4 Things to Reduce Stress and Clutter

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dirty dishes in the sink

As much as we joke about it, living with clutter can be a serious problem that can significantly and adversely affect our lives. I have seen it in my own family’s life (when we were in the process of remodeling) and there have been many studies to prove that clutter can cause stress. I think that deep down most of us know this but for many of us it is so hard to get motivated to take care of the problem. Sometimes, we simply don’t know where to start.

Here is a simple list of four things that I hope will get you started in the right direction. For some of you, doing all four of these things at once may be too much at first so pick one (the one that bugs you the most) and do it every day for a couple of weeks. Once you have that one under control, then pick a second one. This should be easier because you will like the results completing of the first task so much you will want to try the second one. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s better not to try to do too much at first if it is very overwhelming.

I don’t care what happens in your day– Before you go to bed, make sure you do your one thing. Some of you may have to start with tiny baby steps. For example, I say “Pick things up off of the floor.” I mean pick up the floor in the whole house but you may have to clean just one or two rooms at first and work your way up. That’s ok. At least you are moving in the right direction and for some of you you are at least moving. 😉


1. Pick up anything on the floor.

2. Clear countertops, tables and flat surfaces

3. Wash dishes*

4.  Wash the laundry. Follow through all the way from the hamper to putting it away in dressers or cabinets.


*One of the things I learned to do as a young bride to make washing dishes much easier was to fill my sink with hot soapy water and stack as many dirty dishes in the water as I could before I did anything else. Then, I quickly wiped down my counters and table. That way, if someone came to the house, it at least looked like I was working on washing the dishes and it made the room look neater.


Photo By: ShardsOfBlue – Roxanne Ready


  1. rose says

    jill, i do that too . .have a pan of soapy water that i soak things in (esp the silverware) and i rinse out the glasses and soak in a bit of water in them too (until i am ready to wash them) ..
    hubby couldnt get into the kitchen when we lived in the old house but here in the apt, he noticed that and asked me when i started to use a pan with water to soak things and i told him i have always done that, u just never noticed! ..
    his grandmother and mother raised him to soak things too .. so did my mom and grandma .. its a good habit to get into esp if u dont have a regular dishwasher (the machine, hehee) ..
    thanks for sharing ..
    and yes, do something every day to cut down on the clutter .. we are still decluttering (even tho we have moved; if i cant find a home for it and if i havent used it in a long while and really dont need it, out it goes) ..

  2. Sandy says

    My Mom used to soak her dishes too but I really never paid attention while growing up. When i got married my husband got me in the habit and it is soooo much easier to soak & wash especially while cooking. Then after the meal–not many big pots/pans to clean.

  3. Chris says

    I never thought of that. My daughter bought me a dishwasher 10 years ago(to replace the one that was broken) some time ago. I still get a sink full of dishes. I rinse them first. I intensely dislike dried on food. I decided to try to clean out the dishwasher as soon as the dishes are cooled and then keep up with the ones I use. I live alone, so I have no one but me to blame!

  4. Carol says

    I, too, have always soaked my dishes. But what is funny is my daughter does not. She doesn’t like washing dishes in dirty water so she runs her water as she cleans her dishes. I know it’s a waste of water, but I can’t get her to change.

    • Lynley says

      Maybe her attitude will change when she has to pay for the hot water power. In the meantime how about “my money, my rules”?

  5. Sharon Hughes says

    I have always been a soaker too….those rare times when it wasn’t done I found the dishes to be twice the work they normally are! Thanks for some great ideas!

  6. Fay says

    What a great article. Was hoping to read more though. Guess there can always be a Part 2. I didn’t read anything about actually getting rid of things.
    I recently moved after 26 yrs from a very large house built in 1870. Yep, full attic & basement. It was the kind of move where there was so much stuff being thrown away that you have to move out of town due to the embarrassment. Well, it was so bad we had to move cross country (NJ to CA).
    Our new home is so great–no cabinets or closets overflowing, everything has a place, neat, organized & so easy to clean. Make a commitment to yourself.
    For me the non-stop purge lasted 6 weeks. I know it can be a tough job. Take the advice of the article and take baby steps.

