Cleaning Tips When Overwhelmed: Guide to Cleaning in Chaos

Feeling overwhelmed can be a familiar sentiment, especially when faced with a messy home and a daunting to-do list. The sight of cluttered countertops, an overflowing laundry basket, and a sink piled high with dishes can indeed heighten anxiety levels.

If you’re reading and nodding in agreement, here are some practical and innovative cleaning tips when overwhelmed, helping you maintain a clean and clutter-free home (subsequently improving your mental health and overall well-being).

How to Start Cleaning When You’re Overwhelmed

Tiny Tasks

The first step when it comes to getting motivated to clean when you’re overwhelmed by the mess is to start small. And we mean SMALL. Think about where you could start in your house. Now whatever you just thought about starting with, go even smaller!

Start with one tiny thing. One small surface. Don’t try and tackle your whole living room in one go. Start with something like the coffee table or the couch cushions. Or start with something like the sink or the toilet in the bathroom.

The idea is to pick something that won’t take too long or too much effort to clean or tidy up. Something that will give you a quick sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Something that will make a noticeable difference in how the space looks or feels.

Set a Timer

Once you’ve picked something small to start with, set a timer for 15 minutes (or 10 – whatever seems doable!) and tell yourself you only have to clean for those 15 minutes, after which you can stop and do something enjoyable, like watching a TV show or eating a delicious snack.

During those 15 minutes, focus on the task at hand and don’t get distracted by other things that need to be done or other areas that need attention. Just focus on making that one thing as clean or tidy as possible.

When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and admire your work. Give yourself a pat on the back for completing the task. Notice how much better the space looks or feels now that it’s cleaner or tidier.

Reward Yourself

Then reward yourself with something that makes you happy or relaxed. This will reinforce the positive association between cleaning and feeling good.

You can repeat this process as many times as you want or need until you feel like you’ve made enough progress for the day or until you feel like tackling something bigger or more challenging.

The key is to break down the cleaning into manageable chunks that won’t overwhelm you or exhaust you.

woman lugging cleaning supplies upstairs, cleaning tips when overwhelmed

Cleaning Tips For When You’re Overwhelmed

Creating a Cleaning Schedule

If you find it hard to find time or energy to clean, you might benefit from following a schedule that tells you when and what to clean. And, a well-planned schedule can help you break down your chores into manageable chunks.

For example, dedicate Monday to cleaning the living room, focusing on wiping down surfaces, vacuuming, and decluttering the coffee table. On Tuesday, handle the kitchen – clear the counters, load the dishwasher, and wipe down the shelves. With a detailed plan, a seemingly insurmountable pile of chores can be conquered methodically, reducing anxiety and making your home a welcoming, clean space.

Make a list

Sometimes, having a clear plan can help you stay focused and organized when cleaning. You can make a list of the tasks that you want to accomplish, the areas that you want to clean, or the items that you want to sort out. You can also prioritize the list based on urgency, importance, or difficulty. Having a list can help you track your progress, remind you of your goals, and give you a sense of direction.

Or, make it a checklist

Another way to use a list is to create a checklist that you can mark off as you complete each task. This can give you a visual representation of your achievements and motivate you to keep going. You can use a paper checklist, a digital checklist, or even an app that can help you create and manage your cleaning tasks.

Set cleaning reminders

Another way to make sure you don’t forget or procrastinate on cleaning is to set reminders that will prompt you to start or continue cleaning. You can use alarms, timers, calendars, apps, or even sticky notes to remind yourself of your cleaning tasks. You can also use reminders to reward yourself for cleaning or to celebrate your milestones.

The Power of Distraction

Let’s address the mental aspect of feeling overwhelmed. To make cleaning less daunting, pair it with an enjoyable activity. Listen to an engaging podcast, audiobook, or a music playlist to keep your mind entertained (all 3 work for me!). This transforms cleaning from a stressful chore into a productive pastime.

Organizing Your Space

A well-organized space not only looks tidy but also makes cleaning easier. Use drawers, shelves, and closets effectively. Clutter can accumulate on surfaces like countertops, coffee tables, and floors, but with strategic organization, you can maintain tidiness and ease the overwhelm.

Ask for help

Sometimes, the best way to deal with being overwhelmed by cleaning is to ask for help from someone else. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. You can ask for help from your family members, friends, neighbors, or even hire cleaning professionals who can assist you with your cleaning tasks. Asking for help can make cleaning faster, easier, and more enjoyable. It can also strengthen your relationships and make you feel less isolated or lonely.

