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How to Start Cleaning if You’re Overwhelmed

Have you ever looked at a cluttered living room or a sinkful of dishes and thought, “Didn’t I just clean this?” These days, with everyone at home more than before, it may seem like an infinite loop of cleaning and clutter. Never fear! The experts at Merry Maids® have some tips to help you counteract the overwhelm that can come from not knowing where to start—or when you’re finished, for that matter.

Let Go of Marathon Cleaning

For many of us, the overwhelming part of cleaning comes from looking at the house—or, let’s be honest, the room, or even the pile of dirty laundry—as a whole, rather than smaller, more manageable parts. If you treat intensive cleaning like a marathon, you may come to associate the task with the stress and tedium that accompanies it. When you approach tidying and other chores with an all-or-nothing mentality, it’s no surprise that it feels overwhelming and never-ending.

Try a more sprint-like approach, like the 20/10 method credited to author and blogger Rachel Hoffman:

  • Set a timer for 20 minutes

  • Spend those 20 minutes cleaning

  • Take a 10-minute break from cleaning

  • Repeat

Adjust the timing to suit your needs, your mood, or your motivation, even if that means 5 minutes of cleaning and 30-minute breaks. The idea is to train your brain to associate cleaning with short, relaxed bursts and steady progress, rather than an epicly draining journey.

Choose Somewhere to Start

The overwhelm you feel when faced with a messy house may not actually be about the task of cleaning but rather not knowing where to begin. Decision fatigue is a real thing, and it may lead you to avoiding the matter altogether. If this sounds like you, remember that there are no wrong choices and that any small bit of progress will likely motivate you to continue and help you find clarity in the chaos.

Still not ready to make a decision? Here are some good places to get started:

  • The floor - Sit and tidy or sort piles of mail or books, grab a broom and sweep up crumbs, or vacuum the living room rug. A cluttered or dirty floor can make everything else in the room appear messier as a result, so starting here can make a big impact.

  • The kitchen sink - Wash any dishes in the sink or load the dishwasher, then give the sink itself a good scrub. (Pro tip: Dry the sink after rinsing to help protect it!) A clean, shiny sink can be achieved fairly quickly and easily and will give you a sense of accomplishment to carry you through to the next task.

  • The laundry hamper - Start by throwing in a load of laundry. While your dirty clothes take a spin in the suds, you’ll be able to use the momentum to tackle something else.

  • Your wallet - Toss, shred, or recycle any old receipts you no longer need, save contact information from business cards in your phone or address book, and cut up any expired credit cards. Sure, maybe no one but you will benefit from this chore, but sometimes something small can give you the motivation to move on to something bigger.

Figure Out Your Priorities

If you have a history of feeling overwhelmed by house cleaning, take a proactive approach. Keep a list of the specific tasks that, when completed, give you the best sense of accomplishment or make the biggest impact. Don’t worry about including every possible cleaning project, room, or surface. Just focus on the ones that are most important to you. Use a note-taking app on your phone or write it out longhand and post it on the fridge. Refer back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Are these tasks complete? If not, choose one and start there.

Here are some scenarios to help you determine your cleaning priorities:

  • Imagine you had guests coming over in an hour. What chores would you make sure were completed, no-fail, before they arrived?

  • If you work from home, what tasks absolutely need to be done before you can concentrate properly?

  • When enjoying free time, either by yourself or with your family, are there any specific messes that would keep you from being able to relax and have fun?

Create a Cleaning Playlist

Upbeat music that inspires you to move may help motivate you to complete your to-do list. Create your own playlist of your favorite songs or browse streaming music services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon Music Unlimited to find curated playlists perfect for housework. (Hint: Try searching “cleaning motivation.”) If you’re in a more cerebral mood, catch up on a popular podcast or listen to an audiobook while you work. Sometimes your brain just needs a little distraction to get into the cleaning groove.

Know When to Trust the Professionals

Sometimes overwhelm comes from the perceived pressure that you must have a completely clean and sparkling home at all times. But messes happen, and there’s no reason to apologize when life gets in the way of a spotless bathroom mirror or a tidy dining room table. After all, even tidying guru Marie Kondo points out, “The objective of cleaning is not just to clean but to feel happiness living within that environment.” Ask yourself if your overwhelming list of cleaning tasks are things that need to be done for the health, safety, and happiness of you and your family, and if so, could they be delegated to a professional cleaning expert?

There’s more to life than cleaning! If you are overwhelmed by frequent cleaning tasks that either eat into your free time or risk going undone, talk to the experts at Merry Maids® about our house cleaning services. We offer custom plans and schedules to take care of the dirty work so you’re free to do whatever you choose and spend more quality time with the people you love. Reach out to us today for a free estimate on services!