De-Stuff My Life! (or 40 days of decluttering)

I’ve lived in my current home for a few years now. Not as many as some, but the most years of my adult life. (I’m a semi-reformed nomad who once moved five times in thirteen months.)

Whenever I moved, I purged my belongings and got rid of huge piles. Even so, I accumulated more and more stuff.

Treasures, yes. Needed equipment, yes.

But great piles of STUFF.

When I moved overseas after graduation, I brought with me two suitcases (back then, overseas flights allowed for two suitcases weighing up to seventy pounds each), a backpack, and a carry-on bag.

I brought with me four books: the first three Harry Potter installments and my bilingual Bible. Part of my love-hate affair with Hermione stems from those months when those were my only English books available. This was back before Kindle, Skype, and FaceTime.

Almost ten years later when I moved back to the US, I donated or threw away heaping piles of STUFF while paying a fortune to ship my favorite items home.

I’m glad I have my pretty dishes. I love my rice cooker, the first nice thing I bought for myself when my finances recovered from the moving costs. I’ll always treasure mementos of friendship.

But, as a writer/crafter/sentimentalist/memory-keeper, I hold on. All of my belongings, including photos, of the first few years of my life were destroyed/lost. I don’t have a single photo or item from my babyhood or toddlerhood.

And so I hold, and hold, and hold.

Until my shelves and cupboards groan, and creak, and burst.

Then, when I move again, I uncover all the real treasure of my life that I haven’t seen in years because they were buried under my STUFF.

A friend from childhood once had a wise method for controlling clutter in her home (that she keeps immaculate). When her children wanted to hold onto special but nonessential items, she allowed three days. After three days, unless it was something extraordinary, it had to go.

Digital photography has helped a lot, too. Now when I’m shopping, I often will take a photo of items I like instead of buying them. I save money and space.

I also remind myself of all the disappointment when I buy items that later break, fail to work, or require expensive repairs. I don’t mind money well spent on quality items, but I hate STUFF that took my money, space, and wastes my life.

I’ve told myself for the past few years that I have a relatively large amount of space for someone of my income level, and I’m not planning to move right now. Why not hold onto things until I move? Then, just in case I need something later, I don’t have to decide now.

The problem?

I can’t find my needed or special items because my home is overflowing with STUFF.

(Wooden spoons are NOT stuff. Wooden spoons are a gift from the gods.)

I’ve tried various methods to keep the mess down, but they’re like sticking my finger into the dike. They help, but not enough. Little things, like:

  • Washing dishes when they’re dirty, even if it’s only a fork or a cup, instead of waiting for the sink to fill up.
  • Leaving the sink empty of dirty dishes every time I leave the house or go to bed (this is harder than it seems!).
  • Taking out the trash (I keep small cans on purpose, both to reduce smell/creepy crawlies and to motivate myself) every time I go out for the day. Keeps my home cleaner, and I pick up extra trash whenever I tie up the bags. Plus, it leaves my cans empty so I’ll have a place to throw my next garbage.
  • Setting a timer for 15 minutes once a day to clean up. I can do anything for 15 minutes.
  • Dividing my home into 7 zones, assigning each zone a number, and randomly choosing one number each day. I spend my 15 minutes cleaning up that zone. (I like the element of surprise to keep myself interested.)

Recently, I’ve accidentally found another way. When I’ve moaned about my mess to friends, I’ve sent them photos of proof. (Photos of shame, if you will.)

Then a funny thing happens.

I look at the photo, usually a small area of my home, and start to see it differently. Instead of viewing it as one part of my entire, overwhelming mess, I look at it on its own. It’s one small area, and I can always find one or two ways to clean it up.

Most of the time, I end up with a second photo that shows off my hard work.

I’ve looked at decluttering/house-cleaning sites that show before and after pictures. Puh-leeze. The closets have maybe one hanger out of place and a sweater artfully hanging from a doorknob. The fridge has a single speck of dust and bottles not in alphabetical order.

If anything can make me feel inferior and slobbish, it’s house-cleaning sites.


I’m a visual person. Photos motivate me.

So…I’ve started a challenge. Combining concepts of Fly Lady and 40 bags in 40 days, I’ve come up with a plan of attack.


  1. Digital camera or a smartphone/Kindle/tablet with built-in camera
  2. Google Drive
  3. Paper/notebook/computer file (optional)
  4. Calendar (optional)
  5. Sturdy bags or boxes
  6. Basic cleaning supplies
  7. Positive attitude!


