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Home Page => Organize => Clutter Control => How to Clean up a Really Big Mess
Related Articles: Daily Household Clutter - 4 Secrets to Take Control | Curb Clutter at Home

How to Clean up a Really Big Mess
by Nina Newton

Seems like I thought it was just common sense, or something that everyone was born knowing. But then I've been wrong before . . . . and I got this one wrong, for sure! I've been a wife and a mom for a long time, and over the years I've observed the "I Don't Have a Clue Where To Start" syndrome whenever you ask a husband or a child to clean up a mess. I've watched them wander around, mumbling and whining, with shoulders slumped and head hanging down, tripping over stuff and kicking things. I've even observed my children look at me with that stunned look (like I just asked them to crawl across hot coals to get to their popsicle), and then sit right down in the middle of a mess. Like that's going to work!

We moved into this house last October, threw everything in the garage (it's pretty big) and just took inside what we could find, what we needed, or what the kids thought they couldn't live without. You know, things like the "My Favorite Princess" puzzle with ten pieces missing . . . . . and the Dora doll with no hair. Stuff like that. And of course, our Daddy needed his salad shredder, George Forman grill, and the TV remote. Me, all I needed was the stuff for my sewing studio, some clothes, and a couple pair of shoes. I'm a pretty low-maintenance chick.

Well, maybe we did need the shampoo and deodorant, underwear, and some food. But that's about it. Back in October. And then it got cold. Really cold, all winter here in the midwest, and so not much stuff moved from out in the garage to inside the house. But a bunch of "junk" (where the heck did THAT come from???) got thrown out into the garage, because we would grab whatever was deemed unworthy of remaining inside the house, dash out to the garage and toss it into the closest empty space. And then run, shivering, back inside the house.

So, now it's May, and it is warm, and it's time to clean up that mess and have a garage sale. Which is going to happen this weekend when the whole neighborhood is planning to have a community sale. Can't put it off much longer! So, here are my observations, and some advice, if you are facing the daunting task of Cleaning Up a Really Big Mess:

1. Don't wander around, and definitely don't sit down in the middle of all of the junk. Get started!

2. Pick something up. Anything, just pick it up. And make a decision: Keep it, trash it, or get rid of it.

3. OK now that you're moving (a little bit) the first thing that will really help you feel like you are making progress, is to get a bunch of trash bags. Yep, trash bags. Because lots of the "stuff" that we keep actually should have been tossed in the trash can months ago.

4. Pick up everything you can see that you know is trash .. . . . in our case, since we packed to move across the country, there was lots and lots of packing paper and tape. Just throw it away. Don't move it from one pile to another, just throw it away. And when the trash bag is full, close it up and put it OUTSIDE of where you are working. This is very important!

5. Keep those trash bags handy, because every time you open another box or look under the bed, or open a cupboard, you will probably find MORE trash. Why do we do this? I saw a TV program once about people who are addicted horders. I think that is what they were called . . . .. people who keep everything, until they are so overwhelmed by stuff that they have a breakdown, or have to move out of their house, or whatever nasty consequences might come from drowning in all of your old junk.

6. Now, take a deep breath and go get a cup of coffee or a soda, or whatever. Because this next step is really important to making this job a success.

7. Start in one corner or one side of whatever you are cleaning: a bedroom, a kitchen, a garage, a sewing room, the garden, your yard . . . . it works no matter what you are trying to clean up and organize.

8. Move EVERYTHING out of that corner or that side of whatever you are cleaning. In our case, it was the garage, so we started by moving everything out of one corner (from the corner out about 10' on each side, because you don't want too big of an area that you get overwhelmed) - just move it anywhere OUT of that corner. If you need to wash walls, vacuum, sweep, wash windows, or paint, now is the best time to do that.

9. NOW you have ONE place that is cleaned up . . . . . and you can move shelves into that area (after you take everything off of them, of course!), or put up hooks, or hang pictures or curtains, or whatever your project requires. Then, once you have the shelves, hooks, or other storage in place in your nice, clean corner, you can begin to tackle ONE pile at a time.

10. Begin to sort through one pile, one box, one bag, whatever you have, and again make some decisions. If it is TRASH, throw it away (FAR away, out of the room where you are working). If you want to get rid of it but it is still too good to throw in the trash, get a box or a bag and mark on it: "Garage Sale" or "Thrift Shop" or "Salvation Army." Then as you come across stuff to get rid of, place it in the box or bag. And set that outside of your working area, too!

11. Finally, if you want to keep it and you need it everyday (then why is it in this mess in the first place?), put it in your closet or your dresser drawer or wherever it belongs. If it is something to keep but not necessarily use everyday, put it on a storage shelf in your garage or basement, or storage room.

12. There! Now, you have one corner cleaned out and orderly. Now you need to move to the next corner and repeat the process. I know that there will probably be "stuff" that you aren't sure about. Don't let that slow you down! Put it in ANOTHER box marked "Sort This Again Later" or something like that. Otherwise you might go into Brain Overload and that ALWAYS leads to wandering around with the "I Don't Have a Clue Where To Start" syndrome. And mumbling to yourself.

It might be a good idea to take a nap after you get one corner finished, so you are all rested up to tackle the next corner. But in any event, this process works, and will minimize your tendency to sit down in the middle of the mess and order a pizza. Happy Spring Cleaning!

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