    • says

      This was our mini version of the bunches of detail posts I have already written. Here is a link on organizing and tossing in detail. Scroll down the page for a whole bunch of articles and even more when you get to the bottom at older posts. If this isn’t enough then we have a section on getting rid of things when you are moving.Just scroll down the page for the different articles on this too.



  7. Fay says

    Sorry-forgot to mention my main comment. I recently read that clutter is visual noise. Every time you open your eyes it screams at you.

  8. jaylee says

    I soak the dishes, too. It makes the job much quicker and easier. Even when I’ve lived in houses or apartments with a dishwasher, I never used it. My mom never owned one, even with a family of eight. To me it’s easier just to wash them by hand — especially when you soak them first. Thanks for all your great tips!

  9. Cathy says

    I have just started doing this & I like it. It is such a simple thing, but its made a big difference in me cleaning the kitchen at night. I really like the feeling I have when I get up in the morning to cook breakfast with clean counters. I am nearly 60…just shows me I am never too old to learn something or change a habit. Thank you!

  10. says

    Thank you for the 4 Things To Be Done Daily tips. It seems so obvious. I’m suffering from severe depression and have no energy or desire to clean my house with any regularity. I am a RN and only 40 but have’nt been able to work. My house is’nt dirty, but oh so cluttered. I have a wonderful husband, who is a Police Officer, working all shifts, who takes care of the dishes, I do the bathroom. We have two kids, 10 & 15, who will pick up after themselves after being “prompted.” I see the clutter all day, every day, which fuels my anxiety, yet I don’t get up to take care of it. This depression is paralyzing and debilatating, for lack of better words. I may be undergoing ECT, it’s reached that point. All this being said, everyone’s posts have inspired me to give this a shot with baby steps, and for that, I thank you.

    • says

      Jana I don’t suffer from depression but with my CFS it has so many of the same symptoms especially the lack of energy and motivation. I thought I would never be able to function and get my house even semi clean. Finally one day as I was watching TV I made myself get up and clean one section of the kitchen during the commercial. The only way I got myself up was that I said I only needed to do 5 mins. then I could sit done and veg again. So I did. The next commercial rolls around and I did 5 more minutes. Each time it got easier and easier to get up and do it. By the end of the afternoon I had the whole kitchen clean without even realizing it. That then in turn motivated me to keep doing this. Here is another post you might like to read too along this same line Things to do in 5 Minutes also check out some of our other cleaning and organizing posts too. Having CFS I usually gear most of my cleaning and organizing posts not only for healthy people but try to give ideas for those of us who have little or no energy. I try to get people to stop letting guilt drain them of what little energy they do have so they can use the energy for starting to get things done.

      • Deborah says

        Hi I do not know what CFS is, but I do take medication for depression and anxity. I have developed ostoporosis, the start of RA and just plain arthritis. Osto is in my back, RA in toes and fingers, arthritis in every joint. I had back surgery 3 years ago, then last year I had sever pain in my back, the screw had fell and a black hole was where it should be. After a bone scan, it was found that a bone had already desolved. I live with pain in every joint on top of neuropathy, type 2 diabetis and fibromyalgia and migrains (pluse a few other illness’s). I have difficult cleaning for many reasons, then I get depressed ecen more because the house looks the way it does. I can not stand or sit for very long. and I do not take pain killers, only tynol arth for the arthritis and headaches. So how do you suggest I over come this problem of cleaning? My husband is unable to help, my 38 yr old step-son wont help and we do not have the money to hire anyone. HELP !!!

        • says

          Deborah it is hard living with constant pain and can be depressing and discouraging. One thing that helped me was I wasn’t over the top in keeping my house clean but I did try to keep things semi nice when I was well. When I became sick it drove me crazy too because all I could do was lay and look at the mess with no strength to fix it. One of the turning points for me was realizing I just couldn’t do. I had to except the fact I could no longer live in a house looking the way it use to or the way I would like it to and had to release it. I stopped brow beating myself about it. What happened was the stress of worrying about it was making my condition worse. I actually started getting enough better I would have 5 minutes a day where I was able to do something. If I even got a square foot of counter cleaned I was happy.

