Where to Start When You’re Totally Disorganized

Please welcome my guest today, Jessica from Life as Mom.

Chaos can be debilitating. Yes, you probably already knew that, didn’t you? You may know that you need to get your act together, but since your life feels like a shambles already, it’s hard to know where to start.

I’ve been there. Even though I tend toward being an organizing freak, I have busy seasons that make my life feel like a bomb went off. I get buried with “stuff” and when the dust settles, I find myself with a very high mountain of rubble to climb through.

That’s when it is time to reset and get back to ground zero.

Been there, done that? Maybe you’re in the midst of a little bit of chaos yourself. Well, let’s set things to rights – together.

1. Address issues of food and clothing.

Whether you manage a large family or just take care of you, having clean underwear and something good to eat does wonder for morale. So, despite the chaos that surrounds you, put these areas of life in order first. Create a meal plan for the week. Do a load of basic laundry.

Tackle these simple tasks and you will have a baseline for survival.

2. Make a master to do list.

Often when we feel overwhelmed by life, it’s hard to think straight for all the tasks and to do’s swimming in our heads. Dump the contents of your brain on paper. Don’t worry about making sense of the tasks or putting them in any special order. Just jot them all down so they are out of your mind and somewhere where you can deal with them.

You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve got a physical way to keep track of things instead of trying to remember all of it yourself.

3. Take baby steps.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. And you’re certainly not going to get your act together in one 24-hour period. Look over your list and find a few quick things that you can take care of.

Crossing a few things off your list will help you gain traction for tackling a few more.

4. Use the penicillin method.

The “penicillin method” involves slowly reclaiming dominion over the messes in your home. Start in one area, like the entryway. Get that spot spanking clean. The next day, maintain that area, and tackle a new one. Slowly work your way to the next adjacent areas until cleanliness and order spread, like a bacteria – only a good one.

Build one success upon another!

5. Go to bed early.

Running on empty isn’t going to help you put things to rights. Make sure that you’re getting adequate rest. Be ready to tackle your to-do list a little bit each day, but don’t overdo.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Chaos doesn’t have to reign over your life. Whether it’s your time or your stuff that is in disarray, you can reclaim a sense of calm and peacefulness. You just need to know where to start.

How do YOU get things back under control when chaos reigns?

Mother of six, Jessica Fisher writes about parenting hacks at LifeasMOM and posts delicious ways to act your wage at Good Cheap Eats. She is also the author of Organizing Life as MOM– a 125+ page e-guide complete with customizable planning pages and inspiration for home management.

Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Organizing Basics


29 Responses to Where to Start When You’re Totally Disorganized

  1. 1
    Marci@OvercomingBusy says

    When things get a little out of control here, I just take one area at a time. Small bites can make a big difference and don’t overwhelm.

    • 1.1
      FishMama says

      Absolutely! Small steps are totally the way to go.

  2. 2
    Christina Luiggi says

    I needed this! I am trying to get organized after a “haitus”….I am loving this site :)

  3. 3
    Christy says

    I start with the kitchen and the most used bathroom. If the dishes are out of the way, counter tops cleared and the sink is clean- I can cope. If the bathroom is clean, I can cope. After that, I move from room to room with an empty basket. Anything that doesn’t belong in that room goes in the basket. I put it away as I move from room to room. This prevents “ADD housekeeping”. You know when you go to put something away and something else distracts you and you end up like the center of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”? That is what gets me!

    • 3.1
      FishMama says

      I think I have that condition.

      • Melanie says

        Me too. Who knew it had a name? My husband just calls it/me “flaky.”

    • 3.2
      D W says

      The basket tip just blew my mind. I am a 48yr old man who cannot clean the kitchen table without ending up an hour later having trekked through every room of the house putting maybe one thing right in each room, an hour gone and no visible difference anywhere except my level of self loathing.
      Thank you so much for the idea.

      • Pam says

        I learned that same tip from the cleaning Guru Don Aslett he says most of housecleaning is decluttering so you should go through your house with a basket like she just suggested anything that doesn’t go in that room put it in a basket also go through with a garbage container or bag and anything that’s trash goes in the bag. He calls it trash and police,
        He says this is the first step if you’ve only got a few hours and need to clean quickly…

  4. 4
    Rachel says

    The main issue I have in keeping order in my house is that while I am doing one task, my children (1+4.5autistic) are creating chaotic mess in another area. I will wash up only to find that they have emtied several toy boxes and are ignoring most of the contents, or have taken ALL of the cushions off the sofa (the large seatpad ones not just throw pillows) and fed cereal into the crevices. Yesterday they found a roll of mailing labels and covered themselves and the carpet in them while I was showering! I have fairly organised closets but the areas you can see are always a mess of clutter!

