How to Downsize When You’re Overwhelmed

After 15 years of being a homemaker, I’ve discovered awesome strategies for how to downsize when you’re overwhelmed. Today I’m going to share my best 5 with you and I hope they help!

A beautiful bright living room after photo completely decluttered of 70% of our belongings. No messy piles, clean lines. Beautiful vintage and antique furniture and an ikea couch.
Our living room after it had gone through a brutal decluttering process. Years in the making.

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One day about 7 years ago I sat looking around my house and saw nothing but piles. With 2 little kids, pregnant with my 3rd, and still working full-time. Looking around I felt suffocated. There was stuff literally everywhere. Somewhere along the road, I had started collecting things to make myself feel better. I was in emotional turmoil and it showed in my home. And mentally it feels impossible to downsize when you’re overwhelmed.

We also have generous family members that like to shower us with gifts continuously. Our kid’s bedrooms were overflowing. I wanted to train them to care for their things and to put them away. But I was overwhelmed and of course, a 6 and 3-year-old would be too. How could I ask them to do something that gave me anxiety?

I could literally feel myself starting to resent motherhood. And I had never felt that way before. Being a mother is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done and I love it. But I was sabotaging myself by allowing things to get out of hand. I was also playing the game of looking at those gorgeous Instagram feeds and feeling inadequate.

Finally, I realized I needed to lower the inventory in my home, seriously. But I wasn’t sure how to do that on my own. So, I created a group on Facebook for like-minded mothers in similar situations as mine. I needed community, support, and dare I say, cheerleaders. We were all asking the question how do you downsize when you’re overwhelmed?

a messy living room with an overwhelming mess of toys and children's things all over the floor
My living room during the worst part of the process.

Trying To Downsize When You’re Overwhelmed Is So Much Harder When You’re Alone

1. Find, Join, or Create A Support System

It’s so much less overwhelming when there is someone there to even just bounce things off of. Someone to help you get rid of things and talk you through the process. Or just to be there with you as you navigate it yourself.

It’s always been my motto everything is more fun when you do it together. Find a buddy and keep each other accountable. Hold each other’s hand.

And if you aren’t in a position to do that fake it. There have been plenty of days when I put on a YouTube video and pretended this was my community. Find a few YouTube downsizing, cleaning & organizing channels and immerse yourself in that mentality. Birds of a feather after all and iron sharpens iron.

The Battle Starts in Your Mind

2. Change the Way You Think

“What kind of mother just makes her children get rid of their toys?” I asked myself. The answer to that question is the best kind. She learns how to ask questions in the right way. It isn’t about getting rid of their things but helping them make good decisions, intentional decisions. I needed to learn how to reframe my thoughts. I needed to learn how to be intentional myself.

Downsizing isn’t about limiting yourself or your future self. And it definitely isn’t about forcing yourself to live without things you love. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s stripping everything away but the things you love. Focus. Intent. And learning to make concise decisions with practice and training your mind to think differently.

We see so much value in stuff. But what of the value of our time, peace of mind, relationships, and enjoying motherhood?

A Mind In Chaos Can’t Declutter Efficiently

3. Start by Dividing up your house on paper

This is the best strategy I used in beginning (and continuing this journey through the years). I needed something physically written down that I could oh so satisfyingly check off. So, take a piece of paper, a pen, and write down every single piece of furniture, space, drawer, cabinet, surface & shelf room by room.

Example: Master Bedroom, 1. My side table, 2. Spouses side Table, 3. Under the bed, 4. My desk, 5. Shelves (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), 6. My Hanging Clothes, 7. Mantel

This breaks it down into much smaller bites. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And it’s also helpful because as a mother of 5 kids I need to be able to stop after 10-15 minutes if needed and know where I left off. I don’t have the ability to focus for an entire day or week as awesome as that would be to have.

Gain Control, Tell Each Item Where to Go

4. Get a bin/bag for these categories: Trash, Give Away, Put Away

When I sit down to get serious about a room I usually have a container for trash, give away, and a container for all the things that don’t belong and need put away. And I keep them within arms reach. You can find me scooching around the floor as I move from area to area. I completely clean one area and then move on.

Having these 3 bags, boxes, or bins with you while you do this is the best way to ensure you aren’t making a huge mess for yourself later. Don’t get me wrong, you will make a mess, but this will limit it at least.

When your bag, bin, or box is full take care of it. If it’s trash, take it out to the curb. If they’re donations, immediately load them in your car. And if it’s stuff where it doesn’t belong, start putting it away. Don’t move on until these things are taken care of.

Living room and entryway cluttered with piles of toys and buckets of stuff before I downsized
A terrible phone photo (sorry) of a process shot.

If you’re enjoying this post make sure to check out, 5 Reasons to Declutter Your Master Bedroom.

No Room For Sabotage, Give “Stuff” An Immediate Eviction

5. Get donations out of your house as quickly as possible

If your situation is anything like mine is your children will start digging through your bags and boxes and before you know it all your hard work will disappear into a pile of mess. So, get them out of your house now. If that isn’t possible and you have the ability to use a box, tape it up. Or lock it all in a room that isn’t accessible to little hands.

But even if you don’t have children, you may be tempted to go through it and take a few things out. So, it really is best to just eliminate that by dropping it off quickly.

A back view with a couch, walls, and floor covered in visual and actual clutter before I downsized
A shot of the backside of the living room, progress shot.

