How to Clean Your House When You Feel Paralyzed by “The Mess”

There are some people who won’t even understand the title of this post. They don’t know what it’s like to wonder where to start when cleaning a messy house.

They’ve never been paralyzed by a mess. Overwhelmed doesn’t even really cover it.

They’ll think – “what does that even mean?!” (These people always have clean houses, and they can organize their junk drawer with their eyes closed. Or at least they could if they had a junk drawer. But they don’t. They don’t know what it’s like to be ashamed of your messy house.) They’ve never experienced a truly messy house. 

And there’s some people who will roll their eyes at the drama of it, and they’ll think “Just clean it up. Take the action, do the things.” These people are also likely to leave nasty comments about how this post is sort of stupid. (I won’t publish them.)

But then there’s other people – maybe you’re one of these people – who know what it’s like to stand in the middle of a messy room and feel absolutely paralyzed by the mess. (Me!! I AM ONE OF THESE PEOPLE!) These people will get what this post is about.

We are the people who wonder desperately “where to start cleaning my house?!”

You might even have a secret fear that your house looks like hoarders (you know, that TV show where food is molding under the couch and the neighbors are complaining?)

And I want to share some good solid advice with these people (you), on how to move forward with cleaning when you feel paralyzed by a mess.

Because I’ve been there, but – thank goodness – I’m not there anymore.

Step one in cleaning a terribly messy house sounds overly simple, but please don’t overlook it just because it’s simple:

You pick up one thing. 

(Tune out the rest of the mess for now. You’re just dealing with one thing.)

Pick up one thing – the nearest thing to you – and ask yourself, “Where does this thing go?” 

Does it have a home in your home? Does it need to LEAVE your home (donation/garbage)?

Then put that thing where it goes. (If it needs to be donated, make a box for donating and call that it’s home for now.)

And pick up another thing. Find it’s home or give it a home or get it out of your home.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

I swear this works. It’s tedious yes. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s one thing at a time… and one thing at a time, you can clean up the mess.

Now, let’s talk about this in detail, but I know the above seems over-simplified.

You’ll need some structure and routine to keep you on track!

IF your mess is as bad as I image it is, picking up one thing at a time and putting it away is actually going to take days (and that is ok), but a PLAN will help you keep moving forward.

Start by printing a simple home cleaning planner – with daily + weekly task lists, spring + fall cleaning checklists, and room by room cleaning checklists to make sure it all gets DONE.

If you regularly lose a weekend to a cleaning ‘blitz’ – that doesn’t actually accomplish anything because you just bounce from room to room – a planner with checklist will help.pages from cleaning planner



Related: A Simple Solution to Clutter & Disorganization

When you want to clean up “the mess” in your house but don’t know where to start:

With your printed cleaning schedule in hand, you can start to tackle the mess.

You know what I’m talking about when I say “the mess”.

It’s not like you had a clean house 6 hours ago, but a kid’s birthday party has turned your home into a danger zone. Little piles of melty ice-cream everywhere and paper cups behind the couch.

No, that kind of mess isn’t THAT hard to clean up. (If you have THAT kind of mess, you really just need this stuff.)  Although this advice will apply to how to clean a trashed house as well – any mess, little-people-parties included.

I’m talking about THE MESS. The big bad mess. When you have let the clutter and junk take over. There’s piles of laundry in the living room, you can’t see the kitchen counters, can’t remember the last time you cleaned out the fridge. You may or may not find a bag of potatoes – or what used to be potatoes – sitting at the back of the pantry.

If you take a moment to look around your home you might even feel shame and despair. But you also look around and feel that sinking feeling that says you won’t EVER be able to clean it up, because you just do NOT know where to start.

It’s hopeless.

THAT kind of mess.

This is the sort of paralyzing mess that for some reason, wants me to live in it. (I don’t. I work very hard to not allow my home to be messy. I am not a naturally tidy person, which is baffling because I LOVE it when my home is tidy, and I grew up in a tidy home. I don’t know where I developed the messy habits.)

I have learned that it is far easier to KEEP my home clean than to have to try cleaning a messy house once it gets to the paralyzing mess stage.

But,  if you are still there, paralyzed in your mess… well, I get it and I have the path to the light at the end of the tunnel for you.

Related: How to Conquer Clutter When it’s Emotionally Difficult
Related: Tackling Clothing Clutter: Confessions of a Clothes Hoarder

First, two things to consider (to start cleaning a messy house):

If you are so overwhelmed that you don’t believe it’s possible to clean your house, you might need to ask for help and that’s ok, but then be willing to let the helper help. It’s really frustrating to have someone ask you to help them and then not be allowed to do anything. If you feel like you need to be in control, that’s something you’ll have to address.

The odd time when my home DOES return to this state of overwhelming mess (like- um – if I have a baby and forget how to do “life”) I ask for help when I need it.

Also, consider addressing the clutter and disorganization in your home – FOR GOOD. Sometimes just cleaning up isn’t enough.  

