messy desk crowded with office supplies

When your house is so messy you don’t know where to start

Twenty quick decluttering projects you can do right now

When the mess is overwhelming, take 20 minutes to do a quick decluttering mini mission. You can do anything for 20 minutes!

READ MORE >>> Decluttering motivation

Set your timer for 20 minutes

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.

Mission #1: 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!)

Subscribers get a new decluttering challenge each Saturday

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Mission #7: Toss all grocery flyers that are out of date.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.

Subscribers get a new decluttering challenge each Saturday

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 Google? If so, they can go.

Mission #14: Create an incoming mail station. Find a 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.

Subscribers get a new decluttering challenge each Saturday

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 Where are my 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?

Subscribers get a new decluttering challenge each Saturday

Stop when the timer rings

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 to establish a regular habit you can maintain.

READ MORE >>> How to stop organizing overwhelm

by Lucy Kelly


  1. These are wonderful missions! Short and sweet does the trick every time. And any little thing that you can do to move you forward in decluttering an area is a bonus! Great ideas here, Lucy!

  2. Such a fun list of ideas! I think I’m going to go right now and recycle the old, bulky phone book. I always replace the old with the new when it shows up, but I can’t remember ever looking in it. Plastic bags are another story… I can’t even buy them in my state at the grocery store. So now I hoard them LOL!

    1. I feel like such a dinosaur because I remember the days when the Yellow Pages and the phone book were our Google. But times have changed and other than dangerous doorstoppers, what use are they? I’m surprised they still print them.

  3. I love that you mentioned, Mission #7, toss all grocery flyers. When I get them in each Thursday, I toss everything except one grocery store flyer we use often. Then, I swap out the prior week’s flyer for that store. I only keep them because they have coupons in them. If I took the coupons out, then the coupons would get lost so I keep them intact and had a home just for them. It’s out of the way in my command area in the kitchen. Thanks for sharing!

  4. It’s always fascinating to see what we can let go of during a short sprint. I’ve been doing this for the past month and it ceases to amaze me all the things that can be released. It never gets old. I love filling up bags to donate, shred, recycle, or trash. The short time blocks make the process doable and pleasant. And if I am on a roll, I extend the time. But even in a short sprint, I can get a lot done. It feels great! Love your list!

  5. I’m cracking up about spelling out WALK – one of my sweet old pups actually figured out what we were spelling and would go nuts. So then we started spelling out STROLL. These are all such simple and impactful ideas for getting things a little more under control – great post!