A 31-Day Detox Challenge to Help You Declutter Your Home—and Your Mind

How to organize every hot zone in your house—including yourself.

cluttered room

Illustration by Grace Lee

Illustration by Grace Lee

If home life feels like a constant battle to deal with The Stuff That’s Basically Everywhere, you’re in good company. Perhaps you’ve tried to get your house organized without success. Or maybe you just plain don’t know where to start. Let me say this: You can declutter. It will take time, but it is possible. The first step is to conquer decluttering paralysis. Your feet may feel heavy, but with each step they will get lighter.

First up: my 31-Day Detox Challenge, below. It really is doable! But before you’re finally able to let go of excess stuff, you’ll likely need to deal with some emotional baggage. In other words, you have to think about the why of your personal decluttering paralysis before you can move past it. We all have plenty of excuses for holding on to things. You may have your own unique ones, but I’m sure at least some of mine will sound familiar.

31-Day Detox

Armed with a basic understanding of my decluttering principles and workarounds for common excuses, it’s time to get going! Just as a detox diet helps eliminate toxins from your body, this 31-day home detox helps you clear stuff out of your space. The plan is designed to jump-start your decluttering and target the obvious. You likely won’t get down to deep clutter, but it will hopefully drive your motivation to keep going with the room-by-room approach in my book.

GOAL
Quickie purge to get the declutter party started!

TIME COMMITMENT
15 minutes per day. 

YOU WILL NEED
Garbage bags and boxes/bins/shopping bags for anything you want to donate. 

Consider this plan a guideline, not gospel. Know that there are catch-up days built in to allow for extra time in particularly jam-packed areas. Skip spots that aren’t relevant to your life. Customize it to work best for you!

Day 1  Paperwork
Are there piles on the kitchen counter or in your home office? Go through bills, receipts and any other papers, tossing (or shredding) what you don’t need and filing what’s left in its proper place. 

Mind Over Matter 
Double the Decluttering

“Our attention is our most valuable asset,” says Lusita, author of The Right Fit Formula. “Where we focus our attention is where our effort goes. So if we’re focusing on stacks of paperwork that never get sorted, that can lead to a lot of stress and a cluttered brain.” Reclaiming a counter eliminates that frustration and brings back your focus.

Day 2  Front entryway and/or coat closet or mudroom
Pack up for donation any coats, shoes or accessories that are no longer used. Put any out-of-season finds into storage.

Mind Over Matter 
Try to Transition

Rough day at work? Someone cut you off on the drive home? If you haven’t already, here’s a place where you can remind yourself to leave drama where it belongs: outside your front door. “Few people take the time to ‘change hats’ or transition from one situation to the next,” laments Ali Katz, author of Hot Mess to Mindful Mom. “Let go of whatever negative energy was in the previous situation instead of carrying it into
the next.” It’s mental energy you don’t want to waste.

Day 3  Purse
Remove random stuff you don’t reach for regularly. Cut down on unnecessary multiples like pens, mini notepads or half-full packs of tissues and gum. Stash makeup and other small essentials in a zipper pouch that can easily be transferred from purse to purse as needed.

Day 4  Cleaning supplies
Go through all products (wherever they may be lurking in the house!) and discard any you don’t use. If you have multiple partially filled bottles of the same exact product, combine them into one. Toss any beat-up rags and sponges, they only harbor bacteria.

Day 5  Fridge and freezer
Toss anything that has expired or you know you won’t use. 

Day 6  Pantry and other dry food storage
Toss anything that has expired or you know you won’t use. Don’t forget to go through the spices too.

Day 7  Free-for-all
This is a catch-up day if you didn’t finish any of the above areas. If you’re all caught up, pick the most cluttered area in your home and spend 15 minutes picking through there.

Mind Over Matter 
Enjoy a Daydream

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have our space be the version of what other people think it should be,” says Ruth Soukup, author of Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul. “We look on Pinterest and see minimalist bins in furniture catalogs, but that might not fit your family or personality.” Soukup suggests closing your eyes and asking yourself, “When I think of how I want my home to feel, what does that look like?” 

