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How a ‘Decluttering November’ Can Transform Your Whole House Before the Holidays


Like many Americans, I like to shop. I enjoy hunting through thrift stores, antique malls, and vintage shops, searching for treasures. I make online purchases. And I buy new items in brick-and-mortar stores — especially clothing and books — as well. But also, increasingly like many Americans, I hate clutter and am drawn to minimalism, the movement that espouses an intentional way of living, and which prioritizes relationships and experiences above material things. The cure for this seemingly oxymoronic combination? A #DeclutterNovember challenge.  

November is a great month to do this clutter challenge because your home will look fresh and clean for the holidays; you can figure out what you need (and, probably more importantly, don’t need) for entertaining guests; and it’s the easiest time of year to convince your kids to get rid of their unused stuff. (See below for tips on how.)

How to Do a #DeclutterNovember

The idea is simple: you get rid of one item on November 1. Two items on November 2. Three items on November 3, 15 items on the November 15, 22 items on November 22, etc — until you finally get rid of 30 items on November 30. That makes for a whopping total of 465 items for the month, most of which you have (one hopes) given to friends or the Goodwill, Salvation Army, or St. Vincent de Paul. (All of these charities will come to your house and pick up your unwanted stuff, by the way. Not only is this service free — the drivers will give you a receipt for your taxes!) Thus, your home will be clutter-free for the holidays, and you will be doing good for your community in the process.

1. Start small. 

November 1 falls on a Thursday in 2018. Make the first two days easy on yourself and start small. Get rid of one thing on the 1st and two things on the 2nd that you don’t even need to think about. For me, old make-up or unused toiletries are an easy toss. You might have socks with holes in them that you don’t need to think twice about. In any case, these are work days, or school days, so start small and just make a quick toss. Done.

2. Be strategic. 

On Saturday, November 3, you might consider de-cluttering for the entire week. In other words, if you work or have an otherwise busy week ahead of you, you might consider getting rid of 42 items all at once on Saturday. If you choose this method, you might consider engaging Marie Kondo’s principles in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo suggests de-cluttering by category rather than by location — that is, instead of cleaning out your master bedroom, you sort through all of your clothes in your house (in your master bedroom closet, in boxes stored in your attic, in the hall closet) all at once. She suggests placing all of your clothing in another place (such as on the bed), so that your closet is completely empty. Then, only put clothing back in your closet if it gives you a “spark of joy.” If the article of clothing doesn’t make you happy, if it doesn’t fit you, if you never wear it — give it to a friend, the Goodwill, or sell it. Your closet will look so much better once it’s neat, and you will have such a better time in the morning finding something to wear once everything in your closet fits you and makes you feel good about yourself. 

(This principle applies to any category: kitchen items, make-up, board games and other toys, jewelry, sporting equipment, etc. Put all of the items in a certain category in a pile, see what you have, and then, determine which items bring you joy. If you don’t love something and use it often, then sell it or give it away.)

If you prefer to simply get rid of three things on the 3rd, four things on the 4th, etc., perhaps because you have a busy weekend, then carry on. Continue with where you started — the bathroom, your bureau — and when you’ve finished with that space, move on to a new one. 

4. Think long-term.

When you’ve reached the second weekend, you can choose to purge for the week ahead (on Saturday, November 10th, that would be 91 items through Friday the 16th), or continue on with ten items on the 10th, eleven items on the 11th, etc. You may want to purge by category (using the KonMari method) or room by room. If you choose the latter method, you might consider performing a variation on what realtors suggest you do when you’re staging a home to sell. Realtors suggest hiding 50 percent of your things — why not try to get rid of 25 percent of your items in each room instead? Imagine how much nicer your house will look for the holidays, and how much calmer you’ll feel year-round in an un-cluttered space. When deciding which decorations to keep or cut, I like to remind myself of the great designer William Morris’s saying: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” (That old throw pillow Aunt Barb gave me is neither. Why have I kept it all these years? Toss!) 

Pro tip: if you get stuck, there’s always the junk drawer!

5. Get the family involved. 

Be sure to engage your children in the process. Let them see what you’re doing — and explain that you’re donating your unused items to a charity store, where they will be sold to people who will use them, and that the money will then go to community-based programs and services. Explain to them that toys that they no longer play with will go to children who will love them. Some children may be eager to give their clutter away— partly to make way for any new items that they might receive during the holidays! (As tempting as it may be to throw away those noisy, battery-operated toys behind your children’s backs, I have seen the practice backfire and cause children to become unnaturally attached to things. Make them a part of the #DeclutterNovember process instead.)

6. Give yourself a holiday break.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on Thanksgiving is run around trying to find 22 things to pitch. If I haven’t purged the weekend before, in advance, then I’ll take a break on this day and catch up on Friday. (We de-clutter-ers can feel quite virtuous spending Black Friday getting rid of 45 items! Sounds like a good day to clean my home office… do paperclips count?)

7. Make the last day of the month count.

It’s the end of the month! The last time I performed a “Decluttering November,” I saved something really easy for the last day of the month: the pantry. It was painless to find 30 items that had expired, or that I knew we weren’t going to use. I donated items in good condition to the food pantry and threw away anything old or expired. The nice thing about doing this task this year is that the 30th falls on a Friday. I don’t think this job will be too burdensome to do after work, perhaps while sipping a cup of tea or a glass of wine, holiday music in the background, if one is so inclined, and then one’s pantry will be clean on Saturday, December 1— just in time to start baking for the holidays. (And buying new ingredients, and undoubtedly making a mess again. Oh, well…)

I can’t wait for my house to be 465 objects lighter and completely transformed just in time for the holidays, when I can focus on friends, family, and holiday traditions, such as putting up heirloom decorations on our Christmas tree and lighting candles on my mother’s menorah. Some objects are meant to be treasured forever.

We at FirstForWomen can’t wait to see what you get rid of—and what you’d never dream of donating. Show us your pictures on Twitter and Instagram @ #DeclutterNovember and #FFWliving.

Kelly Dwyer is a freelance writer and novelist whose most precious material possessions are her flashdrives and eyeglasses. 

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