The Magic Question

Magic Question. While clearing clutter isn’t hocus pocus, there actually is one magic question that can help you start making the problem disappear.

Clutter is a universal problem. It accumulates at alarming speeds, often through no fault of our own. We want to clear it out, but never seem to have enough time. I’ve had clients tell me they wish they could, “snap their fingers and make it all vanish.” While clearing clutter isn’t hocus pocus, there actually is one magic question that can help you start making the problem disappear.

The question is… “What do you want to donate this week?”

And this is how it works.

FIRST, establish a spot where donations can be placed. A bag or a bin on the floor of a closet, corner of a bedroom or hook on the wall/back of a door works well. Make this a “sacred” space for this bag… nothing else can live in this spot. You can label the container, or use an easily identifiable bag that is reserved for only this purpose.

NOW, start asking the magic question every week. This shouldn’t feel like a task, but rather a topic of conversation. For example, toss the question out over the dinner table. If someone doesn’t have an answer, that’s ok. Keep it light. Be prepared to answer the question yourself, and let the family know that you will be helping others by finding something to donate each week. Let everyone know where the donation bag is should they decide to contribute.


… make it a challenge to see who donates the most (but don’t let generosity turn into a family war!)

… celebrate younger children’s donations by ringing a bell or giving a “high five”

… invite older children to choose the charity to receive the items

… offer incentives for reluctant family members (e.g. “we’ll get ice cream when the bin is full” or “I’ll make your favorite dinner when you donate 10 items”)

… talk about how good it makes you feel to help someone


Deliver the contents of the container to the charity of your choice. If possible, bring children along so they can see the end result of the process.

A couple of things to remember….

  1. Don’t “second guess” another person’s donation. If they own it and are ready to part with it, let them donate it.
  2. Don’t badger anyone to donate. The idea is to build the idea of “letting go” into the fabric of your regular life. This is a life skill, not a chore. Some may jump right in, and others might take awhile to warm to the idea.
  3. Eventually, you won’t need to ask the question. Family members will learn that when they come across something they no longer need, they can simply stick it in the bag.

*     *     *     *     *

In a world where objects seem to rapidly pile up, developing the habit of regularly shedding items is both healthy and rewarding.

Have you set up a donation bag? Have you ever asked the magic question?

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31 thoughts on “The Magic Question”

  1. Love this way of engaging your family in decluttering. With more family on board with eliminating, it creates your family mission and team work. Of course most especially more is heading out the door this way too!

    1. I’m sure you agree that organizing and decluttering a home shouldn’t all fall on one family member’s shoulders. That is a pattern that can happen, and then this one person feels the pressure – and sometimes the criticism – for trying to keep things functioning well.

    1. Absolutely, it should all go into the box. If a big of sorting needs to be done when the box is full, that’s pretty easy to do. Love that we both have this helpful habit!

    1. That’s perfect because you can donate the bag and then just start another one. Keeping it low key but visible (both physically and mentally) means your boys will probably adopt the habit. Love it!

  2. I keep a bin in our guest bedroom and at least once a day I find something to put in it! It really does help to have a designated spot for all your cast-offs. Maybe I should consider putting a snazzy label on it like you mentioned! Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how often you come across something to let go of? I find things all the time, and since I have a place to put them, it feels effortless. I’m sure you can make a pretty terrific label, Sarah:)

    1. That’s both difficult and typical! One spouse tends to want to purge, while the other holds onto items. At least you can clear out the stuff that belongs to you, and maybe it will rub off a bit on your husband. Sometimes we learn from watching the ease with which someone else finds everything they need:) Good luck!

  3. I always have a box on the go in my closet. As I identify items I no longer need, I take a picture and post it on a “Give and Receive for Free” Facebook group. If someone wants something, they come and pick it up, which keeps my box from filling up too quickly. When it does get full, I take it to the donation centre. This system saves me time and effort of making a lot of trips (both my apartment and my parking spot are far from the elevator) and allows me to give things directly to people who can use them.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Family History – Professional Organizers Blog CarnivalMy Profile

    1. That’s a great idea! We have a Facebook group here as well, where people post items both for sale or for free. I find them very helpful, and since it is a closed group, a bit more comfortable than Craig’s List. Thanks for mentioning this!

  4. Great idea! I have a collapsible bin that I pop open to use for holding donation in my garage. It has handles and works great for small donation items. Then I make a donation list of the items and transfer them to a trash bag or box to bring to Goodwill. I do the once every few months when the collection gets large. When I get the receipt I staple it to the list. It helps me at the end of the yea for tax purposes.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Places To Store KeysMy Profile

    1. Great tip about keeping track for tax purposes. I’ve enjoyed hearing how some readers manage the drop-off process, and some of the tools everyone is using. Terrific!

  5. My system is much like Sabrina’s. Sometimes I tire of making lists and I spread the items out and take a photo instead. And I always recommend to clients that they establish a donation station. But your “magic question” is great because: 1) It’s a way of involving the whole family, and 2) if we all decluttered a bit each day, or week, by habitually contributing to our donation bag/box (and actually take the items to charity when full) our organizing systems would almost maintain themselves and not turn into big decluttering projects!
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Is Your Guest Room Guest Worthy?My Profile

    1. I tell my clients that it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of one person in the household to handle all of the de-cluttering. Not only is that unfair, but learning to shed what you no longer need is a valuable life skill which directly correlates to quality of life!

  6. Our donation station is in the garage and it’s one of the first things I put in place whenever we move. Everyone knows it’s in the garage no matter where we are!

  7. These are great tips Seana! I’ve learned (slowly!) not to second-guess things my kids are willing to part with. They have a difficult enough time letting go of things so if they’re ready to part with something that I wouldn’t have picked, now I just let them. They need to have the freedom to choose and if I give too much input then they aren’t learning to apply the skills they will need in life to let go of things. Thanks for these!
    Hilda recently posted…Day 18: Decluttering “N” Things {Decluttering From A To Z}My Profile

    1. It’s difficult to let kids decide,isn’t it Hilda? Sometimes we feel more connected than they do. BUT, we need to give them that authority so they will learn… I couldn’t agree more!

  8. Thanks for reading, and for your comment Debbie. Seems like parents with young children have the toughest struggle as new possessions are constantly flowing into their space. I hope your family finds this helpful. If you start young enough, some of the children may really enjoy playing this “game”:)

  9. I like this idea. I do have a dedicated space for donations, but I’d never thought about making it a weekly habit. Not that I’m great in the habit area, but it does make it more of a routine/regular thing than a once in a blue moon type of thing. Great tip!

    1. I think this takes the pressure off of feeling like you are forcing yourself to give away all your belongings. Decluttering is more palatable when it is ongoing. Sort of a “no big deal” part of living… like wiping out your fridge.

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