No matter how clean my house gets, it’s hard to get too comfortable. Because with 4 little kids, I know that it wouldn’t take much for me to look around and find that my house is a disgusting mess.
One tough week and my sparkling clean house can look like it was ransacked by burglars. Burglars who dirtied the laundry, wrote on my walls, raided my fridge and pantry, and left every surface of my home sticky and covered in food.
Because when you have kids, it doesn’t take much for a messy house to feel so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start.
It could be work stress, a new baby, illness, the kids being on a school break, or just life simply getting crazy stressful.
The reality is that when the going gets tough, for most of us the first thing we let slide is our house.
And I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.
You’re not a failure because your house is cluttered and messy. You’re normal. So fantastically, beautifully normal.
(so no beating yourself up, okay?)
But you’re ready to conquer your messy house and find peace and relaxation within the walls of your home.
In this guide, we’re going to get you there. You’re going to learn:
- How to get started even when the mess is overwhelming
- Step-by-step guide to clean a messy house in just one day
- How to keep your house clean from here on out
A note before we dive in: Your goal right now is to tackle as much as you possibly can today and then set up a plan to tackle the rest. Therefore your main focus today is MOMENTUM.
Do not let yourself get buried in any one task. Instead move quickly as you can through the steps and then once your messy house is suddenly feeling a million times better, you can deal with the nitty-gritty.
Remember, done is better than perfect.
That said, let’s get started!
RELATED: A Simple Cleaning Schedule to Easily Keep Your House Clean
HOW TO CLEAN A MESSY HOUSE IN ONE DAY
When your house is a disaster, it can be downright paralyzing. It’s like everything is engulfed in flames and you’re there holding a spray bottle wondering where to aim the nozzle.
So what do you clean first in a messy house? Where do you aim your metaphorical spray bottle?
1. THROW AWAY TRASH
Put a movie on for your kids, open the windows (if the weather permits), and grab a giant trash bag. Then go room to room through your house throwing away absolutely everything that can be thrown away immediately.
Your focus is singular: throw away anything you can without much thought.
- Obvious trash items
- Small crappy toys your kids just leave around everywhere (e.g. fast food kid’s meal toys)
- Junk mail
Once the bag is full, throw it outside and grab another. Repeat until done. This shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes. A few minutes in each room should do it.
Remember, this isn’t deciding whether to keep or purge any significant items. It’s throwing away trash and trash-like items around your house (broken crayons, conference sway, hotel note pads etc.).
If you have to think about it, just leave it for now.
And don’t worry about recycling or donating anything at this point. While I’m 100% all about recycling and being environmentally conscious, when you feel like you’re drowning, it’s about getting your head above the surface so you can actually breath.
You’ll recycle like a champ once you can breathe freely in your house. Right now it’s about relieving the stress that’s gnawing at you.
Once you’ve picked up all the trash, move onto…
2. THE KITCHEN
(1 hour or less)
Oh the kitchen. No room in the house can go from pristine to looking like a Hoarders episode faster than a family kitchen.
But you’re not going to do a deep cleaning of the kitchen. Not right now. Your main goal in the kitchen is to get it clean enough to be hygienic and functional. Clean enough to not feel depressed every time you look at it.
To clean your kitchen:
- Go room-to-room and gather dirty dishes from anywhere in the house
- Throw away anything too overwhelming (if you are completely overwhelmed, this may be what you need to stay sane)
- Rinse and load dishes in dishwasher
- Start dishwasher
- Clear surfaces as best you can quickly
- Wipe down surfaces
- Wash any hand dishes and set out to dry (optional)
- Sweep/vacuum the floor (no mopping yet, but you can spot mop anything truly hideous if it makes you feel better)
It might be tempting to buckle down into some nitty gritty cleaning. Like clearing out the junk drawer or cleaning out your fridge. DON’T DO IT.
Your house is like a person passed out and bleeding on the sidewalk. Let’s stop the bleeding and get her conscious before we paint her toenails.
Once your dishes are clean, surfaces are wiped down, and floors are swept, you can then move on to…
3. THE LAUNDRY
Dirty laundry has ninja-like qualities when it comes to suddenly overwhelming you.
