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20 Minutes Decluttering, Decoded

What can I possibly do for 20 minutes that’ll make a difference?

The ground rules are simple:

  1. Set your timer for 20 minutes.
  2. Stop when the timer rings.
  3. Be kind to yourself about recycling. If wanting to recycle means stuff doesn’t actually leave the house, give yourself a Joyful Surroundings pass while you’re tackling the mountain of stuff. There’ll be lots of time to pick up the recycling habit when things are under control.

Mission #1: If you ignore everything else I write here, I urge you to have a go at this one. Pick up something you’ve been saving to read – a magazine, an article, a newspaper, a guide to growing tomatoes in Wisconsin – and read for 20 minutes. When the timer rings, recycle or throw away what you’ve read. If you simply must keep it, place it in a bankers box you’ve cunningly labeled “to file”.

Mission #2: Pick up 20 plastic bags. You might want to keep them, but before you do, ask yourself how many plastic bags from the newspaper delivery feels like enough. How often do you walk the dog? If you get the paper everyday and you use the bags to pick up the poop, 20 bags is probably enough to be sure you won’t run out. If you save them because you’re getting charged 10 cents per bag at the store these days, consider how many bags you use each time you shop, factor in the bulging sackfuls of cloth bags already in the car, and keep what feels like a reasonable number.

Mission #3: Pick up all the shoes you can find around the house and put them on the closet floor. If you happen to find a pair that don’t fit or you don’t like, then they’re clutter. Can you let them go? Beat up, scuffed shoes with worn out heels are trash but the ones you just didn’t like or don’t fit can be donated.

Mission #4: Collect all the newspapers older than today’s and pop them in the recycling bin. The bags are trash unless there’s only one bag in the dog bag.

Mission #5: Create a dog bag. It holds the bags for collecting poop and ideally hangs on a hook near the door you use when you take your dog out for a w-a-l-k (careful, Baxter’s listening!)

Mission #6: Take a look at the front of the fridge. Pitch any notices about events that are now in the past.

Mission #7: Toss all grocery flyers that are out of date. This week’s too, if you never use them.

Mission #8: Grab a large trash bag and empty all the little wastebaskets into it. The big bag goes in the outside trash can.

Mission #9: Look in your cupboards/pantry for any expired cans. Into the trash they go – food poisoning is miserable.

Mission #10: Find a gift you’ve been saving to give to someone and put it on the front seat of your car. Drop it off this week, either at their house or at the Post Office to mail it to them. If that seems like a lot of work for something you’re only half-convinced they’ll like, put the gift in the donate box.

Mission #11: Create a donate box. It can be any of the many empty boxes you’re saving in the basement. Pick a spot near the garage door and designate it as the donation box spot. From now on, anything that you want to donate goes in that box. When it’s full, put the box in your car to drop off this week and find another empty box from your stash to replace it.

Mission #12: Drop off the donation box at a charity within 10 minutes of your house. If there isn’t one, call ARC or Disabled Veterans and set up a pick up day.

Mission #13: Spend 20 minutes uncovering bulky phone books. Ask yourself if you ever use them and if you could replace them with the efforts of Mr. Google? If so, they can go.

Mission #14: Create an incoming mail station. Find a logical counter or end table near where you come in the house and place two wastebaskets next to it. One for trash, the other for recycling (but remember, no guilt if that’s too much just yet.) From now on, the only thing you’re going to let yourself put on that counter or end table is the mail.

Mission #15: Open mail for 20 minutes. The ads, inserts and envelopes can go in the recycling/trash. The stuff you need to act on goes in another bankers box you’ve labeled something like “Mail to deal with NOW!!!” or whatever will prompt you to look at it regularly.

Mission #16: Create a keys station, preferably fairly close to the mail station. Whether it’s a hook or a pretty bowl, from now on that’s where your keys go every time you enter the house. Life is just way too short to keep playing hunt the keys.

Mission #17: Pick up pieces of paper throughout the house for 20 minutes. Tomorrow, spend 20 minutes going through them. Don’t worry, most of it’s out of date and can be recycled/trashed.

Mission #18: Pick up all the cat and dog toys and half-eaten treats lying around. Put them all in a basket you’ll now think of as the cat/dog toy basket. Toss the old treats.

Mission #19: Round up coats and jackets and take them to the coat closet. These are the ones you use. The ones hanging up nicely inside the closet can most likely be donated.

Mission #20: Head into the bathroom and see if there’s anything you keep but never use. Shampoos that stripped your hair, toothpaste that tastes weird, hair dye you don’t use anymore. What can you find that’s clutter?

The most important part of any of these missions is that you stop when the timer goes off. Sure, some will say let the decluttering momentum carry you forward, but we all know how that ends. A day of intense decluttering, followed by complete burnout. Better you should remember our Send it away Saturday mindset and establish a regular habit. If 20 minutes is too long, try 15 or 10 or 5 or 2. There’s always something you can do in a minute or two that will help.


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