How to Embrace Minimalism With “40 Bags in 40 Days” Challenge

Each year, thousands of people pledge to declutter their home and lives by filling 40 bags in 40 days. Sometimes, a simple idea can transform a life.  Just ask Anne Marie Heasley, who blogs at White House, Black Shutters.  In 2011 she came up with the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge.

Each year, thousands of people pledge to declutter their home and lives by filling 40 bags in 40 days.  There’s never been a better time to jumpstart that goal of going minimalist than with this challenge!  While Heasley originally created the challenge to honor Lent, you can begin your forty bags at any time.

While it may seem intimidating, you can alter the challenge to fit your needs. For example, the 40 bags don’t all need to be Hefty trash bags (though they can be). The goal of this brilliant challenge is to break your home into manageable parts.  Every day, tackle one part.  Thoroughly evaluate everything in the space, and decide if you can donate it or need to recycle/trash it.  For example, the first three days could be devoted to the bedroom; a participant could go through the closet on the first day, the dresser on the second, and tackle under the bed and nightstands on the third.

Related: Just Breathe:  Decluttering After the Kids are Grown and Gone

To make the most of this challenge, sit down and brainstorm 40 areas of your home that hold stuff.  Walk through every room and be honest with where all this stuff is hiding!  Then, set aside time each day to go through the area.  Some areas may take 30 minutes, others an hour or more. Our house junk drawer took 40 minutes last year. We dumped out everything and sorted through it, until it was fabulously organized. Imagine our surprise when we found eight keys, and had no idea what they opened!

Our family has participated the last three years. We don’t always get to 40 bags, but every year we feel accomplished. Here are some tricks that have helped us:

1. Identify 40 key areas. 

No area is too small!  I include areas in the garage, shed, and each car as well.

2. Create a staging area in your home for items you’re getting rid of. 

Prior to beginning the challenge, research local charities in your area that could take specific items.  We donated clothing to a local clothes closet to help families emerging from homelessness, kitchen items to a charity that worked to resettle refugees and outfit them with basic home essentials, and crafty items to an after school program.

In the staging area, create separate spaces for trash, donations, sell, and gifting.  Several types of items such as video games, books, DVDs, and children’s clothes can be sold, consigned, or traded for credit at local stores.  We also had a handful of items that we thought friends may appreciate. We didn’t wrap anything as gifts, just gifted items such as DVDs or books to other family members or friends we thought might like them!

3. Once you make a decision to part with an item, stick to it!

4. Remove items from your home on a daily or weekly basis. 

After purging the linen closet, we were ready to part with several sheet sheets and threadbare towels.  We bagged them up and took them to the local animal shelter at the end of the day.  The sooner the items leave the house, the better you’ll feel!

Related: Tips for Clearing Clutter Before Christmastime

5. Ask yourself: does this item make my life better? 

If not, find it a new home.

6. Involve your family. 

The family as a whole has acquired more stuff than it needs.  Work together to get rid of that clutter.

 7. Mark your progress on a calendar. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of this challenge is how useful your used things can be to others.  School libraries and jails will take used books.  A local dog rescue collected shoes to earn money to run the shelter, and towels/blankets to keep cages more cozy.  Small household appliances helped newly settled refugees.  Not only did we reclaim our space, but we helped many others meet their needs too.

Over the past several years, this challenge has gone viral.  To date, over 42,000 individuals have joined the Facebook page and pledged to declutter and embrace minimalism. Interested?  Head over to the official page and check out helpful items such as printable plans and lists to get the ball rolling!

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