How to Clean a Very Messy Home – Step by Step

The dream is a clean house, but many of us struggle in some way or another on a regular basis. It can feel overwhelming trying to control a cluttered filthy house. The good news is you can clean a very messy home and it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Check out this step-by-step guide with clear simple steps to help you get your whole house in order.

Dirty and cluttered oak antique washstand as a bedside table in my master bedroom. How to clean a very messy house, start with the easy things like trash and dirty dishes.

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First Step Forward – Find a Starting Point

Chances are your entire house wasn’t destroyed in a single day, so don’t expect it to be cleaned in a day either. But you can make a significant step forward and fuel yourself for the rest of the house.

Remember, whether you’ve got a household full of family members, you’re a single mom with young kids, or you’re alone living in a messy house, there is hope. And you aren’t alone in the struggle!

Please take a deep breath and let’s strategize the best place for you to start on this journey.

3 Strategies to Achieve a Clean and Organized Home

There are a few beneficial strategies that you can choose from when it comes to cleaning, downsizing, and organizing. So let’s make some clear goals and pick the best way to tackle your messy home.

01 Pick the Hardest Room or the Hardest “Area”

Choosing to attack the worst spot in the house, the biggest trouble area, to clean is a great way to start off with a bang. Cleaning the most disgusting mess in your home is a surefire way to gain self-confidence and drive to keep going. It will also help you feel the benefits of a clean room immediately.

However, if you’re already feeling particularly overwhelmed this may not be the best solution for your situation.

02 Pick the Easiest Parts of Your House for a Quick Win

If you just need a win, the best thing you can do is go for the easiest least emotional spot to get through.

For me, the biggest and most noticeable win is to clear all the flat surfaces. Clearing some visual clutter will help you regain a little bit of mental health so can fight again tomorrow.

A few other great quick wins you could choose are:

  1. Pick up the floors. Clean floors are another flat surface for a quick win.
  2. Gather the laundry. At least creating piles of laundry is a direction towards getting rid of all the dirty laundry that may or may not be sprinkled around your home like glitter.
  3. Do a single load of laundry. A win is a win. Even if it doesn’t get you a completely clean laundry room, one less pile of dirty clothes is progress.
  4. Clean your dishes. Clean dishes are probably one of my favorite things to have accomplished. I may not have a perfectly clean kitchen, but having the sink and kitchen counters cleared of gross dishes makes me happy. It’s a simple thing to be proud of.
  5. Go through your junk drawer. Small things and easily tackled spaces are key here. Just make sure everything in that drawer has a designated place. Decide what types of things should be in there and eliminate everything else.

03 Make a Comprehensive List of Every Room and Area, Set a Timer, and Go

This was the strategy that ultimately worked for me. I was able to downsize 75% of my household possessions by simply being as logical and emotionally detached as possible.

  • Make a list of every room.
  • Then make a list of every piece of furniture in those rooms.
  • Then narrow it down further by making a list of each drawer, or storage space in each piece of furniture.

Once you have your comprehensive list created it’s time to set a 5, 10, or 15-minute timer. Choose what you think you can handle to start and go from there.

Try to understand if you’re under a pretty heavy load of inventory the downsizing part of this process is probably going to be an onion you’ll have to peel away, layer by layer.

Watch this on Youtube:

3 Simple Steps to Get You Started

Hopefully, at this point, you’re raring to go. But before you charge right into the thick of it let’s set you up for success. The next step is to gather some supplies.

1. Gather Your Supplies

  • Trash Bag or two
  • Empty Laundry Basket
  • Cleaning Supplies: Mop, Bucket, Microfiber Cloth, Paper towels, Glass Cleaner, All Purpose Spray, Wood Cleaner, Bathroom Cleaner, and Rubber Gloves
  • Vacuum
  • A Few Empty Containers: Boxes, Organizational Bins, Baskets, etc.

2. Get the Whole Family on Board

This is the fastest way to cross the finish line. They may not all be ready to go minimalist, but they can help you achieve order at least to start. Elicit the muscle and brain power of your older kids (if you have them!), but even little kids can be helpful.

And if they’re not used to this kind of cleaning task or hard work, there’s a first time for everything.

Once you move onto bedrooms you might check out this post 16 Cleaning Tips for Overwhelmed Teens.

3. Make it Enjoyable

It’s a good idea to help this experience be a positive one with a little bit of fun. One of my favorite things to do is to put on music I love to sing along to, it makes time feel like it’s going by quickly. But a few other great ideas to make cleaning a very messy room fun are to put on:

  1. Favorite Music. Or better yet, make your own cleaning tracklist.
  2. Interesting Podcast.
  3. Favorite Movie. It’s important to not use this tactic if you or your family is drawn to television like a moth to a flame. I personally like to put on YouTube in the background, preferably a cleaning channel.

