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 feeling giddy with excitement. 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, same old mess of our old house.

The fact is I, like many Americans, 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.

If you’re like 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 down decluttering into bite-size bits.

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 go into 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 certainly do the challenge at any time that is convenient for you.

Heasley’s system is essentially the Five a Day challenge on steroids. Rather than unload a few items each day, you need to 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. 2014 in 2014

If you need to do some extreme decluttering, the 2014 in 2014 challenge may be right for you. This system requires — you guessed it — that you get rid of 2,014 items during the current year.

Your initial thought might be there is no way you 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 and minimized your house 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 just the bare minimum: only 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 your own rules to suit your family.

5. 12-12-12

Maybe you don’t want to simply declutter; maybe 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, it could be items lingering on the coffee table that need to be moved elsewhere in the house or perhaps library books or other things borrowed from others that are due to be returned.

6. Project 333

The final two strategies focus on specific areas of your house. Of these, Project 333 was my gateway into the world of decluttering challenges.

As with other decluttering strategies, this one was created by a blogger. In this case, Courtney Carver came up with the idea of limiting her wardrobe to only 33 pieces of clothing for three months.

Again, you might think there is no way you wear more than 33 items on a regular basis, and you could be right about that. However, your closet and drawers are probably jampacked with so much more.

Project 333 challenges you to set aside 33 items and pack up the rest. Wear those 33 items, and only those 33 items, for the next three months. Decide which ones are keepers and which need to go, and then do it all again until you have permanently pared down your closet to a manageable size.

7. Pantry challenge

Last, but certainly not least, we come to your pantry. You know, the place where you’re hoarding all those ingredients you planned to turn into delectable dinners and delicious desserts?

Take this decluttering challenge to clear out the pantry, freezer and fridge while saving money at the same time. A pantry challenge can be as short as a week or as long as a month. The goal is to eat from what you have on hand and severely limit your grocery shopping.

Lots of bloggers have written about their pantry challenge experiments, and here’s one example.

Are you ready to clear the clutter from your life? Tell us how you plan to do it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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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.