Is your stuff alive or stagnant?

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen,

    This is my favorite post of late. I think it perfectly captures the essence of how I feel about my excess stuff – stagnant, and my basement has been the cesspool where it all collected. Mike’s proclamation to “not prolong the stagnation of clutter” are words to live by. If an item isn’t adding value to our lives through your criteria – use, beauty, or sentiment – then it needs to go.

    • Hi Donna,
      it is so nice to hear from you. How are you doing these days. I hope you are keeping well.
      Mike really hit the nail on the head with that little gem of a quote. Like I said in my post, those words really spoke to me. I think sometimes when we are having trouble trying to decide whether a sentimental item should stay or go, instead of looking at it and remembering the good times we should look at it and consider those two words “Stagnant or Alive”. The memories are clearly alive but do we need stagnant items to revive those memories or do they just taint the memory with feeling of clutter suffocation.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile – it’s very inspiring! I have a suggestion for content – I’d love to see before and after pictures of some of the areas of your home if you’re willing to share. I’m sure a year of decluttering has made a huge difference! Of course, if you didn’t take before pictures it wouldn’t work 🙂

    • Hi Laina,
      thank you for your suggestion and thank you also for dropping to say hello. Welcome to 365lessthings, I am glad you are enjoying my blog.
      I wish I had taken before shots so I could share the before and after with you but unfortunately I didn’t. I am not sure why it didn’t occur to me to do that at the beginning but no use crying over spilt milk. I have however been taking some photos of some of the areas I am satisfied are in good shape and maybe I could start posting those among my Saturday easy day. I needed an idea for that this week so thank you. Please drop in with ideas and comments as often as you like we are always here to listen.

    • Hi Laina,
      I am STRUGGLING to borrow a camera to go ebay, but yesterday I wished even harder that my brother had left it out for me, so I could have at least done an after on my jewelry area (which then flowed to my stationary – Colleen you’re right, it did start something). The best bit was, I didn’t really ‘toss’ much, it was mainly making things both orderly and functional, and having one place for one thing (rather than multiple places!!)

      • Hi Snosie,
        I hope you find that camera you need. It is very frustrating when you want to get selling on ebay but you haven’t got what you need. I am glad you are having success with the mini missions and extending them to a more thorough declutter. Good for you!

  3. Hi Colleen
    I just had the biggest reduction in stagnation clutter of my life! I quit my PhD program and got rid of all the paper(s) that went with it. I have boxed up all the academic books and have designated homes for them to go to. They way I have my home office set up those books were on shelves behind me. I literally felt the weight of them and the PhD I didn’t want pressing down on me. I am now ABD (all but dissertation) and free! Your blog has been inspirational in the process of letting go and moving on. Thanks!
    Still hanging onto the cat bladder stones, though. LOL

    • Hi Susan,
      after my initial response of good for you I had to laugh at the irony of you keeping the cat bladder stones. You have clearly become comfortable with making decisions that are right for you. I say alleluia to that!

      • The bladder stones are due to go too, Colleen. I think I’m saving them for my final symbolic item to declutter. When I finally do toss those, it will be the signal that I have finished the main work and will be on to the maintenance phase. It does make me laugh though.

  4. I love this way of thinkiing about clutter. I’m still trying to get this through to my mother. She still has that “depression era” idea of maybe needing something some day. What I can’t get through to her is that by the time she “needs” it the thing will either not work or will be out of date. I did finally get that through to her as far as some craft patterns and things she had. We have no place for them once completed and no one will buy them because they are no longer the thing to buy. Now if I could just get her to understand this with all the other things she keeps. 😀 She is getting better. It just takes much longer than I would like.

    • Hi Deb J,
      I don’t envy you your situation. I actually put aside some knitting pattern books today that I have had for about 22 years. I figured that if I can find any recipe on line I could possibly need then I can probably do the same with knitting patters. I am also seriously considering eliminating the last of my papercrafting magazine collection as well.

  5. This really reminds me of this link in which the author talks about “homeless items.” It’s a long link, but a goodie, and I don’t think it was a Friday Favorite. I like this section:

    If there is anything in your home that does not have a home — a place where it can be properly, officially put away, then I dare say you are taking it for granted. If you can’t bother to even give it a home, either its value is lost on you, or it has none.

    The truth is most of us don’t have enough space in our homes to give our possessions the self-respect of having a permanent address. We have too much, and this undermines our gratitude for each possession.

    • Hi Cindy,
      here here to that passage. I will have to read the rest of that post when I get a spare minute. Today is housecleaning day and I am just taking a quick break for a cuppa and answer a few comments. Now I had better get back to work.

  6. Awesome news about Liam!

  7. Hi!
    Recently started reading your blog, lots of inspiration for me here!

    We have begun the great de-clutter journey and it’s not going to be an easy one as the “stuff” has been breeding over the years. Confident that we can reduce that “stuff” and learn to stop accumulating more during 2011.

    Love your “things I am grateful for today” as well, fab idea.

