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Finding 465 Things to Toss in The Declutter Challenge

The 30-day junking was harder than this author expected

By Jacqueline Damian | September 3, 2014
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Jacqueline Damian is a writer and editor living in Milford, Penn. She wrote Sasha’s Tail: Lessons from a Life with Cats, and pens Lost in the Sixties, a weekly column for boomers for the Pocono Record.

(This blog appeared originally on ThePoconos.com.)

My 30-day declutter purge ended not with a bang, but a whimper. After culling drawers, cabinets, shelves and closets throughout the house on the 29 prior days of the challenge, I was stymied by the demand to unload another 30 items on Day 30. Thirty items — that’s a lot.
 
In frustration, I grabbed the tin I keep on my desk into which I pop any new business card that comes my way from a friend, service person or store owner. The box has been with me for a while. There must have been a couple hundred cards stuffed inside, many of them embarrassingly outdated. I threw away half of them and, theorizing that 100 cards must somehow equate to 30 items in the new math of the purge, thus called an end to this curious challenge.

(MORE: Take the 30-Day Declutter Challenge)
 
The 30-day purge involves discarding one item on Day 1, two items on Day 2, nine items on Day 9 and so on, for a month. You can throw out, give away, donate or sell the outcasts. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get them out of the house. If you make it to the finish line, you will have jettisoned 465 items. Don’t you feel lighter already?
 
I began the exercise at the prompting of my friend Stephanie, who was nearing the homestretch of her own purge and urged me to join her. But in truth, I’ve wanted to cull my overabundance for a long time. Like 56 percent of the people over age 50 who were questioned in a recent University of Kansas poll, I have too much stuff.
 
At the beginning of the year, I vowed to go through each room of the house in an organized way and shed the excess. But as with most New Year’s resolutions, this one fell by the wayside after I overhauled just one room: my office. Stephanie’s invitation got me going again.

Best Intentions Go Astray
 
Stephanie recommends having a staging area — preferably in the garage or basement, apart from your actual living space — to sort and stash your discard piles. I don’t have a garage and my basement is a dim, cobwebbed land of doom, so I used a work surface in my office. I also kept a diary, noting the daily discards and tallying up the numbers. My purge was bifurcated by vacation, and it took me four days to complete the last two days’ quotas. Nevertheless, finish I did.
 
I made it a point to cull only my things, not my husband’s. It didn’t seem fair to drag him into it, especially since he’s one of those folks who hates to throw anything out — the sort of guy who will keep a wire hanger from the dry cleaner’s because you never know when you might need to fashion it into a useful tool.
 
One exception was the mutually-owned kitchen, where I raided drawers and cupboards to jettison unneeded utensils, stray packets of soy sauce from the Chinese restaurant and untold detritus from the aptly named junk drawer.
 
Another was the bathroom medicine cabinets. I tossed squeezed-out tubes of ointment, combs with broken teeth and old lipsticks, and then attacked the prescription bottles. Why we still had my late father-in-law’s expired medications is beyond me. I wound up taking them, and some other ancient meds, to the sheriff’s office for safe disposal.

(MORE: How is Your Declutter Challenge Going?)

Day 1 Was Easy, Day 21 Not So Much
 
The challenge started off easy and got progressively harder. On Day 6, for example, it was no big deal to grab a couple of things off my desk and four paperbacks I knew I’d never read again, and call it a day. But on Day 13, in search of 13 items to eliminate, I had to actually take the time to go through my scarf drawer. I love scarves and although I wouldn’t call myself a collector exactly, I have accumulated quite a few. It was not hard to choose 28 to either throw away (ripped or stained scarves) or donate (scarves I haven’t worn in years). That heroic total got me off the hook on Day 14, since I had already met my quota, with one scarf to spare.
 
In this way, the challenge became actual work. I found that if I were to meet my totals, I had to zero in on a closet, cabinet or set of drawers and methodically reorganize it. The effort couldn’t be random. Plucking an item here and an item there, as I had done the first week of the challenge, no longer worked when the day’s quota was in the double digits. Deliberate, thoughtful action was necessary.
 
“You have to look at everything and make decision after decision,” Stephanie advised.

Difficulty Parting with Books
 
The bookshelves were hard, since I love living with books all around me. They are like old friends. I have shelves in the family room, bedroom and office. On the other hand, was there really a reason to hang on to yellowing paperbacks I had bought 30 years ago and hadn’t reopened since? If I ever want to read Robertson Davies again, I’ll download an e-book.

(MORE: Declutter Challenge: Halfway There)

Out they went, earmarked for our yard sale, along with a bunch of hardcovers that I discovered, upon reflection, weren’t terribly meaningful to me. I kept the ones that were. Indeed, that’s the point of the purge. You aren’t required to throw away things that hold value. This challenge helps you figure out what does.
 
The downside: It was harder than I expected. The upside: Weirdly, I feel better.

A Weight Off the Shoulders
 
I’m enjoying my nice, neat underwear and scarf drawers, my organized closet and CD collection, my newly pristine bookshelves. I feel like I can breathe.
 
“The different mind-set is the idea, I think,” said Stephanie. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but I feel completely different about the things I bring into the house. Having gotten into the habit, I now throw or give away one thing every day — for example, a necklace to my niece, a fake fern to the thrift shop.”
 
I hope to do the same.
 
There are still a number of unexamined cupboards in my house that I vow to get to one day, not to mention the attic and the scary basement. And then, there’s my husband’s stuff. Assuming he agrees, that could be the springboard for another 30-day purge — once I’ve recovered from this one.

Editor's Note: Jacqueline kicked off the challenge for Next Avenue when she first blogged about it. Have you tried the 30-Day Declutter Challenge? Tell us how it went. We may include your comments in our next installment of this series.