One minute, you think you’re okay. And then suddenly you’re being attacked by growing piles and overflowing laundry hampers. And everyone’s forced to wear their swimsuits because there’s no clean underwear in the house.
Or maybe that’s just me.
But regardless, we’re now going to conquer the piles of dirty laundry from around your house.
Here’s what you’ll do to tackle the laundry today:
- Go room to room through the house and gather every piece of dirty laundry in the house. Don’t forget towels and bathroom rugs.
- Divide into various piles. I like to divide laundry into these popup laundry baskets since they collapse flat and store easily, and keep my piles compact and organized.
- Throw in the first load (I like to start with the pile with the most underwear in it…)
- If you have any piles of clean laundry sitting around, fold and put it away – OR – simply divide it out and stuff it in drawers to deal with later. (Personally, I never fold my kids’ clothes since I’ve found it a waste of time and energy.)
Once you’ve got the laundry rolling along, you can then move onto the next step. But keep an eye on the laundry as you tackle other parts of your house.
You’ll want to take a minute to here and there to move the washed laundry into the dryer and then put a new load into the washer. You’ll deal with the folding and putting away later.
And stay tuned at the end of the post for how to quickly and easily stay up on laundry from here on out.
4. PAPER CLUTTER
It’s now time to tackle all the obnoxious paper clutter from around your house. Here’s what you’ll do
- First, gather ALL paper clutter, bills, etc. from around you house
- Separate into 2 piles: Deal with immediately (ex. bills), deal with later.
- Put the “deal with later” pile away. This way, if you’re looking for a paper, you’ll know where to find it. You can chip away at this in the coming weeks. In the meantime, make sure any incoming papers get added to this pile.
- Pay any outstanding bills.
- Go through the “deal with immediately” pile and do whatever you need to do to knock those things off your plate. If something is going to take a bunch of time and it can wait a few days, put an alert in your phone to deal with it in 2 days and set it aside.
Remember, your goal is to keep the momentum going and tackle as much as you can right now.
So with the papers now taken care of, it’s time to move to…
5. MEAL PLANNING/PLAN GROCERY SHOPPING
Your home is already looking and feeling so much better by this point. It’s now time to buy yourself some time and headspace by getting all your meals for the next week figured out.
You’ll also create your shopping list so that you know exactly what you need to feed your family for this next week.
Here’s what you’re going to do:
- Figure out dinner tonight. Make it something SUPER easy with ingredients you have already. In fact, I highly recommend just grabbing take-out (or ordering pizza delivery) so that you don’t have another mess to clean and you don’t actually have to take time to make anything.
- Plan out simple meals for the next week. I’m sure you want to feed your kids nutritious, organic, homemade foods all the livelong day. But this week, let’s just make it easy. Once we’ve got room to breathe, you can plan some fancier grub. For the next week, let’s just make it as easy as possible. Here’s some awesome free printable meal planners to get started.
- Some easy meal ideas:
- cereal for breakfast
- pita chips, humus, carrot sticks
- frozen pizza
- dinner recipes under 30 minutes
- easy slow cooker meals
- With menu planned, make your grocery list. To simplify life and cut down on future messes, I recommend to adding paper plates and bowls to the shopping list.
- Block out time in the next couple days to do the shopping.
Optional: If you have the service locally, I highly recommend doing either grocery delivery or grocery pickup. This will save a ton of time and stress.
And frankly, your sanity is worth a few bucks. I personally love Walmart grocery pickup—it’s free and saves so much time. And you get $10 off your first order!
RELATED: 100+ Free Printable Meal Planner Printables
6. ROOM-TO-ROOM PICKUP
Now it’s time to start tackling the individual rooms of your house. This is where it may be easy to sucked into some nitty-gritty organizing, but fight the urge. Be strong!
Your goal here is to just get each room picked up and quickly wipe down surfaces. Since you’ve already picked up trash, dishes, and laundry messes from each room, it shouldn’t take long.
In fact, it should just take about 10-15 minutes max for each room. To keep things moving, set a timer each time you start on a room!
