40 Bags in 40 Days: The Basics

2014 Update-Last year I bowed out of the challenge (or just did little bits here and there and didn't blog about them) because I had baby Janey.  This year baby Janey is toddler Janey and requires less work, but not much less. :)  I will give my best attempt to post weekly updates of the rooms I've plowed through.  

On a side note: I signed up here this year to get daily Lenten reflections in my inbox, just thought I'd mention in case anyone else was interested.  

The Basics of 40 Bags in 40 Days:

The idea of Forty Bags in Forty Days is to "cleanse" your house of all clutter during the forty days of Lent by clearing out a small area and filling 40 bags with "stuff"-things you don't need, find useful, or love.  It is a manageable, easier way to do spring cleaning than all at once, especially since most of us have little ones that we need to care for all day.

The first step is to make a little schedule for yourself.  I use a simple piece of notebook paper.  (Here is a cute free printable schedule one of my blog readers made.)

I divide my house into forty areas.  My schedule might look like this:
Day 1: Master Bathroom Cabinet
Day 2: Master Bathroom Drawers
Day 3: Vanity Area
Day 4: Our Closet
Day 5: Master Bedroom
Day 6: Craft Cabinet
Day 7: Study

till I have 40 small manageable areas to work on each day.  Some days I can plow through four areas and buy myself some time, which allows me to skip a day or two when I just can't meet my goal.

There is no right way to purge your home, some work better in bursts, some work better in tiny chunks-do whatever is not stressful and works for you at this time of your life.

Now there is no way I could fill up 40 bags, or even close to it after the first year of doing 40 Bags/40 Days. That's the number one benefit of doing this Lenten purge-once you experience how good an uncluttered house feels you never want to go back to having too much stuff!  I am more vigilant about what I bring in.

My Supplies:
Black garbage bags. You can use any kind you want-even small grocery bags, but I use black because kids can't see through them, and the size works well for me.  Sneaky purger that I am, I don't want my decisions questioned.

No, I don't ransack my children's bedrooms and throw away all of their beloved treasures, but it's better if that plastic broken battery-hogging toy that my son hasn't touched in 5 years magically disappear without
rearing it's ugly head to be seen and desperately missed by all.

I also have Magic Erasers, paper towels (or rags), spray cleaner and my vacuum.

I wipe down counters, wipe out cabinets, shelves, and countertops while I'm purging. I go through packs of Magic Erasers. (I can do this because I only have one little one home all day-if you have a baby or babies, maybe just stick with the purge, and not with the spring clean.)

I keep in mind that my goal is to touch everything in the room or area that I am working on. If I
have boxes, clothes, books, toys...no matter what, I go through each item and make a decision to
keep, give away, throw away.

I figure out what I am going to do with the bags once full. I give books away to a local foundation that resells them, I pitch the garbage, I give the rest to Goodwill  because they have a drop-off station 2 minutes away. I don't do resale shops or garage sales, because for me, it's just too much work. I throw the Goodwill bags right into the back of my van, and make the run as soon as I get a chance.

I work really quickly. Obviously, the bigger and the more complicated the room, the longer it takes,
but I don't puzzle over decisions, or get distracted by other things...besides Patrick of course. I
don't answer my phone...my goal is to get the job done as quickly as possible.
I keep a visual in mind. How do you want I my house to look?  For me it's clean, sparse, and organized:

I always go back in my head to the first months we moved into this house. I had really wanted to start fresh. I had given away a lot of stuff from our old house...I purged like crazy when we moved. We had no closet or
storage space in our old 1840 house either...so when we settled into this house it was very simple, very
empty, very refreshing. I filled one drawer where there was now 5. The kids used just tiny bits of their
closets. Some rooms had just a few items of furniture. It was so easy to keep clean and I felt so energized
without so many belongings. Sometimes I get out my old photos from when we first moved in, and that
motivates me to bring my home back to where I loved it.

The other visual: What if I had to show my house in minutes as if we were selling it? I know this is hard core...but I learned my lesson once with my first house...we put off all these little projects that we wanted to do forever, lived with them forever, inconvenient and all, and when we went to sell our house, here we were running around getting it all done for SOMEONE else to live in and enjoy! Ridiculous!  I make a list of those little projects, and work on them later in the year.

