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spring cleaning: #40bags40days

tea drawers

“What are you up to?” my son asked from New York yesterday.

“I’m cleaning out the tea,” I replied.

Then we both burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of that. “Wow, now that is a First World activity, huh?” I admitted.

But it had to be done because we are a family of tea drinkers, and the amount of tea and number of mugs we owned was becoming overwhelming. We had enough to start our own teahouse.

I’ve found that when my house is too cluttered, so is my mind. I find it hard to think, and that’s when I finally start purging and organizing.

So, I emptied out the three — yes, three — drawers that hold our tea stuff, and placed everything on our kitchen counter so I could see it in all its glory. Anyone want a cup of tea? Or, at least, a cup?

Cleaning - mugs

I got rid of a bunch of mugs I had gotten at various conferences, and I threw out all the loose teas that had probably long lost their taste. I organized the tea bags so we could actually see what flavors we had, and I put all of Michael’s green teas in front so he could find them easily.

Cleaning - tea drawer after

There’s still a lot of tea here but now we can see it all and there’s only one layer. Much more zen-like.

Feeling accomplished, I made myself a cup of chai and went to check Facebook, where a BlogHer article came up about #40bags40days. Talk about timing.

Billed as “the ultimate organization and purge challenge,” this project is all about cleaning out one small area of your house at a time and ultimately getting rid of 40 bags in 40 days.

Game on.

Because the tea stuff was easy and productive, I decided to tackle the kitchen junk drawer.

Cleaning - junk drawer before

I, once again, started emptying everything on the counter but was shocked at this:

Cleaning - pens

It was like when the circus clowns get out of the Volkswagen. I mean, seriously, how did all those pens even fit in that drawer?

I tossed all the ones that didn’t work — yes, I tested them all — and made a bag of the ones I don’t like to give my mom. Honestly, I’m sure she has a drawer like this, too, but when she saw the picture I posted on Facebook, she called to say, “Don’t throw those out.” So, happy belated birthday, mom!

I dumped a bunch of free notepads, put all the pens in bags and even used one of the empty tea containers for paper clips.

cleaning - junk drawer after

Isn’t that so much nicer?!

Feeling inspired, I went up to our bathroom to clean out my drawers and pack up a bag of “spa” supplies for my friend, Ruth, to bring on her Global Volunteers trip to St. Lucia.

Because this was for a good cause, I was brutal. I forgot to take a “before” picture because I just went in and started grabbing. Suffice it to say, this drawer barely opened before. As a travel writer and lifestyle blogger, I get tons of products and I always bring home toiletries from hotels. Most of the shampoos and conditioners are terrible for my hair, though, I don’t use bar soap and I can only use so much body lotion.

Cleaning - bathroom drawer

So I put together a big, heavy bag for Ruth, and now have a drawer which may not be the most stunning-looking but works so much better for me because it’s filled with products I will actually use. It’s easy to see what’s in it and it feels so much lighter. Plus, the women of St. Lucia will be treated to all kinds of pampering treats. Win win.

Final tally for the day: 5 bags

1. Bag of mugs and extra tea to give to my mom

2. Bag of expired teas and unnecessary boxes thrown out

3. Bag of pens and assorted cute things to give to my mom

4. Bag of dried-up pens, paper, junk thrown out

5. Bag of beauty products to Ruth

This was so easy and has already made such a difference. If you want to join me in #40bags40days, I’d love to follow your progress, too.

I’m afraid, though, that by the time I’m finished with this project, the person who will really have to start #40bags40days will be my mom.


  1. OMG! Are you sure you didn’t sneak into my house to take pictures? =D I really need to do this.

  2. I did some cleaning on the last rainy day in SD – so my drawers are fairly empty. Can’t wait to see what goodies are in the bag for me. I love this kind of recycling.

  3. OMG I am thoroughly impressed. Can you come to my house?

    By the way I was shocked to see you getting rid of an Oprah mug. Shh….don’t tell your BFF!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Ha ha! I would NEVER get rid of my Oprah mug! That’s still in there, along with my Downton Abbey mug 🙂

  4. I am going to be organizing my cupboards too. Not looking forward to it!

  5. I so need to do this. I have LOTS of mugs too from conferences.

  6. I went to my storage unit in Monterey and cleaned out half of it. A handyman took two loads to Goodwill and half a load to the dump. He’ll be back to help me with the other half. I am today in my garage dividing into trash, donate, garage sale, keep. Keep is a smaller pile than ever in my life. ;-)))

  7. Good for you. Wanna come to my house?

  8. Woah, that’s a lot of tea!! I love the drawers you have, the ones that pull out. I hope we can install them when we renovate!