Addressing the clutter in my home took me a LONG way towards never feeling paralyzed by the mess anymore. But I didn’t know where to start, and I actually needed someone to TEACH me how to do it.

If your house is constantly buried in clutter and mess, check out The Organized Home Course by Hilary from Pulling Curls. It is created just for people like us, who need to be given  bite-sized tips & lessons on organization so we know where stuff is, save time & feel more peace at home. (Because we do ACTUALLY deserve to feel at peace in our homes!)

This is the perfect course for organizing a messy home if:

  • You always need hours of notice before having guests because you’re embarrassed about the state of your home.
  • You’re always worried you misplaced an important document or won’t be able to find things when you need them.
  • You’ve ever wondered why can’t YOU enjoy peaceful time on the couch or enjoying your family instead of always stressing out about the state of your home?

If you need someone to TEACH you how to address clutter and get organized, Hilary is your girl, and you can get 10% off the course here with the code MOP10. 

But even if you choose not to ask for help or deal with the clutter, you can clean up the mess.


You pick up one thing.  The nearest thing to you – and ask yourself, “Where does this thing go?” 

Does it have a home in your home? Does it need to LEAVE your home (donation/garbage)?

Then put that thing where it goes. (If it needs to be donated, make a box for donating and call that it’s home for now.)

And pick up another thing. Find it’s home or give it a home or get it out of your home.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

I swear this works. It’s tedious yes. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s one thing at a time… and one thing at a time, you can clean up the mess.

Work through one room per day (or half a room per day) according to the cleaning schedule you made.

Once your house is tidy, these 6 daily habits for a clean home will help you KEEP it that way.

Related: Secrets for Keeping the House Clean With Small Kids

Related: 7 Tangible & Life-Changing Benefits of Decluttering

If you try to do this but get distracted or stuck or struggle with how to motivate yourself to clean a messy house:

Here’s where asking for help can be awesome – because there is an automatic built in job for the helper. (Plus having someone else involved can be really good cleaning motivation!)

Have someone (a patient someone) hand you one thing at a time and ask “where does this go?”

And repeat.

Having someone else there to keep you on track might be the only way to keep yourself going the first time you do this.

But you CAN do this 🙂

Once things are put properly in their homes (or out of your home) tackle the “dirt” – which you will inevitably find under “the mess” – with the most natural, safe, and cost effective household cleaners you can find. (For me that’s been Norwex  – this one tub of cleaner has lasted me for THREE YEARS and I have no qualms about getting it on my skin. They even have a system for washing windows and mirrors with ONLY water!)

More From Mommy on Purpose:

Where do you start when you’re drowning in CLUTTER?
Clean kitchen habits you can adopt today



ashamed of your messy house

cleaning up an overwhelming mess


438 thoughts on “How to Clean Your House When You Feel Paralyzed by “The Mess””

  1. I wish someone could help me here. My energy on a good day wanes, idk where to even start. I feel so completely overwhelmed. It’s my youngest child’s birthday tomorrow and I can’t even get things straightened up. Idk WTH I’m gonna do. What is wrong with me? This has been going on for Awhile now. I’m out of ideas…. 🤷🏻‍♀️

  2. This really resonated with me. I was so paralyzed and kept trying to come up with the perfect plan to get started. Then I finally realized it didn’t matter where I started, it just mattered THAT I started. I chose the room that bothered me the most and worked on it until it looked good and that motivated me to keep going throughout the rest of the house. Now I don’t have to worry if someone stops by because the house is always in great shape and I am happy and at peace in my own home after years of feeling stressed. Thank you for sharing your story. ❤️

  3. I have dealt with mild anxiety and depression for the last few years. I’ve never been a good housekeeper, but, I had a group of ladies come in and clean everything in an hour and 45 minutes. But, my husband has OCD and dealing with his issues and critical attitude was too much. Now, I’m stuck and need to get out of the mess. Thank you for your advice. I hope I can make it.

  4. As someone who has had depression and a messy house one of the things I learned was to keep a basket or tub at the top and bottom of the stairs (if you have a bungalow then each end of the hall).
    If you are upstairs and see something that belongs downstairs put it in the tub when you go downstairs take the tub with you and put the contents where they live, (this may sometimes be the washing machine).
    Vice versa, if you are downstairs and see something that lives upstairs put in the tub for upstairs, when you next go upstairs take it up and put things in the tub where they live.
    It worked for me, although I admit I sometimes became distracted by other things that need to be put away, but on the whole it helped. I have a fridge magnet that has become a family motto, ‘Don’t put it down, put it away’.

  5. Anyone else have a hoarder spouse and trying to get things cleaned up? I love this simple system, but an awful lot of the mess don’t have a home (because drawers, etc. are full of other things that can’t be gotten rid of.)

  6. I retired 3 years ago with chronic health issues. I thought I would finally have time to ckean up this mess. No. It is worse. I hate my house it makes me miserable and depressed. I love your advice one item at the time. Thank you

  7. I love this. It is nice to hear someone who has been here, and no longer does- give great advice on how to get out of this mess. Thank you so much!

