40 BAGS IN 40 DAYS

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During my college years, 20s, and early 30s, I gave up chocolate, candy, coffee, soda, or the like in observance of Lent. Recently, however, I have gravitated away from “giving up” in favor of “adding in”. I have also looked for opportunities to broaden my and my family’s horizons, simplify our lives, and/or improve the lives of those in our community. Along these lines, a few years ago I decided to take on the “40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge”.

The challenge was originally created to coincide with Lent – however there is no reason it must – and involves cleaning out the clutter that keeps us from being able to truly enjoy and appreciate our lives. The focus is on letting go of stuff, but also on making small sacrifices. According to the Simply Catholic blog, “it should hurt – not a lot, but a bit. There should be some small sense of having to sacrifice or maybe some small bit of contrition at how much we hold onto things” (when we could redirect that time and energy elsewhere). An added benefit to the Challenge is that at the end of the 40 days you should have 40 or so bags of clothing, toys, books, and household items to donate to a family in need or a local nonprofit organization.

If you visit the Mama Bear Dares blog regularly, you may recall a post I wrote a few months back about making New Month’s Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I made this shift back in September, and since then have tackled quite a few different kinds of resolutions, from setting a reasonable bedtime for myself and reading aloud to my children every night to drinking more water and writing daily in my gratitude journal.

In January I resolved to clean out all of the closets in my house, and in February I added cleaning out all of my cupboards. As I tackled these projects, I flashed back to the 40 Bags Challenge. I recalled how empowered and refreshed I felt when I completed it the first time, and an online search for why I felt this way led me to an article on the website Bustle. In a way that helped me better understand the benefits of decluttering, this short but informative piece summarized the results of a number of scientific studies and advice from professionals in related fields:

  • Better concentration. A study by Princeton University neuroscientists found that whether we realize it or not, clutter forces our brains to multitask. “Physical clutter…competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress."
  • Increased creativity. This one seems up for debate as some creative types swear by a messy desk or workspace, but the same idea as above applies: for most people, “dividing attention between multiple stimuli…often results in increased stress and decreased creativity and productivity”.
  • Better sleep. A sleep study out of St. Lawrence University found a connection between messy bedrooms and sleeping problems; cluttered bedrooms can contribute to sleeping problems like “trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances”.
  • Improved mood. Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families found that “clutter has a profound effect on mood and self-esteem, especially for women”. They discovered a direct relationship between the density of household objects and the stress hormone cortisol: higher density of objects translates to higher levels of stress.
  • Ability to let go of the past. I found this benefit particularly interesting. Feng Shui experts explain that determining an item’s status as clutter has to do with how it feels – or makes you feel – rather than how it looks. “…Get rid of anything that drags you down” to avoid unpleasant memories or becoming dragged down by emotional baggage.
  • Clearer focus. This one is most relevant to me personally. “We hang onto far more objects than we need, and, instead of motivating us, they become talismans of guilt and shame.” The article suggests keeping only items that bring inspiration or motivation.

I won’t necessarily complete the 40 Bags in 40 Day Challenge during Lent, but in search of the benefits list above, I will take on the Challenge this spring. If you would like to join me, check out the printables and instructions on White House Black Shutters. Organizing Moms also shared a few great links for those who would like more information about decluttering in general and/or a simpler, smaller-scale version of the 40 Bags Challenge called 40 Items in 40 Days.

Williams Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” What a beautiful sentiment to help us embrace the idea that sometimes, caring for ourselves is about caring for the spaces in which we exist.


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.