  1. Go through your home (mentally or physically) and divide the mess/clutter into roughly 40 areas. If you have a big mess or you are overwhelmed, subdivide your areas into separate ones.
  2. Take a photo of each of these 40 areas you want to clean up over the next 40 days. (Make sure location settings are turned off for your photos, and check that identifying information such as your home address, Social Security number, license plate number, etc. are not visible.) Include photos of car mess, too, if you like.
  3. Create a new folder in Google Drive. (If you need help doing this, let me know in the comments and I’ll show you.) I named mine The Great Cleanup of 2016.
  4. Contact any of us who are signing up for the challenge. Share your gmail address, and we’ll give you viewing privileges for our folders. (Ask for help if you don’t know how to do this.)
  5. Upload your 40 photos to the folder.
  6. Choose your method of attack. You can download the 40 bags in 40 days printable with a plan for which section to organize on which day. Or, if you like random methods the way I do, you can assign each photo a number from 1 to 40. I’ll go to each day and ask it to choose a number. I’ll clean up the area associated with that number.
  7. Take a second photo of the area you clean each day.
  8. If you have a blog or other social media site, post before and after photos each day. We don’t care if you have a fancy house with expensive furniture. We really don’t care if your home is a mess. That’s kind of the point of this challenge, right? If you’d rather not post and just want to share through Google Drive, that’s fine, too!
  9. Come and celebrate each day!

Are you ready? If you are, please fill out this Google form (to keep email addresses private).We will share folder access with each other (please check “can view” instead of “can edit” when you send invitations).

This keeps private photos of our homes off the public space, but it allows us to motivate each other.

Once we’ve tidied an area and uploaded a new photo to show the progress, we’ll mark the original (star it as a favorite, add an annotation, etc.)

In 40 days, we’ll have nice, tidy, clutter-free homes.

Oh, okay. Let’s be realistic. We’ll still have clutter, but it won’t be as bad. We’ll tame the beast.

(I want to upload a photo of today’s decluttering, but my phone is being stubborn and I have waited long enough.)

Who’s in?






13 thoughts on “De-Stuff My Life! (or 40 days of decluttering)

  1. nancygoldberglevine says:

    I don’t think I’m ready yet but I do like the idea of cleaning for 15 minutes and de-cluttering smaller areas. I don’t have as much stuff as I did when my husband was alive, but it’s a challenge to clean, work, write, visit my mom, take care of myself, etc etc. alone. Good luck!


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      This is just what I and a few others are doing. If you want to join us by decluttering for 15 minutes now and then, jump in! We’d love to have you. I think that decluttering is a form of self-care, really. It means we’re important enough to deserve the time and attention. Hugs!


  2. rozharrison says:

    Hi Ana, what a wonderful challenge and I love the idea of dividing the space into zones and the 15 minute intervals. The holidays is the time my OCD takes over and I end up cleaning the house top to bottom and decluttering. Wishing you the best with the challenge.



    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Well, first day I went a bit crazy. I tidied 12 areas! But some of the other areas will take a LONG time to sort out, so I figure it will all come out even in the end. I wish I were the type who cleaned top to bottom without having to motivate myself.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. JoanneBest says:

    Wow is my head spinning from thinking about the enormous amount of clutter I have to deal with, I’m not sure 40 days is anywhere near enough! 😛
    I have to figure out the logistics of doing a declutter when I live with not just my husband but his sister too. In the house they both grew up in. With a Mom who was a hoarder to the extent that we are still getting rid of stuff 6 years after she’s gone. The reason it’s taken so long is twofold, first, my MIL refused to ever let anyone near her room, so when she passed away we found out how bad her hoarding actually was and second, unfortunately the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Except for hubby, he’s like my Dad was, everything must go! 😛
    Anyway as we started cleaning out her room, we began to find cash. In envelopes. Like boxes and boxes filled with envelopes, bills, receipts, letters, any and all paperwork from her childhood on. Obviously we had to go through every single piece of paper we found. I’m not gonna lie, we found cash and a good deal of it but dang, if there was ever a fire the house would have gone up in a second and all that cash would have gone up with it! MIL had Alzheimers and OCD and we think she forgot she had stashed money all over the house because she had a tidy sum in the bank too. Over the years she would let her children’s friends rent a room and she had little notes with each bundle stating where the money came from.

