Eighty-Six Your Clutter

The holiday season is coming, and as magical and wonderful as it is, it can also get cluttered quickly. Between gift exchanges, decorations, parties, and other festive things, you can undo a year of decluttering efforts in thirty days or less. While you could stick with the one in, one out method, chances are you’d rather pay attention to other things right now.

While I generally prefer slow, steady change, occasionally a radical challenge is necessary.

Eighty-Six Your Clutter

The phrase eighty-six or 86 simply means getting rid of something and is commonly used in restaurants. When the kitchen runs out of potatoes, they tell the servers to “86 potatoes” and let customers know that there are no potatoes available.

The Challenge – Get rid of 86 things in 2 hours or less.

Keep the potatoes and 86 your clutter 86 times. Speed is your friend in this challenge. Collect the clutter and get it out the door asap. If you can’t remove it from your home in the same day, box or bag it up and tape it closed. Combine this with other simplicity challenges you might be attempting now for maximum momentum.

I’ve decluttered so much over the past few years, that I was able to move from a 2000 sq. foot home to a 750 sq. foot apartment with no storage options. I took the 86 challenge to identify the easiest places to find 86 items to discard. I was also curious to see how quickly I could do it and what I had left to clear out. I eighty-sixed 86 in 40 minutes.

Where to find your 86 fast

My number is next to the area mentioned. The more you own, the easiest this will be. If you want to get rid of even more, consider two passes or challenge your family to see who can find 86 the fastest.

Bathroom – 18
86 Lotions, make-up, nail polish, and anything else that you haven’t used in a while.

Freezer – 5
86 anything with freezer burn, expired food and any packages that have been open for too long.

Pantry – 3
86 stale items. Donate food in unopened cans or containers that hasn’t expired but you will never eat.

Kitchen things – 8
86 doubles like measuring cup sets and spoons. If you have 6 mixing spoons or spatulas, could you get by with 4? How many drinking glasses do you really need?

Office/Work Stuff – 6
86 extra pens, old notes, computer software you are holding onto for no reason, and staples if you don’t have a stapler.

Closet/Bedroom -21
86 anything that doesn’t fit or still has tags from a Labor Day sale. Dump the single socks and the workout shirt that hasn’t been to the gym in months.

Hall Closet – 5
86 extra coats and donate them to a shelter. Check the top shelf too. No one owns this closet so things you forgot about end up stuffed in the back. Get rid of the unknown, the hiding and the unnecessary.

Purse – 8
86 extra chapstick, old receipts, expired gift cards and grocery lists.

Phone – 3
86 apps you don’t use, even if you paid for them and you thought they would make your life better.

Computer – 9
86 files that you’ve been saving just in case that you haven’t opened in months or years.

Other places you might find your 86 – garages, attics, storage units, dining rooms, living rooms, dens and any other room in your home.

Just like that, you are 86 things lighter and can enjoy the holidays without worrying about complete clutter chaos waiting for you at the end of the year.


  1. MelD says

    This autumn, circumstances forced yet another clearout on us. Fortunately.
    One mornging this week, I spent a pleasant hour putting out and arranging my Christmas trinkets, all things I love and there are now only two boxes of them, properly organized so they don’t break, instead of miscellaneous boxes, bags and other containers stashed all over the place. I don’t even have to think about anything else except putting up my Christmas tree on the 24th December (again, all baubles are in a box) and tomorrow I can happily sit down and do crafts with my grandchildren – found all I need in a single craft box when preparing for their visit.
    It’s bliss!

  2. says

    I got in a purge mood and cleaned out a lot, so I may have inadvertently 86’d 86 items. I should count the items to see. Otherwise, it’ll be time for an 86 session. I love this idea!

  3. says

    This was just the kick I needed today. I started picking up clutter after my daughter went to bed and stopped counting at 86 but actually went a little higher. I also ended up purging old books off my daughter’s shelf and restocking some from the closet that are now the right level and also put away some too-small clothes that were piled precariously. Felt great!

