How to Declutter in 5 Simple Steps

This isn’t going to win me any environmentally-friendly awards, folks, but it is, in fact, the easiest way I’ve ever found to declutter, and when I am, as I am now, buried in endless piles of STUFF, it’s the method to which I turn. I suppose, if we’re being charitable, we might say this is the REDUCE step of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trinity, and I offer it to those of you who may also feel overwhelmed by all the stuff, as a starting point to breathing again.

How to Declutter in 5 Simple Steps

  1. Choose your target. A bathroom drawer. A toy box. A junk drawer. A make-up bag. A shelf in your kitchen. Whatever you like. Choose one, limited target.
  2. Grab 3 boxes. Or bins. Or bags. Label one Garbage, one Donation, one Recycle.
  3. Dump everything – and this is the key to this whole thing working, dump every single thing – from your target area into the Garbage box. 
  4. Give yourself one minute (just 1) to dig through the Garbage box and pull out the items you really, really want to keep, and put those back in your target area.
  5. Give yourself 3 minutes (just 3) to dig through the Garbage box and pull out items for Donation and Recycle.

That’s it. My very best tip for fast, easy, simple decluttering. 

I found that Step 3 is the key. The trick. The reason my brain doesn’t short-circuit looking at all the STUFF in the junk drawer and going pencil by pencil or paperclip by paperclip. Somehow, dumping everything in the Garbage box gives me permission to GET RID OF IT as opposed to taking time I don’t have to debate each small item. It’s that time – the sense of being wholly overwhelmed by the HUGE tasks of managing each tiny item – that keeps me from decluttering. So finding a way to bypass that inability to confront the STUFF is, truly, critical to me in this process.

Now, yes, this is more wasteful than going item by item. And yes, it makes the Oregonian, environmentally semi-conscious person in me cringe. But the other option right now in my life is keeping all the STUFF while more STUFF accumulates, carried into my house by five children who keep gathering it, and that’s not even a little bit emotionally healthy. So the compromise I’ve made with myself is this: I throw things away. For now. In the hope of decreasing the STUFF to a manageable level so I can create better systems for reducing, reusing and recycling. You know, someday

We put the method to the test for yesterday’s 15 Minute Project, which was a toy box or toy bin or OH MY WORD SO MUCH PLASTIC. 

Here’s how it went:

1. I chose our target, one of the six toy baskets, all of which are equally filled with miscellaneous, unused junk, that sit on our family room shelves.

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2. I recruited my middle schoolers, Ian and Aden, to declutter with me. Obviously this was an ENORMOUS RISK because asking small children to throw away anything is like standing them in front of a firing squad. They’re bewildered. Confused. Terrified. And they don’t understand how you, their mother, whom they thought loved them to the moon, could so thoroughly betray them. I was hoping my middle schoolers might be mature enough to finally handle tossing crap, but, I’m not gonna lie; I was nervous.

This is Aden’s reaction which was better than I expected. A sort of mix of joy and horror.

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Which is exactly how I feel about cleaning, really – a combination of giddy Oh Praise Jesus! and flickering holograph, Help me, Obi Wan; you’re my only hope.

3. We dumped everything into a Garbage Pile.

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4. And picked out the things Worth Keeping, which turned out to be very little. HOORAY!

6 Matchbox cars.

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9 Nerf Bullets which will be lost again in approximately 7 minutes.

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(Remind me to tell you sometime about how we decided when we had kids to be anti-gun. HAHAHAHA.)

Legos because we LOVE having these spread all over the house.

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And, of course, every single stuffed animal because God forbid we hurt any of their feelings by donating them to someone else. 

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5. Which left us with a pile from which to pull recycling and donations and throw the rest AWAY.

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Again, HOORAY!

And here’s our After picture:

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It’s not perfect, but it’s BETTER, and better is enough.



Environmental Living Tip of the Day

Since I’m patently Not Qualified to offer environmental living tips, I’ve asked my friend Leslie to join us here periodically during our 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects to offer tips, tricks and simple solutions to treat the earth better.

I asked Leslie: What is the #1 Thing my family and I can do to improve the environment? 

Leslie.pngLeslie said: The number one thing your family can do to improve the environment, which is what I recommend most often to people, is to be aware of your food waste and your food purchasing. It’s hard to have five kids and have them care about these things as well. The trick is finding ways to teach your kids to take only what they’re going to eat and to save what they’re not going to eat for later. Food is one of the easiest ways to change our impact on the environment. In America, we throw away 40% of edible, usable food. That could eradicate hunger. I realize your family and my family are not doing this single-handedly but change starts with a single step, right? 

Leslie Hodgdon Murray is a Quaker pastor who is pursuing her Master’s of Divinity with an emphasis in Christian Earthkeeping. Her passion in life is helping people reduce waste, simplify life and reduce their ecological footprint, and I’ve asked her to weigh in here on all matters environmental. 


LentIf you’re joining us for 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects (not because we need more to do, but because we desperately need LESS), today’s project is A Small Area That Could Be Cute But Is Too Jam-Packed With STUFF. 

Here’s my Before:

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It’s a little secretary I’ve had since high school. A piece of furniture I reclaimed and painted and still love. And it sits at the end of a hall gathering stuff which is too bad because it could be a cute area if I spent, oh, say, 15 minutes on it.

