Guest Post ~ An exercise in truth telling

A Guest Post by Cecily Paterson

365 Less things has inspired Cecily to begin her own decluttering journey. She lives in a small town of 1500 people and last month started a column in her local monthly newspaper called 123 Out, all about getting rid of unneeded stuff. And this is her story…

When I first started on my decluttering journey I thought that it would be a simple matter of removing items from my house. I was wrong. Getting rid of things I don’t need or want has been an exercise in truth telling.

I had an idea that when I came to a pair of jeans that have been sitting in my cupboard for three years, unworn and a size too small, I might have to bite the bullet and admit that I am too large for them. When the little voice in my head reminded me that I might fit into them next year because I am thinking of getting fitter and losing a few kilos, I had to tell the little voice that the reality is that I don’t want to be fitter and I am not going to do the work to lose those few kilos.

I might think that being fit would be a good thing but the fact that I sit on the couch more than I get up to walk shows me pretty clearly my higher priorities. After I told the truth I could get rid of the jeans.

It was a little bit harder to deal with the urn in my pantry. I bought this three years ago with great intentions of inviting lots of people around and serving lots of cups of tea. Unfortunately it broke after its first use and it has been sitting in the bottom of the pantry ever since.

“I’m sure I can fix that,” I said to myself back then. “It would be a waste to get rid of it.” Three years later I still haven’t bought the glue with which to fix it. I have had to admit to being lazy and unconcerned. The image I like to carry around of myself of being someone who fixes things has had a slight denting. Still, now that I have told the truth I can get rid of the urn. (By the way, I am donating it to a charity shop with all its pieces. Hopefully someone with actions rather than just intentions might fix it and use it.)

Even more galling to my pride has been dealing with my craft cupboard. I have more unfinished craft items than I care to admit to. I have had to tell the truth about time and my use of it. It’s not good enough any more to say, “well, I’m planning to finish that when I get time.” The simple fact is that I use my time for other things and craft is coming low down the list of priorities right now. I can say now that I probably won’t ever finish some of these unfinished items, and just by saying that I have found the freedom to let them go.

The act of physical decluttering has made me do some work in emotional decluttering and telling the truth. It has been surprising but very worthwhile.

Today’s Mini Mission

Not too many people I know have an empty fridge/freezer front. There are usually photos and kids drawings, invitations and a notice board. Clear off everything that isn’t essential and try living with a clear fridge for a while.

Today’s Declutter Item

This seemed like a good idea at the time but in truth it tended to count two or mare steps for every step I took. I like things to be a little more precise than that. I think I used it for about a week before I was over it. Sadly I must admit that was about five years ago. The step it took was to the thrift store.


“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Cecily, great post! Very true, also. Clutter lies. It really does. It tells us that we’ll get into those jeans again. Or we can be Martha Stewart. Or people will be impressed with how intelligent we are because of all the books we own and so on and so on.

  2. very good article. I had immediately two thoughts:
    first, I really think that what you just described, I experienced some time ago. it was the time of: I am a poor student in a wealthy country, I own really a lot too many things to be considered poor. I asked myself: HOW and WHY is that. I started to face the truth and think about items in the way you just explained and I decluttered like a berserker. I started to read about minimalism and acted towards it, because it felt right. It was the same time I thought: just face it: you are like you are, you look the way you look because you act the way you act. if you like to eat chocolate then just eat it and not feel guilty about it. but if you feel guilty about it, and you want to change, CHANGE IT. and I did. I realized once I was honest to myself, I found the power and courage to change myself into the person I wanted to be. I realized, once I took control over my life in terms of clutter, I could also take control in my life to lose weight and even to get the psychological help I needed for a long time. So “facing the truth” was the first step that lead me to a new myself.

    And that is basically thought number two: I became a person I like. one that is real, and one that is not talking, but acting towards a better environment. I changed this aspirational thinking into an honest one. And if I am “not enough” for my taste, I try to find a way to change my life OR my thinking. but I for sure wont think the one thing and act the other. thats not helping anyone.

    • Great response Lena. The more I’m aware of my own ‘lies’ the more I can hear them everywhere! We all do it. I’m aiming to live a decluttered life – ie. to be honest!

