My Mom’s Ingenious Decluttering Trick Clears Messes in a Week

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cardboard box with someone putting clothes in on coffee table

My mom was patient about a lot of things during my childhood, but hanging onto clutter wasn’t one of them. She introduced me to minimizing and organizing my belongings at an early age and, unbeknownst to her, it would become a lifelong obsession of mine. 

I still regularly use one of the tricks my mom taught me, and it helps me part with all the items I hem and haw about. I call it the “If you forget it, you won’t regret it” hack. Here’s how it works.

First, put all the items you’re on the fence about keeping or getting rid of in an opaque box (a black trash bag works, too). Then, set a one-week reminder on your calendar. Go about your week and see whether you think about any of the items you placed in the box. When the week is up, open the box. Pull out only the items you remember putting in it and, if you think you’ll miss any of them, keep them. Then you can donate or toss the rest.

This hack is similar to the “box and banish method,” where you place an empty box in a corner and fill it with items you’re unsure whether to keep or get rid of. But it goes a few steps further, where you place the box out of sight and test your memory to see if you’d actually miss any of the items in it. Plus, my mom says that setting a calendar reminder is a critical step because if you don’t mark the date, it’s easy to hang onto those items for longer than you need to.

I tried this hack again recently and it worked like a charm. I put a dozen or so clothing items in a box and stashed it in a closet. During the following week, I repeatedly thought about one of the items I had packed away: a wool-blend flannel I really liked but didn’t wear that often. I remembered two or three other items as well but didn’t miss them, and I forgot about the rest. 

When the week was up, I removed the flannel from the box and decided to keep it for cold-weather camping trips. Then, I dropped all of the other items off at my local donation center — I felt confident that I was fully ready to let them go.