Kickstart New Habits with a 30-Day Challenge

I never make New Year's resolutions. I've got nothing against them, but I'm usually already working on resolutions made throughout the previous year. I'm too impatient to wait for an arbitrary day to start changing something in my life.

One example? Less-than-healthful holiday eating habits. I'm a health nut by nature — I crave kale, and soft drinks have zero appeal. But on December 25, you can bet I'm going to eat my mother-in-law's homemade tamales and buñuelos. Not to mention that my father-in-law, who runs a bakery, brings a box of campechanas, my favorite kind of Mexican sweet bread. It'd be rude to turn that down, and seriously, who would want to? It's delicious and made with love. But on December 26, I'm back to my normal eating habits. Why wait for January 1?

Still, a new year signifies a new beginning, and it's a time when many people reflect on the past year. If you've made a resolution, one way to kick your year off right is with a 30-day challenge. I don't mean an insanely restrictive budget or cutting back on the cocoa in your hot chocolate to save money. A challenge should be interesting and fun — not something you dread. And who cares that it's already January 5? Dates are just dates. Try one challenge, and maybe when it's over you'll try another.

Challenge 1: Save $1,000 in 30 days.
“Americans suck at frugality,” writes Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. “We spend more than we make. We're terrible at deferring our immediate wants and investing for the long term. We go into debt. And we blame everyone but ourselves.”

Yet despite our bad habits (and because of them) the vast majority of us worry about money. So Ramit developed a 30-day plan of actionable items — tasks you can easily complete in under one hour that will save you serious amounts of money. According to Ramit, the problem with most “save money” tips is that they are too abstract, too labor-intensive, and/or too myopic. For example, “start a garden” is a tip that might save you money, but it's going to take money to get started, a great deal of time to reap the rewards, and that all assumes that you have both an interest in gardening and that you know enough about it to not kill off your entire crop.

Instead, his plan show you how to pick up the phone and negotiate your car insurance, rethink and lower your cell phone bill, and lower your commuting expenses. “…I will ask you to cut back on some things, sometimes radically,” writes Ramit. “For example, if you get your nails done or eat out every day, that's gone this month. If you were planning to buy a big-screen TV, you can forget about it in November. You can pick it up next month, but I bet you'll think twice once you save $1,000.”

Challenge 2: Remix the clothing already in your closet for one month.
In a clothing remix challenge, you think of new and creative ways to remix your existing wardrobe. Fashion blogger Kendi from Kendi Everyday started her blog to document her daily style, but after just a few months she was out of shopping money. “I introduced myself to the idea of remixing by coming up with the 30 for 30 Remix Challenge,” she writes. Basically she picked 30 items from her closet and remixed those items, and only those items, into 30 outfits.

“The whole point of the remix is to show myself and readers that with a little bit of creativity, you can make what you have work for you,” she says. “This is a challenge to help you learn to shop your closet and to shop smartly.”

When you're familiar with what's in your closet, you become a more discriminating shopper. You'll also realize you have more options than you might think, preventing a desperate search for appropriate attire when you “have nothing to wear.” Kendi also likes to refrain from shopping during the challenge, though it's up to you whether you want to do that or not.

Challenge 3: Get rid of one item every day.
Australian blogger and mom Colleen started off 2010 with zero intention of making the usual New Year's resolutions. But a few days later she decided to turn a project she had already begun into a yearlong resolution. Her 365-day resolution was to get rid of clutter in “…every wardrobe, bench, shelf, under bed, pantry and garage space in [her] home by giving away, throwing away or selling one item everyday…”

Colleen suggests a no-shopping rule for at least the first three weeks (you don't want to reclutter after you've decluttered), and for those who are tempted to spend, there's a set of questions to ask yourself before you whip out the plastic. A few of my favorite questions include:

  • “Have I researched this purchase? Is this item durable, and does it do the things I want?”
  • “What is it made of? Where was it made?”
  • “Am I buying it ‘just to try it'? If so, is there some other way that I could try it first?”

You can commit for 30 days or go for the full 365. The longer you do it, the more of a lasting change you're likely to see in your shopping habits. “Taking my time and really feeling the journey embedded new principles into the way I approach Stuff…I have decluttered my home the fast way so many times, but never before have I learned what I needed to learn to stay decluttered,” says Colleen. (What should you do with that clutter? Sell it, swap it, or give it away.)