PS. Don’t forget to eat & drink

It’s completely feasible that you will get caught up in it once you start, it happens to me all the time. And suddenly I will get hit with a major headache or exhaustion. If you think about it you will realize you forgot a meal, or two, and you haven’t been drinking anything. For obvious reasons, this is detrimental to the process. Bring a water bottle with you to wherever you’re working & sustenance. Better yet, just set a timer for meals and stick to it. Your brain needs food. You will get decision fatigue, but it will come much faster if you are working on empty.

Do you have any tips or tricks on how to downsize when you’re overwhelmed you can add to this? Leave them below in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

How to Downsize When You're Overwhelmed Ebook Photos, Free PDF Download

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In the last decade, I have easily gotten rid of 80% of the stuff that was in the house. So I feel qualified to tell you that drastically downsizing is doable. The best way to do it is to create a plan of attack, room by room. Be as brutal as you absolutely can. You won’t get it in the first or second sweep. The idea is to make this an intentional regular part of your monthly routine. Once you get through your whole house, rest, then go back around again with fresh eyes. Limit yourself in categories to an amount or a specific space (bin, container, box, drawer, etc.) This helps you make harder decisions by creating a line you can’t cross.

The trick to downsize when you’re overwhelmed is to understand, generally speaking, overwhelm is the symptom, and too much stuff to keep track of is the disease. You work through it to eliminate it.

Overwhelm is just your brain telling you there is too much for it to process. But with practice, time, and intentionality you will eliminate enough and train your brain to problem solve much more efficiently. It’s also important to stay positive. Even if your situation seems impossible, I promise you it isn’t. Make a good plan of attack, get a support system, and take reasonable steps habitually to change your situation.

Create a safe space. For me, I had to completely empty and create one space where I could feel in control and see enough blank space that my mind could rest. There is such a thing as visual clutter and it is exhausting. I chose to complete my master bedroom to be a haven and my living room as my absolute control space. The kids’ bedrooms can be filthy, but as long as the living room (my domain) is clean I can handle overwhelming situations with much more ease. Find an area where you are in control.

Get a quick win. Find the place in your home where you feel the least emotionally attached to things. The place that would make the biggest bang for your time, the biggest impact on your daily life. For me, it was laundry and dishes. I started in my own and my kid’s laundry because it was the easiest for me to see a win. And with fewer dishes and laundry to keep up on I had more time to commit to the rest of the house.

What are you the least attached to? Where would it make the biggest impact to have it streamlined? The quickest return, the least mentally draining to check it off your list? Start there.

My Favorite Inspiration for Downsizing & Minimizing

If you have some favorites I’d love for you to leave them below in a comment so I can add them to the list!

I truly hope and pray that these 10 strategies on How to downsize when you’re overwhelmed will help you on your journey to creating a home you enjoy and feel at peace in.

Thanks for stopping by!


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→

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. Love all these tips! I’m about to move so I seriously need to sift through all our stuff. I’ll be reading this post again right before I start packing!

  2. These are great tips Julie! It’s so easy to collect things as the years go by and never edit them down. We lived in several apartments over the years, ranging in sizes, and I found we always managed to expand to fill the space we had. That part is easy – it’s the editing and downsizing that’s a lot harder.

    1. Absolutely! When we moved in we had hardly anything but in such a short amount of time (and adding two more kiddos) the mass took over without me even realizing it. And for me, it was the decision fatigue that was the hardest.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. This post is SO good! I love it. Decluttering has been such a huge tool for me in reducing stress. And moving and downsizing is such a great opportunity for doing that. It’s also a good thing to do on a regular basis! My husband and I just spent a whole day a few weeks ago decluttering and our house feels SO much better! Also, I love the Minimal Mom!! So glad you linked her.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I agree about the moving and downsizing. I have found even asking myself the question “if I was moving would I want to pack this and lug it somewhere else?” was really helpful in making hard decisions. Because really if you’ve even moved once you know how much work it is!

      Yes, I love Dawn!

  4. Wonderful article Julie! I found Dawn, the minimal mom about two and a half years ago and all I can say it downsizing/decluttering has been life changing. It is an ongoing process, but extremely rewarding.

    1. I absolutely agree. I totally wish she’d been around earlier! But she still helps keep me in line. Thank you so much for your kind words!

  5. I can definitely relate to this. I have purchased a small home but I realized I have too much stuff. I will definitely be using your tips.

  6. Yes! Such a great post. I love how you said, what mom gets rid of kid’s toys? The best kind. Very true. If momma is overwhelmed then things need to change. Thanks for showing the in process photos.

  7. These are really great tips. You’re right, getting a quick win can make all the difference in keeping up the momentum. I also like that you’ve included your inspiration recommendations. I participated in Allie Cassazza’s ‘Declutter Like a Mother’ challenge and it was an awesome experience. I will definitely check out the other folks on your list. Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, absolutely. Her challenges are life changing. You should definitely check out The Minimal Mom. Dawn is a great encourager.

  8. Great post & very informative. I have a hard time with clutter as well & it overwhelms me so much. I am constantly donating or giving away what is not being used. Love your tips!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am the same way as well. I’m always looking at things out of place and asking “do I actually need this?” Most of the time it just finds it’s way into a donate bag! Thank you again!

  9. Great tips! We are moving and I’ve tried to purge as I pack. The overwhelm is real. I start strong then end up laying on the floor asking why.

    1. I have spent many an afternoon or evening surrounded by piles of drudgery asking the very same question. Thank you so much for your comment.

  10. I am a mom of 6, so I understand how much stuff can come into the house. Love your perspective and practical steps to make it happen. “We see so much value in stuff. But what of the value of our time, peace of mind, relationships, and enjoying motherhood?” Right on target!

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