Ask the Organizer — How To Tackle An Entire House

This month’s question is from one of our readers named Jody:

Question: Jessica, after many years of denial, my wife and I have agreed it is time to take action and totally remove clutter, organize every room, paint and add things like shelves where needed. The job is overwhelming but we are ready.

How we break it down is my question. Do you think it is best do either take one room at a time and finish it with the painting and shelves, or to remove the clutter and organize the whole house (one room at a time) and then do the painting and shelves?

Jessica Duquette - Professional OrganizerJessica says:
Greetings, Jody, I have a feeling that a lot of people are in the same predicament as you find yourself: they simply do not know where to start a large project. In fact, those are the exact words that people usually say to me when they call for help!

When anyone thinks of tackling something like “organizing the whole house”, there often comes a wave or a wall of resistance, which shows up in a variety of ways.

* distraction: often a crisis or a new urgent issue will ‘suddenly’ present itself in order to take your mind away from the original task.

* overwhelm: You may find yourself feeling so emotionally overwhelmed that you can’t even think about starting.

* over-thinking: Often people spend so much time planning, strategizing, calculating, figuring out the whole thing, they never actually get started. The start date gets put off so many times the original impetus dies and the project gets shelved indefinitely.

*resentment, fighting, irritation: Suddenly, your beloved partner becomes the most awful person alive and you can’t seem to agree about anything, much less tackle an organizing project together! This is just your resistance talking. If you can recognize it for what it is and laugh it away, you will find your sweet husband again.

*fear, anxiety, dread: Sometimes you just can’t even get out of bed, how are you going to declutter?

Does any of this sound familiar?

These tactics are just a short list of the creative ways people find to procrastinate something they know is probably gonna hurt inside. The reason most people put off organizing is fear of discovering what is underneath the clutter. It sounds to me like you are excited, ready and willing to face what comes up—good for you! Just make sure to build in some emotional release time, for when it’s time to face those papers, or clothes or memorabilia that have been keeping you back.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do the project, what I would suggest is that you get started.

If it were my project, I would declutter everything first, room by room, that way, you are on a roll of letting go and it keeps getting easier and more exciting as you go. You may want to rent a dumpster for a few days to inspire your letting go frenzy.

With any large project, you want to capitalize on momentum and make sure you keep your spirits and energy up, otherwise you can hit the wall and come to a standstill. When that happens, start talking. Start digging deep inside, you have reached a beautiful doorway into your inner life, so if you can, take the chance to let go on every level. It is so amazing how once you declutter your heart and soul, magic and light and passion and spirit has room to blossom in your life in a new way. It is a rebirth, I have seen it again and again.

Back on task: once the rooms are empty of clutter, you will experience something delightful…space. Breathing room. Energy flowing freely, giving life to your surroundings and what is in them. I know this sounds poetic, but honestly, it’s what happens! Suddenly, your clothes feel new, once the ill-fitting and shabby ones are gone, the food in your pantry tastes better, because it is not crammed unconsciously on the shelves. Your artwork and furniture have a new life, once the unloved pieces are gone and you’ve taken time to really thoughtfully choose where to put what is left. What is happening here is you are making room for God in your home, the results are transformative.

So, one important question: how can you tell if something is clutter or not?

I would say for most things, you can easily tell: if it has dead, lifeless energy, toss it! Don’t wonder if you may need it some day, or linger in the guilt of how much it cost, or what if the person who gave it to you asks you where it is. These are ways we keep ourselves stuck forever in an environment that owns US. What you are courageously doing is creating a space for yourself and your family that enlivens you, nurtures you and inspires you.

Here is what you can ask yourself while holding the item in question: does this inspire me, or drain me? (I recently had a 5 day transformation job in Connecticut with a woman who teased me all week about how she could hear my voice in her head asking, “Do I LOVE it? Do I LOVE it?”) Well… do you?

Most people move into a home in a hurry to unpack and normalize their routine. Because there was not a lot of consciousness in the process, that unconsciousness remains after the packing boxes are gone. Over time, things get tossed and dropped and shoved and stuffed into available space without thought of their effect on you.

Now, you are like a great artist with a blank canvas. You have removed the obstacles that block your creative spirit. You have the energy and freedom to redefine your home to reflect who you are now. You can paint, rearrange furniture, buy new things that are more aligned with where you are going and what you need. Think of this as the most important thing you can do for yourself right now. You must be on your way to something big, because the way is being cleared for you to really show up!