I'm tempted to try all three challenges at once! But I'm going to start with the third challenge, getting rid of one item every day, and I'll commit to 30 days — at least initially. I already spot a stack of DVDs just begging to go to Goodwill.

Have you ever tried a 30-day challenge? What was the goal, and what were your results?

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Isela
Isela
8 years ago

Being Mexican I can not run from tamales and buñuelos on Christmas, but is only during that day that I indulge in such things.

I like your challenges, for me the biggest one is getting rid if unused things, but I have already started.

Last year several bloggers from Mexico and Spain started the 333 Project (3 months using the same 33 items of clothes) and it was great experience as we learned to have fewer clothes.

Great advice.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

I love the idea of getting rid of one thing each day for 30 days! I think I might give that one a try. I’m not worried about my shopping habits, but I do feel overwhelmed when I think of how much stuff I will have to move. If I can sell some of the stuff, I can earn a little extra for my downpayment. Win-win! I tried Ramit’s 30 day plan when it first came out — I saved only $20 that month because I was already doing most of things he recommends 🙂 I’m not saying that to… Read more »

Julie
Julie
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

That’s a really interesting take on Ramit’s plan. I should try that reverse spending engineering some time. Thanks for the idea, Elizabeth!

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago

I too love the idea of a 30 day Challenge. I’m thinking of doing a cash-only envelope system for the month of February. Just to put myself back ‘in touch’ with my money figuratively and literally.

Although, getting rid of 1 item a day is mighty tempting…

Beth Ann
Beth Ann
8 years ago

I’m moving at the end of March…I think I’ll get rid of one thing a day till then and make my move 90 items easier. I’m already planning to cull my book and movie collections to 25 items each by that point, so I may cheat a little and combine the two. Great challenges, though, I am going to work on all three!

Money Beagle
Money Beagle
8 years ago

I generally avoid New Years resolutions and prefer instead to set ‘overall goals’ for the year. I might not even start them until April, when everybody else has long abandoned their big dreams. Keeping it small and starting on my own schedule has worked better for me, anyways.

Joe D.
Joe D.
8 years ago

Hi April,
I’ve become a “health nut” as of late too, watching what I eat and ramping up an exercise program. But the King crab legs and prime rib were far too prevalent over the holidays, and I now have to regroup!

It’s not a 30 day challenge, but a lifetime challenge for me…made 30 days at a time! Thanks for the great article and Happy New Year to you!

STRONGside
STRONGside
8 years ago

I like the 30 day challenge. Especially to rid our selves of clutter. The Goodwill and Salvation Army are coming through our neighborhood this week, and I intend to have a lot of stuff to donate!

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

“I crave kale.”

Has anyone in the history of the English language ever written this sentence before now?

Seriously, good for you. I like kale, but I crave eggs Benedict, double-chocolate brownies, and anything with peanut butter in it or on it.

BTW, getting rid of one item per day sounds like genius–it had never occurred to me, but I think I will try it.

SarahT
SarahT
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

I, too, crave kale at times. But I combine it with eggs sometimes… Sautee kale and onions in olive oil for a few minutes. Then crack an egg on top, put a lid on the pan, and ‘poach’ the egg in the steam. Yum. Travelling over Christmas meant I didn’t get my kale… other veg, but no kale at my parents’ house!

(could be even better with some holandaise sauce on top!)

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  SarahT

so at what point are you craving kale versus the olive oil, salt and hollindaise sauce?

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

So am I the only one trying to figure out if I even have 30 items of clothing in regular rotation?
I’m pretty sure I don’t.
I’m hoping after the next couple weeks I’ll be able to shop in my closet – in the next size down.
I’m trying to reduce my restaurant spending. I can’t give it up completely, I’m not well enough organized and being late to work because I’m packing a lunch is just not a smart use of my time.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Bella, I have a similar problem about packing lunches. I discovered that ham and cheese sandwiches can be made all at once (when I bring the deli meat & cheese home from the store), put in separate baggies, and tossed in the freezer. All you need to do is grab and go. They thaw by lunchtime in a fridge and still taste great (and last for 2+ weeks in a freezer without spoiling). Dinner leftovers and/or frozen entrees from the store work too.

