Inside: Learn how to create a decluttering checklist that beats overwhelm and gets quicker results in less time.

What a mess! Eight months pregnant, I stood in the doorway of the baby’s room.

Clutter blanketed the floor wall to wall, making the ancient shaggy blue carpet barely noticeable.

Being the smallest bedroom in our home, we had been using it as a storage closet. It was a black hole — things went in but never came out.

I shuddered at the thought of cleaning out the mess and kept putting it off for another day.

So I did the thing any savvy pregnant lady would do when faced with insurmountable obstacles: I delegated the task to my husband.

He requested free reign to sort and throw out as he pleased. He didn’t allow me to so much peek into the room until he was completely finished, lest I rescue a beloved but broken item from the trash.

But what do you do if you’re not eight months pregnant and married to a magical decluttering wizard who will go to any length to comfort his ailing wife?

That’s where the decluttering checklist comes in.

The easiest way to declutter when you’re overwhelmed

Since then, I figured out a system to decrease overwhelm when it came to decluttering. As a stay-at-home mom, I became the default CEO of decluttering.

A decluttering checklist is a to-do list that helps you determine what you need to do to create a space you love.

Here’s the problem most people run into: they write down big projects as a to-do item.

On a sheet of paper, you write “Clean out office,” “Declutter kitchen,” or “Clean up the explosion of toys.”

The problem is, each of these items requires a day or more of uninterrupted time. We all know that’s never going to happen.

Instead, we need to break these giant projects into small, manageable tasks that take 15 minutes or less.

Break down a large project

Let’s focus on breaking down a project into the smallest possible actions. Therefore, “Declutter makeup drawer” becomes:

  • Find two shoeboxes.
  • Empty all makeup into one of the shoeboxes.
  • Spray drawer and wipe up the makeup residue.
  • Go through box one by one. Is it older than one year?
    • Yes: Throw it out.
    • No: Put it in the other box.
  • Sort makeup into categories on the counter (eyeshadows, foundations, blushes, etc.).
  • Go through each category and pick out favorites. Throw out rest.
  • Put favorites back in makeup drawer.

Let’s say your child, your dog, or the millionth notification from Facebook interrupts you halfway through and you never get around to cleaning out the entire makeup drawer.

The first checklist (“Declutter makeup drawer”) says you failed. However, the second list with the small, manageable items, says you’ve made progress towards a simplified and easy to manage makeup drawer.

Focus on progress, not perfection

You see, the more we break down a project into small, manageable items, the more we focus on progress and not perfection. And the more we feel warm fuzzies from accomplishing these small goals, the more we want to keep chipping away at that list.

Think of those thermometer diagrams fundraisers use to illustrate their goal and how much they’ve collected so far.

Let’s say an animal shelter is trying to raise $20,000 to buy new beds and toys for their dogs. At the end of the fundraiser, they raised $18,236.75.

Which illustration would make you more excited about the fundraiser?

Fundraiser to-do list: Raise $20,000. FAILED.


"Thank you! Together, we raised $18,236.75 for the animal shelter!"

In both cases, the animal shelter fell short of their initial goal to raise $20k.

But the second diagram acknowledges all the amazing progress the donors made. Furthermore, it gets people excited about the progress and encourages them to donate more.

Related: Here’s 5 quick tips to declutter your life.

How to create a decluttering checklist: in 4 easy steps

Here’s how to create a decluttering checklist that crushes overwhelm immediately:

  1. Pick a project area.
  2. Brain dump.
  3. Break it down.
  4. Break it down, again.
Learn how to create a decluttering checklist that beats overwhelm and gets quicker results in less time.

1. Pick a project area.

First, let’s pick a project area. Maybe it’s decluttering your makeup drawer, organizing your linen closet, or cleaning out your clutter catch all room like my home office.

2. Brain dump.

Take a scratch sheet of paper and brainstorm all the things you need to do to create a space you love.

This is not the time for editing. Let the words flow onto the paper as fast as they pop into your head.

3. Break it down.

Let’s break the giant project of cleaning out the office into several smaller, manageable tasks:

  • Declutter desk.
  • Declutter closet.
  • Address unlabeled boxes in the middle of the floor.
  • Go through the pile of random items stacked on the chair.
  • Break down and recycle empty moving boxes.

First, look for quick wins.

What are the things you can get done in 30 minutes or less that would give you a massive sense of progress and accomplishment?

In the example above, that would be breaking down the empty boxes and recycling them.

Not only is this an easy, mindless task, but the boxes are so big that it dramatically improves the room. In a matter of minutes.

Learn more: Need some ideas of quick wins? Here’s 5 clutter busters that make a huge difference with a short amount of time.

Next, take each category and break it down.  

Breaking down the list looks something like this:

Clean out office

  • Declutter desk:
    • Sort through papers piled on top.
    • Create organization for pens.

4. Break it down, again.

Once you’ve broken down the items on your list, go through it again.

Ask yourself, “Does this task take less than 15 minutes to complete?” If the answer is no, break it down more.

Clean out office

  • Declutter desk:
    • Sort through papers piled on top:
      • Throw out trash.
      • Shred private information.
      • Create folder with papers to keep.
    • Create organization for pens:
      • Find a cup to use as a pen holder.
      • Gather pens.
      • Take a piece of scrap paper and test out pens to see which ones work.
      • Throw out pens that don’t work.
      • Put working pens into pen holder.

Excellent! Now we have a list of small, manageable tasks!

But but, my list is now 12 pages long!

In some ways, this may seem much more overwhelming. Instead of having one major project on your to-do list (“Clean out office”), you now may have 100 or more items. Yikes!

But here’s the secret: each of those 100 items is small and manageable and can be done in less than 15 minutes.

A giant project requires an interruption-free day to do all at once, but that will never happen.

On the flip side, if you take 15 minutes every day to tackle one of those 100 items, you’d reach your goal in a little over three months. Just by committing to 15 minutes a day.

Before you know it, you’ll be a magical decluttering wizard who lives in a simplified home.

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Learn how to create a decluttering checklist that beats overwhelm and gets quicker results in less time.

5 Comments on The best decluttering checklist to crush overwhelm immediately

  1. I love lists and being able to cross off each item as it is completed. Thank you for applying this to “housework” as well.

  2. This is such a great idea! I need to declutter my closet but keep avoiding it…now I am going to try and break it down into small tasks (shoes, hanging clothes, baskets..etc.). Thank you for sharing this method!

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