So it helps me to think, even though we will never move, that is my ideal for this space/room to look like? Sometimes we get used to things and don't realize how cluttered up, or inconvenient they are. Trying a fresh eye...a "perspective buyer's eye" has helped me.

(My past posts about 40 Bags here.)


  1. YAY! So excited to see this today!!

  2. THANK YOU A MILLION for sharing the Lent Reflections site. I love reading your blog.

  3. I'm pregnant and have a 3.5 and 1.5 year old but I'm still going to attempt this. I figure whatever I get done is better than nothing at all!!

  4. I love this. When we moved into our house a year ago I had read this post, and it really helped me to let go of extra "things", I made multiple trips to goodwill and it was so liberating! It was like losing weight haha. Now that it'it's time to start spring cleaning I will see what more I can do. Thanks btw! :)

  5. Great inspiration to get me started! I use black bags too!

  6. Can't wait to get my list started.

  7. I look forward to the 40 bags challenge every year (even though I have no hope in filling 40 bags, and no longer blog about it), because it has been such a wonderful experience for me over the past few years. Thanks for the reminders to take it small, and to write lists of jobs that need doing as I go- I needed that!

  8. Thank you for inspiring me to do this!

  9. My list is done. With moving it's easier this year. I have boxes still left to unpack!

  10. I'm excited to get started on this! Thanks for such a wonderful idea for spring cleaning and organizing!!

  11. I love your 40 Bags posts. I was inspired by you to do it last year, but being pregnant with two little ones, I didn't finish. I'm determined this year. So much so that I gave myself an extra 4 weeks and started a month ago. Cleaning out and getting organized has definitely helped with my winter blahs.

  12. I enjoy reading this blog! I've been thinking about living a minimalist lifestyle to avoid clutter, and this is a great way to think about how to go about it while giving to others (especially toys for kids or furniture that people may need). I'm really loving this unique challenge and I'm inclined to do 40 bags in one weekend (setting a timer) but I'll be happy if I get 10 done :) Thanks for this idea!

  13. Yay! Your blog is consistently one of my favorites...and this year a group of friends and I are participating in this challenge together! Thank you so much for consistently blogging so much quality content...I love reading here. :)

  14. This is still one of my favorite cleaning/organizing jobs I've ever seen!

  15. Yay, I'm excited! Can't wait to join you and get started! :)

  16. I laughed out loud when I saw this post today, because I started my 40 yesterday! I love this system. Used it last year to prepare our house to sell and couldn't believe how fun it was. :)

  17. I signed up for the same reflections! I'm looking forward to getting them every day, just like I'm looking forward to this challenge!

  18. Post your full list please (1-40) :-) I'll follow your lead!. What day are you starting?

  19. I have a question about decluttering my kids' rooms. I only have two children, so they each have their own room. One of them is a bona fide pack rat. He is emotionally attached to EVERYTHING. Right now, his room has about three or four laundry-sized baskets full of stuff that has no home. Our Spring Break project is to go through the baskets and figure out how to put everything away. He's going to have a hard time with this task. I know I can go ahead of him and "quietly" get rid of a good bit of stuff. Do you have a rule of thumb about how much stuff your kids can keep? Where does it go? Also, what do I do with all of these Lego sets that have been put together and will never be taken apart? Thank you for your time! I love reading your blog!

  20. I have similar problems as Molly Peterson. I have four children and two are pack rats; they are very emotionally attached to EVERYTHING! I don't know how to deal with this! We also have many of those Lego sets that have been assembled and take up space! I want my house to look like yours, but I need help!

  21. This year, I'm in. Our last move cost us $2000 in overweight fees, and if that isn't a wake-up call… When our belongings arrive at the end of March it will be unpacked straight into donation boxes unless we loved and desperately missed it for the last almost 9 months we've been without our stuff.

  22. Great post. I'm feeling inspired to start decluttering right now.

  23. Visiting through a link from Owlhaven. Love this idea and it is just in time. I'm going a little bonkers with the overflow of stuff from 7 people living in this smallish space!

  24. i am always inspired by this post when i come across it, either looking through your blog or through other's posts on facebook. i wanted to let you know i shared a link to this post on my fb page today {notice the little things}. i gave you all the credit but just wanted to make sure you don't mind. i am hoping to use this method for my spring cleaning this year and maybe even blog about it in the process. yours was the first blog i ever read and it continues to be an inspiration. thank you for all your wise, thoughtful words!