Declutter Your Home In 30 Days

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Written By: Brianna Snyder

I kept looking at the refrigerator door.

There was this … discoloration around the handle. I’d notice it when I opened the fridge for cream or water or butter or whatever. It was just this kind of broad, not-white stain spreading out across the door.

I ignored it. For months. For years.

And then one day I couldn’t take it anymore. I just picked up a rag and started rubbing at the door until it was whiter and cleaner and then, whoa, it was just done. This thing that had been bugging me since what felt like the dawn of man was just ...taken care of. In, like, 3 and a half minutes.

So when I came across this 30-Day Declutter Challenge, I knew I was game. And I’ll tell you what: This challenge left me feeling emotionally and physically lighter and happier. DO IT.

Day 1: Clean your appliances

I’d had a bit of a head start with that whole fridge thing. But I still had a lot left: the oven. The stovetop. The coffee pot. The dishwasher! Who knew you need to clean the dishwasher? (You totally should.)

The oven was a pain, but this all-natural method worked amazingly well. And because my stove is a glass top, that was fairly painless, too. I guess having a subpar cooktop works in my favor in this one instance.

Day 2: The Pantry

Know what I learned on Day 2? I learned that canned goods expire. For some reason, I assumed “shelf-stable” canned goods never went bad. That that was their whole appeal. But no. Those canned whole peeled tomatoes? They go bad. They go bad much sooner than you expect them to.

So the trash was extremely heavy on this day with old expired cans of tomatoes and beans, but the pantry is orderly and organized and all of the little grains of rice are swept out and the old half-full boxes of baking soda are tossed. I slept well this night.

Day 3: Cabinets

What is the deal with that sticky film coating everything in the immediate vicinity of the oven? It’s that tacky, gray stuff that rolls up into little balls of grime when you scrub at it. Ugh. I need to be doing this way more often.

Paper towels weren’t strong enough for this job. Even a wash rag didn’t quite do it the way it needed to be done. I used the scrubbing side of a sponge for this particular job and wouldn’t you know it, my cabinets are now about three shades brighter than they had been. Wow.

Day 4: Junk Drawer

The calendar dictated a junk-drawer cleaning, which was a lot more work for me than most people, I assume, because I happen to have four junk drawers. The old bookshelf in my apartment has four heavy bottom drawers just stuffed with random office supplies, old magazines, books, CDs, and other miscellany. Cleaning these out is a joy. I throw out an entire garbage bag of stuff!

Day 5: Fridge/Freezer

This summer, I split a CSA with my neighbor. My goal was to not waste a single vegetable, and I did all right. A couple of eggplants went bad much more quickly than I ever expected and there was the terrible episode with the cantaloupe that exploded on my counter within about four days--don’t those hard-skinned fruits last longer than that??--which was, I swear to God, the most foul-smelling disaster of my life. Literally, that rotting cantaloupe may be exactly what dead flesh smells like. Or maybe durian.

Anyway, the veggies that DID get wasted I resolved to compost, wrapping them carefully in plastic bags and stowing them in the freezer for when I got a chance to drop them off at the Troy Farmers Market. Reader, the bags of old veggies remain in my freezer these several months later, and I determined it was finally time to get rid of them.

I threw them away.

I know! I know. They should have been composted. But the calendar said to clean the freezer, so I cleaned the freezer and also a little part of my soul.

Day 6: Linens

This was easy. I made Day 6 a laundry day and washed all my towels, bed sheets, duvet cover, and clothes. Everything smelled nice and I felt reborn.

Day 7: Under the Sink

Goodbye 17 empty Method bottles I was saving for some unknown future purpose. Hello consolidated packages of sponges and newly organized toolbox so the thing now closes. Easy.

Day 8: Cleaning Supplies

This was kind of the Under the Sink scene for me, so I directed my attention to the assembly of brooms, steam cleaners, mops, vacuum and Swiffers I have in various corners of the apartment. I gathered them together and made a nice space for them in the closet outside the front door.

Day 9: Spice Rack

OY, what a mess. I once received a Penzeys gift box of spices and while I’ve never found a use for Sandwich Sprinkle, I’ve also never wanted to get rid of it. That, plus five different containers of different kinds of ground-up garlic, too much dill seed and mustard (which were easily consolidated), and a good wipe-down of the sticky surfaces of the rack.

Day 10: Jewelry

I have a rack where I keep my jewelry, but the dresser I keep it on is a mess of hair brushes, creams, makeup, and loose change. I used this day to tidy up that surface since my jewelry is surprisingly orderly. More or less.

Day 11: Makeup

Like with the spices, there are some products in here it was tough for me to get rid of. Pricey mascaras I ended up abandoning for my cheap but beloved Maybelline, eyeshadows I never ever wear, “primers” I don’t even know what to do with. I couldn’t bear to throw them away--even though I’m pretty sure this stuff expires!--but I did move the stuff I definitely don’t use to a box and put it right on the dresser probably to be thrown away next time I do a challenge like this.