It also helps (a lot) to have access to a mini-fridge and microwave at work.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I don’t either – but that’s mostly because I’m 4-1/2 months pregnant and stuck between “regular” clothes and maternity clothes. I only have 2 shirts and 3 pairs of pants that fit! On the bright side, it has helped me not buy any clothes for the past 4 months!

Amy
Amy
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I’m glad to see someone else make this comment. The post led me to go count, and I don’t have that many items of clothing unless I count my socks and hankies. They already get “re-mixed” into a wide array of outfits! Still, great suggestions and thanks for a great site!

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
8 years ago

I ran a 30 day decluttering challenge in November – get rid of one thing every day plus an extra 20 things in four themed “mini-challenges” (eg five extra things from your hobby stash). About 20 people joined me in it and almost no one, me included, could stick to the parameters of the challenge – we all got rid of way more than one thing a day once we got started! My record was five carrier bags of clothes on one day alone 🙂 I was amazed how much stuff I got rid of at the end of the… Read more »

My University Money
My University Money
8 years ago

Getting rid of an item a day is an awesome idea. I noticed that it’s getting great support on a PF blog, but I wonder what “mainstream Western society” would think of it? Our obsession with consumer goods is a really weird marketing phenomenon. When people objectively look at what makes them happy, material goods are almost never at the top of the list, yet we think that if we can just get that “next big item” it’ll really make the difference. Paying for experiences and financial freedom just matches my priority list so much better.

Deborah
Deborah
8 years ago

Last year I moved after 15 years in one place. In preparation I made a committment that for every non-consumable item brought into the household in 2011, two items had to leave. I kept track in a notebook. Some of the removed items were small (a pair of jeans) and some were huge (a 5’X6′ oak entertainment center). Most of the items that came in were small. The tally at the end of the year was 151 items out and 42 items in. The good news: goal more than accomplished. The bad news: the August move was an ordeal as… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

Men everywhere are reading Challenge 2 and coming up with no idea whatsoever as to what they’re supposed to do with it.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

And some of us ladies too! Surely I’m not the only woman who was taught to buy good basics and some “accents” that all play well together? 🙂

I’m hardly a fashionista though. Thankfully my lifestyle and social circle don’t require it.

Amber
Amber
8 years ago

I’m sure I’m being difficult, but the one- thing-a-day idea bothers me. 1 thing is 1 pencil. So if I get rid of 30 pencils, I win?
What about 30 boxes of pencils? then I win? Or is that still just 1 thing? So confused.

I fight the clutter monster as much as anyone, but I also find frugality in the clutter.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Amber

I was wondering the same thing! I got thinking about it and many of the things I’d like to downsize are multiples — like a set of dishes I never use, clothing, books, CDs, etc.

I also need to get rid of things like expired medications, an old computer, etc. Do they count?

I guess we can set our own parameters. I’m wondering if tackling one room a week might be a better plan for me than getting rid of one item each day.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Define it however you like. It’s just an exercise, not a law.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Amber

It has two parts. If you are the kind of person who has to find something like a pencil to declutter for your one thing, you are either already a minimalist or you have such an attachment to your stuff that 30 pencils probably *is* a win. Most people go looking for “one thing” and find several (my “one thing” yesterday was a DVD from the DVD drawer. Instead we found 8 or 9 to get rid of.) The other thing is that if you think about decluttering everyday, it is a lot harder to buy things mindlessly. Thinking about… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

I like the idea of getting rid of 30 things in 30 days, but having a hard time finding 30 things I do use or need. There are a few books I can donate to the library I know I’ll never read again, but it doesn’t go too far beyond that. We’ll see…

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

Post holidays, we are undertaking a 30 day spending fast which means no discretionary spending on anything for 30 days. While we saved up for the holidays and our holiday travel and did not incur any debt, the spendy, spendy, spendy in December has motivated us to take 30 days off. For me, it means no Amazon e-books, no iTunes, no post holiday clothing sales (oh no!), etc. For Mr. Sam it means no new tools, no home improvement projects, no car parts, etc. For both of us, it means no eating out (except we have family in town next… Read more »

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago

I’m doing the decluttering and organizing one small area at a time. Each day I choose one area–a section of a closet, a dresser or kitchen drawer, corner of a room. I throw out trash, put donatable items in a box in my garage, and put items that don’t belong in that space away in their right place. I choose an area that will take me no longer than 15 minutes to do. I intend to keep this up permanently, because work is required to overcome entropy.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I like your approach — that makes more sense than one thing a day. Some of my closets and drawers wouldn’t take long to do, but I’m wondering if committing 15 minutes a day to declutttering might be a good approach. (And maybe easier than my current plan of tackling a room a week.)

