This Simple “Five a Day” Habit Took Care of My Clutter Problem

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Like many others, I used to suffer from an overabundance of possessions. With two kids, a big house, and a garage, there was plenty of space to store things. I’m not a big shopper, but stuff just seems to accumulate. 

My strategy was an occasional clear-out; I’d fill the car with outgrown clothing, unloved toys, and unused gadgets and drive it over to the thrift store. But it wasn’t getting the job done. Having the clear, easy-to-manage space I craved seemed impossible. I decided that a slow, steady, committed course of action would get me further than occasional bursts of activity.

And thus the Five a Day project was born. No matter how tired or overwhelmed I felt, there was no excuse not to find five things to get rid of. I worried that I’d lose steam within a few days, so I started a blog for accountability. That became a fun project itself and motivated me to keep going.

Every day I’d pick a room, and see what I could find in there. The bathroom: bottles of travel-sized shampoo and lotion. The kitchen: Do I need this many coffee mugs? The home office: How many pencils could one household use? 

Once I found the five I was done. It could be as easy as taking five magnets off the fridge. There was always a box in the hallway ready for donations, and I made peace with throwing things away if they had no use left in them.

Sometimes on the weekends, I’d go deeper. There was the day I decided I no longer wanted to own CDs. One by one I loaded them onto the computer and took them to Goodwill by the dozen. I put unused furniture on Craigslist. I rounded up all the hazardous waste and drove it to the dump. 

If I got into bed and realized I hadn’t found five things to discard, I got up and did it. The more I decluttered, the more I loved my house. The emerging result was motivation to keep going.

And I found that it just got easier. I realized that if I kept avoiding a particular pair of socks, it meant I didn’t really like them and could just get rid of them. Instead of pushing my least favorite spatula out of the way, I put it in the donation box.

One day, about eight months into the project, I looked around for the five. There was nothing in the bathroom, the closet, the kitchen cupboards, or even the bookshelves. And then it dawned on me — I was done! My house felt absolutely free of mess.

Obviously, you’re never really done when it comes to clutter. It builds up over time. So every once in a while I go back to getting rid of five a day. I can’t say that there’s nothing extraneous in my house, but I’m no longer troubled by clutter.