Decluttering Challenge

When I was in college, I looked forward to Dad’s weekend in the fall. Dad’s weekend was always easy, fun, and perhaps best of all, it required minimal planning. The same rituals were performed year-in-and-year-out:

Step 1. Dad comes to school

Step 2. We watch the football game

Step 3. We drink all the beer

Rinse, wash, repeat. As far as I know, that’s how the weekend plays out for most students and their dads at the University of Illinois.

My dad and I had our own little ritual before ‘Step 1’, which included me frantically cleaning my room (read: shoving nearly everything I own under my bed and in my closet) an hour before his arrival. He would pop in just as I was figuring out a way to ram my closet door shut, grimacing at my half-ass clean-up job, barely able to conceal his look of disapproval. I’d later hear him say in a concerned footnote on a phone call with my mom, “I think Cass is stressed. Her room is pretty messy.”

I’m sad to say that Dad’s weekends are a thing of the past in my life, but our little Cass-cleans-things-up-last-minute-to-pretend-she’s-a-functional-adult bit continues to this day.

I think I’m pretty clean. I make my bed every day, I know how to use the vacuum and even sometimes actually use said vacuum, I intentionally buy things like organizational bins at Target, and I do my laundry on a weekly basis (ok, almost a weekly basis). I mean, what more do you want from me?

However, I seem to be constantly playing catch-up when it comes to organization. As soon as I feel like my drawers are clean, my closet is a disaster. As soon as my closet is in order, I realize a pile next to my bed has grown into a sizeable monster. And as sad as it is to finally admit it, I think my dad is onto something – all my “stuff” tends to reflect my psychological state. It also took me a while to recognize that this relationship also happens to work both ways, which is to say that my psychological state can also be a reflection of having a ton of disorganized stuff laying around.

And that’s not just hippie feng shui crap, it’s a scientifically sound theory. Clutter takes an emotional toll on us. Disorganization and all this “stuff” affects us physically and mentally. Ever lost the ability to concentrate because you feel like you’re surrounded by mess? Ever get home from a long day and get stressed out by the disarray in your room? Even getting rid of the clutter brings about both positive and negative emotions – while it’s thrilling to feel clean and organized, it’s actually painful to give up a physical object that you feel some kind of emotional of financial commitment to.

But starting this month, I’m committing to drive past the emotional tugs of decluttering and get organized. The first step is to get rid of crap. And for that, I have a plan. For selfish/accountability purposes, I’m not doing this alone. I convinced fellow ASweatLife writers Mary Mack and Kristen Geil to join me in the endeavor.


On February 1st, we threw away/donated 1 item.

On Feburary 2nd, we threw away/donated 2 items.

On February 3rd, we threw away/donated 3 items.

Notice a pattern?

So far, so good – but the beginning of the month is the easiest part. We’re still in the “this stuff serves no purpose so why do I still have it?” stages.


I’m happy to report that I’m sixteen days in (I know it’s only day twelve, I got a little ahead of myself – this is sort of exhilarating, you guys).


(Please ignore the disorganized magazine holder next to the donation/trash pile.)

I have put one hundred and thirty-six items in the trash or in a donation pile… and for those keeping track at home, I’m not even half way there.


(Mary did the math for us.)

Here’s my challenge to you – join us. And if you don’t want to join us, at least take a few minutes to think about your consumer lifestyle. As with most things in life, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is all about balance. I also have a sneaking suspicion that most of us are a little unbalanced in the “material things” department.

Think about your organizational habits and the clutter in your life. Take inventory of just how much you have and ask yourself if there’s room to have a little less.

So, tomorrow we give up thirteen more things. You in?

If not, I’ll see you on the other side of February and let you know what we learned.

At Home Happiness Live Think & Feel

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.