2 Best Tips – How to Clean a Very Messy House

Now you’ve chosen your strategy and gathered your supplies and your troops it’s time to get started. But where do you start?

Step One – Pick a Room

Ask yourself a few questions if you don’t immediately know where you should start.

  1. What is the biggest problem area of my house?
  2. Which area would get me the biggest win if it was clean, downsized, and organized?

An area that comes to mind immediately when I think of my own home is my living room. It’s literally the first place I start every single time. The second space is my master bedroom and I wrote a post all about the reasons why in 5 Reasons to Declutter Your Master Bedroom.

Cleaning, Downsizing, Organizing

You can choose to simply clean the mess, but chances are you will burn out trying to keep up with it. Because what you really need to do is downsize, organize, and clean in that order.

Most of the issues we have in our homes and the biggest thing keeping us from a tidy house and organized home, is we own a lot of stuff. Like way too much stuff. Therefore if we are drowning in the household inventory the first logical step is to eliminate some of that mountain we’re under.

Cleaning Order of Operations

There is a logical order to establishing an uncluttered house.

  1. Downsize. First, eliminate excess using Kon Mari, the Minimalist game, or use the help of The Minimal Mom on YouTube to help you get through it.
  2. Organize. After you’ve dropped inventory now you’re onto creating an organizational system with storage solutions for what possessions are left. Everything needs a home.
  3. Clean. Now comes creating that home environment by creating a cosie, comfortable space, you and your family can enjoy. Putting into practice a daily cleaning routine for you and your family to follow to maintain all your hard work.

Step Two – Create a System

After you’ve chosen a room and evaluated where to start in cleaning, downsizing, or organizing, it’s time to create a system for maintenance.

You’re going to need to know what needs to be done in your household on a daily basis. And then what needs to be on a weekly cleaning schedule or monthly routine.

Daily Cleaning Routine vs Monthly Routine

At this point in the process, you’re going to think about what is functioning well in your household and what is dysfunctional. And create a routine based on those observations. The biggest problem areas (piling up laundry) will likely be in a daily routine while the less critical issues may be fine to put on a monthly list.

But as a good rule of thumb, this system or routine is pretty good to start. You may find over time that things need adjusting and that’s ok, too. Each household has its own unique needs, flows, and seasons.

Daily Routine

A few things I prioritize daily include:

  1. Laundry. I make an effort to try to at least do 1 load of laundry a day for my family of 7.
  2. Dishes. And a general kitchen tidy.
  3. General “tidy”. Like putting shoes away, picking up trip hazards, etc. These are typically done throughout the day as well as at the end of each day.

Weekly Routine

A few things I try to get to weekly include:

  1. Bathrooms
  2. Vacuuming
  3. Bedrooms

Monthly List

Typically anything that is obviously piling up or has been forgotten, or pushed aside for any other reason is what gets put on this list. So, it tends to change monthly depending on how much we had going on that month.

At the end of the month take a look around your house and observe and ask yourself this question, What has been forgotten?

A General System for Cleaning Each Room Quickly

Remember it’s always best to start on the least emotional aspects of each space first. This is the order that works best in my household, but feel free to adjust the order or even switch out steps for your own family.

01 Eliminate the Trash

This is a great place to start because typically it’s easy to see what is obvious trash like food wrappers. I personally carry around a small trash bag as I make a sweep of the room I’m working in. When that gets full I empty it in the main trash can and go back in for more, if I need to.

02 Gather Dirty Dishes

And if you’re working in the messy kitchen first, this still works perfectly in this order. I have my kids gather all the dirty dishes first. Then I stack them up and have my own system for speed cleaning dishes.

If you aren’t currently cleaning the kitchen just have the dishes stacked by the sink for later.

03 Gather the Dirty Laundry

If the washing machine isn’t currently in a cycle the lid is up in our house which signals everyone to put their dirty laundry in it until it’s full. However, this isn’t a perfect system and we still have to go through each room and put the laundry in a basket.

Once the machine is full I start a load immediately. This is an exception I make when it comes to not switching in the middle of a task. Simple because it’s quick and easy to start or switch a load and go back to what I was doing.

04 Collect Things That Don’t Belong

The next logical step in my cleaning system is to then take a container and gather everything that does not belong in that room. First I gather, then I redirect it to the room it actually belongs.