Day 12: Clothes

I was ready for this one. As my partner and I recently separated, I was eager to clear out the remaining reminders of our failed relationship from the closet. I took his old belts and shoes and the shirts I bought him that he never wore and put them in bags to put them in the basement so he can take them. I also played an informal round of Does This Bring You Joy for all of my clothes I felt attachment to but ambivalence about. This cleared out lots of room in my drawers and left me with several available hangers. My drawers close now, which is so nice.

Day 13: Shoes

I had SO many shoes to get rid of. My shoes are garbage. I need to invest in better shoes. This was purifying.

Day 14: Undergarments

If it makes me feel unsexy or uncomfy, I got rid of it. Holes? Got rid of it. Stains? OK, kept those for period days. Hey, you gotta prepare.

Day 15: Bags/Purses

I happen to be in the fortunate position of having inherited several very nice bags from my mom’s friend Leslie, who’s been cleaning out her own closet. This means I’ve got a couple of Coach and Kate Spade bags to store in my newly clean closet, and it’s a nice problem to have. I show them off and it makes me very happy.

Day 16: Winter Clothing

You know, my clothes are very year-round. I wear dresses basically all year and just add tights and jackets over it when I need to. So the tights hang out in the dresser and the coats hang out in the closet and it’s all very low-maintenance. I know. I’m bragging. Basically, this was a day off for me.

Day 17: Garage (or, in my case, Car)

I rent an apartment on the third floor of a three-family, so there’s not a garage to speak of. However. My car is a mess and I use this day to clear that out. Old reusable bags, beach towels, stuff headed for GoodWill and seltzer cans that had rolled under the seats--all gone!

Day 18: Storage

Another day off for me! I don’t really have storage space to speak of and the basement is NMP. Not my problem.

Day 19: Medicine Cabinet

So many stray DayQuil capsules. All of those mostly empty bottles of Midol. Band-Aids for miles. Teeth-whitening strips everywhere. Nail polish bottles UGH. This was quick, though, and nice to finish. You don’t think about this one so much.

Day 20: Electronics

I interpreted this one as an opportunity to just tidy up cables running all along the baseboards into and out of the router and various gadgets connected to the TV. This was a little tough given that there’s just not much you can do about ugly cables. But! Untangling everything at least made it look a little more, you know, adult like.

Day 21: CDs and Music

I don’t really have CDs, but I do have records, which had been laying out a bit. I put everything back in their sleeves and reshelved them.

Day 22: Books

This was a great opportunity to order my books in some way. I’d had them all just up on the shelf with no real organization. I alphabetized them by author!! It took forever but whoa now I know where things are. Kind of.

Day 23: Movies

Because everything’s streaming these days, I didn’t have much to do here. The DVDs and Blu-Rays basically go unwatched.

Day 24: Magazines

When I cleaned out my junk drawers, I ditched all the old magazines. But I had a stack in my bathroom and on my coffee table, too. Yes, unread New Yorkers. Yes, unread Papers. I flipped through the tables of contents on each, picked out which ones I definitely want to read and said goodbye to the rest. It felt a little like defeat but you know what? It was inevitable.

Day 25: Office

My office is a newish space, so things were pretty neat here already. I cleaned the desk, threw away some old papers, put a few things in some neat stacks, swept the floor, and pushed in the chair. Easy day.  

Day 26: Toys

I don’t have kids, but I do have a cat, whose toys are strewn all over the apartment. I threw away the ratty ones and the ones he never touches, collected the rest and stored them neatly under his scratcher. Later, I watched him dig them all out again and bat them around the living room. Points for effort?

Day 27: Stuffed Animals (modification: Bedside Tables)

Again, this one doesn’t apply to me. So I picked up another area of the house that’s been driving me a little bananas: my bedside table. I cleared out the books, old tissues, water glasses, and wiped it all down. I also added a plant to the other table and a couple of books, too, just for an aesthetic balance. Not bad.

Day 28: Kids Clothes (modification: Back Porch)

I have a little deck out back that’s just all loaded up with old planters and empty flower boxes. I cleaned these up, threw away a bunch of stuff, swept the whole thing, and shut the door. It’s about to be winter, after all. It’ll be a nice surprise for spring.

Day 29: Pet Supplies

Stephen’s cat box is a little bit of a nightmare. I swept all around and under it, changed the litter, and swapped out the scoop for a new one. That was about it for pet supplies.

Day 30: Wall Decor

I wasn’t totally sure what this one meant at first, but when I took a look at what I have up on the walls, I did see opportunities for editing. An old piece of art whose frame was bowing came down. I also took down a few old holiday and birthday cards from the string in the kitchen and cleaned up the stuff under the magnets on the fridge. Boom. Done.