    • Hi Susi,
      I just wanted to say welcome to my blog and bon voyage on your declutter journey. I hope my blog can be a help to you along the way and that you keep us up to day with your progress. If you ever have any questions you can contact me here in the comments section or via the Contact Colleen tab at the top the the home page. You are already half way there to a decluttered home simply because you understand decluttering is as much about not recluttering as removing the stuff. Good luck and I hope to hear more from you soon.

  8. Yes, great news about Liam!

    This post resonates with me. My trunk of old old items from my great grandparents is not stagnant to me; that monogrammed seabag is a piece of my history and my children’s history.

    There seem to be levels of ‘aliveness’ in our things; at least there are in mine. If my house burned down and I lost all the Newbery Medal books, I’d be sad, but I could easily replace them (not dead but wiggling around a little). Probably, I’d rejoice if some of my furniture burned (totally stagnant). But if my photos of my children and our adventures in other countries turned to ashes, and I had no way to retrieve them, except in my memory, I would be devastated (vibrantly alive).

    • Hi Willow,
      that is exactly my point, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder what is clutter to some may be precious to others. All we have to do is work out what is special and alive to us and what should be released back into the steam of possibilities where it may become precious to someone else. That sounds way more viable than letting it stagnate in the wrong environment.

  9. I’m a big fan of Flylady and one of her mantras is “you can’t organise clutter”, which brings to mind the comment “Once the clutter is gone the organising almost takes care of itself”.
    Flylady’s mission for today was to go through your main wardrobe. I only charity-boxed one thing I’d never ever worn but there were a few other things that could go too 🙂 Plus I had the nice surprise of finding 2 soap dispensers. I think I bought 3 originally and the kids broke one so I put away the other two. I’ve previously put 2 others in the bathrooms that are plastic and stand up to the children but I now have a nice ceramic one in the kitchen making me smile.

    • Hi Lesley,
      oh you can organise clutter alright it just doesn’t change the fact that its still clutter. I know because I have been doing it for years. If you walked into my house any time since 1987 you would think that I was mad if I said I needed to declutter because there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. Never the less there was still clutter neatly hiding in every room of the house. Luckily I have learned the error of my ways and I am having to do a whole lot less organising these days and that is the beauty of becoming clutter free.

      • Hi Colleen,
        Those could have been my words. I have had organized clutter in my home for years. Understanding the difference between being organized and being clutter free (well, I’m not really clutter free yet…) has brought so much joy into my life that it’s truly amazing. I can’t remember the last time I have had so much energy! 🙂

        • Hi Anne,
          Just like there is different kinds of clutter there are different kinds of clutterers we are clearly the organised clutterer types. I agree being decluttered brings a certain level of joy to life and the feeling of freedom renews your energy.

  10. Hi Colleen. Stagnant is the perfect word. I don’t know if you’ve checked my blog recently but I’m undergoing a mad purge of everything that I don’t need, and I’ve gotten rid of almost 80% of my possessions. I had far more stuff that I could respect — so much ends up just sitting there stagnating, because I believed it had value.

    I had a lot of stagnant food too. Not rotten, just old packages of egg noodles and other stuff that I never seem to find the right time to make. I only want food with “force and vitality” 🙂

    And why stop there… I want to eliminate stagnant commitments, dreams, and maybe even relationships.

    *Oh hey Cindy linked to it up there*

    • Hi David,
      I subscribe to your blog via RSS feed and had no idea that you had an Experiments Page. I am dying to go back and read how you went at not complaining for 21 days, I would have a real struggle with that one. I like the idea of eliminating stagnant commitments, dreams and maybe even relationships. Dreams can be a little like “I might need it someday” clutter, we hang on to them thinking we may actually live up to their expectations when really we just don’t have the nature to commit to the task.
      Good luck with your purging mission and I will be sure to duck over to your blog whenever I get an RSS feed and see what else is going on.

  11. Liam is triumphant!! Way to go to all of you…


    • Hi Bobbi,
      We will all be glad when he is back and university and then we will know for sure how well he is functioning in the real world with real pressures. All is much better than it could have been so we are happy no matter what.

  12. Colleen, I like the idea of thinking of clutter as stagnating. As even the word makes me want to cover my nose, I think it is an effective way of looking at items I don’t use or value anymore. With all the ideas I get from your blog and other minimalist blogs and those who leave comments, I am amazed there are still things I am purging daily and sometimes with a second or third go-around. I used to be known as the queen of organization and friends would ask me to help them organize their stuff. Now I tell them that I will help them to get rid of their clutter, and the organization will fall into place much easier.
    Yippee for Liam!
    Send a bit of your heat our way…..we’re freezing here! Brrrrrrrr

    • Hi Di,
      I learn things from all the same places as you. The comments here are particularly helpful. Someone will write something and then I teach myself more things from it when I try to elaborate on the topic in my post. Then my readers learn form what I wrote and leave a comment and the cycle starts again. See I had no idea I was even going to write those word two minutes ago. Isn’t it amazing how the mind works. Like you I am starting to wonder when the decluttering is ever going to end but there is no hurry. Everyday I feel a little more free and it is a good feeling to sustain.
      I have sent you a little heat today about 5 degree C I think I hope you got it. 😉