Overwhelmed by Mess

2019 Update: I’m in the process of digging through the months of insanity that is an inbox with a published email address. For every legitimate email, there are 500 fake, but not quite spam pitches. While I work finding the actual questions, I’m going to update a few Home-Ec 101 classics. This one was originally published in 2010.

If you’re overwhelmed by the process of cleaning your home, quit worrying about finding the best option.

Stop trying to learn everything and start doing something.

We all know that in a perfect world we’d make our own ecologically sound cleaners -not all homemade cleaners are, you know-, always reach for a rag to clean, and never use gas or electric powered items when a manual would do.

Get over it.

If you came here searching for how to get started, how to clean a house, or overwhelmed by a messy home (I get a lot of those) the best advice I have for you is to quit worrying about finding the exact right way to do things.

Pick a room.

This is your starting point, you are not allowed to start any projects in any other space. Use baskets, boxes, or trash bags if you’re the distracted type and a lot of items need to be placed in a new home. Just don’t mix up a trash bag full of items with actual garbage. Have a plan with a specified area for trash and another for sorting.

Top to bottom.

Pretty-self explanatory, clear shelves before floors, wipe counters before sweeping, dust fans before vacuuming.

Left to right.

This trick just keeps you moving. Start in one corner and work toward another, when you hit a wall, turn and start again.

Dry to wet.

Dusting, vacuuming, and sweeping should all be done before washing windows, polishing, or mopping to prevent dirt smears or damage caused by scratching.

house cleaning help

Click the picture for more cleaning help!


Take frequent breaks.

Unless grandma (or the landlord is on her way, there is no prize for getting it done in record time. You’ll get there, don’t kill yourself in the process.

Turn on some music, an audiobook, or your podcast and get moving.

If you have questions, send them to helpme@home-ec101.com.


  1. Rachel K on June 11, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you so much for this!! This week has been so hectic and the week (or two) previous I've been so unmotivated to clean. So my house has gotten pretty bad! I then became overwhelm with where to start! Thank you for the motivation and the tips! I need to try the music thing!

  2. Janet Foster on June 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    I hate house cleaning more than just about anything but it's a reality of life. My husband and I have started doing a 10 minute dail pickup and that's helped alot. I try to focus on one room or one part of a room so it doesn't feel so overwhelming. I like to listen to books on my MP3 player while I clean. It makes it much less tedious.

  3. Stephanie on June 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Music! The key to cleaning is the right motivational sing-along music to keep you feeling energized.

    • HeatherSolos on June 10, 2010 at 3:22 pm

      I'm a podcast junkie. I prefer to get my geek on while cleaning, but I never claimed to be normal.

  4. EV on June 10, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Our home has the make a list of that room's projects method. Then 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off. We set the timer and the kids take the assignment. (Sometimes we play "Pick a Card Any Card" where they randomly choose 3 cards or they just work out who is doing what.) We all work for 30 minutes and then go relax for 30 minutes and return to work if the jobs are not done.


    • KrystalBeightel on January 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      i have a 3 year old girl who refuses to clean up her messes and becasue i dont like to punish her to heard i do it for her but latly my house is so clutterd with dirty loundery her toys and most of my husbands clean jeans that i feel like im going to scream becasue of the mess and then he comes home and ends up mad at me for not cleaning while hes at work or having dinner maid by the time he gets home i want to scream.

      • My baby is 21 on February 11, 2012 at 11:51 am


        For a 3 yr old- make it a game- learn the clean up song, play a search and find game (with stuff that needs to be picked up) clean up along side her and let her know what a good job she is doing- they love pretend play- put her at the sink filled with soapy water to wash plasticware- get an adult size brush and dustpan for her, help her fold washcloths and match socks

        Have fun and realize that you will need to do most of the cleaning-

        As for the husband- I have no solution (they just don’t get it!)

  5. imabug on June 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    part of my problem is that i'll find something that needs putting away while cleaning, go put it away then realize that spot needs cleaning/tidying and start doing that. then something there needs to be put away somewhere else, and… i'm sure you can guess the pattern. it's like ADD cleaning or something.

    • HeatherSolos on June 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

      I totally get that. Yesterday I started vacuuming and ended up removing all the caulk from the master shower. Excellent project management, huh?

    • Karen L on June 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm

      I have the same problem. I have dealt with it by bringing a few empty boxes or baskets, a garbage bag, and the recycling boxes with me when I want to deep clean/tidy/organise a space. I used the boxes to sort or hold stuff that needs to be put away elsewhere. Then I am not “allowed” to leave the deep clean space to clean/put away somewhere else.

      • imabug on June 11, 2010 at 4:05 am

        oh, that's a good idea! i'll have to try that out

      • ceci'' on June 11, 2010 at 7:32 pm

        There used to be a kids book about how to clean (no clue of the titel and it's probably out of print anyway) and one of the recommendations for cleaning out a child's room was to get 3 bags/baskets/whatever and label them 'keep' 'trash' 'room'. Then trash went into one bag, everything that was belonged somewhere was went in the 'keep' bag, and everything that belonged in the room but was misplaced went in the 'room' bag. Then once the 'cleaning' was done, the room bags items were put away, trash bag thrown out, and keep bag's items distributed to the appropriate rooms. The problem was I always always real good about putting things in the bags, just not so good and doing something with them later (still have that problem – i'm looking at about 6 shopping bags full of 'stuff' that needs to be organized sitting in my living room right now.

        • HeatherSolos on June 11, 2010 at 8:29 pm

          If the stuff has been in bags for a few months and you aren't missing it in your day-to-day life, you can probably donate most of it. Obviously do a quick sort to reclaim any family treasures, but if you don't use it and you don't miss it, don't keep it.

    • Carol M. on June 11, 2010 at 3:48 pm

      It must be in our blood. My husband tells me I clean like I have ADD all the time. No wonder I never get anything completed!

  6. Anna B on June 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you so much! As a 'still trying to learn what a good housekeeping routine looks like' gal, this helps give me permission to go one step at a time. (God already tries to give me that permission when I pray, too, but I'm such a driven person!)

    I have found that for me, cleaning one room a day is much easier than trying to do all the dusting or vaccuming at one time. I am easily distracted and always see additional things to do in a room, so when I confine myself to a smaller space it works out much better!

    • HeatherSolos on June 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      Routines are great, once a baseline has established. I've noticed a lot of people seem to stress over how to get to that baseline.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.