Should I Clean or Declutter First?

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When you’re overwhelmed with clutter and feeling like your house is a mess, it’s hard to know where to start. Should I clean or declutter first? 

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times. With two kids in diapers, I have limited time to clean and declutter, so when those small blocks of time show up, I want to use them effectively. Over time, I’ve figured out what seems to work best for me and I wanted to write a post to share that information with you. 

2 Pictures of Clutter and Cleaning Supplies

So, should I clean or declutter first? The short answer: declutter first. If you declutter before you clean, you immediately make your home look more clean and tidy. Plus, you shorten the amount of time it will take to clean, because you won’t be working around junk while trying to get the cleaning done. Follow a set routine, like the one suggested below, to declutter regularly and thus make cleaning a breeze. 

Decluttering Helps Your Home Look Clean and Tidy

A home that has less looks tidier.

Even if you faithfully vacuum multiple times a week and every surface is dusted, your home still won’t look as clean and tidy as it could if the rooms were decluttered. Simply going through a room and getting rid of superfluous items (perhaps even including extra furniture and larger items as needed), will go a long way towards making your home look more clean and tidy. And in this season of my life with two babies, clean and tidy is a dream come true! 

should I clean or declutter first
Photo by Kyoshi Reyes on Unsplash

Note: this does not mean you need to become a minimalist. Decluttering doesn’t mean every surface has to be bare and there can’t be any knick-knacks displayed on your mantle. It simply means you remove things to the point where your home can “breathe” and you don’t feel like your stuff is closing in on you. This will look different for everyone, and while some may take the leap all the way into minimalism, others won’t, and that’s perfectly fine!  

Decluttering Makes Your Cleaning Go Faster

I don’t enjoy cleaning. However, I find that when I clean after I’ve decluttered, the cleaning process goes much faster and is much less stressful. You’re not shuffling junk around, or trying to maneuver around things you know you need to get rid of. 

Recently, I’ve discovered a super-basic cleaning routine (Clean Mama) that works great with this mindset. This cleaning routine incorporates decluttering on a daily basis, so it fits with that “declutter before you clean” model. 

Clean Mama gives a set list of daily tasks (such as make the bed, wipe the counters down, etc), and one of those daily tasks is decluttering. I LOVED this when I first read through the cleaning routine, because it takes something all of us normally dread doing and procrastinate on, and it puts it right into our daily routine. With it being such a small ask for such a small amount of time, it’s no longer a horrible monster to be dreaded, but rather an attainable chore to be checked off. 

Set Up a Decluttering Routine

I get it. When you’re a busy mom, a block of time to vacuum the kids’ bedroom, let alone declutter the kids’ bedroom, is hard to come by. However, with a good set routine in place, you can definitely get this done. 

Start with 10 minutes of decluttering each time you go in to clean the kids’ bedroom (in my case, I have two kids sharing a room). This is a manageable chunk of time, and if you skip dusting for a little while or don’t get the room vacuumed every single week, it’s not the end of the world. Declutter a drawer. Go through their shoes. Get rid of some old toys. These small chunks of time will add up and you will see results.   

Photo by Igor Starkov on Unsplash

If you feel things have really gotten out of hand and you need a major decluttering session to kick things off, go for it. Get your spouse, a grandma, or a friend to take the kids for a few hours and use that time to just go to town and declutter like crazy. 

HOWEVER, don’t trick yourself into thinking decluttering is a one-and-done event. You have to think of decluttering as a lifestyle, otherwise, you’ll be right back at square one in no time. It’s like losing weight on a crash diet versus eating healthy meals and doing regular exercise. The former may produce impressive immediate results, but the latter can produce long-term life change.  

Wait! I Can’t Stop Cleaning Until My Entire House is Decluttered!

Of course not. Unless you’re doing a mega-declutter session as mentioned above, you have to keep doing dishes, changing the sheets, cleaning the bathroom and more in the midst of your decluttering journey. You can’t just hold off on vacuuming until your entire house is decluttered.

But here’s the thing: so often, we get our cleaning tasks done and just don’t seem to have enough energy left over afterwards for decluttering. The most efficient method I’ve found is to spend a little bit of time decluttering an area first, then jump in and get your cleaning done. Will the area be perfectly decluttered? No. Will you need to come back and do more? Probably. But the important thing is you’re incorporating decluttering into your daily to-do’s and leading with this task rather than hoping maybe you can do it when all the cleaning is done. You will see progress in your decluttering if you tackle it with this method. 

Conclusion: Should I Clean or Declutter First?

As you’re trying to figure out how to tackle your clutter and handle cleaning the house, it can be hard to know what to do first. However, as you’ve seen, it often makes the most sense to attack clutter first, then move on to cleaning. Decluttering first will help you establish the habit, it will train you to break decluttering down into a sustainable part of your routine, and it will make your cleaning tasks easier and faster to complete. 

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