To clean each room:
- Pick up any out of place items and quickly put them away. This means all toys into one bin, like items into one drawer etc. If clean clothes are scattered, just make sure they get stuck in the right drawer. Don’t worry about folding or deep organizing yet.
- Wipe down any surfaces. I like to either use Clorox Wipes or a rag/paper towel and Mrs. Meyer’s all-purpose cleaner (it makes everything smell fresh)
- Move to next room and repeat until each room is picked up.
Once everything is picked up and floors are clear, you’re ready to get those floors sparkling.
At this point, your house is really starting to come together. Your house is basically all pickup up and it’s time to get those floors nice and clean.
For me, walking around my house and feeling clean floors beneath my bare feet is one of the best feelings in the world. And you’re almost there!
Here’s what you’ll do to clean your floors:
- Sweep or vacuum any hard flooring. If they’re quite dirty, do it twice. Loose dirt on hard flooring tends to quickly soil any nearby carpet. Don’t worry about the bathroom floors right now. We’ll get there next.
- Once the hard surfaces are clean, vacuum the carpet and rugs. If you have a hose attachment that’s really easy to use (like my vacuum), suck up the grime in the corners, otherwise, don’t worry about it quite yet.
- Mop hard flooring. With tile, I love the Swifter Wet Jet, and with my wood floors, I use this cleaner and this mop.
Can you feel the weight lifting? Can you breath easier and relax more? You should because your home is really looking awesome!
If you’re totally pooped out at this point, skip the next step and move to step 9. Then make a plan to tackle the next step—your bathrooms—first thing tomorrow morning.
But if you’ve still got a little bit left in you (come on, you’re almost there!) and you’re ready to get your entire house clean and organized in one day, then let’s move on!
You’ve got one big task left: the bathrooms. To tackle your bathrooms quickly, you’re going clean them all at the same time. Or if that sound crazy, just follow the steps below for each bathroom.
Don’t worry about cleaning out cabinets or closets—just get the bathroom clean and hygienic.
Here’s what you’ll to clean your bathrooms
- Gather all bathroom cleaning supplies. For example:
- All-purpose bathroom cleaner for sink
- Tub/shower cleaner (I personally love Kaboom because I can just spray, let is sit for a few minutes, and quickly wipe down and it looks pretty dang good)
- Rag and/or scrub brush
- Toilet cleaning liquid
- Toilet scrub brush
- Paper towels and window cleaner for mirrors
- Clear off all surfaces in each bathroom. Make sure sink and tub/shower are ready to be cleaned.
- Spray down tub/shower in each bathroom. Let the cleaner sit for the time being and move to next steps.
- Spray down sink with cleaner and wipe down. Moving from bathroom to bathroom, spray each sink with cleaner. Then go back through wiping them down.
- With a rag or scrub brush, go through each bathroom and wipe down the tub/shower.
- With toilet cleaning liquid in hand, squirt liquid into the toilet and then scrub with toilet brush. Do not flush and let it sit until you’ve finished the other toilets. Move to next bathroom and clean toilet bowl.
- Rinse out toilet brush and put away.
- Then go through and flush each toilet.
- With bathroom cleaner and a rag (or Clorox wipes), wipe down the outside of the bowl and the toilet seat. Repeat for each toilet.
- Sweep and mop floors.
- Clean mirrors.
- Put back any items that belong in shower or sink.
- Put away all cleaning supplies
- Once your laundry load of towels is done, hang clean towels in each bathroom. Or if you have a supply of clean towels in your linen closet, grab those.
Ta-da! The bathrooms are all clean. All ready for your kids to destroy. Just kidding (kind of).
RELATED: Printable Bathroom Cleaning Checklist for Kids
9. FEBREEZE (Optional)
If you don’t have Febreeze, just skip this step and be sure and put it on your shopping list. Because Febreeze is a downright MIRACLE. It actually neutralizes bad smells. It doesn’t cover them up—it gets rid of them.
And it will make your clean house smell and feel about 2x cleaner.
So if you have a bottle handy, take a few minutes and walk through your house and spray Febreeze on your couches, beds and carpet.
