5 Steps to Take Right Now if You Feel Overwhelmed

When we’re in the midst of overwhelm, it’s hard to separate anything and figure out what to focus on. But working through this simple list can give some balance and order to the home when we need it most.

1. Do the dishes

I know this seems so basic, but trust me in this: If the dishes are done, life seems a little more manageable. It’s the small things that tend to pile up and overwhelm. Taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to wash dishes means it’s one less “to-do” running through your mind. It’s done. You can move on to something else.
Don’t hold yourself to a perfectionist goal here. Just simply wash one load of dishes. You don’t have to scrub the counters and wash the pots of the stove. Wash up a sink-full, or dishwasher full and call it good. You don’t even have to dry them: just get them washed.

2. Toss the trash

Grab yourself a garbage bag and race through each room grabbing any and every piece of trash you see: pop cans, broken toys, junk mail, old magazines, etc.
This should be a quick task, just picking up surface clutter. Don’t open cupboards and drawers, just grab the trash that is immediately visible: if you were a realtor walking into the house, what trash items would you notice? Toss those things.

3. Pack up the toys

If you have children in the house, you probably have toys all over too. Most of us do! Even though my kids have a very minimal amount of toys, at the end of the day, they have to be collected from all over the house and put away. But I remember back when the kids had a typical amount of toys, and by the end of the day, the mess in the house was 83% worse than it could have been, simply because there was an immense amount of toys strewn from one door to the other.
Tell the kids you’re going to do an experiment. Have them keep a few toys they enjoy and play with regularly, then box the rest up. It’s ok if you don’t have any place to put it- even a taped up box in the corner of the room feels better than a chaotic toy invasion. Keep them boxed up for a while: 1-3 months. See if anyone misses anything.

4. Clear one surface

This might be a counter in the kitchen, your desk or a coffee table in the living room. Like the dishes, it doesn’t have to be done perfectly either. If you don’t have time to sort, put things in a box or a bag. The goal is to give your eyes a place to rest that makes you feel good.
Sometime the bag might sit in a corner for a couple weeks before you get to sorting it. That is ok. It will get done, you can’t focus on that right now. Right now, it’s just important for you not to feel scattered and stressed.

5. Do a brain dump

You have a lot that needs to get done? Write it down. Write down every single thought and “should do” you can think of. Having everything on paper gets it out of your mind. Because it’s all written down, there is no need to try and remember everything and your mind can take a breath.
Then, choose 3 simple things that you can do and cross them off the list. You WIN for the day! Seriously, any step forward is still progress.
What helps you calm down when you feel overwhelmed and out of control? Please share in the comments below.

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Shelby Lou on 03/11/2017 at 6:24 pm

    Love this list!

  2. Amy on 03/15/2017 at 12:55 pm

    sitting and having a glass of water or cup of tea. doing nothing else for just 5 minutes makes a difference.

  3. Donna Askins on 03/15/2017 at 3:47 pm

    For some reason this comment is typing in all caps, … my apologies.
    Focus on your breathing. When you inhale, say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.” Then when you exhale, “Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Breathe in a continuous, consistent flow. I learned this from a Buddhist friend. It helps me calm down in almost any situation.

  4. Amy Hensley on 03/15/2017 at 3:48 pm

    When I feel overwhelmed, I send the kids outside to play and I play worship music while I tidy my kitchen. Clear counters and a vertical perspective really help me get a grip!

    • Meredith on 03/16/2017 at 10:18 pm

      Vertical perspective…I like that. 🙂

      • RhoNda on 04/03/2017 at 6:50 pm

        I do A meditation every morNinG for 5 min. Even if i cant visualize my day i try to focus on breathing too. This helps me start my day. If i dont do this i get So wound up and crazed or depressed i fall aparT. Never like this when i had kids. All in its place no clUtter. What happen?

        • Jem on 02/20/2019 at 6:27 pm

          Me too about the kids! I was so much more organized and orderly when I had kids living at home. Now I don’t have the energy or initiative. I don’t know what’s up with that.

  5. Lenora Fillmore on 03/15/2017 at 4:57 pm

    I also find that making the bed helps also

  6. Sunny Penner Cox on 03/21/2017 at 7:42 am

    Thank you! When one feels as if they are madly treading water while the tide rises and the sorm sets in; These little handholds mean more than you know! Thank you for taking the time to write these things down.

  7. Rissa Burns on 03/25/2017 at 1:36 pm

    I Love tip number 5. What i find usefull is keeping a regular journal. i set time aside every day to journal my thoughts for the day. It’s a great way to declutter the mind and start your day off on the right foot.

  8. Leigh Ann on 12/15/2018 at 4:32 pm

    Love the list!!!

  9. Corinne on 01/03/2019 at 2:00 am

    Doing the dishes is definitely a big help. It’s the fort thing on Flylady’s list and I have used it off and on for years “Shine your Sink” every night. Not your kitchen, just your sink. The kitchen will follow.
    My biggest trick is to get to be early. That doesn’t necessarily mean I will get up at the crack of dawn, ready to start my day (I don’t – I sleep in – I want to say it is medical issues and medications I take, and it is partly. I have to admit there is a big dose of laziness with a serving of “don’t know where to begin”). But if I got to bed early(ish), I will feel better and more energetic despite all my excuses. It makes my day go better. I can tackle tasks that would otherwise be too overwhelming

    • Corinne on 01/03/2019 at 2:07 am

      I meant get to bed early – auto correct and bad eyesight are giving me grey hair

  10. Rachael on 02/21/2019 at 2:28 am

    I find that if I get important things done before I head to bed that I can relax and sleep deeply. Knowing that I have specific things to get done before 8 a.m. (if it’s a must do) means I wake up often, wondering if I’m late already….

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