In January 2021, a friend sent me a daunting-looking PDF with over two thousand empty squares and the challenge: declutter 2,021 items from my home in one year.
Talk about intimidating!
I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder, but I do hold onto things – especially things I have a sentimental attachment to. Let’s call me an emotional hoarder. My husband is a “just in case” kind of guy. He’ll hold onto anything and everything “just in case” he can use it for an as of yet unnamed, imaginary future project. We both suffer from “flat surface syndrome,” where if there’s a flat surface nearby (countertop, table, dresser…), we’re going to pile things on it instead of taking the time to put it away. Add in three kids’ worth of toys, gear, and general stuff, and it’s easy to feel like we’re drowning in clutter.
I’d been on a decluttering kick for a while, trying to salvage my sanity by removing unwanted items from my house and clearing my mental and physical space. But a formal challenge with over two thousand items? It felt impossible, but I know myself. I am HIGHLY motivated by lists, tracking data, and physically seeing progress. It was the squares that made it possible for me. Coloring in each of those squares as item after item left my house fueled me along for the entire year.
And guess what? I DID IT.
Rather, I should say, we did it. Even my four year old pitched in: 81 of the decluttered items were his own decisions. We learned so much about ourselves, the items we value, and what we truly need and don’t need during this project. Here are some quick tips and what we learned this past year:
- The rules are: there really aren’t any. You get to decide what counts as an item. If you throw out a handful of pens (let’s say 10) that no longer work, you can count that as one item or as 10 items. We usually chose to count these things as one item (because I’m a glutton for punishment who loves to make things harder for myself).
- Yes, you probably do have over two thousand items in your house you don’t really need. When’s the last time you cleaned out your kitchen junk drawer? How much jewelry is sitting in your jewelry box that you haven’t worn in years? What things are living in the back of your bathroom closet? How many kitchen utensils do you have but genuinely never use?
- It’s okay to keep some things. You don’t HAVE to throw out anything you really don’t want to. Sometimes I cried when I let go of things, but I knew they had to go. Some things I still wasn’t ready to let go of, so they stayed, or I revisited them after a while and was ready to let go later.
- We donated as much as we possibly could and made a big effort to get specific items to the “correct” places that could really use them, but at the end of the day, the important part was just getting them out of the house. You do what you can with the time and energy that you have. We did sell a few of the more costly items, but the vast majority of items were donated.
- Sometimes you have to be okay with letting go of things you paid for. It’s not worth it to take up the space in your life just because it cost you money in the past. Even if it didn’t cost you a cent, you are not obligated to keep anything, including gifts.
- We learned how to be resourceful. Maybe we’d regret getting rid of something we were holding onto “just in case,” but we have friends and family we can borrow from, or find items some other way as needed.
- One phrase that I repeated to myself throughout the year was: “Clutter is the result of delayed decision making.” It became my mantra as I worked to either find a permanent spot for things in my house or let them go entirely.
It’s not perfect, but it’s SO much better.
Now, no one who walks into our house would look around and think, “Wow! Surely this is a minimalist’s home!” You wouldn’t even think, “Wow! This home sure is clean!” (Clean and decluttered are two different things, my friends. I am still working on the daily cleaning part.) But when we were cleaning our house in preparation for hosting Christmas this year, I noticed: cleaning our house went a lot faster than it did last year. There were fewer items to put away. There was less clutter to hide. Seeing that difference made it all feel so worth it.
The whole project was, in a word, freeing. The crazy thing is, after we placed our last item in the donation box, I felt like I could keep going. There are still areas in our house that need further decluttering. There are still so many more items to go!
I could write pages on this topic and talk anyone’s ear off about how we completed the project, but hopefully these basics are helpful to anyone who wants to start removing some of the clutter in their own homes. If you want to try this challenge for 2022, grab some boxes and start your decision making today!