Day 8  Kitchen cabinets
Scour the shelves for anything you don’t use. Ensure that all plastic storage containers have matching lids. Eliminate unnecessary gadgets and utensils.

declutter your home

Illustration by Grace Lee

Illustration by Grace Lee

Day 9  Medicine cabinet/first-aid supplies
Evaluate all medications for any that are expired or no longer needed. Return expired meds to your local pharmacy for proper disposal.

Day 10  Dining area
Find maintainable storage solutions for all items that frequently land on the table and commit to keeping it clutter-free. Donate any dishes, serving ware or other items you don’t use. 

Mind Over Matter 
Create Visual Cues

Looking at clutter can stress you out, but seeing something serene can bring you calm. Try putting a vase full of flowers on your dining room table or a beautiful photograph on the wall. “I call it ‘positive prep,’ ” says Lusita. “Wherever you go most frequently, put something that brings you joy in your eye space.” 

Day 11  Entertainment area
Make sure all DVDs and CDs are in their proper cases and think about what you really will use. Videos and music are so easily accessible through our computers and mobile devices that all those CDs and DVDs may not be necessary.

Day 12  Magazines and books
Cut out magazine pages you’d like to keep, and scan them to save digitally or sort into a folder or binder. Recycle or donate old books that you’ll no longer read, and keep the rest in a logical order.

Mind Over Matter 
Focus on the One

“I used to leave eight or nine books I wanted to read piled up on my nightstand,” admits Shojai, a New York Times best-selling author. “Then I realized that stack was telling me, ‘You never get to anything, you’re behind, you’re a loser.’ So I immediately cut it down to leaving one book out.” 

Day 13  Junk drawer
Get rid of any not-needed items. If there’s still time, use small plastic containers to group similar items together. Put away anything that belongs elsewhere.

Day 14  Free-for-all
See instructions for Day 7.

Day 15  Desk
File away any needed paperwork and shred remaining papers. Sort smaller office supplies and keep only what you use. Get rid of those 2014 calendars!

Day 16  Bathroom cabinets
Go through all accumulated beauty, bath and nail products and keep only what you really use day-to-day.

Day 17  Linen closet
Donate any linens that you no longer use but are still in good condition. Toss anything holey or dingy.

Day 18  Makeup
Toss anything that is expired, cracked or no longer your style. Pick your favorite lipsticks and toss the other dozen you never actually wear. 

Day 19  Jewelry
Sort through everything and keep what you wear for everyday or on special occasions. Donate or ditch the rest! If any keepers need cleaning or repairs, vow to take care of that as soon as you can.

declutter your home

Illustration by Grace Lee

Illustration by Grace Lee

Day 20  Bedroom closet
About each and every piece of clothing, ask yourself whether you would buy it again today. If not, out it goes! 

Mind Over Matter 
Beat Decision Fatigue

One way to avoid overtaxing your brain is by cutting down on the amount of choices you have to make in the midst of a busy day. “Let your morning routine begin the night before by putting your clothes for tomorrow out tonight,” suggests Benjamin Spall, co-author of My Morning Routine: How Successful People
Start Every Day Inspired

Day 21  Free-for-all
See instructions for Day 7.

Day 22  Sock and underwear drawer
Make sure socks have mates and keep only what you still wear.

Day 23  Nightstand
Clear off the tabletop and sort through drawers, keeping only what you would need before bed or during the night. 

Mind Over Matter 
Relocate Your Phone

If your phone isn’t on your nightstand, you’ll be more likely to read a book or meditate for a few minutes (something calming for your brain) instead of scrolling through Instagram pictures (which might make you wonder, “Why am I not in Ibiza right now?”). “The worst thing you can do is check email,” adds Spall, who’s strict about his phone usage. “I leave my phone in the kitchen at night and keep it on airplane mode until after breakfast with my wife.”

Day 24  Kids’ Toys
This is always a fun one. Sort through old toys and games to see if there are any special keepers. Make sure toys have all their parts and are in working order before donating or selling. Toss the rest!

Day 25  Kids’ Closets
Donate anything outgrown or sort into a labeled storage bin if you’re saving for younger cousins.

Day 26  Craft space
Be ruthless! Really evaluate what you will use. Schools will often take the rest.

