I Tried the “One Bag a Day” Decluttering Method — Here’s How It Went

published Oct 6, 2023
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tote bag full of donation items

I’m a serial declutterer. I love trying new methods to tame my mess and keep things in order. So when I heard of the “One Bag a Day” trick from my Apartment Therapy editor Stephanie Nguyen, I was certainly intrigued. But this one actually turned out to be much harder than I expected!

Quick Overview

What Is the “One Bag a Day” Decluttering Method?

This decluttering method requires you to take one bag each day and fill it up with things you consider clutter. You’ll later deal with these items and decide what needs to be tossed, recycled, donated, or sold (if necessary).

What Is the “One Bag a Day” Decluttering Method?

The “One Bag a Day” decluttering method is pretty simple on the surface. You take one bag every day and fill it up with things you consider clutter. Don’t worry about whether the items need to be trashed, donated, or sold just yet. Fill up your bag and set it aside, and you can deal with that part at the end of your daily journey. 

You can choose to manage your whole home all at once each day or go room by room (doing one room a day), or even one section of a room per day. Just make sure to set yourself a time limit for each bag, and determine how many days you’ll continue with the process. Some people make this a daily ongoing practice, so if you have a lot of clutter, that might be an option.

I planned to run the experiment for a full week (more on that later). I wanted to tackle a different room each day, and I wanted to limit my decluttering time to 15 minutes for each bag. I did have one concern right away, though. As I looked around my home, I didn’t think I had that much left to declutter. But as everyone knows, clutter is insidious. It can be hidden in drawers and on the backs of shelves or hidden in places we don’t normally look. So I was ultimately confident that I could accomplish something.

How I Used the “One Bag a Day” Trick

Here’s how the week went.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

Day 1

The first day, I worked on the living room and sunroom. I live in a small two-bedroom apartment, so combining some rooms on certain days made the process easier. I have a ridiculous amount of reusable bags, so I grabbed one, set my timer for 15 minutes, and dove in.

And that’s when the problems began. First, I didn’t find a whole lot to get rid of. Our cleaner Gabbi had just come the day prior, so I’d unloaded a lot of the junk I found a couple of days before that. As a result, this turned into more of a cleaning session for me. Instead of loading up the bag, I put a lot of things away — meaning the bag wasn’t getting full and I wasn’t really decluttering, I was just cleaning up.

Eventually, I did make some choices that led to real change. I got rid of a couple of dog beds that our dog never used after our other dog passed last year, a bin that was holding cat toys that never got played with, and some trash that was lying around.

On this first day, I also realized that if you have larger things to declutter, you need a larger bag. My small reusable grocery bag wasn’t cutting it, no matter how small I tried to roll up the dog beds.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

Day 2

The second day, I tackled the bedroom, entryway, and bathroom. I didn’t get much from these spaces. My bag ended up with another dog bed, some manuals from an old electric water flosser, trash from the console table, and some old masks that don’t fit from the key shelf by the front door.

I noticed on day two that it’s much harder to do this decluttering method if your spouse (or whoever you live with) isn’t home. I wanted to clean up some of my husband’s belongings, but he was out of town and I wasn’t quite sure what was important to keep or not. So I left those for after he got home.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

Day 3

This was the most fruitless day of decluttering for me. I worked on the dining room, which I had truly just decluttered a few weeks ago. I looked at each part of the room and found a plastic baseball helmet, some air plant stands, and a pet collar that we didn’t need anymore. A few other things were hiding on top of our closet, but the step stool is currently an impromptu plant holder in my office, so I couldn’t reach them. It was a good reminder to have everything you need at your disposal before you start this process! Another spot to come back to another day.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

Day 4

On day four, I worked on my office. I was able to fill a bag that day, thanks to all my drawers and shelves and nooks that are stuffed with belongings. I removed some artwork that was leaning against the wall and put it with other art that needs to be hung (which we can’t do until my new plant stand arrives, of course). I went through the closet and got rid of the bag for my wedding dress, which is now safely preserved in a box. I cleaned out the shelves underneath my desk and filled the bag with clutter from there, like an old empty iPhone box and some empty storage containers. And then my 15 minutes were up! I still had a few stacks to go through and planned to get to them in the next couple of days.

Day 5

I was excited about day five. I’d planned to declutter the kitchen, where I think there’s the most room for improvement. But the night before, I’d thrown out my back, and my experiment ended because I couldn’t move. But there’s a lesson here. Don’t beat yourself up! If you have to skip a day, you have to skip a day. It’s not the end of the world. You can pick back up the habit when you’re in a better space for it.

Ultimately, the “One Bag a Day” trick was quite a bit harder than I expected. I had to put thought into everything I was decluttering. My recommendation is to start this one when you have a mess on your hands.