June 2015: Decluttering Experiment

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve actually posted here on the Monthly Experiments Project. I’ll write an update post (or ten) about the cool experiments I’ve been doing in that time (Neurofeedback, giving up alcohol, giving up sugar, starting a new business, and taking on a new fitness experiment) which I’m excited to tell you about a little later.

But today I want to introduce a brand new experiment that I’m starting this month, and you’re invited to join me.

I’m calling it the Decluttering Experiment. 


The inspiration for this experiment came to me when I was traveling, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a few years.

I’m a very light traveler. No checked baggage. I usually only bring a small backpack, whether it’s for a weekend road trip or I’m traveling internationally for a few weeks.

There’s a feeling I get when I travel. A kind of lightness. The feeling that I can go anywhere and don’t need anything other than what I can carry. I feel that same thing when I go backpacking or climbing, too.

It feels like freedom.

The freedom to explore and move around quickly from one city or country to the next. To see and learn and experience new things. I’ve come to realize that part of what I love so much about travel is also related to that lightness and simplicity.

The less you have, the more free you are. 

My motivation for doing this experiment comes down to chasing that feeling. The freedom of being fast and light and free.

So, this month I’m going to get rid of some of the things that are weighing me down. I’m talking about physical possessions, but also projects, obligations and responsibilities.

Honestly, I haven’t actually figured out the best way to do this, so I’ll be exploring as I go and reporting back here and on the Monthly Experiments Facebook page.

This isn’t a “minimalism” experiment, and I will try to avoid the stereotypical “how I live with just 47 things” blog post. Truthfully, I’m not a minimalist at all. I have a house, car and more pairs of shoes than makes any kind of sense. Even my dog probably has more toys than I had growing up.

I’m not interested in living like a monk. I’m not interested in counting my things. I’m just interested in living more intentionally, with more focus, more freedom, and less stuff weighing me down.

Experiment Rules

I like to keep things as simple as possible when it comes to experimental design, so I’m going to make a simple rule for myself (feel free to do this experiment whatever way works best for you.)

  1. Every day, spend some time going through a physical space in your home or office or car. Go through the objects in that space and decide whether to keep them based on the criteria that works for you.
  2. Keep a little journal or some notes about how it feels to get rid of those things.

That’s it. Two simple rules. Do that every day for a month, and your life will feel different.

Oh, and when it comes to the criteria about what to keep and what to get rid of, I’ll share more on that in the coming days.

What I’ve Done So Far

June 1st – I went through my closet and pulled out all my clothes. I used to wear suits, or slacks and collared shirts to work, and I had about 10 pairs of pants and 30 shirts that I haven’t worn in years. I invited my Dad over for lunch and let him take his pick of anything he wanted. He took about 20 nice dress shirts. I kept just a couple of dress shirts and suits that I had custom made. Everything else is going to be donated. It felt really awesome to clear so much space, and I’m super proud of my dad for losing a bunch of weight over the last few years and getting into good enough shape to wear my clothes!

(That’s an example of what you might write in your journal entry for the day. The formula of “what I did” + “how it felt” is a pretty solid formula when it comes to journaling about making changes.)

Some Good Resources

I’ve started off this experiment by reading a really amazing book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” I’m not finished with this book yet, but I already love it so much that I thought about calling this the Essentialism Experiment. It’s about embracing a philosophy of living with and doing what is essential, without distraction or clutter… to move more lightly and forcefully through the world. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. More on that later.

I also plan on reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” later in the month. It comes highly recommended by a friend. One of my favorite concepts from this book is a little game where you pretend that your possessions have souls, and you have to look at, say, a pair of shoes you haven’t worn in 3 years, and ask yourself whether their soul (whoa, barely avoided a terrible sole pun there!) is happy, or if they would be happier if you gave them to someone who would actually use them and wear them. It’s a silly game, but I definitely played it yesterday when I was cleaning out my closet, and I had some pretty upset clothes that are now being donated to someone who will appreciate them more than me.

Anyway, that’s the 1000 word mark, which is probably a good place to end a post about Decluttering.

I hope you decide to join me in this challenge, to surround yourself with things that serve you and help you reach your goals, instead of distracting you or weighing you down.

I’ll leave you with a little thought experiment. You can answer in the comments if you want…

What would you bring with you if you had to run away? If you went and packed the car right now, what would you take? For me (other than pets and people) it’s probably just some clothes, a Vitamix, some workout equipment, a couple of laptops and some kitchen stuff.