Mind Over Matter 
Enjoy a Moving Meditation

Let spaces you’re physically decluttering make way for spaces you can mentally declutter in—and that doesn’t always mean sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed. “If someone’s involved in a craft project they get lost in, for example, that’s a moving meditation for them,” explains Katz, author of the forthcoming One Minute to Zen. It might be the kitchen counter space you’ve cleared that allows you to enjoy cooking or the garage space you’ve organized so you can work out down there. “Other activities can be a meditative experience, as long as you’re centered and present while doing them,” says Katz.

Day 27  Laundry Room
Sort through cupboards for any products you won’t use. Toss any random socks that are hanging around.

declutter your home

Illustration by Grace Lee

Illustration by Grace Lee

Day 28  Free-for-all
See instructions for Day 7.

Day 29  Basement
Hello, clutter catchall. Set a timer and try to get rid of as many items as possible. Use large storage totes to store seasonal items together.

Mind Over Matter 
Forget What You See

For major clean-up tasks you might need a little distraction, especially if the sight of your mess leads to stress. “I’m really big on getting into your other senses besides sight. It’s such an easy trigger,” says Lusita. After all, clutter stresses you a whole lot less when it’s behind a closed door. Light a candle with a scent you love, put on a comfy outfit or blast your favorite music.

Day 30  Garage
This space also tends to become a giant clutter magnet. Just like when you tackled the basement, set a timer and collect as many items as you can that you no longer use or need.

Mind Over Matter 
Ditch the Excuses

Don’t avoid conquering clutter because you want to de-stress by reading a book, binge-watching some Netflix shows or going to a yoga class. “Your yoga today is to clean this room. And it’s mental hygiene,” says Shojai, who is also the founder of Urban Monk Nutrition. “You’re about to orient your space in a way that will curate peace.”

Day 31  Car
Yes, even the car goes under the clutter microscope because stuff accumulates. Grab two bags—one for garbage and the other for anything that needs to go back inside. Put anything you bring back into the house where it belongs.

Quick Tips for a Successful Home Detox

Pace yourself. You don’t want to burn out before you cross the finish line.

Be aggressive. Look at everything, asking yourself if you truly use and love it.

Ask a friend to help. Someone without emotional or financial attachment can provide helpful input. 

Sleep on it. Then re-evaluate anything you were on the fence about. After some zzz’s, it will be easier to let so-so stuff go. 

To Sell or Not to Sell?

declutter your home

Illustration by Grace Lee

Illustration by Grace Lee

Once I really got going on decluttering, it was kind of overwhelming to see all that stuff that needed to go out. And then came the big question: Donate and be done, or try to sell? Obviously, the big pro of selling is that you stand to make some money. But unfortunately, it takes additional time and energy, and for those of us who have difficulties parting with our stuff, it can provide one more way to not let it go. (Honestly, I’ve had boxes of stuff sit in my basement for years waiting for me to get around to selling.) Giving stuff to charity is probably the easiest and quickest way to get it out of your home. If you have a lot of stuff, some organizations will even pick up. For those that have a hard time letting go of things, this will probably be your best bet. Selling still on your mind? Ask yourself:

Is selling this likely to be worth my time?
Your time is limited, and you should use it wisely. Take into account how much money you can (realistically!) expect to make from a sale versus the value of your time spent. I think of it in terms of an hourly rate. For example, if I’m trying to sell an item for $5 and I estimate it will take 30 minutes to take photos, list the item online, answer emails from potential buyers and close a deal, that makes my rate $10 per hour. Set a minimum rate for yourself and stick to it.

Is there demand? 
There are so many selling forums, it really is a buyer’s market. If there are already a hundred similar items listed, you’re going to have to settle for less cash. 

Do I have a realistic expectation as to what I might make? 
Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a reasonable price, especially if you have an emotional attachment. Scour Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace to see what similar products are going for. Remember
to look at items that have actually sold and for how much, because there are tons of things on there that never sell.

What’s my time frame? 
Set a time line and stick to it. If the item isn’t sold by the designated date, you need to give it away. 

Can I group like items into one lot?
Selling similar items together, such as kitchenware or clothing in a certain size, will save time and energy. You may net a little less, but it’s easier to unload multiples at once.

Bottom line: The main goal of decluttering is to actually get rid of what you no longer need or use. If you can turn some of your clutter into cash, great. If not, let stuff go.

No Excuses: 7 Reasons Why

Excuse #1: Guilt
Maybe you spent a lot of money on something but never really used it. Perhaps it was a gift and you don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings. No matter the reason, keeping that item in the back of your closet won’t help you feel better. In fact, it will probably make you feel worse. Get rid of both the thing and the guilt. You’ll feel lighter when you let go!

Excuse #2: The Pinterest Effect
We’re bombarded by images of organized spaces that are color coordinated and perfectly styled. We collect those ideas and wait for the day when we magically have extra time and money to throw at creating that just-so space. Don’t wait for someday. Get started NOW. Do the best you can and be proud of what you’re able to accomplish today.

Excuse #3: Wishful Thinking
Do you have a closet filled with ignored scrapbooking supplies or a garage full of abandoned sports equipment? Maybe you think that you should want to be someone who has shelves of lovingly made scrapbooks or devotes hours to playing tennis or golf to stay fit. Remind yourself that warehousing things that just highlight what you’re not doing won’t help you be happier. It probably has the reverse effect and makes you feel bad about yourself. Figure out what you really want to do with your leisure time and let no-longer-needed stuff go!

Excuse #4: Emotional Attachment
This is a biggie. Giving away things that we no longer use but feel personally attached to can be hard. I admit that I’ve even shed a few tears as I gave away some of my kids’ toys, but I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted it. It was just a brief moment of sad as I let go of the past so I could be able to embrace the future. Remember that you’re just letting go of the item—not the person or the memories. I’m not saying that you have to give away everything—you can always keep a few favorite treasures if you have the space. The key is to make sure you contain it—as in, set a limit of one box or tote and stick to it.

Excuse #5: “But I Might Need It Someday”
Chances are if you haven’t used an item in the past year, you’ll probably never use it again. And once you’ve gotten rid of it, you probably won’t think of it again. On the very off chance that you do need some kitchen gadget you’ve cast off, you can probably borrow one from a friend.

Excuse #6: “I’m Just Waiting Until…”
Very similar to “I might need it” but more negative. Think jeans that would be wearable if you’d just lose 20 pounds. Those jeans are dragging you down. Get rid of them. If you do lose 20 pounds, you deserve a little shopping spree!

Excuse #7: Lack of Time and Energy
Let’s face it:  We all have a finite amount of both. Starting to declutter is more about emotionally committing to the process rather than finding the guaranteed time to do it.  Whether you choose to spend an hour once a week or 15 minutes per day, it doesn’t matter. Any time you devote to decluttering moves you one step closer to getting it done. Set a realistic goal for what you can fit into your week and commit. Remember that this process will actually free up time in the long run because you won’t be managing unnecessary stuff anymore.

Why Should You Declutter Your Mind?

You don’t need a cluttered space to have a cluttered mind—but sometimes that’s where it all starts. And, unfortunately, there are physical consequences to the visual messages being sent to your brain when you look  at stacks of mail that need to be sorted through, dishes piled up in the sink, shoes that were kicked off and abandoned, and bags that need to be put away.Here’s how less-busy environments (and brains) can impact  your body.

You’ll Have More Energy
“Clutter drains energy,” says wellness expert Christine Lusita, CPT, author of The Right Fit Formula. “It reminds you of something you’re not doing or you need to do, and you feel like a failure. That puts out a level of dis-ease.” 

You’ll Be More Sensitive
Clutter could make it harder to read the emotional expressions of those around you. A Cornell University study found that when participants watched a movie with a cluttered background scene it was harder for them to decipher the emotions on the faces
of characters. 

You Might Eat Less
One study showed that people eat twice as many snacks when they’re in a disorganized and messy kitchen as compared to a clean, decluttered one. 

You’ll Be More Productive
“When you’re so busy being busy, you may miss your off-ramp on the freeway,” says Pedram Shojai, OMD, author of The Art of Stopping Time. That can take you from on time to super late. “When you’re mentally cluttered, you end up doing twice as much work less efficiently.”

4 Foolproof Ways to Declutter Your Mind

That stack of clothes to donate in the hallway. What’s for dinner. Why your kid’s room smells so funky. The call you forgot to make about the credit card bill. When you catch yourself in a cyclone of thoughts, ask yourself these questions to quiet the storm. 

What am I doing right now?
“Stop and check in with reality,” says Shojai. You’ve got to notice what’s happening (“I’m stressing myself out!”) before you can change it to what you’d like it to be (“I’m getting calmer and more focused”).

Are these thoughts allowing me to be the best version of myself?
Spoiler alert: They’re not. “Think about how you can turn those thoughts around,” says Katz, who suggests immediately naming three things you’re grateful for (think: the roof over my head, the smell of clean laundry even if it hasn’t been put away yet, a full fridge). “The goal is to calm yourself down enough so you can move forward in a way that feels better. Stress will keep coming, but the question is how quickly can you regain focus and recover from it.”

How can I be fully present? 
You can’t prep dinner and argue with your sister while driving your kids home from practice. (Well, you can but you shouldn’t.) “Decide to sing along with what’s on the radio and enjoy being with your kids,” says Shojai. “Then when you get home and they’re upstairs doing homework, tackle whatever needs to happen next.”

What do I feel like doing right now?
Maybe you just need a break for five minutes and then you can go back to your to-do list with focus. “Most people have a huge debt in their self-care account that keeps accumulating,” says Shojai. As a result, you resent things getting added to your list because you feel empty. “You’ve got to fill your tank first.”

4 Quick Tips for a Successful Brain Detox

Stop Multitasking. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s best to focus on a single task at hand rather than flitting among all the things that have to happen today. You’ll be more efficient and calm. 

Take a Break. If you’ve been going full speed, try downshifting for just a few minutes.

Refocus. Concentrate on what’s in your power to control right now, like the recyclables piling up in your house—not how you want to find a prettier bin to put them in. 

Say No. Ask yourself which invites you can turn down and what tasks you can hand off.

5 ways to bring order to chaos when you’ve got way too much on your mind

Do a Brain Dump
Sometimes there are just too many to-dos racing around your brain. When that happens, your mind can’t differentiate between which are important and which can wait, explains Soukup, who recommends doing something she calls a brain dump. “Get all of your to-do list out of your brain and onto a piece of paper in 10 minutes or less,” she says. “I find it helpful to set a timer.” Then prioritize each task with a different number (no ties) and focus on tackling the top 20% of your list—that’s what will make the biggest impact.

Pull Out Your Calendar
If you go into a day thinking, “I don’t know how I’ll get it all done,” you’ll feel defeated. So stop for a moment and map it all out. “It unclutters my mind,” says Soukup, creator of the Living Well Planner, who maps out her upcoming week every Friday afternoon. She recommends giving yourself twice as much time as you think you’ll need for tasks and building in unstructured time to, say, call a friend. “Things go from feeing impossible to me knowing that it’s doable,” says Soukup.

Try This Move
Just like an overworked computer, your body might need a hard reboot. But instead of pushing a button, you’ll pull yourself together by stretching things out. “Reach down to your toes, stretch your hamstrings and take five deep exhales,” suggests Shojai, a classically trained monk. “Let each breath deepen your stretch as the blood rushes to your head. Then rise and ask yourself, ‘What’s my next step?’” 

Set Up Power Hours
After interviewing dozens of people—from Marie Kondo to Arianna Huffington to Jillian Michaels—about their morning routines, Benjamin Spall noticed a pattern. “The main thing that came up time and time again for moms was to give themselves an hour alone before their kids woke up,” he says. “You need that calm, and the best time to get it is first thing in the morning. Plus it’s a nice way to ease into the day.”

Practice Serenity
When you’re sitting at a stoplight or waiting on line at an ATM, don’t reach for your phone and start scrolling through Instagram. Instead, take a moment for your breath. “Count at least three deep breaths and create a mindful pause,” says Katz. “Practicing calm during these downtimes makes it easier to access serenity in times of stress.” 

BOOK REVIEW

The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean House

The thinking behind Jennifer Lifford’s 31-day home detox is to set you up to successfully start decluttering and make you see enough of a difference that you want to keep going. Her book offers a much deeper dive, with comprehensive room-by-room clean-out advice, plus guidance on establishing better overall habits so you don’t end up back where you started. As a lifelong yo-yo dieter, I found the weight loss analogies she makes—as in, when she writes about “Shedding Pounds” of clutter and “Maintaining a Healthy Weight” when it comes to stuff—relatable and helpful. Watch out, random crap in my house: I’m coming for you. 

—Jonna Gallo Weppler, deputy editor