HOW TO MAINTAIN A CLEAN HOUSE WITH A SIMPLE CLEANING ROUTINE
Now that your house is clean, you want to keep it that way. And you want to put a plan in place to tackle the little organization projects you’ve got around your house.
To do that, you need to create a simple cleaning schedule so in a week’s time, you’re cleaning all the areas of your house. It doesn’t have to be complicated or take much time.
The key is really to do a little every single day.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a simple cleaning schedule that will keep your house clean in minutes a day.
To keep your house clean, you will want to:
- Block out time daily for cleaning/organizing tasks. I block out a few minutes every morning and evening.
- Follow a cleaning schedule. Create your own, download the one above, or find another online that you like!
- Set non-negotiables. So no matter how tired or stressed out you are, there are certain tasks that you will always do, without exceptions. For example:
- Every evening you start the dishwasher and every morning it gets unloaded. (This keeps kitchen mess so much more manageable.)
- Every evening, you set a timer and do a 10 minute quick clean and clean as much around your house as you can in that time.
- Spend 15 minutes on laundry every day. I have a family of 6, and 15 minutes a day is all I need to stay 100% on laundry. This is time to gather laundry, throw in a load, and fold the load from the previous day. Spend 15 minutes a day and you’ll be amazed.
- Get in the habit of moving items closer to where they belong as you move around your house. This take zero extra time, but will go a long way to keeping your house uncluttered.
RELATED: The 10 Simple Habits That’ll Keep Your Home Clean
For example, this means that if you’ve got something in the kitchen that belongs in an upstairs bedroom, and you’re headed upstairs to—let’s say—the laundry room, you take the item up the stairs. And leave it in the hallway on your way to the laundry room.
It didn’t take you any extra time, but it got that item that much closer to its destination.
Skeptical? Just try it for a few days and you’ll see how much easier it become to keep your house clean.
Some additional tips to keep your house clean:
- Keep a basket on the stairs for items that need to get taken upstairs.
- Enforce chores with your kids and make the responsible for their own messes. I find that no screen time if the house is messy gets kids motivated very quickly!
- Follow the 1-minute rule. If a task takes one minute or less, do it right away. Making this a habit will keep surfaces clean and messes from growing.
- Put on fun music and have a cleaning dance party with your kids. I keep a special playlist of my kids favorite, most energizing songs that I ONLY play when we’re doing a cleaning dance party. It gets them pumped to clean and they associate fun with cleaning. Win-win.
And remember, you don’t have to be perfect—you just have to be consistent. Doing a little bit every single day will go a long way to keeping on top of things, even during crazy hectic seasons of life.
GRADUALLY DECLUTTER YOUR HOUSE
You will also want to create a plan to gradually purge and declutter your house. This is when you’ll really get into the nitty-gritty of organizing your home like going through that stack of papers, cleaning out closets and drawers, and purging all the junk.
The truth of the matter is that the more stuff you have around, the quicker messes appear. Which is why decluttering your house and purging unnecessary items is a solid long-term solution for keeping your house clean and getting it more and more organized.
While there are some really fantastic books on decluttering and purging, you might not have time or energy to read a whole book before diving in.
(If you do, I highly recommend The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Outer Order, Inner Calm. Both are excellent! )
If you want a simple formula, here’s what you can do:
- Make a list of every room in your house
- Every month or every week (depending on your style), focus on one room of you house. In your time blocked out to clean and organize, focus on getting rid of any unneeded items and tackling any organization projects in that particular room.
- Move onto the next room and repeat step 2.
It’s super easy to get overwhelmed with a purging/decluttering project. So break it up, and take it slow. But if you’re consistent, you’re going to notice pretty quickly that things feel less cluttered and more peaceful in your home.
SECRETS TO KEEP YOUR HOME CLEAN
If you want to not only get your home clean but actually KEEP IT THAT WAY, check out The Tidy Home Jumpstart.
In this quick 10-minute training, you’ll learn the 3 things you need to do to keep your home tidy–even when you’ve got kids and no time.
The video & free workbook will help you jumpstart your journey to a house that stays clean even when you have kids and no time.
THE FASTEST WAY TO CLEAN A CLUTTERED HOUSE
And there you have it! You now know to how you can go from feeling like your house is a disgusting mess to—in just a few hours—feeling at peace in your clean and tidy home.
