The Giant Free Project List

Spring cleaning is one of my favorite tasks of the year. It gives us a chance to freshen up our home after a long Midwestern winter.

However, the part that I enjoy the most is simply going through all of the stuff we own. The boxes in the garage rafters. The items stowed away in closets. The kits and other things hidden on utility shelves in the garage. The bags that end up hidden behind the shoes and clothes in the closet.

What I most enjoy is that when we go through the items, I always find a bunch of items related to things that I really enjoy doing, but those items got stuck out of sight somewhere and forgotten.

My disc golf set ends up stuck behind a box on a garage shelf.

My home electronics stuff ends up in a cardboard box under our box of paperwork to file and scan in the closet.

Three books that I want to read wind up behind a few of Sarah’s novels on the bookshelf in our bedroom.

A cookbook ends up in the wrong place and forgotten.

A board game falls behind other games on the game shelf.

Some boards for a woodworking project get stuck in a cupboard in the garage.

You get the idea. Around our house, there are lots of little projects and things to do that end up getting pushed aside in the heat of the moment and then, since they’re out of sight, they get gradually forgotten.

This doesn’t mean that we didn’t actually want to do these things. Instead, what often happens is that in a rushed moment, a bag gets pushed into the closet, hiding that project box that’s sitting on the floor. A new item or two get put into the closet in the guest bedroom, disguising that kit. A big box gets placed in the rafters in the garage, pushing the box that has the disc golf kit to the back.

Then, when we’re looking around for something to do, we don’t find those things and they gradually slip further and further out of mind. Or, as is often the case for me, I’ll think of it, look in the place where I think the key item is, not find it, get frustrated, and then just move on to something else.

Last year, I wanted to change this, so I tried to put all of the things that I found that would lead to interesting projects in one particular space, which turned out to be the closet in my office. I loaded it up with forgotten activities and projects that I wanted to take on and I decided I would turn to that closet on a regular basis for new weekend projects or afternoon activities.

This worked moderately well. I did turn to the closet sometimes when looking for an interesting weekend project, but I again ran into the same problem where many of the things I wanted to devote my time to were out of sight and thus out of mind.

This year, I’m trying a new approach. During our spring cleaning, every time I come across an activity or a partially-completed project that I want to sink more time and energy into, I’m adding it to my “giant project list.”

So, for example, when I went through our cookbooks, I added several items to the list. Here are a few examples:

“Make souffles using this particular recipe from this cool French cookbook we picked up a few years ago.”
“Make a braided bread on Sunday for a Monday morning breakfast using this particular recipe from this cool bread-oriented book.”
“Learn how to make eggs Benedict using this great guide.”
“Start some sourdough in the refrigerator so I can make sourdough bread in a few weeks.”
“Make homemade sauerkraut with radishes as described in that vegetarian paleo cookbook I got for Christmas.”

Each item I added pointed to a specific reference in a specific cookbook so I knew exactly where to look for that project.

Later on, as I went through my project closet, I found lots of things to work on, so I started adding entries for those things to the list. Here are a few examples:

“Paint those game miniatures in the brown box using paints that are on the top shelf of the office closet.”
“Put together that electronic spider kit that’s on the top shelf of the office closet.”
“Go through that box of old baseball and football cards I bought for $12 at the estate auction that’s currently in the blue tub in the office closet.”
“Finish that half-planned roleplaying game scenario that’s in that binder in the closet.”
“Try out those home cheesemaking supplies that somehow wound up behind the children’s board games in the guest bedroom.”

These things get added to that ongoing list.

As I go through the house, I keep finding more and more projects:

“Use the storytelling book you got for Christmas to create a backbone for a short story or a novella.”
“Read that book on developing small software projects.”
“Reorganize the main floor closet.”
“Use that kit you got last Christmas to make a batch of oatmeal stout.”
“Fill up that geocaching log that’s on the closet shelf.”

I’m still not done with what I want to do regarding spring cleaning at my home, but my current big project list – generated entirely during spring cleaning – numbers almost fifty items.

Along the way, of course, I’ve found items related to projects that no longer seem appealing to me – odds and ends that would be really useful to someone with a particular interest, but things that were much more in line with my interests a few years ago, not today. When I find those items, I set them aside with the intent of selling them on Craigslist or on eBay in order to return some money to my pocket.

So, why is all of this so useful?

First, all of these projects rely almost entirely on stuff I already have. Very few of them require any sort of additional purchase and the ones that do only require basic food ingredients.

This means that all of these projects have very little cost. Most of them are essentially free. The needed items are all already on hand for most of them, and for the remainder, the items are found on grocery store shelves.

If the project makes it on the list, it’s something I’m excited about doing. The reason I haven’t done all of these things is because there are lots of things in my life that I enjoy doing and sometimes other things find their way to the front of my mind, whether I plan on it or not.

If the project isn’t something I’m excited about, I sell the items and generate a little revenue.

Now that I have this list in hand, throughout the year, when I have a lazy afternoon to fill or am looking for something to do this weekend, all I have to do is look at this list. It’s a list full of fifty or so things that are already geared toward my interests with the supplies needed to pull them off already in hand.

All that’s needed is my time and energy and attention to bring these things to completion.

That’s because, in the end, this big list of projects is just a personally focused list of free ways to entertain and engage myself. I don’t have to go out or spend money to enjoy this multitude of things. They’re all at my house, ready to go.

So, how can you build your own list? It starts with spring cleaning.

Just go through every closet and shelf and nook and cranny in your home. Look for items that inspire things that you might enjoy doing sometime in the near future.

If you find something that points toward a project, write it down. List what that project is and where you can find the item or items you need to get started on that project. I actually keep mine in a pocket notebook, at least for now.

If you find something that points toward a project that you’re not interested in and don’t anticipate that you will be, sell the stuff. There’s no reason to hold onto items that won’t interest you.

Then, throughout the year, when you’re looking for something to do, turn to that list. What you’ll find is a list of potential projects and things to do that’s geared perfectly to you and your interests, where you have all of the supplies you need already on hand around your house.

What can you find in your own house? You might be surprised if you take the time to make a list like this.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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