I Tried the “12:12:12 Challenge” to Declutter and It Truly Surprised Me

published Sep 1, 2023
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Office before organizing.
Credit: Shifrah Combiths

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded when it comes to new decluttering methods, but I would say that it maybe takes me a bit more than some others to be bowled over by a new-to-me strategy. I love hearing new perspectives about why I should declutter or fresh mantras that encourage me to take it out on a test drive. But because I’ve tried so many (and have them all playing off each other in my head when I set out to thin out my belongings), it’s not very often that one particular decluttering tactic stands out much from the rest. 

Quick Overview

What Is the 12:12:12 Challenge for Decluttering?

The 12:12:12 challenge comes from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist and entails locating 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to be returned to their proper place.

But this 12:12:12 challenge that I tried really surprised me. It was simultaneously effective and easy, and I’d even say it was fun! Like any good decluttering or cleaning kickstart, the 12:12:12 challenge got me over the inertia that comes before starting. It slicked the rails for a decluttering session that lasted only about 10 minutes and made me wish I had time to do more. 

What Is the 12:12:12 Challenge?

The 12:12:12 challenge comes from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist and is presented as the following: “Take the 12-12-12 challenge. The rules are simple: Locate 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to be returned to their proper home. That’s it. Repeat if desired.” (Yes, I desire.)

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

How I Tried the 12:12:12 Challenge at Home

I set out to try the challenge in our bonus room, which is a combination homework room with desks and a playroom. As you can imagine, it can get messy fast and is also a clutter magnet. I decided to create three piles for each of the 12:12:12 categories: Items that weren’t where they belonged, items I was going to donate, and items that needed to get tossed. 

I began by decluttering our bookshelf of books for younger children. It’s something I’ve been putting off because it makes me sad that we’re out of the board book stage, but it was time to face it. I kept the board books that we love and put the rest in a box for other families to enjoy — and I didn’t stop at 12. The momentum was there and I went with it, combing through the entire small bookshelf to edit down to only the books that are age-appropriate and well-loved. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Next, I went around the room and picked up trash. It was kind of alarming how much actual trash I picked up from the room. There were random strings on the floor and a lollipop stick (!). I also went through the play kitchen and found some wooden food toys that the dogs had chewed on that needed to go. 

Finally, I gathered all the items that needed to be put back in their proper place. Deciding to gather the items that needed to be put away rather than putting them away as soon as I picked them up was key to not getting distracted as I worked. Additionally, I was able to group similar items, like the sticker/activity books, together and put them away at once rather than making multiple trips to one spot. (Tiny tweaks that increase efficiency can add up to a lot of saved time and energy and I’ll take them every time.) 

At the end of my 12:12:12 challenge session, the room looked remarkably better, which shouldn’t be any surprise considering I dealt with over 36 items! I’m hooked and can’t wait to try this quick and impactful decluttering strategy all over the house.