Today's mission is to declutter whatever bag you carry with you on a regular basis, such as a gym, work or diaper bag, and then develop routines to keep it clutter free and organized from now on.
This mission is designed to be done during the week we're working on the Organize Purses & Handbags Challenge, as part of the 52 Week Organized Home Challenge.
That's because I recognize that some of us don't carry a purse at all, or even if we do, we may also carry one or more other bags around with us to carry even more of our stuff.
The mission is designed to be a catchall for whatever type of bag you may carry, be it a gym or workout bag, where you're carrying gym clothes or shoes, or workout equipment, a work bag, such as a briefcase, where you're carrying files and paperwork, or work electronics, or even a diaper bag, where you're carrying everything your child might need from diapers, wipes, spare clothes, toys, snacks and more.
The sky is the limit for whatever type of bag you might carry, but the beauty of this mission is that the steps for decluttering and organizing these bags, and keeping them clutter free and organized from now on, are the same for basically every type of bag!
That means once you've learned these steps, and developed good habits and routines, you'll be able to apply the same principles to whatever bags you carry around, even as that varies with time and changes in circumstances.
The first step in doing this mission, for whatever bag you're working on, is to empty it completely, so you can declutter it of all the stuff you shouldn't be carrying in there at all.
The beauty of bags you carry around is that they can't fit too much stuff in them, so it is possible to dump everything out to sort it all in one sitting without becoming overwhelmed.
The key to decluttering your bag is to make each item earn its way back into your bag.
What I mean by "earn its way back in," is that by default, you're not going to put something back into your bag just because it has always been there before, or because it fits. Instead, every item you place in your bag should be placed there intentionally, and should serve a specific purpose.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, when determining if an item will earn its way back into your bag:
A lot of the clutter in our bags are things we threw in there for the purposes of transporting it from one space to another, such as from the office to bring home, for example. When you come across stuff that you meant to transport, but that wasn't meant to stay in the bag long term, go ahead and take it out and place it where it's supposed to go, so you don't continue to carry it around for no reason.
If we had one of those magical beaded bags like Hermione, in the Harry Potter series, where she can put anything of basically any size of weight into her bag, and still easily carry it around, we would never have to prioritize. Unfortunately, we're not living in the wizarding world, so we've got to get realistic with how much stuff we carry around with us regularly.
Since our bags have only so much room, and our back and arm can only carry so much weight, we know that not everything we consider putting in our bag is going to make the cut. When one thing goes in, ultimately it means something else will not fit.
Further, even if you could carry around a huge bag, your back and shoulder will thank you if you don't. I know when my purse is too heavy, and I walk around too much, my back and shoulder begin to ache, and it's no fun. Same thing with any other type of bag. It's better to lighten the load to improve the quality of your day to day life.
Eliminate items you don't need frequently, or hardly ever use, so there's room for stuff you do use all the time. For example, get rid of the hat and gloves in your bag during the summer, to make room for your sunglasses and some sunscreen.
Normally you want to choose items you'll use frequently, and leave at home those items you haven't needed in a long time. There is an exception to this, for items you might carry for an emergency.
Make sure you prioritize items for inclusion in . your bag that, even if not frequently used, are absolutely vital in an emergency, assuming that emergency has a reasonable possibility of occurring. For example, if you are allergic to bee stings, and would suffer from anaphylatic shock if stung, you would want to carry an Epi-Pen with you, even though you hope not to need to use it.
This question is helpful for you when you know you could use a few of something in your bag, but perhaps you don't need all of them.
A good example might be band-aids. You might like a few to carry around in your gym bag, or diaper bag, but you don't need the whole box.
This helps you cut down the volume of stuff you're carrying around each day, without sacrificing comfort.
A similar question you can ask yourself is whether you need the full sized version of something in your bag, or if perhaps a smaller size, or travel sized version will do.
Again, this question helps you reduce the total volume of what you're carrying, when appropriate.
An example in a diaper bag would be for wipes. I remember when I had little kids I needed to have baby wipes in the diaper bag, for wiping bums when changing diapers, and also other wipes for cleaning sticky hands, etc. But I didn't need to carry around the huge box of wipes I used at home. Instead, I just needed a small travel sized container of wipes, and could restock this smaller container periodically, at home, to have the wipes I needed, without having to lug around too many everywhere.
This question is to help us catch items that we think we need to carry in the bag, when in fact, we just need to have these items accessible somewhere else.
An example is the best way to illustrate how this question works, so here it is. When my kids were little and I carried around their diaper bag I wanted to have a change of clothes handy for them, if there was some type of really big disaster, like an epic drink spill, or a diaper blow out that made a huge mess. That meant carrying around an extra set of clothes. But a full set of clothes for each child was bulky, and so instead of keeping those extra clothes in the diaper bag, for quick trips I kept the clothes in the car. I knew that if such a big disaster occurred that I felt it was necessary to change my kids clothes while we were out, we were most likely going home anyway, so I could feel OK leaving those extra clothes in the car and not carrying them around in the bag. They were close by if needed, just not right in the bag.