G
G
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I like this idea too of spending 15 mins per day decluttering. I found that when I switched to a schedule of cleaning the house a little each day, I never had to spend a whole day of the week cleaning. So much better! I am definitely insprired to declutter! Mostly in my craft/guest room closet!

Julie
Julie
8 years ago

I teach seminars in personal finance, so I read GRS all the time (<3 it!) I clicked through links in the year end post and read again about tracking spending. I always teach that the way to start a budget is to be accurate and because we often spend without consciously registering that we're spending then it's hard to be accurate. well I decided to practice what I preach and track my spending for a month- not just know what I'm spending but HOW IT MAKES ME FEEL when I have to write everything down. I'm also tracking my progress… Read more »

Graham
Graham
8 years ago

I took this challenge to heart. I’ve just decluttered my wardrobe of 30 pieces of clothes. Feels good!

Graham

MaryTenderLOS
MaryTenderLOS
8 years ago

As a mom, you don’t just prefer to give any toy for the children just for the sake of giving them what they want. Buying one of these toys helps the residents to be self-sustaining, all while enhancing their self-esteem and improving their life and work skills. Kids with special needs love and need toys as much or more than any kid, but their parents often face challenges in getting the right toys into their hands.

The Frugallery
The Frugallery
8 years ago

I love challenge #1. $1,000 can sound daunting, but if you delay or forego expeditures and get rid of some unneeded items, I think it can be done. Like many other readers, I am decluttering/downsizing my household and loving every minute of it! I have saved over $600 so far and I don’t miss anything I’ve sold:)

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  The Frugallery

Just of out of curiosity, how does delaying expenditures help? If you don’t buy it in January and buy it in February instead, does it make a difference in the “big picture”? I tend to plan most of my purchase and wait for sales, so maybe this strategy is lost on me 🙂 I track my net worth month to month, so I’ve found that some months I make more progress than others depending on items I’ve needed (clothes, care repairs, medical expenses.) It doesn’t matter if they fall in January or February — at the end of the year,… Read more »

brad
brad
8 years ago

For years I talked about doing a blog that would document the process of getting rid of my posessions, until I was done and the last thing to go would be the blog itself. I never got around to it 😉 Getting rid of things is actually a lot harder than acquiring them, not because of sentimental attachment but because our systems are set up to make the process of acquisition easy and simple, while the process of disposition is much more complicated and time-consuming if you want to do it responsibly. If your stuff has value, simply chucking it… Read more »

Cinnamon
Cinnamon
8 years ago

I see a lot of people mentioning getting rid of clothing in the comments. One alternative to donating off the bat is to host a clothing exchange and possibly save a large amount on shopping as well as purging items you don’t wear. I’ve had up to 20 people at a time at my home to trade clothes – I’ve gotten at least three pairs of $150 jeans and probably about 1/4 of my current wardrobe, simply by trading. If you can get at least a dozen people involved, there are generally enough sizes that everyone comes away with something… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Cinnamon

I love clothing swaps. They’re like the inverse of the sales party fads that go through friend groups – everyone comes away happy, connected, and with the same amount of money in their pocket as at the beginning of the evening, instead of resentful, needing to avoid the “friend” who sees them as a sales mark, and poorer.

Amy Saves
Amy Saves
8 years ago

#3- so easy to do and much less daunting when you break it down. 1 item a day is totally doable.

Jonathan
Jonathan
8 years ago

I love 30 day challenges. In the past I’ve done challenges in veganism, celibacy, teetotalling, waking at 5am, and a bunch of others. It’s not about punishing yourself, it’s about gaining a new perspective on the things you take for granted.

debtmaven
debtmaven
8 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Huh, the 5 am walk 30-day challenge really struck a chord! I am soooo not a morning person. I’m also having a devil of a time getting back to the gym after a few month absense. I think I may try that one!!!

