make decisions. You’ll feel less overwhelmed because you’ll have a personalised roadmap to guide you.

STEP 5: IDENTIFY + TACKLE YOUR ROADBLOCKS

Finally, it’s important to know that no matter how much you prepare, you’re going to come up against roadblocks. I point this out because too often, people want to give up as soon as things get tough (especially if they’re already overwhelmed to begin with). 

They think it’s a sign of failure or proof that it’s all too hard—but honestly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, I believe your struggles are a sign that you’re headed in the right direction. 

You’re doing the work and every challenge is an opportunity for growth. When you get stuck, don’t turn away disheartened. Instead, face it head on, with an open and curious mind. Ask yourself what fears, thoughts or beliefs are holding you back? 

Keep in mind that clutter is often a symptom of a bigger problem. For example, I shopped obsessively for expensive clothes and shoes because I struggled with insecurity and self-acceptance. I had to acknowledge and address these deeper issues first, in order to feel comfortable with letting go. 

You need to get to the heart of your roadblocks—this is essential to not only decluttering your home but also simplifying your entire life. But be patient with yourself and don’t let unrealistic expectations overwhelm you. 

You’re learning new things and also, unlearning a lifetime of deeply held beliefs. This takes time so move forward with grace, slowly, one foot in front of the other.

More Decluttering Resources

If you’d like to learn more about decluttering your home and life, here are some resources that you might find helpful:

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by clutter? Let us know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “What To Do When You’re Overwhelmed By Clutter”

  1. I admire your writing—not only the content but also your wise and compassionate tone. I am new here and learning.

    One activity I struggle with is when I declutter an area, such as my closet, I often have three piles: trash, donate and keep, but too frequently I put the “keep” items in a bin and simply move it to an out-of-sight location.

    I beat myself up for this because I am still keeping too much! I want to congratulate myself for making some progress but also feel overwhelmed by impractical perfectionism. Can you help me re-frame my thoughts?

    Reply

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