The 10 Item Challenge


A little while ago, I saw a sketch from Nathan Pyle (you might know him as the artist behind Strange Planet) that really spoke to me. It wasn’t from one of his usual comics, but one of the other little drawings that sometimes pop up in his feeds. This one was about the idea of being overwhelmed at cleaning stuff up, and it discussed how he found that, usually, the number of items that needed putting away for him was no more than 70. If he broke it up by making himself do 10 a day, it got way less overwhelming and he was able to keep up with it.

I loved this idea!

I’m not going to lie, life sometimes happens even though we’re pretty decent at mess levels. This was a habit mostly based on the fact that our youngest was a toddler when we adopted our first Labrador mix, a particularly chewy breed. We caught on fast that you can put your stuff away or the dog might chew it.

This dog was followed up with a second Labrador mix who, unfortunately, didn’t try to chew the universe so much as consume it. As a result, we got really good at not leaving things out in Labrador reach, but it’s not unheard of for little piles of things to develop on shelves or dog-inaccessible areas.

I decided I wanted to give myself a 10 Item Challenge for the next few weeks. The idea is simple: I find 10 Items that need to be placed in their more proper home, pitched/recycled, or added to the donate pile. These can be that empty mailing box that should be recycled, an old flier, sticky notes of info no longer needed, any other random item that is not in a proper home, or items that never got a home and were set aside with the vague intention of finding one later.

I am four days in so far, and this is what I’ve noticed:

  1. I often grab more than 10 items. Once I get in a mode where I’m picking stuff up, the momentum carries me. If I realize there’s an 11th or so item that can go in the same place as something else I grabbed, I tend to just take it with me. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped at just 10 on one day.
  2. I’m less likely to leave things out. Once I get going, I’m so excited that I made progress and I don’t want to backslide, so I find myself leaving items out a lot less so I’m not adding additional stuff.
  3. At first, I felt like 70 items seemed low, but I’ve been covering numerous areas of the house—except for my kids’ rooms, their bathroom, and my husband’s office—and I’ve found myself dealing with stuff that’s been out far longer than I care to admit very early in. That 70 items might actually be far more accurate than I realized, and I’m 40+ items put away and having a harder time finding new stuff.
  4. Taking care of the little clutter makes me more willing to look at bigger projects. There are some spaces in our house that likely need a deeper overhaul, but just dealing with the clutter bits makes it seem more approachable—like I’m working my way up to bigger challenges. As I put things away, I find myself better identifying what bigger efforts should be the next steps based on what areas it’s easy to put things in their home versus which are a bit more disorganized. I have 3 next-level projects identified and in mind, and they feel far more approachable now. I also find myself generally being more aware of things out of place, so I tend to know where I’ll start the next time, although as I noted before, the further I go in the more I really have to look. 
  5. I find I like seeing those signs of things looking a little neater here and a little neater there. I’d really like to keep this up as a daily habit of trying to find 10 things that can be put away so that there’s less of a chance of it needing to build up again. At the same time, I feel like if life gets crazy for a little bit, getting things back on track doesn’t seem quite as overwhelming. I’m really hoping this gives me the push to start some of the longer-term areas too.

If you feel like you’ve gotten really behind because life was all over the place and you don’t share living quarters with a dog that’s willing to force the issue, try not to be too hard on yourself, okay? Maybe you need more than one week and that’s alright—progress steps are still progress steps.

My item count may be closer to Nathan Pyle’s, but it’s okay if yours doesn’t quite match. It might even help to get other humans in the house to do the same thing. I have a family of 4, and if we all got in the habit of ten items a day, that’s a lot of things collectively getting put away. It may just be that your situation is more like 70 items per human in your space.

What I’m hoping the takeaway is that sometimes small but regular steps are the best way to make progress. I’m four days in and I love the progress I’ve seen, I’m curious to see what the end of the week will look like as well as how carrying out some of those longer-term projects will look over the next few weeks.

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