I took the 30-day minimalism challenge, got rid of 338 possessions, and still failed — here’s what I learned

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Most of our lives are pretty cluttered.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

My name is Madeleine, and I failed the minimalism challenge.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who call themselves The Minimalists, designed the minimalism challenge as a fun game to help people declutter their houses.

The rules are simple, but the math adds up quickly over the month-long endeavor. On day one, you get rid of one thing, day two, two things, and so on and so forth until you get rid of 30 things on day 30. In total, if you complete the challenge, you’ll have gotten rid of 465 things.

I was drawn to the challenge because I’m moving soon and wanted to downsize. I’d watched their documentary where they talk about how minimalism made them happy, and thought they made excellent points about how consumerism isn’t making Americans happy.

Consuming isn’t bad; we all need a new coat or new pants sometimes. But the consumerism that drives people to continuously shop is dangerous, the two argue in their documentary.

So, I got rid of 338 things, before hitting a wall.

Here’s the emotional roller coaster I embarked on attempting the minimalist challenge.


Joshua and Ryan don’t have very strict rules, so I had to make up some of my own. I decided if something could be used again, or had great sentimental value, it counted.

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The minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
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Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus/The Minimalists

Source: The Minimalists


So, a candy wrapper didn’t count. But a card given to me by a close friend did count. They were both getting tossed out, but one took effort to part with, while the other didn’t.

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I didn’t get rid of every card, but I got rid of a fair amount. It was hard, but I put it in perspective by asking myself if I really meant to keep all of them forever.
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Business Insider

And so the challenge begins. I hoped my bedroom would look fresh and minimalist like this afterwords.

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Not my bedroom.
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Shutterstock

The challenge is meant to be done daily, but I work odd hours that get me home around 10 p.m. Rather than throw things out late at night, I lumped them into weeks.

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I hated digging through a million hangers to find the right jacket for the day. (Note: not my closet.)
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katykash/Flickr

Week one was easy. Anyone can probably find 28 things to get rid of without much effort. My haul was primarily clothes.

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Someone would probably love these clothes, but I never wore them. I’ve had some of these since high school! Time to go.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

I only wanted to keep clothes if I felt amazing in them. If I didn’t, what was the point of having them? Studies show that when you feel more confident in your clothes, you perform better at work, and you’re perceived better by your colleagues, too.

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Peggy killin’ it.
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Mad Men / Facebook

Source: Business Insider


I donated everything to charity (except for cards or old school records that were recycled). I chose St. Vincent de Paul, because their store was down the street and appeared to have virtually no restrictions on what I could drop off.

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St. Vincent de Paul works to “break the cycles of homelessness and domestic violence” in San Francisco.
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flickr/howardlake

Source: St. Vincent de Paul


The challenge after week one felt like a diet. A thing-diet. I was shedding all this “weight,” but worrying about “gaining it back” after the challenge. Would I binge-buy stuff once it ended?

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Shutterstock

I sailed through week two mostly due to my giant book collection that is now much smaller.

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Books saved me here, along with a whole bunch more clothes and some shoes.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

I’m a huge bookworm, but I really didn’t need all the books I had. I got rid of any books I didn’t think I’d revisit (since I’ve read almost all of them). I also donated well-known books that I could easily get from the library.

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Not my books. Mine are happy at the St. Vincent de Paul store.
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Alexander Baxevanis/Flickr

At this point I was getting obsessed with the end game. I worried that the only way I could meet that magic number of 465 would be to get rid of things I wanted to keep. I had to remind myself numerous times that no one was forcing my hand. I could stop anytime.

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I wanted to keep this bag I just bought in Portugal, and decided I should because I actually use it.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

Week three was the biggest haul: over 130 things. I went through my childhood boxes, and went from five boxes of possessions to two.

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It all could go.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

Some things like this ukulele case were easy to get rid of. I have a much nicer and stronger case for my ukulele — why was I hanging on to this?

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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

Other things were harder. This necklace is beautiful, but I have literally not worn it since high school. Someone else can give it much more love than I have.

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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider.

Week four was where I finally had to cave. To successfully finish the challenge, I needed to donate 212 items. I got rid of 85, leaving me 127 items short.

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I really tried.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

If I had done this challenge a year ago I think I would have succeeded. I regularly toss things out every couple of months in big chunks (excuses). I’d definitely tossed out 127 things within the last year. Alas, I just didn’t have enough this time around.

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My other box of keeps. This features some things I still use, and my yearbooks, which I was torn on keeping or tossing. I decided to keep for now!
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins

The challenge was still helpful though. I can comfortably close my wardrobe and dresser drawers now and can fit my childhood belongings in two small boxes.

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You can see the back of my closet. Progress! The pink fluffy thing on the bottom left is an airplane pillow that comes on all my long-haul flights.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

The challenge taught me to focus on quality over quantity, and what I ended up keeping made me consider what I actually value.

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This bag is reversible, so, it’s basically two bags! I got rid of nearly every other purse I owned because I never used them.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider

I would recommend the minimalist challenge to people, but I’d caution them not to obsess over it like I did. Get rid of what you want, and if you don’t finish the challenge, no sweat! It’s still an eye-opening experience to get rid of what you don’t need.

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Here’s one of the boxes of things I’m keeping. It mostly features memorabilia and books I didn’t want to toss — they mean too much to me.
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Madeleine Sheehan Perkins/Business Insider