How to Clean a Messy House for a Fresh Start

When your house is a disaster, it’s hard to even know where to start digging your way out. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to clean a messy house and give yourself a fresh start.

Sometimes a day just gets away from you.  As a matter of fact, sometimes a whole week – or even a whole month or more – just seems to slip through your fingers. And before you know it, your house is a disaster area and you aren’t even sure what to do about it.  

Piles are everywhere.

The kitchen is unrecognizable.

And your kid has worn the same pair of socks three days in a row because you haven’t done laundry in at least a week.

a woman loading a dishwasher with the words "how to clean a messy house for a fresh start"

You’re frazzled and overwhelmed, but the mere thought of so much cleaning makes you feel downright paralyzed and hopeless. You’re so tired of it that you just about can’t take it anymore. But you’re also just plain tired. 

You know what I’m talking about, right? 

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who occasionally (or more than just occasionally) gets sidetracked by real life and decides to let things slide for a day or two.  Which usually turns into a week or two, right? 

It might be that everyone in the house got sick, or you were busy running from one activity to the next, or you just had a really, really bad day. You promise yourself you’ll clean up the messy house and get life back on track “tomorrow.” Of course, we all know how that turns out.

So, the mail piles up a little higher, the dirty dishes “soak” a little longer, and the laundry starts accumulating in every single room in the house.

But here’s the thing: Even though your house is a mess right now, you are capable of making it better. It’s not going to be easy, but it will probably be a lot easier than you think. 

And once the house is brought back to a baseline of being clean and livable, you’ll feel much better and you’ll be able to keep it clean so much easier. You can give yourself a fresh start today so “tomorrow” you really will be back on track!

a woman's hand putting dishes in the dishwasher

How to Clean a Messy House for a Fresh Start

These steps are not going to give you a perfect house. (Sorry!) But if you go through them one at a time, they will help you create a house where you can breathe and function. Are you ready?  

1.  Do one load of laundry from beginning to end.

Grab all the dirty laundry in the house and sort it into piles according to your usual method (lights, darks, towels, etc.). Pick the pile with the most-needed items and get it started in the washing machine. You are going to finish this load all the way to folding it and putting it away.  Do NOT start another load unless you are sure you can finish it all the way (including getting it put into closets and drawers).

2.  Put away any clean dishes.

Now, go into the kitchen and put away any clean dishes from the dishwasher, sink, or counter. You need the dishwasher ready to be loaded back up and a place to put the dishes you’re going to hand wash. Plus, clean dishes are just clutter if they aren’t put away where they belong.

3.  Clean off one kitchen counter.

Choose one kitchen counter to clean off completely.  Throw away trash, put away food, distribute random items to wherever they belong, and put the dirty dishes beside the sink. Don’t worry about trying to clean the entire kitchen right now.  You just need to have at least one empty counter for making dinner and doing other important things (like eating ice cream).

4.  Wash the dishes and run the dishwasher.

Fill the dishwasher with as many dirty dishes as you can and turn it on.  It doesn’t matter if it’s packed full or not.  Live life on the edge and run it even if there’s a little bit of room to spare.  Then, wash all the dishes that wouldn’t fit or don’t belong in the dishwasher.

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5. Take out the trash.

By now, your kitchen trash is probably pretty full.  Take it out to your trash receptacles and replace it with a clean bag. (Hint: Your laundry is probably ready to be tossed into the dryer now, too.)

6.  Figure out what you’re going to eat tonight and the rest of the week.

While you’re still near the kitchen, figure out what you’re going to feed the family tonight.  Also make a simple menu plan that you can follow for the next couple of days.  Check the pantry, fridge, and freezer for ideas. Then, very quickly jot down any missing ingredients you need to pick up the next time you’re out.

7.  Pull out any bills that need paid (and pay them).

Do a very quick sort of the mail, tossing the obvious junk and setting aside the bills.  Jump on the computer and pay the bills or write the checks and get them put in the mail.  You can worry about the rest of the mail pile later, as long as your bills are paid so you can avoid late fees (or eviction notices – yikes).

8.  Make your bed.

Step into your master bedroom and get the bed made.  If clothes are piled on it, take a couple minutes to hang or fold them. It’s amazing how a made bed can make the entire room look better, even if there is random clutter that needs your attention on another day. 

9.  Straighten up the bathroom.

Clean off the counter in the bathroom that you use the most, especially if it’s the one where you get ready in the mornings. Don’t get sidetracked with decluttering the cabinet or rearranging the shelves.  Just clean up the vanity top, toss the laundry into a basket, and very quickly wipe off the counter with a damp towel.

10.  Do a quick clean-up.

Starting at the door where you usually enter your home, walk through the house and do some basic tidying up. Hang up jackets, stack up the library books, toss the pillows back on the sofa.  Don’t worry about tackling major cleaning or clutter issues.  Just put away the easy stuff, stack the mess out of sight, or toss items into a laundry basket to be dealt with on another day.

11.  Finish up.

Now, take a couple moments to finish up the good work you started so you feel like the job is complete.  Empty the dishwasher and put away the dishes you washed earlier so you can easily take care of the dinner dishes tonight. Fold the laundry (it should be dry by now) and put it away.  For bonus points, also put away any other clean laundry you have stacked on the steps or piled in baskets.  


Take a deep breath and enjoy the fact that in just a couple hours of time you’ve gotten your home back into a livable condition.  You can fix dinner tonight, the kids can wear clean clothes tomorrow, and you’ll be able to find your make-up in the morning. Best of all, you can fall into a straightened up bed tonight.  

Sure, there are probably some items still needing your attention, but at least you can function while you plan a time to deal with the other things you’ll eventually need to take care of around the house.  And now that you know how to clean up a messy house (’cause you know it’s bound to get messy again, right?), you can easily get your home back to baseline any time it starts to feel out of control again. You’ve got this!

Get your FREE Simple Decluttering Cheatsheet!

Start feeling at peace in your own home! Learn how to pick the best spot to start decluttering AND step-by-step how to tackle the mess in any room in your house. PLUS get my best tips right in your inbox…and it’s 100% FREEEEE!

Your email is safe with us. We wouldn’t dream of sharing it with anyone else!

“I keep every email you send out. You are so spot on with your advice.” – MaryLou

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  1. Terry L. Neckermann says:

    Oh my goodness, Amy, I know all this, I like order, but life takes over and then every single room has its problems.; and oh, do I get behind?! Going through your article(s), seeing the written word in order helps it get into my mind. Clutter and busyness cause confusion which is Not a good mix. And then it all becomes clutter not only in your mind, but in reality. Ughhh. So, thank you for taking time out of your family’s days to write and try to get us back on track!
    P. S. I have shared your blog w/several friends.
    God Bless, TLN

    1. Terry, thank you so much for these kind words. It makes me so happy to know that Simple Everyday Home is helpful and encouraging to you. You just made my day! 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed this method! Thanks for all you to do help us moms out there!!!

  3. Thank you for writing an article that’s doable. With 3 little ones, it gets overwhelming fast. It may sound strange, but reading this brought me a lot of peace. Thank you for the encouragement!

  4. I’m a retired 74-year-old and my house can get out of control for me, too. I just followed your steps and love the way I feel back in control again. Thank you so much!

  5. I’m a single dog mom … I was so stressed this morning and your Blog helped me to get up and do things .. yes I’m still on my phone but I’ve been doing things in between reading this … thank you I was frozen in my bed for over. A year I am not joking .. thank you for your help even if I don’t have a “normal” family life just me and my dogs so no help but you helped so I have help now ! I just wanted to thank you so much

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