Why I Don’t Do 40 Bags

Before I begin, I want to preface with saying that I’m in no way against or judging families that do 40 bags. In general, I think cleaning up clutter and trying to live more intentionally and less materially is really, really awesome. So, dear reader, be warned – I’m sharing my personal reasons for our family and not trying to make anyone feel guilty or bad about how they clean up at home ;).

Alright, so what is 40 bags? If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically a method of decluttering started by a prominent blogger that tons of other bloggers and individuals popularized. I’ll give my over-simplistic version of it in a nutshell: commit to 40 days on the project, each day declutter an area of the home and fill a bag with the excess stuff to toss or giveaway, then at the end of 40 days enjoy the freedom of some cleared up space.

Why I Don't Do 40 Bags

There are a lot of GOOD reasons to try this method, like…

  • Intentionally organizing various parts of your home/life (some people consider email a space to declutter which is cool).
  • Practicing a spirit of detachment.
  • Being more conscious of how much you allow into your closets.
  • Having more space after clean up is done.
  • Giving to charitable organizations all of the stuff you don’t need.

So what’s my beef with 40 bags, then?

Well, let’s start with when I tried attempted to try it. Minus living very simply (you can read more about why and how here), we’re pretty average in terms of American families. We have our areas of the home that are really functional and well organized, and then we have some areas that are hidden behind a door with who knows what just waiting for the magic cleaning lady to show up. It’s life, am I right? The thought of focusing on purging some of the clutter was welcomed in my brain.

But as I researched a bit more and started some of the cleaning processes at our place, I quickly decided I didn’t it just wasn’t for us. Here’s how I came to that conclusion…

  1. It focuses too much on material things for too long. I regularly go through our closets and drawers to organize and keep things tidy (with three boys, two parents, in a two bedroom apartment it becomes a necessary part of life so we all fit). But something about feeling like I have to fill a bag for 40 days straight feels materialistic to me. (Or, I could just be antidisestablishmentarian about the cult of some of these popular trends… who knows). But I’d honestly rather take one day a month to make sure we have just what we need, tidy up, then get on with life. 40 days is a long time – anyone who’s ever given up coffee for Lent knows that.
  2. I don’t like that it becomes a yearly thing. (Okay, so here’s where I might need you to scroll up and re-read the very first paragraph so we can stay friends if you’re someone who does this.) We try really hard to make sure we aren’t seduced by the consumerist culture of America by buying things we don’t truly need. Sometimes we fail (like the time I bought two brand new swimming suits in one week because one was on sale and I just had to have it and then one didn’t fit me and I wasted our money), but mostly we are very deliberate about what we buy and how much we buy. When I read that people are filling 40 bags or more EVERY SINGLE YEAR I was left with a really bad taste in my mouth. How is this okay in a world where there are children that literally have no clean water to drink? Have we become consumers before Catholic? Call me hypersensitive (or not, because you’ve read this book and know where I’m coming from), but I feel like if we can get rid of 40 bags of stuff every year indefinitely, we’re doing the principle of subsidiarity wrong.
  3. The 40 bags culture language bothers me. Alright, this is highly subjective and probably nit-picking, but I kept seeing people calling it a way to “de-crapify” and then get really pumped they were donating the stuff to charities. To me, it just felt off. If I really want to help relieve the suffering of the poor, can I call it true charity if I’m just dropping off my “crap” and then patting myself on the back? At least for our family, we felt it was probably more virtuous to create a habit of using only what we need, then regularly donating items we no longer use without the fanfare. It’s decidedly not our thing to create a big project out of it like we are doing anything special or more than we are already called to as Christians.
  4. I want to try to give more thoughtfully. This point is kind of a mashup of the others, but I feel strongly about not just giving from our excess, but also from our need. This quote by Dorothy Day says it best:

The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him.

For these reasons, I never finished the 40 bags project and I doubt I will in the future. I don’t think it’s inherently bad whatsoever, so by all means, if this is a way to really help you give from the heart, please keep it up! But for those that care to know how we do things around here, now you know 🙂


I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the 40 bags in 40 days project! I read every single comment and love to know what you’re thinking. 

