Angry cleaning.

When we moved in to the new place, we weren’t exactly organized with the whole unpacking thing.

Basically, we shoved everything into drawers and closets and said, we’ll deal with it later. To further complicate things, Will and I didn’t even do all the shoving ourselves. My mom—by request—stocked my kitchen cabinets for me (thanks, Mom!) and my mother-in-law loaded up my linen closet (thank you!).

For a while, that worked fine.

But two weeks ago I reached the breaking point. My mental grace period for rolling with the mess and clutter is apparently over. It’s been two months, and we’ve made very little progress. (Except for the pantry, which is looking pretty good thanks to Will’s Young House Love-inspired update.)

It’s driving me crazy that I still don’t know where anything is. I can’t find my favorite pair of jeans. I don’t know where the tupperware belongs, or the salad bowls. My camera battery is drained and my charger is AWOL.

I told my friend that I’m experiencing Delayed Moving Overwhelm: all I want to do is organize everything, immediately and non-stop.

Angry cleaning | Modern Mrs Darcy

bookshelves in the living room

She nodded. “Yep, I call that angry cleaning.”

But as much as I may want to, it’s hard to whip a house into shape in a day. I’m trying to figure out some kind of plan—a strategy that helps me make rapid progress without totally overwhelming me or making me feel even more hopeless. I’m sure there are rules about this: move room by room, start with the problem areas, don’t tackle more than you can handle in a day.

I’m not having much luck with it so far.

But there’s a glimmer of hope: on our massive IKEA run, we bought some pieces to pull a few rooms together, but we also bought storage, which we desperately needed. The house finally feels like it’s starting to take shape. A little.

Angry cleaning | Modern Mrs Darcy

the other side of my office. much better than the desk, right?

But I still can’t find my jeans.

Do you have tips on whole-house organizing strategies? Please share them in comments!

P.S. The best way to decorate, and the secret to faking a clean house.

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    My house is quite a mess and I frequently waste lots of time searching for things that have gone missing – so for what it’s worth here is something I do when I am going crazy with all the clutter and disorganization: I focus on one area or one room and the one I pick to focus on is the cleanest one to begin with… that way I don’t get burned out. I clean that one room (that to begin with is not that bad) and feel good about it. Then the next day, I focus on the next cleanest room, etc. I used to start with the biggest mess, but got discouraged very quickly. So, that is my new strategy. From your photos, I would start with the side of your office that has the chair with the pretty striped pillow. Finish that side of your office, make it an oasis amidst the chaos and go from there!

  2. Jennifer says:

    One room at a time. Bathrooms are a good place to start since they are usually the smallest rooms and there is a relatively quick sense of accomplishment that makes you want to keep snowballing the cleaning process (Dave Ramsey reference there <–). That being said my house looks crazy and I need to find a sitter for my nearly six week old and 18 month old so I can simply sort paperwork for the first time in weeks!

  3. Jillian Kay says:

    My only tip is to get someone to take your kids out for the day, load up a good audiobook, and get to it. I’ve been “angry cleaning” a lot lately, and while it’s not a great feeling it makes it a lot easier to get rid of things for some reason. Hope you find those jeans soon!

  4. Steph says:

    Ugh. We’ve moved five times and I have done lots of angry cleaning myself. I agree with the other commenters: tackle one thing at a time. Figure out a room (or a section of a room) that seems least overwhelming and go from there. Alternatively, tackle whatever section will give you the most return. Think about the things you’re wasting the most time looking for and start there. I’ve been known to leave a room basically empty while moving and then use that room to sort things into big piles until I can find a place for them.

  5. Do an “honest purge” on a regular basis. In my case, “regular” means about 3-4 times a year. I look through kitchen cabinets and drawers, closets and dressers, bookshelves (yeah right, like anything ever leaves those – HA!), office spaces, even the laundry room and my craft area.

    Just this week, I was feeling the urge to purge, so I went through my closet again and lo and behold, I came up with a whole sack of stuff, mostly things that I wasn’t ready to ditch 6 months or a year ago, but now I realize I’m going on my second summer of not wearing them. Buh-bye! 🙂

    The key for me has been to not let it get overwhelming or out of control in the first place, and being an INTJ, I still feel like there is always room for improvement. 🙂 Keep what you love and what you use. Everything else fits in my favorite purge saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” 🙂

    Have fun! I’m hoping to hit up Ikea in the next month… it’s a 3 hour trek (one way) for me, but SO worth it. 🙂

  6. Sheila says:

    I usually go with whatever room/area is bothering me the most, but sometimes I’ll work on the one that seems like it’ll be easiest. Then I can focus on keeping that area in good shape, and work on expanding the organization area.

