Decluttering is hard when you live in a materialistic world, bombarded with ads for sales and the latest, greatest tools and treasures that are bound to improve your life if you just fork over the money for them. This is why there are so many approaches to doing it. But recently, I noticed a new “challenge” cropping up around social media that takes even more discipline than vowing to throw out one item every time you get a new one. The Three Rivers Pantry Challenge calls on you to not buy any new items—until all the old versions are finally used up.
What is the Three Rivers Pantry Challenge?
This particular challenge comes from Three Rivers Homestead, a YouTube channel by and about “a homesteading, homeschooling family of 10 living the dream and documenting it.” Three years ago, they released their #ThreeRiversChallenge, explaining that every January and February, the family eats what they have frozen and in their pantry—and doesn’t pick up anything else. No new groceries for two months.
The idea is to use up what’s available before restocking. That’s valuable, even if you live in a small apartment, don’t have a pantry full of canned goods, and aren’t preparing meals for a family of 10: You learn the value of what you do have, don’t clutter up your house with stuff you don’t need, and get to feel good about yourself for using up everything on hand instead of being wasteful.
Adapting the challenge to declutter
The thinking behind the Three Rivers Challenge is pretty adaptable. In fact, it has been adapted and been around quite a long time in different forms for different needs. On forums like Reddit’s Makeup Rehab, for instance, users discuss their quests to use up entire palettes or other cosmetics before buying new ones. That’s hard as hell, I can assure you: New makeup is coming out all the time. It’s trending online and the Sephora siren calls day and night to those of us who consume GRWM videos in a steady stream. I probably have five different primers that all claim to minimize my pores and help my foundation last longer. I fall for it every time, but in reality, I don’t need five. I need one and maybe a second one to tote around in an on-the-go bag.
To adapt the challenge to your needs, take some time to consider what constitutes the majority of your clutter or which items you have way too much of. For me, it’s hair tools, makeup, and accessories (though I’ve been trying hard to cut down on the accessories). For you, it might be candles, seasonal home decor, or a backlog of half-used shampoos and conditioners. The trick to identifying if you have “too much” of something is to consider whether you have duplicates (or triplicates…or more) of certain items that you wouldn’t need to use because you already have one that’s functional. As mentioned, I don’t need five primers because I can only wear one at a time. There will never be a situation where I need access to two at once.
Once you’ve figured out which things you keep accumulating unnecessarily, make a plan. Don’t buy any new items in that category for two months. During those two months, use up everything you can, if it’s usable. Skincare, makeup, food, candles—anything that depletes with use should be used up before you buy a new one, even if that takes longer than two months. For other things, like clothes or tools, use the two months to keep track of how often you actually use them. If you have three ladles in your drawer but only use one every time you make soup, not only should you not get a new one if you see it on sale, but you should consider getting rid of at least one of them.
Adherents to the homesteaders’ challenge herald it for producing “the dopamine rush of emptying what you worked hard to own.” You did work hard to get the money for all that stuff. Use it up. Beauty and personal care products, especially, have expiration dates. They don’t do you any good when you have seven of them on the shelf.
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