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  1. I pretty much agree. I don’t purchase 40 bags of stuff in a year, unless you count groceries. Probably 5-8 bags, mostly kids clothes.

    I’m currently going through our stuff and purging. It’s the first time I’ve done it seriously since we were married. I’ll probably do it again in 5 years or so.

    You didn’t mention Lent, but that is also a pet peeve of mine. Trendy home organization projects are not really in the spirit of Lent. It’s not very unpleasant! Plus it’s basically selfish – I’ve been meaning to clean up my house anyway, so there! That’s Lent this year! Great generous Catholic, I sure am. I gave away 40 bags of stuff I don’t even want in my house.

    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican February 27, 2016, 2:30 am

      Thanks for sharing! I can definitely relate to the kid part – obviously we have stuff we do give away since kids grow out of clothes and such, but not enough to fill 40 bags each year 🙂

  2. I have to be honest, I have mixed feelings about this post. Though I recognize that this is why YOU don’t do it, and that you are not passing judgment on anyone who does, I feel like it oversimplifies the issue. It may originate from a popular blogger (I don’t actually know the origins of this practice) but I feel like the reasons listed here, how do I say….I feel like there is too much judgement here, though I KNOW for a fact that that was not your intention, and that is not your heart. I’m still trying to process this post and figure out why it stings so bad. It may be because I have been, and still need to, evaluate my own attitudes toward my “stuff” and this post brought that to the forefront, or maybe because it did come off judgmental. I’m not sure which it is yet, or maybe it’s a little of both. I think I will read it again if I have time later. Either way, I love your blog and am generally, so encouraged by your content! Please keep it up. 🙂

    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican February 27, 2016, 6:25 am

      Thanks for your honest comment, Jeanette! It means a lot of hear feedback like this – I sincerely hope you don’t feel personally judged by me in this. And maybe it was too simple and didn’t include the in betweens – I think there is a lot of people that have done this once to detach a bit and it was positive. Thanks for pointing that out – love hearing what other Catholic families experience of this type of stuff is 💚

      1. It’s so hard Angie, because I know that you were not being judgmental when you wrote this, and that you are sincerely sharing your heart and your experience. I also, don’t want you to take my comment to be an attack on your writing or experience, so hopefully, we can still be friends. 😉 I have actually never done a 40 bags in 40 days challenge before, although I did decide to print one from Catholic Icing this year and make an effort to sincerely look at my loved possessions, and my crap to really discern what the roots are for those things being in my life. Is it something I really need, use, love, want, or is it trash? Or is it something that I never really wanted or needed, that I bought or was given, and could be used by someone else who really does want or need it? Some of it probably is materialism and a consumeristic attitude (that hurts to say out loud), and some of it could be my laziness and my inability to keep up my house well and establish good habits of moving things out (which is a whole separate issue, if you know what I mean).

        The truth is, that maybe it stung to read it, because I do in fact agree with everything you’re saying and hope that some day soon, I will be able to say that I am right there with you and don’t need to get rid of stuff because it doesn’t find its way in. I think we shouldn’t have 40 bags of stuff to give or throw away, but many of us do, for lots of reasons. And maybe to say there is “too much judgement here” was too harsh. Maybe there was just the right amount and that’s what those who feel judged, including me, really need to take to prayer. Thank you for being brave and putting your heart out there in every post! You truly have a gift.

        1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican February 27, 2016, 9:16 pm

          You are so honest and I appreciate this so much – thank you for sharing your experience here to add to the conversation.

          I think I may have been over simplistic because there definitely is a middle ground here – I had another comment on my page of someone who’s doing it just once as a jump start to trying to be less consumeristic. Which is so awesome.

          And I hope I didn’t make it seem like we are perfect at never having clutter or anything – just today I have several things to drop off at a thrift store. It’s always a work in progress here too.

          I think too, just by your comments, it seems your heart is definitely in the right spot and the post probably is less directed at you than you think – just a hunch 🙂

          Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!!


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