I set the timer for fifteen minutes.


Surely in fifteen minutes, I thought, I can make a difference in this room.

The room was mine. The mess was an assortment of laundry, books, accumulated junk, out-of-season kids’ clothes, and random bits.

I knew there was no way I was going to finish cleaning the room in fifteen minutes, or even that day, but I had to make a start.

Tip 1: Starting is the hardest part.

Setting a timer is a great way to overcome the hurdle of beginning. The timer says, “This job isn’t going to last forever, and you don’t have to do it all before you stop.”

Just start. Make some progress. Move on. Repeat once or twice a day.

So I started hanging my necklaces, folding some clothes, picking up bits of trash, sorting piles. I had items that needed to go down to the storage room, items that needed to be donated to the thrift store, items that belonged in any other part of the house than my bedroom.

How can I clean my room when I have to keep moving stuff around to various other parts of the house. And, inevitably, when I take something to the storage room, I spot the final bag of winter clothes that needs to be brought up to sort or the box of trash I’d been meaning to take out. I take the kids’ stuff and move it to their bedroom and am awash in a whole new level of chaos and work to be done.

How do I stay focused on cleaning my own room when I’m constantly moving junk and seeing new problems?


Tip 2: Make it count.

There are two ways I keep myself from getting frustrated and annoyed at traipsing around the entire house, putting things back where they belong and sorting piles.

First, I listen to something. A podcast or an audiobook makes the fifteen minutes (or more if I ignore the timer because I get in the zone) a mental break, almost entertainment time.

Second, I wear a Fitbit. Going back and forth between the storage room and my bedroom is no longer an annoyance, it’s a chance to get more steps than my friends.

With these tricks, my fifteen tidying up minutes are suddenly triple-counting: cleaning, entertaining, & exercise!

Tip 3: Tidy in categories.

To keep my focus and make those minutes change the appearance of my room, I work in categories.

  • First, I hunt around for as much trash as I can simply toss.
  • Second, I start moving things that belong elsewhere near the door, while I put things away that belong in the room.
  • Third, I fold a few things, then take some things out and put them away around the house, then I’m back to fold a few more things, then I make another around-the-house run, perhaps to start another load of laundry. If I change what I’m doing, I don’t get bored and I make a more noticeable difference in the state of the room.

And wouldn’t you know it, after fifteen minutes busily spent moving, cleaning, with my earbuds in and my mind distracted, I’m ready to either try another fifteen minutes or re-enter the rest of the day, pleased with what I got done.

Fifteen minutes can make a difference.

Dump all those swirling thoughts out of your head.

Yes, simply writing it all down will help to
  • Reduce stress by getting your thoughts onto paper
  • Reduce frustration by assigning homes to stuff, tangible & intangible
  • Reduce anxiety by knowing what you have on your plate

Declutter your head.


  1. I get down on my hands and knees so that I am more likely to stay IN the room and therefore stay focused :) I start in one corner of the room and work my way around with a garbage bag, clean laundry basket, dirty laundry basket, box for other stuff that belongs in my room and box for stuff that belongs elsewhere :) If I need another pile (like a give away pile) I will throw that stuff on the bed . When my timer goes off, I set another one for 5 minutes and hurry to empty the baskets/boxes/piles wherever they belong. I don’t have a Fitbit, so I am not trying to get steps lol. I love the earbud idea!

  2. These were really great and PRACTICAL tips!! Thank you so much for sharing. I just found your blog through the “cultivating the lovely” podcast!

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