For several years I’ve been trying to make room for what’s important by clearing my home and life of clutter. I’ve given away thousands of items big and small. I’ve delved into the realm of intangibles as I tried to discern what memories, relationships, and feelings were unnecessarily weighing me down. It’s a big and ongoing endeavor. In talking with others, however, I would often hear admiration but resistance. For many, it just felt overwhelming or their lives were too busy to take on one more self-help project – no matter how worthy.

Out of this awareness, I decided to simplify simplifying. I had long suggested to people that perhaps it would feel more manageable to just start with a drawer. Most people could spare 15 minutes to clean out a drawer. I decided to try it myself, not just for one day but for 40 days and see what I would learn.

The process and my rules:

  • If the drawer of the day had nothing I was willing to let go of, I would move to a second drawer.
  • I did not do file cabinets (that might take a year) or my husband’s office (marital harmony is something I don’t want to give away).
  • Days 365+69k ADAD Keep Wait GA MoveI used the system that many organizers recommend: empty the drawer, separate the contents into piles of Keep, Give Away, Throw Away, and Wait. I added an additional pile of Move. Replace the Keep items, Store the Give Away and Wait items until I found the right place to take them, and Move the items that were in the wrong place to their buddies somewhere else in the house.
  • Half way through the process I decided to define our kitchen cabinets as drawers since I knew that there were lots of things there that needed to be pruned.
  • I started wiping out the empty drawers with paper towels but in the interest of saving trees soon changed to rags. In this spirit of environmentalism, I also divided the Throw Away category to include Recycle.)

Days 365+69k ADAD Recycle Throw AwayTen things I learned that might be useful to you.
1.  Differentiate Between Give Aways and Throw Aways
Early in the process my husband saw my Give Aways and challenged me to re-evaluate whether old stockings – even if they had no runs – were really worthy of being given away. This is a personal decision but I tend to err on the side of not wanting to throw usable stuff away. See Week #1.

2.  The Virtue of WAIT
Normally procrastination is the enemy of decluttering – or so I tell one of our kids who is known for his mantra, “I have not yet begun to procrastinate.” BUT, when it is a step to moving an item to a safe storage place, at least it’s progress. This turned out to be a house saver when we got a leak in our basement and we found an old plastic toboggan in the garage which could be rolled up to make a temporary downspout repair. See Week #5.

3.  Respect Other People’s Stuff – But Not Forever.
Our four children are all sprung and living in their own places. When going through their former rooms I found things that certainly they no longer wanted. I checked. I was wrong. I negotiated. I lost. They have a deadline. See Week #2.

4.  Don’t Get Distracted – Unless You Want To
This is a corollary to my “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” and “Know when to stop.” advice. The point of this experiment was to break the decluttering process down into small enough time blocks that it would overcome inertia. Several times I got into drawers or cabinets that just yearned for further work – a shelf needed repair, or I was on a roll and wanted to do more. Sometimes the joy of accomplishment kept me motivated but at least once it caused me to balk at doing a drawer the next day. See Weeks #2, 6, 8.

5.  Some Stuff Has a Shelf Life
This is obvious but since I hadn’t gone through our bathroom medical shelves in many years, it was embarrassing how outdated some of the medications were. See Week #4.

6.  Time Is Worth More Than Being Perfect.
As a responsible human being I want to repair items before I give them away, find the perfect recipient for a treasured item rather than just give it to a thrift store, recycle responsibly. Yea! But sometimes the time it takes to do something perfectly can be the enemy of the good. It stops me from doing anything. I had to loosen up. See Week #4.

7.  Don’t Be A Slave to Rules
I had my self-made rules at the beginning of my 40 days but as I went along I learned that I needed to change what I counted as a drawer. Eventually, I changed some of my “rules” such as counting the kitchen cabinet doors as drawers and extended the 40 days beyond Lent because it served the bigger purpose. See Week 7.

8.  Don’t Give Advice Without Testing It.
I said I would do A-Drawer-A-Day, but actually in the beginning it was a lot easier and time efficient to often do a week of drawers at a time – usually on the weekend. Eventually I tried to do it daily. This was a bigger burden than I expected. Perhaps it was because I was in the kitchen, but it humbled me up. See Week #6.

9.  Ponder How Much is Enough
As I was going through our kitchen and dining room I started thinking, “Hey, we should have more dinner parties!” We have enough plates, glasses, silverware, and cloth napkins to host at least a couple dozen people; yet on a daily basis there are only two of us. I can justify some of our extra dinnerware to feed company but I hate to cook. Fortunately, my husband doesn’t mind cooking but it was quite sobering to realize we had so much stuff we weren’t using often. See Week #7.

10. Cleaning Out Stuff Hidden in Drawers was a Metaphor for Cleaning Out My Soul
A casual visitor to our home would probably not see any difference between my before and after A-Drawer-A-Day project. Drawers hide things. I went into this process with the hope that I would also make room in my heart to be less judgmental and love more unconditionally. I started opening up conversations with people I had been avoiding. I learned a lot about the troubles they carry. I decided to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation which I hadn’t done for awhile. These internal but invisible changes were very freeing and worth it. See Week #7.