You’ve even got meals planned for the next week! Plus, you now know some and how to keep your lovely home clean and organized with some simple strategies.
CLEAN A MESSY HOUSE CHECKLIST
To make this whole process easier, be sure and download the checklist to clean your messy house in just one day. You can do that below.
You’ve got this!
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The 10 Simple Habits That’ll Keep Your Home Clean
This kind of reminds me of Marie Kondo’s method for decluttering, in the sense that you do it all in one big event instead of trying to do a little here and there and always feel like it’s a losing battle. I feel like cleaning your house this way would be really rewarding, help you really understand the situation your house is in, and give you a lot of motivation to want to maintain it.
I loved this read. Super funny and totally relatable. This one-day routine seems very doable for me. I’m a teacher and my house falls apart at the beginning of the school year when my classroom is coming together. I needed a set plan to get things looking good in my house, fast. This is it. THANK YOU!
I’m so glad you liked it!
I really needed to read this. I will admit that I am terrified to get in this mindset because I am very A-type and my husband and daughter will live under my tyranny for several weeks while we adjust. It will not be fun! We do a lot, small family and small house. Youngest family member is a teen and I homeschool her (and work, often simultaneously). I’m just not a good enough person to keep on cleaning AND doing the normal chaotic routine, and not become very bitter about something like a misplaced spoon. I fear this is in my future 😂
Thank you for the motivation and yeah, the bathing suit underwear thing is very real!
Seriously love this! Currently drowning in laundry and have dedicated today to get caught up on things for the weekend! Thanks so much for your tips and for making me feel less alone in the swimsuit underwear situation 🤣
So glad this was helpful! And yes, the swimsuit-underwear struggle is real 🙂
Thank you so much I’m super excited to get started and love your break down!!! Your comments made me laugh because their all true!!!!
Yay! So glad you found it helpful 😊
I know this post is a little old but I just came across it and want to thank you! Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who falls behind on the house and when it gets overwhelming I don’t know where to begin and I feel like a terrible mom but this not only gives me a do-able plan but boosts my mental health. Thank you thank you!!!
Oh girl, EVERYONE falls behind at some point!
Just found this… have in-laws visiting tomorrow and the house was a bomb site!! Followed it step by step and have done the impossible (well apart from one box room that has been used to hide remaining laundry!)
Yay!!! And WELL DONE LIZ! SO glad it was helpful 🙂
I was reading along and feeling motivated to get started…until I got to “laundry”. Then my panic set in!
I don’t have much trouble keeping dirty clothes washed. But folding and putting them away is where I struggle. I have ADHD and some mild OCD issues. I can walk past a pile of clean laundry for days or even weeks. But, when I fold and put it away it must be PERFECT! All of my clothes are filed into drawers or baskets. I will fold a T-shirt 3 times or more. Its an hours long task for me! It can make a cleaning day shut down! Do you have any advice to help me get through without shoving things into drawers?
I feel you, Nicki. Honestly, the folding is the hardest part for MOST people. For you, this is going to be a mindset game. It’s going to be overcoming the “perfect or nothing” mindset and instead shifting to a “rip the bandaid” mentality. Because in your quest for perfect folding, instead you end up with having to sift through piles of clean clothes to find stuff to wear/use. So “perfect” isn’t working (and it doesn’t work for most everyone because we all have more to do than time to do it). Since most people low-key hate folding clothes, I HIGHLY recommend the rip the bandaid method which is just setting a timer, and doing it for anywhere between 5-15 minutes at a time. Just “ripping the bandaid” and doing some stuff quickly. Because you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in a short amount of focused time. Try and fold a bit every day. You’ll work through it all pretty quickly. You’ve got this.
Oh my God your site came up right away, thank God. I’ve been very I’ll and have two kids with special needs and am purging a bad marriage. I’m trying to dig out of disgusting, and I mean disgusting clutter and feeling pretty hopeless and depressed. Your site made me feel less alone. Luckily yesterday I did a lot to get my main level feeling manageable – started the disgusting upper level and felt, like a horrible human being. Seeing this is giving me the oophm to go back up and just toss the crap – for my sanity.