And, well, there is no After – YET – because I haven’t done it. But I WILL. Today. And I’ll update you with an After picture when I get it done.

P.S. I’d like to specifically point out the green snorkel in the bottom right corner. It’s so we can BREATHE, man.


And congratulations to Jennifer Kite who used 15 Minute Project inspiration to tackle the Room Under the Stairs.

Jennifer’s Before:


Jennifer’s After: 


Nicely done, Jennifer!

Jennifer writes:

Dear Beth, 

I’ve been following your blog for so long it feels as though I’m writing to a dear friend…the kind that knows all your flaws and adores you because of them rather than in spite of.

To say that you inspired me with your 15 minute project feels like an understatement. Pushing me to get off my ass and organize is nothing short of miraculous!

My grand plan for the room under the stairs (read closet) was to convert it to an office of sorts for me to escape from the kids and noise and mess and be able to study or pay bills or just well, escape. It worked fabulously for a few months despite the overwhelming claustrophobia and my husband ‘s running joke about it being time for me to come out of the closest, wink wink. Then slowly but surely it became a dumping ground. A refuge of sorts for all the papers and receipts and random crap that accumulates on our kitchen counters until it became so unbearable to look at that I would only open the door wide enough to be able to toss the random in without having to actually see the mess.

So it took longer than the 15 minutes but I tackled the beast and came out virtually unscathed and managed to unearth 7 misplaced Christmas gifts – already wrapped! Woohoo! Thank you so very much for giving me the  encouragement to not only attack the dreaded closet, but to keep going when everything seems to be TOO much.

With Love and Blessings,
Jennifer Kite



I completed the Small Area That Could Be Cute But Is Too Jam-Packed With STUFF project.


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And I have to say, in addition to the artwork by Melanie Weidner at Listen for Joy, my favorite part of this change is featuring our Bibles in the same section as my Christopher Moore collection, particularly his excellent books The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, You Suck: A Love Story, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and The Island of the Sequined Love Nun. (Psst… although it’s not pictured here, I HIGHLY recommend Moore’s book Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Somehow, Moore managed to write a hilarious, engaging, FUN novel about Jesus’ missing years (those not chronicled in the Bible) that also, occasionally, and in the very best way, makes the reader THINK. Outstanding.)

TODAY’S 15 Minute Project is to Gather a Bag of Clothes for Donation:

Anyone’s clothes. Kids’ clothes. Your clothes. Your partner’s clothes. I don’t care whose clothes. Anything you or they didn’t wear this last year is fair game.

I don’t know about you, but I wait to go through the clothes – the piles and piles of clothes – the MOUNTAINS of clothes – until I have time to sort ALL OF THEM. 

That is DUMB.

There will NEVER be time to sort ALL OF THEM.

So I decided today to gather just one bag of clothes for donation. And then to stick that bag in the back of my van so I actually get it to the donation site. You know, eventually.

Here’s my Before:

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And I’ll update you later today on the 5 Kids Facebook page with the After. 

Gather away!


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18 responses to “How to Declutter in 5 Simple Steps”

  1. I feel like I totally cheated… My 13-year-old amazing kid cleaned out her closet and went through her summer stuff without my asking. Hence, we have a bag of crap/outgrown clothes to donate. Score!

  2. On Environmental Tip of the Day: When one household supplies the needs of seven people rather than one or two you already have a major environmental impact. A positive one. Also, while being aware of food waste and food purchasing is important, to me the most important part of shopping environmentally is to be aware of the packaging. I make my cakes and cookies from scratch–its easier to have flour and sugar on hand than various prepared boxes and mixes. It means less trash, less packaging produced. And of course a big family is more likely to buy in bulk. Let’s hear it for the positive environmental impact of the family!

  3. Nerf bullets and legos… much money?!?!?! HOW MUCH!?!?!?!?!? I could retire early if I hadn’t spent all my hard earned cash on Nerf bullets and legos……sigh…..

  4. Leslie’s tip has come just at the wrong time. We’ve just eaten dinner, and my oldest went back for seconds (LOVES pasta) and I said, ‘is that enough?’ ‘No, a little bit more’ ‘enough now?’ ‘No, there’s a little gap there’. I’ve just come in from locking up the chickens to find a half full pasta bowl ‘are you finished with this?’ ‘Yes, I’m full’ :-/

  5. another option about the food thing. Get chickens. Then throw all that lovely food their way. In return they will hunt snails and make yummy eggs 🙂

  6. yesterday, a treasure hunt for the 2 yo’s clothes that were put anywhere but in his dresser by the big boys, turned into a rearrange, sort, and organize the boys’ bedroom. their only comment, other than complain over how much work this all was, was to exclaim excitedly about how many nerf bullets they now had!

  7. “Dump everything – and this is the key to this whole thing working, dump every single thing – from your target area into the Garbage box.”

    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

    Inspired by your brilliant clutter busting method, today might be the day I tackle Bubby’s toy box. Or maybe we’ll do his floor today and the toy box tomorrow, because it’s just too, too much. For sure I will be setting the timer for 15 minutes and WALKING AWAY when it dings, whether the job is finished or not.

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