By the way, I would love to see before and after photos and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Remember, I am on your team!

..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ ..·´ Jessica -:¦:-
-:¦:- ((¸¸.·´*

Jessica Duquette from
It’s Not About Your Stuff


  1. says

    Jessica, this is a great entry for the column.
    I’ve been on a total house decluttering for 2 months now and I can tell it’s still going to be a few months before it’s done. I’ve come up against some of those walls, along with the realization that I was attracting *more* clutter TO me!

    I started to write a really long comment, then realized it was *too* long and needed to be its own blog post. So I’ve put some of the lessons I’ve learned from my own whole house decluttering project over on my blog. Please stop by!

  2. says

    I find I have the most difficult time in getting rid of any of my kids’ toys. There is such an emotional attachment to the stuffies they received as babies and the toys that, well, cost a lot (Playmobil!), that I can’t let go. Even though my kids don’t play with the stuffies and the Playmobil pieces end up scattered everywhere and causes me endless grief, a part of me feels I will be giving up a part of them if I get rid of it. I know that sounds silly, but it’s true! Unfortunately, my house is now being overrun by 8 years and 3 kids worth of toys. ACK!

  3. says

    My goal someday is to become a professional organizer. I got excited reading your post! It must be very rewarding to work with clients and see their lives changed by just getting rid of the junk.

  4. says

    this is a GREAT post— very inspiring.

    possibly because I am quite guilty of deciding to reorganize the tupperware cabinet when I am SUPPOSED to be decluttering the kitchen. haha.

  5. says

    Wonderful post – very helpful. My blog is about my year-long effort to rid my life of (at least) seven things a week (by giving them away or selling them, rather than simply tossing them). The emotional attachment issue is so, so hard for me. But I’m working on it. Thanks for an inspirational post!

  6. says

    I just discovered we will be moving in two to three months, and your article is a motivator to de-clutter so that we have less to move. Thanks.

  7. says

    wow. I just read this, after commenting on your teaser. I actually read this aloud to my husband, his mouth just fell open. EVERYTHING you mentioned as ways to avoid, we have been going through. We decided to move across country 8 months ago, and thought we would be ready to go by Thanksgiving. (of last year, yep uh huh!!) and we are still trudging along. We are both determined not to randomly throw things in boxes and go. We both lived in our respective homes 15 years, when we married, and i just moved my stuff over without thought. ARGH!! This has been the most amazing journey…sometimes an entire day is spent on one box of old photos, other days we fly through things. Then we go on a motorcyle ride, or some other destressor…
    recently my husband broke down and said “I can’t do this. I have never found anything I can’t do..will you help me?”
    he looked like he was ready for the hospital, and i was ready to move into the old house. The breakthrough was phenominal, and we have worked side by side since, to accomplish this and be more “team” oriented. Jessica, you are right, it sure isn’t about the stuff!! Our plan is to store it, leave in the RV, find a new place by the end of summer. Then when we unpack, after months of storage, having a dumpster ready, just in case.
    Jessica, your blog is the reassurance we needed today to keep moving forward, in spite of all our past pain.
    We know God has this, we just have trouble letting him hang onto it. We keep grabbing it back..
    I don’t have pictures for you, but you can see a quick video on
    halfway down the left side..of daddy chasing the girls all around the house. That was in the middle of the declutter, before the packing began.
    Blessings to you. The job God has given you is a most special one, and touches people you aren’t even aware of.
    (although i explained the photograph method to a neighbor who is quite eccentric, you cant even get through his garage..and i thought it might help him release some things, and the next day he came over with photos of his wife of 40 years..asking if that would work) *smile*

  8. says

    Wow! Just wow. I really need to tackle my whole apartment and do a very big declutter before we move this summer. Things must go and be reorganized in the new place. No junk, no clutter, no mess! *fingers crossed* These are all really great ideas, I made myself some notes!

  9. Jeanie says

    Whew thanks I really needed this and the support. Best to you all in your space reclaimations and many thanks for your insights .

  10. says

    Decluttering room by room is a great option. Once you make progress with one room, you will be more motivated to continue reducing clutter in other areas. It also helps to reduce the feelings of getting overwhelmed which may happen if you try to declutter the whole house all at once.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *