Try This Easy Decluttering Hack—the 12-12-12 Challenge

You’d think with all this time at home we’d be perfectly organized, but the damn junk keeps coming back. Clearly, keeping things picked up and sorted is an ongoing process. So, inspired by Joshua Becker, author of the The Minimalist Home and the blog Becoming Minimalist, we’re taking on the 12-12-12 challenge. It’s simple—find 12 items to throw away, 12 to put away and 12 to donate. We like that this project (similar to our Embarrassing Drawer Challenge) can be completed quickly and repeated whenever we need a touch up. Here’s how we each handled the challenge followed by our tips to make decluttering even easier. Do the challenge yourself and let us know how it went in the comments here or by tagging @stylechallengers on Instagram. We’ll happily repost!


We’re down to just two people in our apartment, and we’re both pretty neat, but looking around the day before our cleaning lady was due to come I could easily see that the 12-12-12 challenge was going to be a snap. First up: put away the laptops in the living room, shoes scattered by the front door, cookbooks on the counter and library books. It literally took me less then 10 minutes to put away 12 things and the place looked better.

The donate category was a little harder, mostly because I haven’t bought much, until I discovered a stash of promo gear—backpacks, hats, scarves, baseball hats and golf shirts—that we’ve never used and aren’t going to, so off to Goodwill they went.

Tossing and recycling was, like Marjie’s, the most touchy category. What are those mystery sauces in the mason jars? Why do I have so many takeout containers cluttering my tupperware drawer? I don’t toss/recycle immediately thinking that we’ll use that last bit of sauce or plastic container, but the reality is no one is going to, so waiting isn’t virtuous, just silly. My total time was well under 30 minutes, making this challenge pretty satisfying.


I’m ashamed at how much food I let go to waste.

This process is quick but revealing. I learned a lot about my poor buying habits. Throwing things away was easy, at first. My sock and underwear drawers had some shabby or useless items (what is the point of those bra liners anyway?) that I wouldn’t dream of donating. A couple damaged items, like a dog chewed coaster and t-shirts with those infuriating pinprick holes, all went in the trash. Then I turned to my fridge which was full of so much decaying produce or past-date items I felt ashamed of myself. Yes, I value eating lots of fruits and veggies, but why did I buy all that food without a plan for using it? What a waste.

Choosing items to donate made me feel either bad about myself or worried about hurting people’s feelings. What was I thinking when I ordered those “deluxe” beach towels in that peachy-vomit hue? I rounded up some little worn clothes but a lot the things I donated were gifts from other people. Like this silly hoodie with the puppy pouch—sorry, kids!

Even Phoebe thinks this puppy pouch hoodie needs to go.
New home for stray glasses.

The put away process wasn’t emotional, but it did point out my organization flaws. After rounding up five pairs of reading/sunglasses I realized I don’t actually have a designated place for eyewear. And I had three empty purses languishing on a bookcase shelf. They clearly need a better home. But clearing the clutter off my kitchen counters and picking the dog toys (and pilfered socks) off the floor made the whole place feel much tidier.

Helpful Tips

  • Do the put away part of the challenge first. It will make an immediate difference in your home’s appearance and give you a boost as you work your way through the trickier toss/donate phases.
  • Learn from your purchasing mistakes. If you’re throwing away a lot of spoiled perishable items like Marjie, limit the number of items you buy and have a specific plan or recipe for using them up before you buy more.
  • Don’t let discounts make you lower your standards. Those paprika towels were on sale for a reason.
  • Don’t ask/don’t tell. If someone gave you a gift that you aren’t using, it’s okay to let it go. Someone else may love it! And there’s no need to ask permission or mention that donation to the gift giver.
  • If you aren’t sure where to put an item, create a specific spot for it. Shoeboxes are handy for holding loose items like sunglasses and masks.
  • Say no thanks to promo items and maybe non-profits will stop churning out all the unneeded water bottles, logo’d hats, etc.
  • Having a number makes this challenge doable. You don’t have to put away every last thing that’s out of place; success is 12 things. You don’t have to tackle your whole closet; just find 12 things you no longer wear that you can donate and you’ve won.

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