    Hope you find your jeans soon!

  7. Candice says:

    We’ve been married 3 years and just moved into our 6th place. Every time gets easier. The best thing for me is to get things out of boxes and into their general area. Then I organized the kitchen first so we can eat. After that we just move from area to area and finish one at a time. I think it’s important to unpack each area well so you’re starting everything off really clean and usable. It’s also good to be really honest with yourself and get rid of stuff. We just got rid of three really big boxes of things because it was stuff we hadn’t used in the year since our last move which is my general rule of thumb. Also listen to podcasts to make the time more fun.

  8. Anna says:

    Oh my word. Yes! At the end of June we had to move everything out of our apartment, store it for a week, and then move it all back in because they wanted to remodel it. To add to the fun there was a flooding catastrophe upon move in and not all the work was completed in time. The alternative was to just move somewhere else and part of me wishes we had. Oh, and we also have a three year old and three month old. Goodness gracious our life is a mess right now! I’m not the most orderly person, being an INFP and all, but I cannot handle living in this chaos. Not having my safe little nest to retreat to is very difficult for me. There have been several “angry cleaning” episodes. My strategy, besides anger-fueled cleaning sessions, is to just “do it right now”. Whatever it is that’s bothering me – that box I keep tripping over, the table overrun with piles, the baby’s clothes that need to be sorted so I can actually find something for him to wear – just stuff those jobs in when you can. Don’t wait for the perfect time. And also, I work hard to not bite off more than I can chew. I’ve definitely worked myself into bigger messes at times so I try to not do that, but moving and unpacking this way with children around is like working a rubik’s cube with this needing to be sorted before I can do that, but that can’t be done until that box over there gets opened, but it all needs to go in the room where the preschooler is sleeping. Ack! So stressful.

  9. Corby says:

    Every time you leave a room put 3 things away. Little by little you accomplish a lot. Anyone can do three things (which most of the time turns into 5 or 10 things put away)

  10. Erin says:

    To get our house the cleanest I make a big list of everything that needs to be done. It is very detailed as every little task gets put on it from “Empty Dishwasher” to “Fluff Pillows” the more I can break it down the better. Then I put on music I love and turn it up. I start with whatever task seems easiest and get going. It is great to finish cleaning the bathroom and get to cross five things off my list. However, if I didn’t feel like doing one of them, say cleaning the shower, then I still get to cross stuff off without feeling guilty.

    If my husband is helping me, he likes to cross something off and initial it so he can see what he did. This gets a bit competitive and keeps me going. Maybe your kids would like that?

  11. When we moved my strategy was to focus on the greatest area of need or the area that that will prevent the most time waste and tick the areas/rooms off one by one. If I got more than one done in a day I was satisfied. Counting up how many rooms/spaces we had it often got done within a few weeks. I also clean while I organize. If I’m kneeling down or crawling into a space I might as well have a rag in my hand to wipe it out.

    I have no ideas I how to keep it that way. Honestly, I’m pretty bad at it right now and have crazy thoughts of throwing out 80% of what we own and moving into one of those tiny houses built out of a shipping container. =)

  12. Anjanette says:

    Moving is so stressful! It looks like you’ve got the bones in place for very functional spaces though. Yay for Will doing the pantry– it would be great if he got inspired to do your closets next!

    If you get a chunk of time, I recommend prioritizing your desk area. You’ll feel so much more ready to take on the rest of the house once your own work center is in order, and it will make your writing and also planning for starting the new homeschooling year seem more manageable too.

    I know it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is exciting to do an organizational reset. I can’t wait to see the “after” pictures!

  13. We just moved as well. The best strategy we could come up when we got to overwhelmed to handle it was to fly in my wife’s sister. She stayed for about four days and we could attend to the daily things while she put in shelves, decorated, and found furniture on craigslist for us. It was amazing.

