7 Ways to Declutter You Probably Haven’t Tried

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Last year, I moved into a new house. Walking through the empty rooms after closing left me giddy. They represented a fresh start and a clean slate.

Then we moved all our stuff in, and the clean slate quickly looked like the same old mess of our previous house.

Like many Americans, I suffer from TMSS – Too Much Stuff Syndrome. Add in five kids and an elderly mom, and my house is a constant parade of too many items coming in and not enough going out.

While I long to declutter, the sheer amount of stuff crowding the rooms is overwhelming. Although I could certainly start from one corner and work methodically around the room, I find I’m more likely to follow through if I have a challenge to motivate me.

Here are seven systems to help you kiss the clutter goodbye:

1. Five a Day

This is a simple concept, but it gives you a daily goal and breaks decluttering into bite-size bits.

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As the name implies, a “Five a Day” system involves unloading five items from your house every day. Of course, if you’re feeling more motivated, you could do a “seven a day” or “10 a day” to speed up the process.

I find it’s best to put a box in the back of my van and place usable items in the box each night. (Items that can’t be salvaged end up in the trash.) Then, when the box is full, it goes straight to the thrift store.

In my experience, packing a box in the house means you’ll have a box in the corner for weeks, if not months. Storing it in the van makes it easy to move unwanted items out of the house ASAP.

2. 40 Bags in 40 Days

The 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge is the brainchild of blogger Ann Marie Heasley. It was created to coincide with the Christian observance of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. However, you could do the challenge at any time that is convenient.

Heasley’s system is essentially the Five a Day challenge on steroids. Rather than unload a few items each day, you ditch an entire bag of stuff.

The 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge may have an advantage for those who are easily bored. It has an end date, unlike the Five a Day challenge, which can go on indefinitely.

3. 2015 in 2015

If you need extreme decluttering, the 2015 in 2015 challenge may be right for you. This system is built on last year’s 2014 in 2014 challenge and requires — you guessed it — that you get rid of 2,015 items during the current year.

Your initial thought might be that you don’t even own 2,000 items. But you’d be surprised. The magazines you’re hoarding could count for 50, and you likely have 100-plus items in your closet. Plus there are all those knickknacks on the shelves, seasonal items in the attic and DVDs in the basement.

Try it and you’ll be surprised to discover just how much stuff is taking up residence in your home.

4. 100-Thing Challenge

Let’s say you’ve already streamlined your possessions but are longing for even more. Then you may be ready to take the plunge in the 100-Thing Challenge.

Popularized by author Dave Bruno’s book of the same name, this decluttering method challenges you to live with the bare minimum: just 100 things.

In Bruno’s case, he distinguished between personal items and family items. Shared goods such as the kitchen table, plates and food didn’t count toward the 100 things. Instead, he limited personal possessions to 100 items. Of course, you can certainly make up rules that suit your family.

5. 12-12-12

Maybe you don’t want to simply declutter, you want to organize, too. The 12-12-12 system combines both objectives.

Joshua Becker of the blog Becoming Minimalist came up with this approach. Each day, you find 12 items to donate, 12 items to throw away and 12 items that need to be returned to their proper location.

For those final 12, you could choose items lingering on the coffee table that need to be moved elsewhere in the house. Or, perhaps you could zero in on library books or other things borrowed from others that are due to be returned.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Y2KJillian

    Don Aslett’s books such as Do I Dust or Vacuum First and Clutter’s Last Stand will walk you through every part of the process
    and help motivate you tremendously. Highly recommend.

  • Rachel Jones

    What a great list!
    Thanks for adding mine! :-)

  • Cecil Williamson

    For the freezer/ refrigerator/ pantry, every year in January is eat out of the pantry, fridge or freezer month, only perishable can be purchased. It is declutter and save money to pay those pesky Christmas bill. Works for me.