Stay tuned.

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  1. Yo, if you’re serious about this then shift your schedule to read Life Changing Magic up… to like right now. I implemented the system and have had a consistently tidy space for a month for the first time in my life.

    • Awesome. Thanks brother. That’s awesome!

    • If you had to choose between Kindle or audiobook, which way would you go?

    • Melanie says:

      I totally agree with Nick. Read Marie Kondo’s book and follow her system. It is life changing indeed and the book is a quick read. I have the kindle version (because I don’t want to buy any physical books if I can avoid it and don’t like audio books much).

      Gave the book to two friends as a gift after they told me how much they needed to tidy up. Both are more than happy with the results.

  2. Great idea. Woke up this morning thinking of all the STUFF I don’t want, need or ever touch. I have a friend who started getting rid of 100 things a month four years ago, and she’s still finding 100 things she doesn’t want. Each month. I’m in!

  3. Hi! I started following you after taking a creative live class, and I can’t say how helpful it was to relate to another person trying to find what they should be concentrating their energy on. I love your blog and it was funny how I received your email today, because I was just thinking to myself, “I’m tired of buying things I just want to be happy without buying something every other day.” So ironically I’m going to go buy “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” and see if I get as much out of it as you.

    Also the magic of tidiness is a must read. It helped me over the last month going through my drawers. The energy of my living space already feels so much better and I feel like its helped in other areas in my life. I actually fold my clothes and put them away now, you know like a real adult. 🙂

    Best Wishes

    • Hey Kora! Thanks for the kind words. I’m so glad you got a lot out of that Creative Live class. Please let me know how you like Essentialism. And congrats on being a real adult now. I hope to be one myself, someday. 🙂

  4. That’s super awesome! Pre summer cleaning!!
    I used to live out of a backpack, but now that i settled, my consumerism habits have kicked in. Now, if I purchase something, I ry to throw one item out. Keeping it minimalistic.
    I just donated a whole 2 boxes of clothes for donation. Always more to give away. Especially the kitchen and always the closet.

    I’m on a body declutter challenge now. No processed food. Wholesome food + supplemental nutrition, for more energy and to feel fresher, more a live. Perhaps your next month’s challenge?

    • Hey Naomi! Yeah, settling down can definitely lead to accumulation of stuff.

      I like the body declutter challenge idea. I’d love to know how it goes for you. I gave up all added sugar in April and May. That was a tough challenge, but well worth it. 🙂 Stay tuned for some posts about that experiment. Coming soon.

  5. Hey John,

    This is a great experiment and one I’ve been doing myself the last couple of months. Like you, I fully enjoy the freedom and lightness of traveling. I want to be as free from all the junk I’ve accumulated over the years and get back to the things that really bring value to my life.

    So, to answer your question, I already have it wrapped up because I just shared it with my girlfriend the other day. I need my backpack, a laptop with high end specs, a couple changes of clothes, hiking shoes and a phone. With the addition of some money, that’s it. Nothing else I’ve accumulated over the years brings any value. I only want the laptop for working abroad (programming) and playing games that I enjoy.

    Something you might want to consider during your time on the challenge that I’m doing is throwing out, donating, or giving away one thing each and every day. It’s very rewarding and I’ve gotten some very big thank yous and smiles in the process.

    Great post and good luck!

    • Hey Chris. It’s cool to hear from someone who is ahead of me on this path!

      I like the idea of giving something away every day. I might have to see how to work that into this experiment.


  6. John, this is such good timing! I’m overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I have getting in the way of enjoying any of it. I just had a yard sale this past weekend, so the timing is perfect for following up on that jumpstart. I dream of living in an organized space where my creativity has a chance to flow naturally. I must make some tough decisions about my Creative A.D.D. and really focus on those endeavors that are truly joyful. Sorting through 40 years of crafting accumulation (porcelain doll making, sewing, quilting, beading, glass fusing, sculpting, paper crafting, cake decorating, knitting, lampworking, shellwork, etc….lots of etc!) is truly overwhelming, AND I will commit to 1 drawer, bin, or box a day (maybe more if I get on a roll!)

    • Hey Katha. Thanks for sharing. If you had to prioritize your hobbies, what brings you the most joy?

      Just curious. 🙂

      • Good question. I would have to say knitting, sewing and paper crafting bring me the most joy. I would really like to get back into sculpting.