  14. Ashley says:

    The more you move the easier it gets, and you learn that premove organization and purging is essential. I always start with the kitchen because it’s hard and we need to not be hangry. Then I do our bedroom because clothes are a pain and we need to not be tired. And on from there. Basically I tackle the worst first, and the areas essential to our well being. 6 moves in 7 years with months of living out of suitcases in between and I’m still learning. But mostly our house is set up and done in a week. Otherwise what’s the point when you move so often?! Maybe you should pretend there’s another mo e coming up? 🙂

  15. Jen says:

    I think I would have to get rid of the kids for a few days, get a helper or two and just go one room at a time. I think a whole house is too big a job to try to do it in little chunks throughout your normal day. I’d have to put everything else on hold until it was done. Then keep a notepad nearby where you can jot down anything you need to get, like baskets, shelf paper, etc. Good luck!

    • Katherine says:

      Yes! Getting the kids out of the house always means I have to use the time well. Huge motivator. And I like the previous suggestions of starting with the easiest/cleanest room and snowballing into the biggest disasters.

      Or, if you know one particuar area is just killing you with its’ presence– knock that one out first.

  16. Karlyne says:

    I’m afraid my advice isn’t timely: Don’t unpack anything until you have a place to put it. (This, of course, requires that you do the actual packing with the unpacking in mind, and also requires accurate labeling of the boxes.) I’ve moved over a zillion times, and, trust me! this is what makes moving semi-sane. It’s much easier to deal with one box at a time than a room full of towering stuff.

    Isn’t this ever so helpful now?!?

    But, for where you are now, I recommend coffee and loud piano music (don’t know why, but it has to be piano. Ferrante and Teicher, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, etc.) and a day out for the kids!

  17. D says:

    Start with basic survival cleaning: run your dishwasher every night, empty it every morning, and do (as in wash, dry, fold and put away) one or two loads of laundry.

    Using paper plates for a few days can also claim some sanity in the kitchen, along with eating outside on a picnic blanket (no mess on the floor to sweep or table to wipe down), and grilling keeps the mess out of your kitchen so you can concentrate on other areas.

    Start in your kid’s room, if they want the help. It’s easy to know where something goes when it’s not yours. It also teaches them how to create order out of disorder and will put a notch in your belt on this project. Then go from the easiest (or smallest) room to the hardest/largest. Alternatively, think about which room would give you the most peace when it’s clean. For me, it’s my bedroom. Maybe it’s your family area or your office. Start and work from there.

  18. Torrie says:

    We moved about a month and a half ago, and I’m at the point now where I basically have no motivation to unpack anything (basically, I only had that unpacking-frenzy feeling for about the first week after, then it wasn’t fun anymore). So now I’ve made myself a system–each day, I unpack at least one box. That’s it. If I feel like doing more, I do more. But each day, I unpack one box, and I decide (as much as possible) right then and there where everything in that box will belong. It sounds like such a stupid plan, but years of experience have taught me that it’s often by doing just a little bit every day that I get the most done (as opposed to doing a lot only every now and then).

    Best of luck to you!

  19. Maggie says:

    I moved into a new house with a new baby in a new city. It was… unwise.

    However, one thing that I did and felt good about is this: every time I tackled a new box, I made sure I emptied the box and then physically took it out to the recycling. If i left it half emptied and then it was still sitting there staring at me, I felt like a loser. But if I cleared out some sort of physical space… i.e. total box removal, then I felt like I could breathe again.

    It was like magic. There! An empty spot on the floor. I’m a wizard!

    • Raquel says:

      We did this last year, Maggie! Unwise is a good word for it- but sometimes it has to be done. This year we just moved (same city, bigger babies). And, that’s my advice too- It’s a balance between the biggest improvement / time ratio and where it’s most needed- but I usually go for the easiest boxes to unpack and get OUT! Though I am guilty of stashing the empty box(es) & packing material in another room until later. I feel like switching gears and dealing with recycling interrupts my unpacking mojo. Plus, my husband will frequently deal with the recycling for me 😉

  20. Jeannie says:

    I have NO advice for you on this subject (blind leading blind) but I have a question: is that a box of 100 Jane Austen postcards on your shelf? I have that same box: for my 50th b-day in April I had a Jane Austen party and wanted some sort of favour for my guests so I bought those postcards and put a different one at each plate. I still have, oh, 88 of them left so I’d better start finding other ways to use them!!

