The 5 Lessons "Getting Rid of 500 Things" Taught Me


Wow. I can't believe it. It all went by so quickly!

Late in April, I gave myself a challenge: get rid of 500 things in 31 days.

Well, the 31 days have come and gone and, yes, and I am 500 items lighter...well, at least mentally I am. 

What was the damage?

I cleaned up 1/2 the home office, our master bathroom, 1/3 of the kitchen and 1/2 the front closet. The result:

  • 178 items went into the trash or recycling
  • 128 items were given away
  • 194 items are ready for online sale

...and it didn't even put a dent in what we own.

I thought 500 items was a lot. I was wrong.

You might think that I was counting every piece of paper that went in the trash. If that were the case, I would have reached 500 items in less than ten minutes. Not much of a challenge and not much of a result.

I only counted something as "one item" if that's how I would purchase it in the store. Here's an example: my golf bag, which includes the bag, clubs, and club covers I am counting as a single item because that's how I bought it.

What did I trash or recycle?

I'll be the first to admit that I despise waste, which is part of why I hang on to so many things, whether I use them or not. Most of the trash and recycling items were paper products, bathroom items, pantry products and clothing that could not be given away. 

What did I give away?

I found it a lot easier to give, but really had ask myself whether what I was giving away would be of value to someone else. Just because they were in my home does not mean they will be valued or needed by others. If I had a doubt, the item went into the trash. I ended up giving away office supplies (including a nice printer), hair accessories, jewelry, electronics, wall ornaments, Christmas decorations, and glassware. About a dozen bags in all.

What did I sell?

One of five pictures destined for an online used items site.

One of five pictures destined for an online used items site.

I should say "will I sell". I have not put these items for sale yet, but I can tell you in no uncertain terms that they will not be staying in the house for long: gym equipment, golf clubs, indoor plant/garden stuff, and a full collection of magazines -- a collector's item for the right buyer.

I simply have not taken it upon myself to put these online (see #2 below for more information). Despite a count of 194 items, they will only require 5 online ads.

What did I learn from all this? 

I learned a few things along the way. Some of these lessons I already believed, but there's nothing like living what you trust to be true to transform it into something you know to be true. 

1. Setting a goal and tracking it visually is a great motivator.

I tracked my progress daily using a spreadsheet. It was motivating to be able to add items to my "trash", "give" and "sell" buckets and see where I was relative to the finish line. It helped me stay focused on the project I had undertaken and I will be sure to continue with the tracking because, as we know, "what gets measured gets done". You'll notice a large jump on the last day. I had a pile of magazines I knew I could get to at any time. A real slam dunk. I guess you could say I saved the best (easiest) for last.

2. Decluttering is not a time suck.

Before and after office cabinet. Most old binders gone and now all paper products fit in one space. I'll probably tackle it again in the not-too-distant future, but it's so much better already.

I was amazed at how much I was able to do in only 15 to 60 minutes at a time. I made sure I picked a small part of the house, sometimes even just a drawer, and focused on taking care of no more than that space. That strategy ensured I had a defined start and end to the task and that it would not take me all day to get through.

I thought getting rid of the items was going to be a huge time commitment, but that's not the case. I spent less than 5 hours over the last month. That's only 0.6 minutes per item, including tidying up and cleaning the newly decluttered areas.

Bottom line: Time is not the main issue in getting it done*, so that excuse just doesn't cut it for me anymore.

*One caveat: selling items takes time, but I don't know how much. I chose to wait to the end of the month to put items online so that I could do it in one shot. I sheepishly have to say I have not done it yet. Doh!

will put all the items online this month in one fell swoop. I'll report back on the experience, in a future post. I'm sure it's not a big deal...but I've been wrong before. The pledge I do make is that if it does not sell, it's gone. I will give the items away. They are not making their way back into storage. It's just not worth it to hang on to it all.

Before and after: Another office cabinet went from junky and disorganized to storage space for regularly-used items. No more hunting for pencils, cameras and computer peripherals.

3. Mood and mindset is everything. 

Decluttering is a mental game, not a temporal or physical one. You have to be in the right state of mind to get rid of items. I made sure I was decluttering when I was in the mood for it because otherwise, I was taking too much time to make decisions and I was hanging on to too many things. Being able to reference decluttering expert Peter Walsh's book "It's All Too Much" multiple times during this past month's purging sessions also helped me stay focused and positive.

4. You are certain to discover treasures in the process.

During my month of decluttering, I found $22.26 USD - perfect for an upcoming trip this July. I also found a lot of pictures and important papers that I organized and properly stored for another round of sorting/purging, when I get to it. Finding items from past trips, family pictures and certificates gave me a few nice trips down memory lane.

Our lovely new (to us) leather chair. It's comfy and fits right in.

I also had many trips to the thrift shop. I enjoyed every one of those trips. Especially the last one, which took place yesterday.

I've been looking for a leather chair to match a black leather sofa set for a few years now. I didn't want to buy new--our leather living room set is over 25 years old--and I was not in a hurry because the purchase is a "want", not a "need".

Well, there it was. In the thrift store. The chair, which had been dropped off just the previous day, is in mint condition, cost me $120 and matches the rest of the set perfectly. It would have cost us over 3X that much trying to find it new. I could not be happier. What a way to top off a great experience. It's an extra unexpected bonus for what I consider a job well done. I bet the cost of the chair will be covered by what I sell online too. Double woohoo!

Before and after: kitchen junk drawer. Not much of a junk drawer anymore!

5. The feeling of having less is incredibly satisfying.

The great feeling I was consistently experiencing from a good decluttering session was fuelling my desire to keep going. It felt so good to see a part of the house cleaned up, even if it was just a single junk drawer or bathroom cabinet.

I also discovered that I feel a sense of calm and intense satisfaction every time I use a space that had undergone a "stuff overhaul". I want to be sure to have that feeling more often and in more spaces.

That's why...

I'm signing up for another month!

That's right. 500 items was just not enough...I want more. Much more. I'm going for the G-note: 1,000 items in two months. There is still a great deal of the house to go through and I'm on a roll, so why stop now?

What do I expect to tackle? The bedroom closet and drawers, the rest of the kitchen and the dining room. And, of course, selling the past month's items online. Given this past month's success, I'm looking forward to diving right back in. 

What about you? Are you decluttering? If you've successfully "slain the clutter dragon", do you have any tips for others on how to (or not to) go about it?