        I am burned out on porcelain doll making after 25 years of making, selling and teaching, so that is a big chunk of what needs to go. I decided to let go of my lampworking tools and supplies as I really don’t have an adequate set-up or time to really master it.

        Hmmmm, I think I have some clarity as to how to proceed! Thanks, John!

        • Sounds like you’ve got a plan. I’m glad. 🙂

          I think everything in our lives should stand up to questioning… if it’s worth keeping, it’s worth being conscious about that choice.

          Good luck!

  7. Hi John,
    great idea. I actually started this after listening to the author of Essentialism on Michael Hyatt’s podcast. Since then I have mostly pursued less in the area of email subscription. It feels so good when the Inbox is not overflowing.
    I really liked his standard sample of the wardrobe and the question, how much would I be willing to pay now for it?
    Ann Rea also helped me in the process, since through focusing I realized that certain activities such as participating in artist competitions, don’t contribute to my purpose and mission.
    In my thinking, the title could also be “Less is More” or “More with Less” which was the title of a cooking book many years ago.

    Still, I probably will not join you, since I have just started a big writing project (called diss).
    Jutta aka Faith Dance

    • Thanks Faith. Yeah, I’ve been trying to cut down on information and email subscriptions too. It definitely makes a difference, and makes me realize that focus is the key to so much of what we accomplish.

      I like your title suggestions. I was going to reference the iconic designer Deiter Rams’ book and design philosophy called “Less But Better” but decided to leave it out. I always loved that way of putting it.


  8. I’m so glad that you mentioned not wanting to live with x number of things. Practical minimalism is so often overlooked. What’s functional and manageable is different for each one of us. I’m glad I saw you in fizzle, I love your monthly experiments idea, I will have to stop back for the next one!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ericka!

      And maybe it’s cheesy of me to say this, but I love what you said about how we’re all different. I think that gets lost on us sometimes, especially in this online world. My goal with this project is to get people interested in treating their life as an experiment to figure out what works best for THEM, and makes them happy, which will probably be different than what works for me.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. I hope you decide to stick around and try something new for a month. 🙂

  9. I love what you said about feeling light and free when you travel. It’s so true, but I’ve never really been able to recreate that feeling at home although I don’t own a lot and could probably fit it into five boxes (minus the furniture).

    So I’m in! Not sure what rules I’ll use as I’m travelling around so much, but we’ll see.

    Excited to read more posts on this!

  10. Lisa Roszler says:

    Hi, John! I have been going down the decluttering path for a few years now. It started when my Granna died and we had to go through her 80 years of accumulation, and my promise to not leave my things like that for my own children.

    Then, when we lived in a home that was on the market for a year, the idea of keeping things tidy became a normal ritual. I still walk through the house every night and make sure it is ready for a “showing” the next day, though I have lived here (not on the market!) for ten years. Righting everything feels, well, right.

    Add to that my work with refugees here in my hometown, and suddenly their lack of possessions and need for essentials led to cleaning out my closets to donate. Who needs three sets of sheets or 15 towels?

    Yet there is still more to simplify. I totally get what you mean about the lightness of travel. I am home just a week from a vacation where I stayed in a hotel with a mini-kitchen. Two plates, two forks, two glasses, two bowls. Why do I have cabinets full at home? I really can lighten up!

    So, I will join you in your experiment, though I may not be a daily kind of journaler. I look forward to losing a few clutter pounds! 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Wow, yeah, I can only imagine what 80 years worth of stuff is like. 🙂

      I’m really happy that you’re joining us. The journaling piece is totally optional, of course. I’ve been getting a lot out of the two books I mentioned. If you’re going to spend time on something related, I think you’d like those too.


  11. I just came across your article. I too have taken up life experimenting. I would love for you to check out my blog I just started on my career, personality and appearance experiment. I want to know is it us or society. I would love to know how your experiment goes and will check back to see if you have a new post.

    Have a fantastic June.


    • Awesome! I love it when other people take up experimenting with their life. That’s my mission so it’s super cool to hear you’re doing that too. I’d love to know how your experiment goes too. 🙂

  12. Congrats! I started to do this as well, on may. Good luck and I’m happy that you returned on the blog 🙂


  1. […] Tomorrow we leave again. To a quieter place. I’ll make it quieter. I’ll see if I can declutter, focus, clean up, clear out. Maybe just remove a few things from the list, the lists, the to do […]

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