          Now if you can’t do that much you just can’t. You will have to leave things in a mess. I was so weak at times could hardly eat and then that was only trying to fix a bowl of cereal. I would get the cereal poured in the bowl but I wouldn’t have enough strength to put the milk back in the fridge so it would have to just sit out. But that is just the way it had to be.

          One thing that did help pull me through too was even though my kids were as sick as I was each of us would be worse at different times so who ever could function even a little always would help the other two out. I would not have made it as well if it hadn’t been for that. You didn’t say why and I am not sure why you have a 38 year old man living with you who is not helping and why he is still living there if he isn’t. Situations like that can drag you down mentally and physically too and as hard as it is to deal with those things when you are sick you may just have to. I had extended family members that were really pulling me down and I had to cut ties for awhile with them as hard as that was.

          As far as cost of hiring someone – really look and see if you can’t find a little money to get someone to come in and help a little. For example a 15 year old neighbor girl might be willing to come in and do 2 hours worth of work for $15. She could at least do some dishes, change a bed of sheets, and do maybe 1 or 2 loads of laundry. The vacuuming and dusting can wait and doesn’t need to be done at times like these. I would not have her do the step sons laundry or bed or anything like that. He can do his own only have her do what you need to function slightly. You may have to give up something for this to happen.

          The main thing is to not expect yourself to do too much and the other is to try and do something to get your husband and step son especially to help more.

  11. says

    I found out a long time ago that water is the best thing to take care of “hard to clean” items. I ,too, like to have a dishpan full of “soaking” water when I start a meal. It makes my life easier and anything that makes my life easier is wonderful.

  12. Sandi says

    Many years ago I worked in purified water, and quickly found out that purified water is the closest thing there is to a universal solvent. Even plain tap water will work to clean many things. Add a few drops of soap to break the surface tension and it will take care of almost anything.

  13. Mary Jane says

    I also like to sweep the kitchen floor and empty the compost bucket outside, while the dishes soak. It all has to be done anyway. While I have never been in the place with my health that I couldn’t do at least some cleaning over a long period of time, I do sympathize with those who are in that spot. I love Jill’s wise advice to ask for and receive some help if you need it. For the rest of us, if you get your house reasonably clean, it is fairly easy to keep up if you do a bit every day. Then when the time of illness or upheaval comes, there is a bit of a buffer zone to tie you over until you can get back to cleaning. As I have gotten older, I have found that it takes me longer to do a little less than I use to be able to do in a day. The advice in this column has helped, as I have found that ordinary clutter reduction in my everyday life (when I I am feeling energetic) goes along way for the down days. For instance, as a young bride, I had quite a few dust collecting ornaments around the house, and I cleaned them regularly. I also had and cared for houseplants, because it was trendy at the time, and many of my friends were doing it. More recently, I have had several lawn ornaments to set up outside during our short but glorious summers. I got rid of the dust collectors and put other things away in cupboards, and greatly reduced my dusting. I wasn’t really good with houseplants and didn’t really care to take the effort, so I got rid of them. This past summer, I decided that because of the work load with a garden and grass cutting outside, that lawn ornaments and growing of flowers could be done by someone else. I will stick with the vegetable gardens. I have also greatly reduced my wardrobe to simple, functional, clothes that I love. I find that I wear them more, wash less, and shop less than when I had an excess of clothes that were “make due” for me. Every person will have different priorities, but my advice echoes Jill and Tawra’s: when you are feeling well, down size and sort out what you have, and keep only that which is truly functional, lovely to you, and worthy of your time to take care of it. Then when you are not well, there is a lot less to have to worry about.

    • says

      I have found the same thing too. I use to have house plants and lots of knick knacks and have gotten rid of most of them too. It feels so much better. One thing too I think about along these same lines is I am not old enough yet to require my kids to help me clean and things yet but I have started getting rid of as much as I can for when that day will maybe come. If the kids and grand kids are going to have to clean for me or something I want to make their job as easy as possible. I know many older people love clinging to their memories and knick knacks but I think making things easier for your kids or those who are going to take care of you should be way more important then the 50 souvenirs from times gone by.

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