The 10 in 15 challenge: zero waste decluttering

For the average person in the US, each year we recycle 710.6 pounds of stuff and throw away 1,361.4 pounds of trash. (This is from an EPA estimate over 5 years ago – imagine how much more we’re throwing away now.)

How much of that trash or recycling is still perfectly useful?

Probably quite a bit of it. I’m sure all of us in our pre-zero waste days had a fit of “I just don’t know what to do with this perfectly-good [shirt/book/container/etc]” and dumped it in the trash instead of figuring out where it could go to live.

No more!

If you’re ready to let go of your things, but worry that minimizing is inherently anti-zero waste – it doesn’t have to be. The 10 in 15 challenge is the perfect way to start zero waste decluttering without mindlessly throwing things into your garbage bin!

Prefer to watch this in video form? No problem – you can check it out as a sample of The Essential Zero Waste Blueprint!

What is a 10 in 15?

A 10 in 15 challenge is very simple: find 10 items to declutter in 15 minutes! It’s three tasks, divided up into 5 minute sections.

Sound super slow? Well, yeah, that’s kind of the point.

A lot of these decluttering challenges encourage you to purge quickly and ruthlessly which can be efficient in getting rid of things, but it isn’t a very mindful practice. Instead of a race, apply the thoughtful way you go through your zero waste life in every other aspect. 

(Plus, once you’ve done the last 5 minutes of the 10 in 15 once, you probably won’t have to repeat it ever again! So consider it a 10 in 10 from then forward.)

Where to do a 10 in 15?

As you think about decluttering, I think you’ll have a pretty solid idea of where you need to start. We’ve all got that ugh, I don’t want to think about it part of our house to deal with, right? But here are a few good places to start your 10 in 15 as well as thoughtful purchases moving forward. Some of these links are affiliate links or links to partner brands:

  • Your kitchen. Think about excess utensils, plates, containers, and even cleaning products! My first 10 in 15 was in my kitchen cleaning supplies – I went from a full arsenal to a vinegar cleaner, baking soda, and a general-purpose dish soap.
  • Your bathroom. Another easy place to tackle since it’s so often overflowing with product. Think toiletries, cleaning products, linens, etc. My big swap was replaces 3-4 plastic bottles of various lotions with a simple all-purpose lotion like this.
  • Your closet. Clothing tends to be a big one for many, too. Tackle your whole closet or just a specific category like t-shirts. While I usually choose to donate clothing to charitable organizations (see below), for any high-end items you could use a sell-back program like ThredUp.

Also: consider reading “Less Stuff” by Lindsay Miles, a book all about decluttering mindfully with a zero waste mindset. It’s practical, fun, and inspiring!

Now let’s get to the good stuff…

The 10 in 15 Challenge - PollyBarks.com

Part 1: the sweep

Set a timer for 5 minutes.

Sweep your chosen room/area and find ten items you can immediately let go of, no matter how big or small. Just put them in a pile without thinking about where they’ll go.

Tip: you can define your area however you’d like. Tackle a whole room or – if you’re feeling overwhelmed – narrow down your focus to something like a closet or drawer.

Part 2: get sorting

Set another timer for 5 minutes.

Grab three small boxes:

  • Donate: a local organization would have use for this item.
  • (Friend) would like this!: an item you’ve been meaning to return to someone or that you know would fit/suit a friend or family member.
  • Landfill: there’s no way to repurpose the item and no one would find use for this.

Sort your ten items (more than ten? You rock, you overachiever!) and put them in the correct box so you know exactly what you’re planning for your items.

Tip: if letting go of items is a real priority for you, set these boxes up full-time so you can keep filling them. Just keep them somewhat hidden so the temptation to pull items out doesn’t become an issue!

Part 3: where’s it going?

Set a final 5 minute timer and do a quick few minutes of Googling to figure out where to give your donation items.

Some common places that will be looking for specific items:

  • Emergency shelters for women, children, or people experiencing homelessness. They’ll often be looking for clothing and home goods, furniture, bedding, etc. if they help rehome people.
  • Try getting rid of items on your local Freecycle group. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a group to post items you want to get rid of (or want to get) to the local community. No money involved, just a community trying to share goods.
  • Donate working electronics to schools or shelters. The National Network for Ending Domestic Violence is also always soliciting phones. NB: if your electronics are not in working order, there are also options to recycle. Find the nearest location here and get those electronics safely taken care of!

Avoid organizations that accept and all donations – they’re often overwhelmed by stuff and there’s much less of a guarantee your things will actually go somewhere other than the landfill. Sure, local thrift stores or charity shops like Goodwill are always a safe bet, although whether they actually go into a store is questionable and I’d save these as a last resort. (Here’s a pretty sobering 2016 article about where Goodwill’s clothing donations actually go.)

Finally, commit to getting rid of the boxes within the next few days. Good luck!