Is there anything you're carrying around in your bag that really you could just as easily store somewhere else, for retrieval when needed?
Once you've gotten rid of the clutter and excess stuff from your bag, and everything you have now has earned its way into your bag, the next step is to get your bag organized.
Here's a photo from a reader, Michelle, showing how she organized her diaper bag.
Michelle said, "I got so tired of digging around in my diaper bag to find the things I needed so I finally came up with a simple, budget friendly solution. I got this bento canvas organizer at my local thrift store and placed it into my diaper bag to separate the things I need daily for quick and easy access. I store snacks for the kiddos in a makeup bag on the side and the makeup bag shown next to diaper bag is full of baby care products that I store in a side pocket. I now have so much extra room that I have a mommy pocket to store anything I may need because there is no way I'm carrying a purse and a diaper bag:-)."
Many bags suffer from the same problem Michelle's did, the inside of the bag is just one big container, with no little compartments or slots to allow you to place specific things, and keep them from jostling around and moving throughout the bag.
If you've just got a few big things to place inside your bag this may not be a problem, but the more items you carry within the bag, and the smaller they are, the more additional organization help is needed.
That's where organizer inserts come in. They've got these for purses, but they've got them for other bags as well, such as diaper bags, big totes, backpacks and more.
The idea behind these organizer inserts, is that you insert them inside the bag you want to stay organized, and the insert then provides you with compartments, slots, and pouches you need inside the bag to help you organize smaller stuff you're carrying around, so the bottom of the bag doesn't become a big junk hole.
You can get bag organizer inserts here:
Similarly, you can also carry smaller zippered pouches or containers within your bag, to keep things separated and organized.
The key is to have everything in a compartment within an organizer insert, or within it's own designated smaller bag within your larger bag, if it would be so small that it would be hard to find if it was loose in the bottom of your bag.
You can get more ideas for organizing bags in the Organizing Purses & Bags Challenge.
After you do this mission today, to declutter and organize your bag, I don't want you to ever have to do this mission again.
What I mean by that is that I want you to not ever have your bag get so messy and disorganized again that you have to spend a lot of time cleaning it out, to make it functional again.
Instead, I want it to stay relatively organized and functional for you, most of the time, so little parts of life aren't unnecessarily made difficult by lack of organization.
So, what's the secret to maintaining a clutter free and organized bag? It's a routine for cleaning it out and restocking stuff that is running low.
We talked about this type of routine in more depth when we worked on the declutter purse mission here.
Further, we talked about a routine for keeping kids' backpacks organized and clutter free, during the declutter backpack mission here.
What these routines have in common is that on a regular basis, at least weekly, and perhaps even daily depending on how much you use your bag, and how quickly it gets messy, you need to look into your bag, remove items that don't belong, put items back in their places that perhaps got jostled or moved around, and restock items that were used up, and need to be replaced.
If you do this regularly your bag will stay decluttered and organized most of the time.
So check out the routines as suggested in these other referenced mission articles, consider what you need to do for yourself, and set up a routine that you believe will work to keep your bag in good working order most of the time. You'll need to think about what you keep in your bag, and what ends up getting put in there, and what gets used up, to make sure the routine works for you.
If you've got dirty clothes in your gym bag, developing a routine to put the dirty clothes into your laundry hamper each evening may be part of your routine.
For your diaper bag, you may want to think each evening, after you've used it, if you've got enough diapers and wipes in the bag for the next time you go out with your child.
(You can get ideas for what to keep in your diaper bag here, plus get a free printable diaper bag checklist.)
Once it becomes a habit the routine of maintaining the bag's organization shouldn't take very long, around two minutes tops, and you'll have a functional, clutter free bag to use most of the time!
Here's a collage of photos from a reader, Brandy, who already worked on this mission. She focused on dealing with her gym bag, and gym clothes, to get the bag and items in it more organized within her bedroom.
Before, Brandy had her bag, and the items she'd wear to the gym, or bring to the gym, at the end of her bed. She used them regularly, because she goes to the gym several times a week, but they were in the way and not well organized. She decided to store her gym clothes within some repurposed drawers in her bedroom, and then store the now empty gym bag, and her gym shoes and hiking shoes, underneath her bed to get them out of the way. She said, "now I’m storing my gym shoes, hiking shoes, and my gym bag under my bed where it’s easy to access since I go about 3 times a week (and hike at least 2 days)."
(You can get more tips for decluttering excess gym and sportswear here.)
I hope seeing these pictures and instructions have inspired you to declutter whatever type of bag(s) you carrry around frequently, and to develop routines to keep them clutter free and organized from now on.
When you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I encourage you to keep going.
I've got a whole series of 15 minute decluttering missions (eventually 365 of them!) that you can do.
Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!
Two bags in Declutter 365 mission image courtesy of Gina Pina, from Flickr CC
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