Angela
Angela
8 years ago

Can we talk about buñuelos? I had them for the first time at a holiday party a few weeks ago, and I nearly lost my mind. They are freakin’ delicious!

Pat
Pat
8 years ago

Oh WoW! I’m about to do more than getting rid of 1 thing a day. I PURGED stuff in June when we sold our house and moved 65 miles to be closer to daughter/son-in-law/baby granddaughter. Two months later I purged MORE (washer & dryer, fridge, more stored stuff) to move 1000 miles (paying by the pound to move) to follow them. So, I’ve been here a little over 2 months and there is SO MUCH stuff I can get rid of! Stuff that I haven’t used in 6 months! Lots of shoes. Lots of knick-knacks. After 2 purges I still… Read more »

Grotaiche
Grotaiche
8 years ago

Hello, Yes, I want to put up with a new sleeping habit : turn the lights off at 11pm every day except Saturday (midnight allowed). I have had issues going to bed since I am a kid, I never want the day to end. However, being the father of a 2-year old, you cannot go to bed at 2am forever 😛 The goal is to keep up to this schedule for the next 2 months (so that’s 60 days, not 30). So far so good but it’s only January 6th 🙂 Also, I have committed to save more this year… Read more »

Carly
Carly
8 years ago

This is such a timely post – I’m doing a 30 day challenge myself! Mine is more health related though – I’m a soda fanatic but I’m trying to go 30 without any. I’m 1/6 through and it’s going okay, keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the journey 🙂

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

Saving $1000 a month is not “easy” when your take-home pay is less than $1300 a month. Pick 30 items from my closet? I don’t have 30 items IN my closet. I find many valuable and useful things on this site, but regularly find that I am obviously living in a different world than your “target” audience. Just because my latest vehicle trade was from a 37-year-old truck to a 26-year-old jeep, or that I live without a cell phone, or cable, doesn’t mean I don’t have the same concerns as someone living far higher up the food chain. It… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I hear you Amy. This article and most posts here does not address my concerns. Save $1000 in 30 days?? Yeah, maybe if I stole the money, because even working odd gigs wont bring me $1000 in 30 days. I too don’t have close to 30 items in my closet. Maybe I do if you include socks and underwear.

What I do is take what works for me and leave the rest.

Jerry
Jerry
8 years ago

These are really great and straightforward goals. I think saving $1000 in a month is doable and it might lead people to get out of the habit of spending on their immediate wants. And, getting rid of clutter is insurance for my sanity. I have a small place and if there’s too much junk around I go crazy.

Isabella
Isabella
8 years ago

Nice post, hopefully people can stick to this as one of their goals for the year. It really worked for me. Last year I simplified my life by making a budget and sticking to it. I have cut down on buying things that I really don’t need and I got rid of much of the junk in my house. I also simplified my commitments in my personal and professional life. I am now enjoying life a lot more, I paid of my debts and I am saving and investing more and getting the peace of mind to do what I… Read more »

christina
christina
8 years ago

I’m on day 7 of the Whole30 challenge & loving it! http://whole9life.com/category/whole-30/

Plus, today will be my first “lesson” with the kids on money as they are receiving their first allowances today.

Julie Gaudet
Julie Gaudet
8 years ago

I love this idea of a 30-day challenge. It makes so much more sense that setting an arbitrary resolution for the whole year. What a great way to chunk things down to digestible pieces.

Linda Brown
Linda Brown
8 years ago

I love the 30-day challenge !! One of my challenges this year is to save at least $400-$500 a week. So far (2 weeks) I have surpassed my goal and although it’s on Thursday I have surpassed my goal this week also 🙂

The Young Urban Unprofessional
The Young Urban Unprofessional
8 years ago

Great article with a lot of great comments! Six months ago I started a series of 30-day life experiments and so far it’s been an incredible experience.

August = Life without the Landfill
September = One Conversation per Day on Public Transit
October = One Photo per Hour
November = 100 Item Challenge
December = Be Vegetarian for the month
January = One Random Act of Kindness per Day.

Check out my blog at http://theyoungurbanunprofessional.com/ and feel free to suggest challenges through my blog.

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