    • 4.1
      Kerry D. says

      Yes, yes, yes. LOVE the sticker story. This was my life when my kids were small. At one point, I was on the phone trying to set up a playdate for the oldest, while he was screaming for me in the living room. When I went in, I discovered the poor kid, about 7 years old then, catching precious objects being hurled down from the TOP of the entertainment center where his sibs, then 2 and 4.5 were perched, somehow managing to climb atop the 5 foot tall furniture. Somehow, they thought this was hilariously funny. Oldest son caught most of them, only a couple casualties… (Collectible music boxes, ouch.)

      They too have some special needs, and seemed to create a lot of chaos. And fight endlessly.

      Good news is that at 14, 17 and 20 the craziness is much less. But, those were very, very tough years. My best advice is to try to enjoy even the chaos, and know that it wont last forever.

  5. 5
    Leslie says

    I just moved into my apartment and I’ve been unpacking and organizing for a while now, but it’s taking a lot longer to unpack boxes and get a new system in place than I thought. But I do enjoy the organizing. Once an adequate system is in place, I will be so pleased!


    • 5.1
      Katie says

      I moved into a new apartment almost three months ago now, and have found it’s taking me a lot of trial-and-error to find a successful organization system. Good luck!

  6. 6
    Jill says

    I would organize my papers from college and grad school. I hate to throw away all that research and good writing, but would love to be able to keyword search through it!

    • 6.1
      Romi says

      You could scan it all and use tagSpaces to tag the files with keywords :)

  7. 7
    Linda Stoll says

    I LOVED that photo from high above your living space! A sky-high picture is worth a thousand words!

  8. 8
    Sallie @ Texas Cottage says

    Great advice! I organized my house much the same way. I started with the “public” areas and now make sure they are always presentable. If the bedrooms are a mess, I can always close the doors.

  9. 9
    Joyce Nichols-Moore says

    You know it’s funny, I was thinking about sending this post to my fitness clients so they can make space for a fitness area :)

  10. 10
    Wendy Johnstone says

    My blood pressure just went down :) Thanks for writing this post to help busy working Moms like me feel OK about the state of the “housation”!

  11. 11
    Sinea says

    I love the Penicillin Method. Used it many times but never knew what to call it! Great post and very needed in this household immediately!

  12. 12
    Living the Balanced Life says

    What a great post on helping people start when they are too overwhelmed to begin! I wrote a short and sweet post today and even linked over to OrgJunkie as I think you have great resources for all who are trying to declutter and organize!
    THE best organizational tool EVER

  13. 13
    Cassi says

    After a lifetime as a “messy” person, the penicillin method has finally clicked in my brain. Over the past 2 weeks I’ve been organizing and cleaning one small section at a time. The progress I’ve made in just 2 weeks has been incredible! It probably sounds silly to people who “get” organization, but it always just seemed so overwhelming in the past that I wouldn’t even try.

  14. 14
    raven says

    I don’t recommend this, I think the author is dead on about small steps, but that’s not the way I do it because that’s just not the way I am. I have OCD – diagnosed and disabling. When things get to “ground zero”, I go into “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!” mode and tend to knock out almost everything including skipping sleeping to get it done. Then I’m skeeved by what didn’t get finished and tackle the rest.

    Right now is actually my first time of trying the “chunks” method; with 3 kids, 2 of them special needs, I just can’t devote that kind of time anymore and it’s bad for everyone in the house. I concentrated on clothes and school supplies this week (both chores, but only one is a CLEANING one lol). I hired out the yard work to save time for the first time in forever.

    The kids have all pitched in on the bedrooms and they are passable; they’ll be better next week. My “chunk” this weekend is my desk area/coupon binder/files. Ew!!! They are so messed up from a summer full of papers that have just gotten stacked everywhere.

  15. 15
    Lisa says

    I feel so disorganized????
    My relationship is a mess..my Christian life is a mess even my room is a mess..

  16. 16
    Raja says

    Should I start from myself and my stuff first?and later on of my family?

  17. 17
    Jennifer Mathis says

    Wow! This is PERFECT! I’ve read a lot of different articles on getting organized, or trying to stay organized. Although I’ve found some great tips, unfortunately I’m still a total disorganized mess! Most articles I’ve found are about organizing your office space, desk area, keeping track of appointments etc. Which is great, but im looking for advise and or tips on organizing my house as a whole and this article hits the nail on the head for my situation! I’m definitely going to give each suggestion a try. Thanks for the great advise!!


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