  21. Sally says:

    I think moving down the road apiece has different challenges than moving to another place entirely. It is so easy to pack up the car and drop off a load, figuring you’ll sort it later, only to find that all the activities and friends continue and it is hard to get around to it! We moved six months ago, but I had to wait until summer break to really gain some measure of control again. Frustrating! That said, to start, I would choose your area of greatest frustration, the one that keeps preying on your mind and will give you the greatest measure of peace once it’s tackled. Since you posted a picture, I’m guessing that would be your office. 🙂 First, clear that whole space of stuff so you can think and view the clean space, sort the papers and books based on what is immediate (bills, blog posts) and what is not-so-immediate or needs to go elsewhere, take care of the immediate and then organize the rest into that cleared out space. And if it isn’t too expensive, order yourself a new camera charger. 😉 Then, perhaps move onto your clothes closets to see if you can find those jeans!!! It will get better!

    • Katie says:

      Uh, yeah. My parents did this while I was away at college ALMOST TEN YEARS AGO and we are STILL unearthing my various belongings that just got jumbled away into a corner or the garage or wherever. Yikes.

  22. Anne says:

    Angry cleaning! I know what you mean. 🙂

    I have only moved into one house; so, I am not sure I really have any good advice. Maybe tackle whatever is really ticking you off?

    If you want to get a few things done at a time, I’ve had the 15 minute (or whatever increment) timer work well to get me through several things in a short amount of time. Or do the FlyLady’s “what can I get done in 10 minutes?” game.

    That office corner’s looking mighty cute! 🙂

  23. Liz says:

    I haven’t read through all the comments yet, but I think what might help is if you went into a room w/ several boxes. Each box would represent another room in the house. That way, while you’re cleaning out your office or bedroom and come upon stuff that doesn’t belong in that room, you can put it in the box for its final destination. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of stuff that doesn’t belong in the room and you’ll have to re-sort it to get each object to its room. We just moved for the 3rd time in 3 years and have had to purge for each move. My bathroom closet and kitchen cupboards look insane, but everything is in the right room, so as I find time I can reorganize those particular areas. In the mean time, they’re closed, so I feel a sense of satisfaction in the general cleanliness of the apartment at large.

  24. Moira says:

    We’re in the midst of our 6th move in 10 years and I always get the kitchen squared away first (but realize that you might need to swap cabinets around in a month or so when you figure out how you will actually use the space. It’s a small annoyance with a big payoff.) Then find a spot that you can use to triage everything. Getting the bulk of the boxes out of my line of sight made it much easier to put away what needs to be put away without getting overwhelmed. We tend to spend a whirlwind week putting everything in the room/shelf/closet it needs to be in, and then refining room by room over the next month. I always start with the kitchen, baths and kids rooms, so that they get back to normal as soon as possible. I say dig around and find those jeans, or whatever else you are really missing, so you get to feel a little more settled yourself. Then you’ll feel more empowered to tackle the rest. It sucks, but it will be over soon, and I promise you’ll forget just how annoying it was in a few months!

  25. Deborah says:

    We’ve been in our new place for eight months (five with our furniture) and I had the hardest time unpacking with our little one underfoot. My hubby clocked a lot of hours at the park with him while I unpacked and organized. Storage is key! And storage solutions from your previous home may not work in your new place. We’re looking at another move in the new few months (same company, different compound, long story) and my hubby may end up doing the move solo since the little one and I are in the States. Poor man. And then I’ll be in your shoes, completely clueless about the location of my jeans!

  26. MelissaJoy says:

    Anger is very useful in times like these. Take a minute and breathe in a calm place and then follow your instincts. Do you need to sit down and write out a strategy? Is unpacking one box going to be where you start? Is standing and visualizing and feeling the flow of the space, cabinet or drawer going to unlock the mystery? Think about how you deal with anger effectively in other areas of life and that may be a good jumping off point.
    Moving is in the top three for high stress life events. Open your hands to grace every day.

  27. Jessica says:

    I have no advice to give, only encouragement. Also thanks for putting the question out there as my husband and I moved into our home four years ago and did it in a horribly unorganized fashion. Thus nothing being *completely* done anywhere, so I’m soaking up all the advice your readers are giving out!