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05 Clear the Floors and Flat Surfaces

Typically after you’ve eliminated the trash, dirty dishes, laundry, and rehomed what didn’t belong there isn’t much left in either of these places. But I also take this opportunity to actually clean these surfaces with a homemade all-purpose cleaner and a microfiber rag.

I also take this opportunity to pick up anything in the way of vacuuming, which is the next step.

06 Sweep, Vacuum, and Mop

This is when all the good smells start to take effect. And the tidy home underneath all the clutter, dust, and grime starts to become noticeable.

  1. Sweep. I like to sweep everything into a big pile, pick up big pieces of trash, and vacuum the piles up.
  2. Vacuum. I have a loving relationship with my 40-gallon wet/dry vacuum and use it frequently to efficiently suck literally everything up that gets in its way. It’s my favorite cleaning “tool”.
  3. Mop. At the very end, I fill up my mop bucket with hot water, vinegar, and a little bit of dish soap.

07 Tidy the Room

These are the finishing touches in every room. When you put things that belong in that room in their homes where they belong. Shoes in the shoe bin, coats hung up, blankets folded, couch pillows fluffed and put on the couch (they’re typically on the floor!), etc.


To clean a very messy home start in the least emotionally charged area. Something easy to focus on like trash, dirty dishes, and gathering dirty laundry into one location.

Another good strategy is to look at your biggest struggle area and work on that so you can see benefits quickly.

  • Take Before Photos.
  • Make a list of every room, piece of furniture, drawer, basket, etc.
  • Start with a 5-15 minute timer.
  • Go through your list one area at a time.
  • Choose the most problematic area, the least emotional, or an area that will give you the quickest win.

There are a couple of good areas you can start with:

  1. An area that will give you the biggest benefit when cleaned, downsized, and organized.
  2. The easiest area to clean for a quick win.
  3. The hardest area, to get it out of the way first.

How to clean a very messy house, I chose to start in my master bedroom because it gives me the most peace when the task is finished. It's important to have an area where you can relax when the work is done.
How to Clean a Very Messy Home – I choose to start in my Master Bedroom every time because it is the area that gives me the most benefit when it’s clean. I can come and rest in a visually less overwhelming space. Which refuels me for the fight.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope I have equipped you with the tools, wisdom, and systems to help you clean a very messy home one step at a time.



Meet the Author

Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→


  1. Awesome tips! I like the idea of picking a room to start with. I’m usually bouncing all around and it feels overwhelming. Thanks for the suggestions!

    1. You’re welcome! I used to do the exact same thing and noticed that at the end of the day it looked like I didn’t do anything! lol Now I try to concentrate my efforts so I can see a visible difference. Good luck!

  2. Your very first tip describes both my motivation and struggle in helping keep our home clean. I try to pick a big task, like cleaning up our kitchen after my wife goes to bed so she gets a feeling of relief in the morning but then I’ll pick a big task that really should be broken into small tasks, I.e. cleaning the garage to be able to park our vehicle, and get really discharged when I can’t complete it so your tip about emotional connection with some areas is so important and not something I’ve been conscious of in the past but need to keep in mind more

    1. Absolutely. I feel like things we’re emotionally attached to are 10x harder to go through mentally. I kind of see it as like food, junk is quick to go through us, but really hearty things take their time.

  3. *oof* Did you somehow see inside my home? Actually it’s not so bad in the “public areas” but after a VERY busy summer, there are rooms that I don’t let anybody into until I tackle them. When I’m super busy, I ignore areas of my home and eventually I need to face them again. But face them I will! Thanks for this helpful, informative post!

    1. You’re very welcome! We all have those hidden areas… mine aren’t so hidden right at the moment for the same reason as yours! haha We will get them eventually!

  4. This is great! And I 100% agree to always enjoy a podcast, audiobook, or music while cleaning! It goes so much faster that way!

  5. Wow, you provide such practical and thorough information! What a beautiful home you have! This is even more important for us as we live in such a small space. Not many places to hide stuff and keep things untidy.

    1. Thank you very much. I have been on quite the journey with it. Our home started out huge for our family and now is quite small! It’s funny how that works.

    1. I needed this after a very overwhelming summer as a family of 5 in a small space. We bought a house over a year ago and opted for a short term rental while it was being built. One year later and still no house. Small space, unpacked boxes, and storage units has been our norm. Overwhelmed is an understatement.

      Thank you for the very practical tips. Strategizing the clean by detailing every room, piece of furniture, drawer etc, somehow spoke to my soul. The thought of the strategy to execution has already put me at ease. Thank you for this.

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