You are amazing, G. I can’t imagine how much you’re dealing with right now and yet you’re pressing forward and purging the bad and inviting in the good. Way to go.
Thank you so much. You really took the time to stay focused on the task at hand, and in the moment. I have a tendency to get myself very overwhelmed, and split-second fast, so reading this at the same time as I was working on each specific thing in that área, in the moment, real-time, you kept me focused on tasks at hand with your simple reminders. I just wanted to thank you, because I’ve been so overwhelmed, with trying to keep up with my 4 yr old, on top of my clutter building self, and how neither of us EVER put anything back where we found it, which is also never where it originally goes, in the first place, that I have all but forgotten exactly how to maintain my house, in any type of way, except to carry-on with the “any and everything all scattered in dissarray, dang this house is a mess- but ill deal with it later…”, type of lifestyle. I’m sure my husband also thanks you for the help you’ve given me by posting youras well since he’s more of a “neat and tidy,” ” put it back where you got it, so you can find it next time you need it”, type of person. How he puts un with my cleaning habitual, is beyond me, but he’s the best at not nagging me to cleanup. So I love him for that, and also so much more. Anyways thank you again from the bottom of my heart. You’re a life saber.
That you for the sweet message, Randy! It seriously made my day. You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Being a mom is very overwhelming with the millions of expectations flying at you all the dang time. How amazing are you for overcoming that overwhelm and taking some HUGE steps to getting organized? Way to go, Randy! I’m rooting for you 🙂
This is the missing link to my decluttering!! My home after some years of declutteting looks as though I have done nothing “because” I never have energy to clean!! The house just stayed dirty looking all the time which depressed me and discouraged my decluttering efforts. I started this routine one evening and began to see and feel different almost immediately!! Now its declutter, clean, then declutter more. 😊 The dirt staring in my face was the brick wall that blocked all my efforts!! You are genius!
Oh you are so sweet! Not a genius lol. But I sure do love a good checklist. Sometimes we just need the exact path to walk through instead of trying to think of each new step. Decision fatigue is real. And when faced with overwhelm, it’s hard to parse out what to do next. You’ve got this, Cheryl!
I love this!!! Thank you so much. I needed someone to tell me exactly what to do to dig my way out so I can start to declutter. Thank you!
So glad it’s helpful, Beth! And you’re not alone. Happens to everyone 🙂
Just another thank you here!
Big kids are in school, toddler is with grandma, and the baby *might* have a nap that’s not on me today. Ha!
Slowly digging myself back to normality after a week of whole family sickness. I’ve been starting at the top of the list for a few days in a row (because washing and dishes is always back again but each day it’s more manageable!) and finding it’s getting faster each day and I’m giving myself 100% permission to go to bed as early as possible and not clean lol!
I’m finally at picking up the rooms today, and clean floors feel like they might be in sight. Hooray and thanks!!
Baby steps! x
Congratulations! Some seasons of life are just way more messy than others and it’s okay 🙂
Hi Erin! I love your name because it’s what I named my first born daughter 🙂 I just wanted to thank you for posting this. For me, the hardest part is knowing where to start so I just never start, other than cleaning the kitchen occasionally because I hate a dirty kitchen. I’ve got all the messes you have described in your list, a pile of dirty dishes, piles of dirty laundry all over the house, everything and I am going thru a lot of stress right now because my boyfriend is moving out and I am seeing how filthy the house really is so I am trying this routine as soon as he leaves because this house needs it and I needed your motivating article! Thank you so much!
So glad it’s helpful!
Tiffany Hughes says
Love this. Only guide I’ve found to break it down like this. My household is drowning in clean laundry. We wash it, we just don’t fold it. Doing this guide will hopefully help me get the house under control!
Hi Tiffany! Honestly, you don’t even have to fold it TBH. Getting clean clothes in drawers is the biggest part of the battle. Add in folding gradually.
Casey Marie says
This is great and I actually can’t wait to try it out! And no, you’re not the only one that needs to wear their swimsuits at times when there’s no clean underwear to found..Hehehe!
Lol! It happens! Hope this works well for you 🙂