    Did I mention the 3 room attic was the same? Hence the taking so long, we are still finding random cash here and there so we *have* to go through everything. Now that it’s nearly finished, well, remember the apple and tree? Every single day is a struggle for me to keep *anything* close to clutter-free. I spend every morning cleaning up the mess that appeared while I was sleeping because I was taught to always be sure to keep the sink emptied and the counters clear, etc, and when I go to sleep, everything is clean. I once lost my temper when my SIL told me she had just cleaned the kitchen and I snapped back at her, saying that I guess we have different standards when it comes to what clean means. Ouch, I still feel guilty about that.

    So this is a major uphill battle for me, trying to keep the clutter away when you’ve got someone who clutters faster than you can keep up with… add 2 big dogs running in and out all day long and 3 cats, well, the cats are super clean and pretty much sleep but you get the idea.

    I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless hubby and I can live alone, we’ll never have a clutter-free environment but we both hate it. Before we moved back to his family home our apartment was always clutter-free, for the most part, it wasn’t perfect but it was clean enough that I didn’t have to worry about someone stopping over unexpectedly. Now? Not so much.
    History is repeating itself, so I have to somehow twist the challenge into parts of the house that are “mine”…. which is about half a bedroom 😛
    It was so bad that I was secretly relieved when my Parents had to move in after the hurricane house mess because other people not named me were sort of shamed into keeping things clean out of respect for my Mom (who was the least judgmental person in the world) but that only lasted a month.

    Perhaps I should divide certain areas into 40 sections, I mean in a way, I have tried this before, a cabinet a day, or the bathroom on Monday, the kitchen on Tuesday, but as hard as I try to keep it clean, I have others working against me, and believe me, I’ve talked until my face turned blue and got yes’d to death, cleanliness would last for maybe 2 days and then go right back to mess-ville. It’s always “I’ll clean this up after I ________” but “after _______” never comes, I’ve intentionally left a cup or glass where it was left for days just to see how long it would take for someone to clean their own mess but always gave in after a few days.
    It was awesome when my GBFF lived with us for a year, between the two of us, we kept the house perfect but then he moved to Florida 😦

    I’m going to try to do this. I know, try shouldn’t be a word, but like I said, when you aren’t “in charge”, it’s not easy.
    It’s such a delight to me, when everything is clean and in it’s place. That’s really all I ask out of life, a non-mess, a roof over my head, and a little place to write other than the kitchen table. Our house is very small which should make it easier to keep clean but actually, it’s just more cluttered because some people refuse to throw anything away.
    Sigh, I’ll bite though, and give it a go soon as I can figure out an actual game plan, it’s like climbing Mount Everest wearing shorts and flip-flops and no Sherpa guides to help me reach the top.
    {reread The Little Engine That Could and repeat over and over, “I know I can, I know I can”}

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I’m not sure if any of us feel that 40 days is enough, but it’s a big start. I won’t be able to clear as much every day as I did yesterday, but a bit of cleaning quickly tips into the self-perpetuating mode. Once I see a nice, neat space, I am motivated to clear off another. My entire bathroom is organized now!

      And, hey, whatever works. 😀 It can be for things like your purse, etc.

      I only wish I would find cash as I cleaned! That would be great.

      The big thing, I think, is to not become obsessed with perfection. I’m not going to make my house perfect, and I can’t. But whatever I do is more than I did the day before. I think we’re either improving or backsliding. No in between. So if I clean up a little bit each day, I’m going in the right direction. Sounds like you don’t need motivation or help, just support about the frustration of living with clutterers. There are all kinds!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. wscottling says:

    Before I married the hubster, everything I owned could fit into the back of my car. Now I think it might take two cars. Maybe. With the cat and all. Most of the stuff around here is his and he won’t give it up. I wouldn’t change a hair on his head, but one day, I will organize his stuff. I’m giving him a year to do it on his own. ^_^


  5. pieclown says:


    I was reading most of this post yesterday and did some minor things. I have not got my google drive started. Maybe that is a task for later today. I did put the soups away and the ramen noodles next to them. They were sitting on the dinning room table. I also dusted a top self and put some movies in the right place.

    This may be as fun as the calender.

    Lets keep up the good work.

    pie pie 4 now


  6. awesomesub says:

    Hi Ana, I’d love to do the decluttering challenge, there is a lot that I’d love to get rid of, and my nesting instinct is not as strong as it was with Tilda, which means there are still some drawers and corners in the house that I really need to tidy up. 🙂 But this year I am unable to take part in it, because baby might come any day now, 😀 and I do not feel up to the challenge physically either right now. Nevertheless, I’ll take the advice about the seven zones for future tidying and cleaning.




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