Simplifying Your Recovery From Household Chaos

“I’ve got to get this place cleaned up before my company arrives.”

That is a collection of words with a remarkable range of meaning. For one person, it means sweeping fresh cut grass off of the front steps, arranging wildflowers in a vase, and washing the dishes they used to prepare a homemade feast for twenty. For someone else, it means, “Does anybody have the number for that Hoarders show?”

Most of us, of course, fall somewhere in the middle. Most of the people I work with have more stuff than they have space, so this isn’t actually about simply dusting or running a vacuum. There isn’t an organizing system strong enough to make 600 marbles fit in a soup can. This isn’t even about cleaning, at least not at first. For lots of us, it’s about living beyond our means, and to bring it back into balance, we have to find a way to reduce the volume.

Let’s pretend we are in a room together, looking at a bookcase. It is the kind of book case that holds 40 books and eight trinkets perfectly. When those items are thoughtfully arranged, it looks attractive and inviting, and maintaining it (or keeping it attractive and inviting) is easy. Now, let’s imagine that we have 60 books, 25 trinkets, and three stacks of miscellaneous papers to put on that same book case. Clearly, it doesn’t work as well.

We may not actually be able to get all of that safely onto the bookcase, but let’s, for the sake of this conversation, pretend that we can. Then, when we want a book, we will probably have a hard time finding it, and when we do, retrieving it will probably result in other items being knocked off and falling to the ground. Also, we are less likely to maintain it because we can’t get to the surfaces of most of the items, or the book case itself, for dusting. And since “where it goes” isn’t a place that we can actually find, returning items to it isn’t going to be easy, or maybe even possible.

When more comes, the stacks grow, and the space becomes even less functional. Naturally, there isn’t usually just one space like this in a house. I’m using the idea of the bookcase for clarity’s sake. There is also the kitchen counter, the office, the spare bedroom, and the garage. It’s easy to understand how it happens but it is not always easy to turn the situation around. If that is the situation you’re facing, then I offer you the following strategies straight from the Sick of Being Stuck classroom.

1. Make time – Commit an amount of time that you can spend every day taking back your space. You can get a surprising amount done in 30 minutes but, even 15 minutes a day is a step in the right direction. Whatever it is, if you do it every day, your space will change. The key is that you keep coming back. If you sincerely can’t do it daily, then make a commitment to a larger block of time once or twice each week. (This seems to be less effective than a daily commitment but if you’re committed, it will work.) I’ve seen people make truly mind-boggling transformations over as little as a few weeks by investing 45 minutes every day.

2. Pick a space – That may be a room (bathroom or kitchen) and commit to spending a specific amount of time in that space. If you go into that room and still feel overwhelmed, then break it down into smaller spaces like the top of the counter, cabinet #1, drawer #1, etc.

3. Release the excess – This is really important. Once the stuff to space ratio is out of balance, you can’t just organize your way back to bliss. You have to reduce the contents. Find everything that no longer serves you more than the space it occupies would serve you, and let it go. Be relentless, and remember to release responsibly.

4. Organize what remains – We are tempted to start by straightening but again, if you have more stuff than space, it won’t work without reducing. After all of the excess is out, organizing what’s left is a much more manageable task. Organized means that you can find what you need with ease, that you can reach in to get something without knocking three other things over, and that you can keep up with what you actually own.

5. Clean – This is the scrubbing and vacuuming step. Again, once the excess has been released and what remains has been organized, the cleaning is much more manageable. Make it sparkle. Make it shine. Leave that space looking like something you’d be thrilled to walk into. Then, leave and walk back in. Did it work?

6. Move on – Once that first space has been cleared, organized, and cleaned, move on to the next space and repeat steps two through five. If you’re doing this 15 minutes a day, it might take a few days to get the first space finished but stick with it and you’ll get there.

Remember, once you get that first space in maintenance mode, protect it with your life! (I’m joking… a little.) Once that dining room table is cleared, do whatever it takes to keep it clear as you move forward into the next space. This process works if you keep moving forward with a hint of sensitivity to what you’ve already accomplished. Leaving a trail in an area that you worked hard to clear last week is an act of self-sabotage, and you deserve better than that.

Clearly, the more time you spend each day, the more quickly you’ll have your whole home back in maintenance mode. Some people in my classes have more time to invest in the SOBS process, and they finish in a month or so, while others have less time and their goals are four or six months away. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you keep coming back to the process.

I was sitting here trying to figure out how to close this, and my mind was full of the many, many people who’ve created space for their lives to bloom after taking a class or reading these clutter articles (which, of course, aren’t actually about clutter after all). What follows are some encouraging thoughts that I believe they would want me to share with you.

You can do this. It won’t be perfect but nothing is, which makes everything perfect in the end.
Don’t worry, you are not alone.
This is an invitation to clear your space, and if you accept it, you’ll clear your head and your heart, too.
It’s not always easy but it is quite simple… and it you are absolutely worth it.
If you do it, you’ll find out that you are strong, and that you don’t have to hold back anymore.
That stuff you have stacked up around you doesn’t bring you security.
It’s okay to let go of those people, experiences, and feelings. Yesterday is over, give yourself permission to move on.

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


aj M.
aj E.3 years ago

I like that shelving unit shown :)

Carolanne Powell
Carolanne Powell3 years ago

Gonna go have a big clear out...thanks for the motivation!!

heather g.
heather g.3 years ago

I like the way the article recommends how areas are taken on, one at a time, in small sections - because this is over-whelming to many.
Books become part of who you are and are difficult to discard, as if they have no value....
The small, expensive living spaces in Vancouver area are not only impractical, they're a little insulting - especially when a pet is not allowed. Where's the quality of life gone?

Diane Piecara
Diane Piecara3 years ago

That was inspirational.

Kirsten B.
Kirsten B.3 years ago

No kicking needed - added 5 other items to the stash and one has already found a new home. :)

Rebecca F.
Rebecca Farvour3 years ago

Great tips, but making that first 15 minute block a reality instead of just one more item on an ever-growing to-do list is the problem!

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson3 years ago


Dale Overall

Have to admit that my apartment is too small for what I have here-lived in moderated sized houses all my life not an apartment. There are over one hundred books waiting to be read, which during my life time will eventually get around to.

It helps to get rid of clutter but one often has little time or energy to do so.

Starting small and working up to it helps instead of tackling everything all at once.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago


Robert O.
Robert O.3 years ago

Wonderful, thanks Christy.