Weekend Projects

21 Ways to Declutter Your Brain with Just Pen and Paper

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: I Spy DIY)

One of the biggest reasons writing is so powerful is that it removes the swirling thoughts from our heads and puts them into a space where they’re far from lost.

From the insights and resolutions that come from journaling to the highly practical peace of mind that comes from jotting down that new appointment on our calendars so we don’t have to not forget it, once pen is put to paper, something magical happens.

This weekend, we’re going to free the swarm of proverbial bees in our bonnets and quiet the noise in our heads. This project has the beneficial side effect of drastically increasing the chance that the needs, wants, and dreams we harbor, the things we think about but never seem to find the time to do, and the wishes we never take the steps to accomplish make it out into the universe… with paper as the first stop.

We’re going to do this by simply writing a bunch of lists.

Apartment Therapy Weekend Projects is a guided program designed to help you get the happy, healthy home you’ve always wanted, one weekend at a time. Sign up now for email updates so you never miss a lesson.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

This Weekend’s Assignment:
Make a few lists.

Here’s all you need:

  • A good pen. It needs to flow smoothly because your thoughts and ideas are going to come flying fast. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love these pens, and you can usually find them at any corner store.
  • Paper or a notebook. I love these small, thin, dot graph paper notebooks. You’re going to want to keep these lists, refer to them, make plans from them, add things, and cross things off.

We’re going to break our list-writing down into three steps:

1. Brainstorm the lists you want to write

Pick a handful of lists that you want to start keeping—whatever speaks to your soul. Write the titles at the top of the pages—but make sure to leave space in your notebook or on your paper because you’ll think of more and you want room to add them.

Here are 21 list-writing prompts to get you started:

  • Big home projects (epoxy the garage floor, replace the carpet in the bedrooms, add a deck)
  • Clutter hotspots to organize (the craft closet, your desk drawers)
  • Financial goals, big and small (ten-year plans, monthly expenses to cut out)
  • Things to save for (scanner, a roof rack, new luggage)
  • Dream or long-term travel destinations (Banff, Australia, Hawaii with the family, Greece)
  • Trips you want to take (a train trip up the coast, a cruise, a treehouse AirBNB)
  • Gift ideas (general, for categories of people, things you’ve seen that would make great gifts, specific gifts for specific people, gifts you want)
  • Books to read
  • Movies to watch
  • Things to cook
  • Places to explore in your hometown
  • Restaurants you want to try
  • Things you want to learn (pottery, watercolors, how to make built-in shelves)
  • Unfinished projects you want to finish
  • Time-suckers you need to let go of (commitments that drain rather than fulfill, phone habits you want to address)
  • Traditions to keep or start
  • People to reach out to (influential high school teacher, old college roommate)
  • Volunteer or outreach work you’d like to look into (reading aloud at women’s and children’s shelters, making meals at a soup kitchen)
  • Habits you’d like to form (waking up early, making your bed every morning)
  • Categories of things to declutter (closets, cleaning supplies, the junk drawer)
  • Things you need to buy (red wine vinegar, Command hooks, a file cabinet)

2. Flesh out the lists

Now that you have the titles, you can start to fill in all the items. Again, leave space at the end of each list even if you think you’ve completed it because you’ll want to add more items as you think of them.

3. Make a plan

Pick a couple of the lists or items that stand out and break them down further into actionable steps that you can check off.

For instance, actionable steps to waking up early could be a checklist of days that you get up five minutes earlier than the time you typically get out of bed until you reach your desired wake-up time.

Making these lists primes the pump, and you’ll want to do something with those marks on the page. Give items on your list focused attention one or two at a time to bring the things you always wished you could do to life. From seemingly insignificant to profoundly meaningful, these lists for your life have the potency to change it, check mark by check mark.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

You can catch up with weekend projects right here. Share your progress with us and others by posting updates and photos on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #atweekendproject.

Remember: This is about improvement, not perfection. Each week you can either choose to work on the assignment we’ve sent you, or tackle another project you’ve been meaning to get to. It’s also completely okay to skip a weekend if you’re busy or not feeling the assignment.