  9. Nice job organizing! I have so many pens it’s ridiculous but I hate to get rid of them because eventually I need them,right?

  10. I’ve been purging too! Just filled the entire back of the car with donation boxes and I sold some stuff online! Good luck and keep going!

  11. Chrissy Mazzocchi says:

    I really need to do this as well, it gets so overwhelming! I would have taken those Starbucks cups off your hands though 😉

  12. I love it! I had cleared out my tea shelf (I have one and a half, lol) in early December. Now I just have one. I cleared out my desk this weekend and tossed a garbage bag full of papers and old pens. I’m going to have to try your 40 bags in 40 days challenge…but I’ll have to see if I can do it only on weekends. That pesky “work” thing gets in my way 😉

  13. Wow you rock! This is amazing – I SO need to do this in my home! I would have so much more room I am sure!

  14. We are currently cleaning an purging a lot of things in our home too. It feels great to let it all go.

  15. I really hate finding expired things still laying around in my house, it really disgusts me; I have to always make sure everything is good!

  16. The Mid-Atlantic Foodie says:

    I’ve heard of this challenge, but I have never seen it in action. I think I should probably start doing it after seeing your pictures.

  17. Oh my God! The kitchen junk drawer is just the worst for me. It stays clean for about a week and then all heck breaks loose inside. I get a kick out of you cleaning out your tea- it gave me a little chuckle!

  18. WOW, I do need to do that but I will start the beginning of March. I will check back in, thank you!

  19. What a project! I can confidently say I have never seen anyone with more mugs than that!

  20. This is a pretty cool idea! It really gives a person who’s maybe not so organized about things and gets easily overwhelmed a way to wrap my brain around it. Oops! Did I say “my?” I meant “her!”

    But please tell me you kept the Powell’s cup, right? RIGHT??

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Ha ha! I love this idea because you can do one little area or cupboard or whatever at a time. It’s so easy and you feel like you’re accomplishing something by getting rid of all this crap. No, of course I didn’t get rid of any of the Powell’s mugs (there are like 3 of them in there!)!!

  21. OH boy. I know I need to do it, I know I need to do it…..

  22. When we moved from 2000 square feet into 4000 (rooms got bigger which was lovely and the view oh the view of the St. Joseph River) we walked into the master bedroom and breathed a sigh of relief and joy. Spacious huge windows and a fireplace….lovely! Then we walked into the master closet….my hubbie was looking forward to sharing a closet with me and thought the spaciousness of this one would be great. Having been together for 32 years and having NOT shared a closet for 1/2 of those years I was not about to revert back. I kindly stated he could take the master closet and I would take one of the ones downstairs or vice versa. He kindly gave me the massive closet. It is wonderful but it means I also had to make a deal to ONLY get new clothes and then get rid of old ones without buying new hangers. This works but I do spend an inordinate amount of time culling through the closet. I say all this to applaud your efforts and hope that soon I can get out of the closet and start filling bags up from other places in the house. Thanks for the inspiration….xxxoo BTW do you like peppermint tea. I get the best organic loose leaf tea on the planet if you want to try some lmk.

  23. I need to do this!! This is inspiring. I recently cleaned out my beauty products, but took several days to clean it out… I should move more quickly! The hardest thing to tackle will be all my random papers for sure! I have tons of clutter around so I think I need to tackle those first =)

    That is a lot of tea! And I thought I had a lot of tea!!

  24. Love the before and after pix! I need to do this at my house too, in preparation for downsizing .I will breathe easier knowing that what we have is what we need. and not a bunch of stuff that we use once a year or less! So much to sort through. Congrats!

  25. So funny! Why do all of our kitchen drawers look the same ?
    If you have women’s or children’s clothing/ shoes, as well as kitchen and new toiletry items, please consider giving to Beckys House- a YWCA program that provides housing, help and supplies to women and children who are Domestic Violence victims This program are in many cities- not just SD

  26. What a transformation, congratulations! I am a bit of a purger and there’s nothing I like to do more when I’m stressed than clean out a drawer or closet. I know, weird, but better than the alternatives!

  27. I love it, cleaning is so therapeutic! I did a massive one at Thanksgiving and still feel pretty good about it 😉

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