  • Journe

    my biggest problem is PAPERWORK,ARTICLES CUT OUT OF NEWSPAPERS, NOTES SCRIBBLED ETC. BOXES OF PAPERS.
    ANY LETTER, FORM THAT HAS ANY PERSONAL INFO ON HAS TO BE SHREDDED BEFORE DUMPING & OVERWHELMING TO GO THRU EACH PIECE IN EACH BOX OR STACK. Made decision
    whats really important to me to save or keep permanently or
    long term. I actually made myself think “IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO ME & MY ADULT CHILDREN HAD TO CLEAR OUT MY HOUSE, WHAT IS IMPORTANT AND LABELED AS
    IMPORTANT ETC.” BOUGHT SOME NICE SMALLER BOXES THAT COULD BE KEPT ON OPEN BOOKSHELF IF WANTED OR
    STORED IN CLOSET. Important to me labeled: current Rent Leases or Current Home mortgage papers,financed or paid for,
    home tax papers for last 5 years with proof of paid.
    Auto, current lease, purchased paper agreements and bank.
    credit cards: Copy Picture each card, where paid.
    HEAltH: all Tests results, dates. All Surgerys, All rx Drugs , and Supplements taken & allergies last 5 years. (i keep all Health in boxe but in seperate folders.). ONE IMPORTANT:IN CASE OF
    EMERGENCY OR DEATH BOX!!CALL #’, HEALTH DIRECTIVE,
    ANY FUNERAL INFO OR PREPAID ONE, LIST OF CURRENT iNSURANCE, doctors names, Photo copies all credit cards, bank s, drivers license, Registration, Social Security card photo,
    list of utility companys u use with phone #, . Wills or trust or what you may want done in case of death. This is MOST IMPORTANT BOX TO HAVE CLEARLY MARKED.
    THEN I LIKE KEEPING “CURRENT ARTICLES ON POLITICAL THINGS GOING ON, CURRENT DRUG OR VITAMIN ARTICLES
    AND THIS MY BIGGEST MESS, BIGGEST AMOUNT OF JUNK
    PAPERS ALL THROWN IN BOXES. BIGGEST THING FOR ME TO
    JUST THROW IN TRASH BAG OR SHRED!!! IF HAVE TO SAVE
    ANYTHING, MARK SOMETHING SAYS “CURRENT NEWS ETC”.
    IF BOXES ARE ATTRACTIVE IT IS EASIER TO FIND PLACES TO
    KEEP THEM. Then IMPORTANT FAMILY, FRIEND PHOTOS!!!
    IF Not in Alblums, at least put all in a Photo Box together.
    This is My biggest mess problem and putbit off long time.
    Now I Am in middle doing it…Commited. 1. buy attractive boxes
    that u can keep visible or in closet. Lable them. 2. Tackle One
    Box of junk/papers per day minimum. Keep Black trash Bag by
    side & trash asap. 3. keep boxes visible in corner room till
    finished with all. 4. Decide where to keep stored, whether on
    visible shelving or in closet.
    note. When my mom died, she had all this done. One main box
    with copies of all banks, what was in them, copies all credit cards paid up to date $ with phone numbers call & report death & cancel , social security card with phone number to report death asap, Dmv info numbers with Auto Registration, dr.license, and Pink slip if paid for. Upon her death, i was able to quickly, easily, call all her info in to all places to report and cancel business. could go to her banks, withdraw money or just
    keep in bank but transfer into my name! She had a PREPAID
    CREMATION & SERVICE wanted, so that was easy upon us all in family. We all should know something can happen to any of us
    at anytime, any age, so make it easy on your family to have your
    Paperwork easy to access asap. Sure makes it all better, easier,
    less expensive physically & mentally. And if you need to get a
    lawyer, much cheaper if you already took care of much, cancelling cards etc. and all organized to get right away.

    • Debbie Zervas

      You can haul all types of paper items you want to vanish to a company that pays you by the pound and recycles the paper. They offer secure shredding at no charge.

      When dad died, I hauled five SUV loads to them and what I was paid was enough to cover my fuel costs and since I had ss #’s for all his employees for over twenty years it was a relief to have that certificate of secure shredding. They shredded everything while I watched and it was done quickly.