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How to clean a cluttered space when you’re overwhelmed

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
cleaning decluttering overwhelmed help
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck / Unsplash

This comes via Strugglecare on TikTok, so you can watch the vid if you want to see it in action.

No matter how cluttered your space is, remember it only has 5 things in it.

  1. Trash
  2. Dishes
  3. Clothing
  4. Things that have a spot
  5. Things that don’t have a spot

Don’t look at the whole morass, just look for one category at a time.

Go around with a garbage bag and throw all the trash in it. (Or, okay, look, Trash then Recycling, fine, two items, but I would argue that if you’re really struggling, don’t beat yourself up because you threw away a few pieces of cardboard.)

Don’t take it down to the bins right now.

  1. Pick up any dirty dishes and put them in the sink. Don’t wash them right now, just put them in the sink.
  2. Pick up any clothes and put them in a basket.
  3. Choose a section of the house that you would most like to be clean
  4. In that section: pick up the things that have a spot and put them in a pile.
  5. In that section: Put everything else (the things that don’t have a spot) into another pile.
  6. Now you have a clear, uncluttered space with some piles in it, which is a lot easier to deal with.
  7. Take the trashbags out to the bin.
  8. Wash the dishes.
  9. Clothes: You CAN separate them out into clean and dirty, but you can also just wash them all, and who cares if some clean ones get re-washed. You are overwhelmed, the extra water usage is a cost worth paying right now.
  10. Put the things that have a spot where they belong.
  11. Now you just have one pile of things that you need to find or make a home for.
  12. You can do the things that do/don’t have a place in the next section of the house, or you can just relax in the clear part of your house and do the next bit tomorrow.

The biggest trap here is that it involves a little bit of double-handling (make the pile, then put the things in the pile away). The Getting Things Done method is very against this, it has a “touch it once” policy. If you’re like me, you really resist double-handling, because it feels inefficient. But actually what’s way more inefficient is picking up an item that has a home, gazing around at your complicated cluttered space, and then sitting down in despair.

Once you have a clear space with two piles in it, everything will be a lot easier.

(Trash, dishes and clothes are easier because they have one location they go to, it’s simple).

When you’re having a bad executive function day (whether caused by stress, ADHD, depression, general pandemic overwhelm, whatever), what used to be an array of individual items that can be handled one by one becomes just like a swamp of static.

But remember, there’s only 5 things.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #125 – subscribe to get the next issue in your inbox!

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