  28. Janice says:

    The only tip that I can think of that helps me is just – be okay with it not being complete in one day. Organizing is really never complete….things need to be revisited throughout the year anyway, so I am finally okay with that. I used to make a list and go room by room, but sometimes, I really just go to the area that I am most motivated to tackle. That always seems to be the fastest, happiest route. The long checklist that never got any checks was the most frustrating part of organizing for me. Today I knocked out a bookshelf in the schoolroom, two “junk drawers” in my son’s room, the arts & crafts table in the kitchen, and one tiny shelf in the bathroom. Yes, all over the house, but I feel great that I got all that done! And tomorrow I will try to do it again! And the next day…

  29. Katie says:

    We just angrily reorganized our two main living rooms–just pulled everything apart one Sunday afternoon and shoved it all around. I don’t think anything is left where it was originally. This was great when the inspiration struck, but not so great two days later when company was coming and then we were leaving town for a week and then we’ll only be home for three days before more company comes and we leave town for another week. I have three rooms just stacked with boxes and bags of stuff, a hideously dirty kitchen, and a very lovely little play room and living room.

    I’m soaking in all these comments for advice on how to tackle everything come August…because baby two comes at the end of September and theoretically might want a place to keep all its stuff….

  30. Lisa says:

    I would think your best bet is to move everything in one room out of the shelves/closets/nooks&crannies and either into a couple boxes or into the middle of the room on the floor. Then you can see exactly what you have and can decide where best to put it all. After that you should be able to put something into ‘its place’ or into another box (or set of boxes) labeled for a different room(s), allowing you to simultaneously clear the space you’re in and plan for where to put things in rooms you’ll be tackling in the future.

  31. I love that phrase “angry cleaning” and I might just write a blog post about it 🙂

    I usually tell organising clients to either start with an easy space (if they’re easily overwhelmed) or if they don’t mind a bit of chaos, then to start with the area that’s bugging them the most. (the latter is my personal way I “attack” areas of my home).

    When we’ve moved in the past (last time nearly 9 years ago, and I have no intention of moving anytime soon – THE STRESS!!), I put post-its on the cupboards in the kitchen and leave my MIL in there to unpack (my boxes are, of course, labelled). Afterwards I do have to make slight tweaks but really not very much. This has two positives – she knows where to find things when she comes over and we have a kitchen that very night. I leave those post-its for a week or so til DH and I are used to everything…..

    Then I leave DH in our bedroom hanging curtains and making the bed because when we’re tired, we’re TIRED! And I flit around making the rest of the house home. I sort out a bathroom, and the desk, etc.

  32. We just did a huge renovation and moved back in — but we still have about 10% reno left, so we still have workmen in the house, materials against the wall in the den, and no place for our books, which are all stacked all over the house. And with 2 big walls removed, the furniture that used to be against those walls is now…. lined up, mugshot style, around our living room. (But our new kitchen is huge and gorgeous, so I am not complaining.)

    Oh, and I’m hosting a surprise birthday party for my husband this weekend as well as out of town in-laws.

    We had stuffed half the house back into the other half of the house to renovate, and it’s been hard putting it all back together — until I finally realized that in order to really get my stuff done I had to pull it all out of the corners and bedrooms and stuff and just pile it all on my dining table and new kitchen island, in stages. If it’s there, I’ll be dealing with it in a public place in view of kids — who tend to follow me into bathrooms and bedrooms anyway and get underfoot — and I can still keep an eye on dinner and find bandaids for booboos and put laundry in, etc. And there is space for the kids to be with me without being all over me, if that makes sense.

    I’m also having to be ruthless, over and over, about my kids’ toys and books and clothing. You know — you clean out a ton, and then their rooms get all messy again and you realized you only got rid of 25% of what you really need to get rid of in order for it all not to tumble out again…

    • Anne says:

      I understand the “being ruthless” part—I’m still getting used to the idea that I need to keep being ruthless to keep things clutter-free! It’s an adjustment…. 🙂

  33. I don’t really have any tips since I find myself in a similar state of overwhelm, though for very different reasons. We have been in the home for 2 years and have accumulated too much clutter and “stuff” for a home of this size. We are BLESSED! My daughter has 5 areas in the house that look like your desk, and I have 2. My husband would like us to clear one of my daughter’s areas out completely so that he can set up a desk/office space for his company… so yes, we are doing much angry cleaning ourselves!
    The up-side is that many of the ideas shared in this thread are VERY helpful and might just do the trick! So thank you to everyone for sharing. And I’m looking forward to more posts/discussions like this to help keep me on track, too! 🙂

  34. Jill Robson says:

    Yes, set a timer for 15 minutes, and start in one place only. Once that is done move on to the next area. If you try and do it all at once you will be overwhelmed and frustrated. Good luck.

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