6 ways to clean up a huge mess

We humans are capable of making messes. BIG ones. Dishes filling the sink, clothes covering the carpet, shoes piled two feet high, remnants of an abandoned hobby falling out of a closet, toys as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes the messes are so big, they are overwhelming. They make a person want to say, “@&*% it!” and walk away.

Think of a spot in your home where the mess has become overwhelming. Maybe it bugs you every time you walk by it. . . or maybe you avoid it altogether. Either way, it remains where you left it, tugging at your energy and making you feel. . . Drained. Behind. Chaotic.

That is the kind of mess this list is made for.

Rather than filling up with dread at the daunting task ahead of you, pick the method that sounds like the most fun, crank up the tunes, and get on it.

1. Little by little

Maybe the thought of picking up all the clothes on your floor sounds boring. (Is this story autobiographical? Yes. Sometimes I behave like a child, and I’m not sorry.)

But what if, every time you walked in, you put away five items? Then you get to return your business (hopefully, fun business).

Lo and behold, in a few days time (or maybe a week or two, if it’s really bad) you’ll be back to spic-and-span.

Find a way to break the task into ten- to twenty-second chunks, and chip away at the problem painlessly.

2. Clean sweep

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Clean Sweep. Clear the decks, clear your calendar and clear every last thing from the space in question. Let nothing return to its place until it has passed the BLU test: Is it beautiful? Do I love it? Is it useful? Sort, organize and recreate your newly made over, and perfectly lovely, room.

Kitchen timer3. Set a timer

You don’t have a whole day, but you need to make some progress on this mess, and fast. Set a timer for the time you do have—be it five minutes, twenty minutes or an hour. Commit to ignoring all distractions except the task at hand, and clean like a whirlwind until it dings. Then continue on with your day, feeling slightly more accomplished and at ease than you were before.

4. Proportional disaster response

I’m borrowing this from a business principle, the source of which has been irretrievably lost in my brain. (MBA’s out there, if you can name this I’ll give you ten points.)

The idea is that if a mess leads to a negative outcome—like spending 15 minutes trying to find your keys in a messy apartment, or missing a bill payment because you’re behind on paperwork, for example—stop and ask why it happened….three times*. Spend as much time addressing those three causes, as you lost responding to the “disaster”. Let’s use the keys example:

I was 15 minutes late
because I couldn’t find my keys.
Possible action items
(5 minutes each)
Why? I forgot where I left them when I got home from work last night. Go find the keys right now.
Why? I don’t leave them in the same place every day. Hang a hook or place a bowl near the door for your keys to live whenever you’re home.
Why? Because there’s always a pile of stuff by the back door, so there’s no where to put them down. Spend 5 minutes returning random clutter to where it belongs.

*As I recall, the business principle says to ask why five times, not three. Since your home doesn’t have middle management and committees, I’m thinking three will be enough. If you home does have middle management, by all means, ask why five times.

5. Get help or delegate

Sometimes, whether or not a project is too big for you, it just feels too big. And that’s enough to paralyze you from taking action. Times like these, the quickest action is to call for reinforcements. Call a friend who’s gifted with organization (or telling you nicely that those pants are so 1997), or pony up some cash to have a professional assist with sorting out your space. How much is it worth to you to not worry about this mess anymore?

6. Cleaning by counting

A close cousin of method number one, you can borrow a tactic from my 8 year old self, and reward yourself for taking small steps, but still get the task done in a reasonable timeframe. Go ahead and call me childish…but I’m still doing it at age 29. This shit works.


In the comments below, tell me what you’re going to clean, and how you’re going to do it…..Ready, set, go!


  • Regenia K Compton

    I chave a ton of clothes to hang up so will set an alarm for 30 minutes of work today to see how far it gets me.

    • http://www.rosybluhome.com/ Michelle Urbick

      Love it. I hope you amaze yourself with how much you accomplish in 30 minutes!

  • Alexandra Larson

    If I need to find the motivation to clean, I invite a someone over to the house. The thought of them seeing my house when it’s messy is horrifying and embarrassing so as soon as I know I’m expecting company I go into crazy cleaning mode and voila, the house gets cleaned.

    • http://www.rosybluhome.com/ Michelle Urbick

      Haha, I LOVE it. It is absolutely true that when you look at your house from a guest’s eyes, you suddenly get a spark of urgency (and energy!) you didn’t know you had in you!


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