“Errgh, there is too much stuff to clean.” It’s a sinking feeling as a house cleaner when it’s not just a messy room but a house filled with excess stuff.
There is too much stuff to clean for the time the customer is paying you to be there. Where do you start?
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Hey there, I’m Angela Brown, and this is Ask a House Cleaner. This is a show where you get to ask a house cleaning question, and I get to help you find an answer. You can find this and 400 other answered questions in this series on our YouTube channel.
What Do You Do When There’s Too Much Stuff to Clean?
What do you do when you get to a customer’s house and you’re going to clean it, but there’s too much stuff to clean? There’s stuff strewn all about, and you’re overwhelmed. What do you do?
Most of the homes that we contract for are maintained, and when we get there, there’s this little process we go through where we do our maintenance cleaning.
But every once in a while you’ll get to a house and there’ll be an overwhelming number of things. Now, sometimes this is a special clean. Sometimes it’s the first time you’re cleaning the customer’s house. Maybe it’s been neglected for a long period of time and there’s stuff everywhere.
Brace Yourself When There’s Too Much Stuff to Clean
All right, the very first thing I want you to do is I want you to stop and take a deep breath and brace yourself for what comes next. Because while this may not be your normal cleaning, you’re inside a customer’s home.
When you’re in the customer’s home, you have to remember, this is where they live. This is their safe place, and lots of people feel safe around all their stuff.
So, if you come in and start throwing stuff away and moving stuff around, it’s a violent attempt at moving their safe stuff. So, have a conversation with the homeowner if they are willing to have this conversation with you. This might even be on the walkthrough as you’re doing your initial walkthrough with the family.
Ask the Homeowner Questions About Their Stuff
So, the first questions that I want you to ask are, “Where do you spend the most amount of your time?” And the reason that’s an important question is that that’s going to have all their valuable, useful, everyday stuff in there.
That’s where they spend most of their time. It might be the family room, it might be a bathroom or a bedroom, it might be the kitchen.
This is going to allow us to work on one or two areas of the house without feeling like we have to clean out the whole house at once. Because chances are you’re not going to get to it in one or two cleanings. It’s going to have to be an ongoing process. But we want to hit those main areas first because that’s where they spend most of their time.
Find Out What They Use the Most
All right, so having discussed that with them, what we want to say is, “What are the things that you use the most? And what are you allowing me to move or replace?”
And they might say, “Well, I don’t need any of the trash that’s in here.” And then you go, “Great, let me work on the trash.” So, get permission to remove one item or one series of items.
Don’t try to do everything in one room. Because that’s going to mean lots of different piles, and right now you have nowhere to put all the different piles. And we don’t want to unravel everything in a room that’s already unraveled and stack them in stacks. That doesn’t help anyone.
Go Through One Item at a Time
So, what we want to do is we want to go through and pick one item, like the trash, and then you will get permission, you will get garbage bags. “May I remove all the trash? Is this trash to you?”
Be specific. “Are paper cups, are paper plates, are empty bags of potato chips or cardboard boxes that serial came in, is this garbage to you?” Because some people save that kind of stuff because there are little codes on them and if they enter them, they get a prize or something like that. We need to find out where the customer is and are, allowing us to actually remove that.
Get Permission From the Homeowner to Clean Out Their Stuff
Now that you’ve removed all the trash, ask them specifically, “Are there any other rooms in the house that you want me to remove the trash from at the same time?”
What you’re doing is you’re getting permission from the homeowner to take part. They’re saying, “Yes, it is safe. You can go to the next room and remove the trash.”
So, you might hit the bathroom and the bedrooms and the living room and the kitchen. If there are other rooms in the house, they may even go unattended for right now. But you want to focus on the main areas of the house and remove the trash.
When There’s Too Much Stuff Make Sure You’re On the Right Track
If the homeowner is present, have them come back through and say, “Hey, that looks really nice.” Ask if you’re on the right track. Because if you communicate with your clients, you have their participation, they’re willing to let you continue.
But if for some reason they’re like, “No, you threw away some of my valuable stuff,” then you now have a problem. And you don’t want to keep removing stuff if there’s animosity or there’s antagonism associated with the project.
So, you want to get their permission for the next item. “What would you like to see me remove or move next?” Now, they might say, “All the dishes.” “Okay, that’s great. Is it okay if I wash the dishes and run loads of dishes in the dishwasher as we go?” And they might say, “Yes, that’s fine.”
When There is Too Much Stuff in the Kitchen
All right, now the kitchen is full of things. And you’re not going to even be able to get in there unless you wash the dishes that are in the sink, but now you have the next item.
So, what you may do then is you may go around the entire house and collect up all the dishes. These would be plates, spoons, cups, mugs, coffee mugs, thermoses, bottles, water bottles. Bring those all to the kitchen, and then you can do washing dishes, you can do loads of dishes. You can start recycling the dishes as much as you can.
When a Client Has Too Much Clothing
All right. Next, go through every section of the house this way. Getting the owner’s permission as you go, to move or remove the next thing. If you’re removing it, what are they giving you permission to do?
For example, let’s say that you get to the clothing, and this is not an organization process. They may still want to hire a professional closet organizer that can walk them through the emotional attachments of all the clothes they have. Maybe your job is not to help them throw they’re clothing out.
Maybe your job is to help them wash it and put it in a specific place, whether that’s folding it and putting it away. Or arranging it in one spot so that the professional organizer can come in and go through that with them. So, you want to have these conversations with the homeowner.
Be Compassionate and Discreet
The very next thing that I want to mention is once you have the homeowner’s agreement and you are compassionate; I want you to also be discreet.
So, as you leave today, don’t talk to any of the neighbors about this situation. Don’t talk to any of your friends. Don’t talk to anybody, even if this home was a referral because you want discretion at the top of your list.
This family doesn’t want anyone to know that you’re coming in and you’re going through and removing all this stuff that’s in their house. Okay? We want to be very, very kind and very discreet about the situation.
They Have Too Much Stuff Because It Makes Them Feel Safe
Again, this stuff makes them feel safe. This is their home. And so, if they’ve invited you in, you are a guest. And even though they’re paying you to come in and help make their lives better, that’s at the root of it.
You’re here to make their lives better, not to make them feel ashamed or embarrassed. Because there are lots of people that are in this type of situation. And instead of getting the help they need; they are embarrassed because of how they are made to feel when the house cleaner comes to the house.
We know there’s a problem, that’s why they’ve hired you. So, as you take on these jobs, please take it step by step. Don’t try to go too fast, don’t try to do it all in the course of a day, because it will be overwhelming to all of you.
Break Up the Cleaning When There’s Too Much Stuff
Block out your schedule in segments. These might be four-hour segments where you say, “I can come on Tuesday for this four-hour window.” And then plan and schedule your next four-hour window.
Because if you come in and you are there for 24 hours or you’re there for three days in a row, it’s so overwhelming.
What we want to do is make it easy for them to have small burst cleaning sessions where someone can come in and help them. Then come back and help them again in a different area.
And every time you clean it, it gets easier and easier for both you and the homeowner. So, this is a process where you can start somewhere instead of you being overwhelmed. Because there are times it is very overwhelming, but it is also overwhelming for the homeowner.
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