Maintaining a Clean Home

Maintaining cleanliness is easier than trying to clean a very messy house all at once. Simple tasks like putting dishes straight into the dishwasher instead of piling them in the sink, or promptly disposing of junk mail, can prevent clutter from accumulating. Make a habit of quick daily cleanups, so you’re not left with a hefty load of cleaning to do.

Understanding the Overwhelm

Overwhelm can result from a combination of factors like burnout, mental health issues, a high-stress job, or a sudden influx of housework. It can leave you feeling helpless amidst a pile of chores and an ever-growing to-do list. Cleaning can seem like a mountainous task, but with the right strategies and tools, it can become manageable and even enjoyable.

Why Cleaning Matters

Before we dive into the cleaning tips, let’s talk about why cleaning matters in the first place. You might think that cleaning is just a chore that you have to do, but it’s actually much more than that. Cleaning can have a positive impact on your mood, your health, your productivity, and your quality of life.

Here are some of the benefits of cleaning:

  • Cleaning reduces stress and anxiety. A cluttered and dirty environment can trigger feelings of overwhelm, chaos, and helplessness. It can also make it harder to relax, focus, and sleep. On the other hand, a clean and organized space can create a sense of calm, order, and control. It can also boost your self-esteem and confidence.
  • Cleaning improves your health. A dirty home can harbor dust, allergens, germs, and pests that can cause or worsen allergies, asthma, infections, and other illnesses. Cleaning can help you prevent or reduce these health risks by removing harmful substances from your home. It can also improve your indoor air quality and ventilation.
  • Cleaning enhances your productivity. A messy home can distract you from your work, your hobbies, your goals, and your priorities. It can also make it harder to find what you need, waste your time, and lower your energy levels. Cleaning can help you eliminate these distractions and obstacles by creating a clear and functional space. It can also increase your motivation, creativity, and efficiency.
  • Cleaning improves your quality of life. A clean home can make you feel more comfortable, happy, and proud of your living space. It can also make it easier to invite guests over, enjoy your hobbies, relax, and have fun. Cleaning can help you create a home that reflects your personality, your values, and your aspirations.

How to Balance Cleaning and Self-Care When You’re Overwhelmed

Cleaning is important, but so is self-care. You need to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually while you’re dealing with being overwhelmed by the mess. Here are some tips to help you balance cleaning and self-care when you’re overwhelmed:

  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for having a messy home or for struggling with cleaning. Don’t compare yourself to others who seem to have it all together or who have unrealistic standards of cleanliness. Don’t let the mess define who you are or how you feel about yourself. Don’t pay attention to social media (Guilty!). Remember that you are doing the best you can with what you have (and so is everyone else on the planet).
  • Be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much too soon or by expecting perfection from yourself or your home. Don’t try to clean everything in one day or one week. Don’t try to make your home look like a magazine cover or a Pinterest board. Don’t try to follow every cleaning tip or hack that you see online (even Bogoten’s, because we have a lot). Be realistic about what you can accomplish and what works for you and your home.
  • Be flexible. Don’t be too rigid or strict with your cleaning plans or routines. Don’t let them interfere with your other responsibilities or priorities. Don’t let them stress you out or make you feel guilty if you don’t follow them exactly. Be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances and needs. Be willing to adjust your plans or routines as needed.
  • Be mindful. Don’t let cleaning become a mindless or automatic activity that takes over your life. Don’t let it distract you from the present moment or from the things that matter most to you. Be mindful of why you are cleaning, how it makes you feel, and what it does for your well-being. Be mindful of the process and the outcome of cleaning. Be mindful of the beauty and joy that cleaning can bring into your life.
  • Be grateful. Don’t take cleaning for granted or see it as a burden or a chore. Don’t focus on the negative aspects of cleaning or on what’s still left to be done. I try to think about how I’m grateful I even have the physical ability to walk around my house and clean it.  And, that I’m grateful I have a home to clean.  It sounds like something your parents would have yelled at you when you were a kid, but it does actually help me to look at it through a different lens. 

It sounds like something your parents would have yelled at you when you were a kid, but it does actually help me to look at it through a different lens. 

Conclusion: Cleaning Tips When Overwhelmed

Cleaning a messy house while dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed can seem like a Herculean task. However, by implementing these expert-approved cleaning tips, it is possible to transform an intimidating pile of chores into a manageable and even rewarding endeavor. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection. Each small step you take towards maintaining a clean home can help alleviate feelings of overwhelm, resulting in improved mental health and an enhanced quality of life.


  1. American Psychological Association
  2. National Institute of Mental Health
  3. Environmental Health Perspectives
  4. Harvard Business Review – When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed by Your Workload

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