  8. Thank you for writing this post. A clean home really does make a difference! It improves the obvious things, of course, like the house looking nice for yourself and guests, always being able to find things easily, not tripping over things, not constantly moving things off the furniture to sit down or eat, etc. But it also has a profound effect on mental health. Having a clean house just feels better, which can significantly improve moods. This is especially true if you just cleaned something due to the feeling of accomplishment and achievement. But even if you haven’t just cleaned something, having a clean home makes people happier. You feel less anxious because you’re not constantly seeing all that stuff and thinking “I should put that away, but I am too busy to worry about it right now, besides, where would I even start?” I think having a clean home is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your life. Good eating and exercise habits are also in the top 5. It’s small things like that which make life enjoyable.

  9. So glad to hear that you finally have it tidy! Most of my areas are pretty tidy but somethings, like my pantry, doesn’t stay tidy for very long!

  10. I am sitting here crying over a house cleaning post. WTF! This morning organically I realized I needed help and asked a friend. She is fab so she said yes and will be here later today. So I decide I want to do a search for where to start when you are wildly overwhelmed with the cleaning. This is how I find myself here feeling understood and seen. Thank you.

  11. Thank you for posting this! It is currently 5.45am and I woke up thinking about “the mess” with good intentions to start doing something at least making a start on what seems such a daunting task. The truth is, I WISH there was someone who would come and sit with me for half an hour so I had a bit of support in beginning. But once I got out of bed and looked at it all, any hopes I had initially were soon dashed when I looked around and wholeheartedly saw the disaster I’ve lived in for years. This is how I saw your blog. I literally typed in the sentence “My house is a mess and I don’t know where to start” I always kept a tidy home until an accident a few years ago left me with 4 fractured vertebrae and chronic pain. I’d be lying if I told you I couldn’t clean anything because of the pain though. There are plenty of things I can do, I’m just stuck in a rut. Reading this and the comments here is helpful as I don’t feel so alone. My family don’t understand and have the exact attitude you’ve described above. Some people believe we are just lazy and actually enjoy living amongst it all but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A few weeks ago, I completely cleaned my bathroom and bedroom which made me feel amazing. Then along came the good old mental pain which circles me and there again I’m back to square one.

    • One of the wisest things that anybody ever said to me is Sandy you can’t clean clutter just move it out so you can have experiences with your family instead of THINGS I’ve been cleaning my house for 30 years it’s never been clean I’ve spent so much of my time away from my children trying to clean this house I know I have ADHD I know that’s part of it that big part of it because there’s not a follow through and I don’t know how to prioritize and how do people know where things go I just have never known that.
      IM with u will will slay this quite literally with Gods help

  12. Im going to start with a funny text I sent my husband at work a few months ago, because I know people here will relate and probably laugh too. I text my husband while he was at work and said ” Oh my god, you’ll NEVER guess what I found in the bathroom!” He says “What?! A bug or something?!” I had started cleaning a bit and had a small spot clear so I took a picture and sent it saying “The floor! I found the floor!” He says “Wait….are you…cleaning?! Do you feel alright?” LOL

    You may already know, but your technique of “one thing” has a name and is a very old Japanese practice called Kaizen. “The journey of 10,000 steps begins with the 1st” It teaches to not look at all 10,000 seemingly impossible steps, but just one at a time, and doing that one thing as well as you possibly can. Quite a few huge companies employ the Kaizen way like Toyota and Amazon, to name a couple.

    I, too, am sitting here staring at a sea of hopelessness all around me. Usually I try to pick one whole task like cleaning the whole bathroom or something, & it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I’m not breaking it down small enough, I’m going to try your method.

  13. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been struggling with health issues for the last 3 years so have no motivation to do anything. The house and garden have suffered and i feel uncomfortable if anyone calls at the house. I haven’t really known where to start but tomorrow i will start by putting the items that are down by my sofa away in their proper place and go from there. Thank you again x

  14. Im there now but have been this way for17 years. It started when i lost my job and sold my house. I regained employment but have never had a clean house again. I have one room clean. I need a plummer because my bathroom wont drain but im too embarassed to let them in. It seems ridiculous but i have one room clean so im moving to the next one, if you have someone who can help, put your pride aside it will be worth it. Good luck!

  15. I do feel somewhat ashamed. I try and my husband certainly helps, but it seems like the mess grows faster than we clean. My kid couldn’t find some of her toys the other day and after looking for hours, we decided one of the toys was lost. When we moved our couch for our carpet cleaning weeks later we found my daughter’s Littlest Pet Shop toy all chewed up. She was so hurt. That’s when I vowed to find a way to stay cleaner. I think your ideas are very valuable and I have already seen a positive change in how I approach cleaning

  16. Our house was so messy. I totally forgot that our living room was carpeted. After I picked up all the clothes I saw how nasty our rugs and carpet had become. We couldn’t afford to clean both, so we got a rug cleaning in Beaumont and then covered the stains on the carpet with the rug. I made a cleaning schedule for my family and hopefully we will always be able to see our carpet now.


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