  4. Jill says

    This probably isn’t relevant to this post but I had to share. My mother who is 93 and I have decided to go through the clutter in case we have to downsize in a hurry – her job was to go through the ‘good’ cutlery drawer – I asked her why she was putting some perfectly good silver plate dinner forks in the give away pile and she said “I’ve had them since I was married and never used them” ( They looked like new). I asked why and she said “I was keeping them for best”!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She was married at 26. They are gorgeous and we are now using them for every day. My new motto is use the things you love now – don’t keep them for best.

  5. Rose Cole says

    I looked around and noticed that I was starting to suffer from “clutter – creep”. You know, the stuff that slowly sneaks up on you over time. So, after reading this 86 suggestion, off I went and nipped my clutter in the bud! The house looks so much better for it and feels more like a serene oasis now, a refuge from the stress of the outside world! See how you inspire us Courtney! Thanks!

  6. Sabrina says

    I decided to give away my old vinyl records. I don’t have a record player anymore, and most of the music I have on CD anyway (have to get rid of them too, I am working to get them on the computer!). So I put them in a box and counted them… 85! Wow, that was easy. Just added a book and done 😀
    I used the rest of my time to reorganize my stuff. Threw away a full box of old paper stuff. (I guess more than 86 pieces…)
    Now I have a home for my old slides! They lived in the bedroom, and now there is a new place for the towels and sheets, which lived in our clothes cabinets.
    Feels good, thanks for reminding me to do another de-cluttering!

  7. says

    I read this early this morning and by 6pm, over 250 items from my wardrobe alone were gone. My T-shirts, underwear and jewelry reduced the most. I had no idea I had 43 underpants and 8 pairs of jeans. It looks so bare but very coordinated. Thanks

  8. says

    I took on the challenge just now. In about an hour I found 90 items to get rid of, and I’d only got through from the hallway and front door via the toilet and the bathroom to halfway through the kitchen. 3/4 of the house is still to go through, but I think for today I’ll stop at 90 :) There’s a start for the christmas clean up! Thanks for the challenge Courtney.

  9. says

    I like this idea, but I can’t help but get caught up in the battle of what to recycle vs. what to just throw away. The idea of just tossing more stuff in the trash that could either be reused, recycled or upcycled makes me a little crazy, and is probably a reason that I have more clutter than I could.


    • Angela says

      In case you see this-I take anything that could be useful and donate it. There are a variety of places that will accept drop-offs and even pick-up, and they all have clear lists of the types of things they can use. Anything else that might possibly be useful-even if broken-I list for free on freecycle or craigslist and other such trading sites, and I clearly describe the condition so that someone handy might want to repair it. Everything has been taken and appreciated by someone else that can make use of it. If it can’t be repaired or isn’t useable, I am happy to trash or recycle it, but it has to go. It is very freeing to be able to make these quick decisions and just get it done. I have regular times for sending things off and listing things to give away.

  10. Sibylle says

    Thomas – donation. There are tons of charities that would be glad to accept whatever wearable clothes, usable kitchen items or books that you might have. Even furniture.
    It might take a few phone calls tofind the place for all your stuff, but you won’t have to dump it. I also feel that just throwing everything in the trash would be the absolutely worst way of decluttering.

  11. says

    Sibylle – I totally get the donation thing, and very often do that. In fact I was ranting about a neighbor that was moving recently and had all kinds of stuff out on the street on trash day that was all very usable which would have been very readily taken at any donation center. My point was because of not wanting to throw the stuff away, but not being able to part with it through donating or recycling causes me to have more clutter. Chucking everything into the trash is definitely the worst way to declutter.

  12. says

    Angela, Thanks for your reply. It is something that I am definitely going to work on this coming year. This week I again saw a family moving out of their house and there was all kinds of reusable items that were just chucked out in the trash. Arrgh! Thanks again. Hope you have a great end of 2013

  13. belinda says

    omg!!! got rid over 100 items in less than 30 min…going to keep doing this in every room…love it!! wish I had found this site years ago. Getting ready to retire and want to be ready to live simpler and appreciate everything I have. Many thanks..Will be returning to this site frequently..

  14. Rosa says

    I have discovered that resale stores want to have your clothes even if they are in bad repair as they sell them in bulk at a good profit for rags.