  3. Good post. Lena I like what you shared. I have found that my Mom needs to do this. We were talking the other day and I asked her why she keeps hanging on to things. Every one of the things she said about various items was a lie. “I’m going to get this weight off.” “I’m going to get those projects finished.” “I’m going to …….” I used to do that. But when I was disgnosed with fibromyalgia and later messed up discs in my low back and in my neck I quickly learned that if I haven’t done it in the last month or so I’m not going to do it. It is amazing what having pain and exhaustion do to all those ideas about who you are and what you can do. I have been a minimalist in my heart for years but let guilt push me into hanging onto things. My diseases have helped me to get perspective.

    • I was curious, I just googled fibromyalgia. that sounds like a really nasty illness, I wish with all my heart all the best for you.
      I already read about “decluttering due to sickness” here somewhere, some time ago when digging in the archives. it makes me realize how lucky I am, in so many ways.
      I love all the different stories, the different reasons for the change of perspective. its good that there are many ways to a good and healthy lifestyle.

      • Yes, Lena, FM is a nasty illness. I have about 6 nasty illnesses and they are not fun. But, God gets me through each day and life is good in spite of them. I’m like you. I really enjoy reading everything each day. This blog is one of the things I look forward to each day. We all are so diverse in our lives and yet we have this one area that pulls us together and it’s great.

        • Diversity, it is. and the daily posting, a constant reminder in everyday life that makes this blog so special. one week its all about hoarding, the other I get reminded that I have to clean my fridge. love it.
          I was contemplating about volunteering the other day, but I couldnt decide what I wanted to do. Maybe I should organize the “world decluttering conference” where we could all meet in person. I would love to talk about this with you ladies face to face.

        • I love this blog too!

    • Pain is horrible and does stop you doing a lot of what you would like to do – having suffered from chronic pain myself over a period (now thankfully clear of it) I know how depressing it can be.

  4. You’re so right. I’m at this point with my books at the moment, as I’m trying to declutter unread books. I have been decluttering books that I didn’t intend to re-read for quite a while, however there are still about 80 books on my shelves which I haven’t come around reading yet – some of them for years. And to tell the truth: these books are bugging me the most, as every time I see the amount, I feel paralyzed. It would take me more than a year to read them.
    I put quite a bunch online for sale today when I read the post – and now I’m going to bed to read…

    • Hi Sanna – its really funny you say that, because if I haven’t started reading a book within say a day of buying it……it doesn’t get read. And I have bought clothes in the past that I never wore, they went to goodwill with the tag on them, but favourites were worn almost straight away. And there isn’t a rhyme or reason for it!

      • Maybe the problem comes in the buying process. You think you ‘ought’ to have one or read that particular book or something? It would be worth stopping as you purchase to analyse what’s actually going on in your head.

      • Hi Moni!

        I found, it’s mostly “difficult” books like classics or intellectual modern literature that piles up. Although I like reading both, obviously not as much and not as fast as I trigger myself to believe.

    • I have unread books too, but they actually make up the decor in my bedroom so I’m not quite sure what to do with them!

    • Hi Sanna,
      I am so with you on the unread books: They can really start to be a pressure. For years I could not resist books and piled them up. At some point I eventually stopped amassing more but didn’t let go of any. Then I started on books I would not read again, then I started culling unread ones as well – and still do that. It took me years (and it started well before I went into “decluttering mode”) but feels like a healthy process at this slow speed. Selling on amazon is a good help in letting go because there is the pleasant aspect of getting some money back. However, shipping everything on its own is a lot of work and some things never sell or much to slowly. And then you can watch the price go down from week to week until you delete your offer because it would merely cover the shipping costs at that price. Thanks to the good advice of a friend I got it down to this system: Every now and then when I feel I could let go of some more I go through my books and take the ones that are supposed to go out of the shelf. I compare prices on amazon, momox and rebuy online and keep in mind that sales for momox and rebuy just have to be put into a box and shipped (for free) to them and then you get the money. This sometimes justifies the lower prices for me because it is much less hassle and a guaranteed sale(sometimes prices are ridiculously low but sometimes they are surprisingly good and surprisingly they can also differ significantly between momox and rebuy). The leftovers that I can’t sell at any of these platforms or that remain with me after a long time of listing them on amazon I either put into a box for the next fleamarket (bestsellers, crime and cookbooks have worked best on fleamarkets for me) or I donate or just put a box with a free sign out in good weather …
      Sorry everyone for this being long and mainly relevant in Germany but having the process whittled down to this always yields good results for me (see someone big a heavy box and a silly smile walk to the post office in Germany … it might be me freeing another couple of inches in my book case while putting at least some money back in my bank account 😉 ). So I wanted to share it with Sanna. It’s easy, satisfying and even a bit of fun.

      • Hi Ideealistin!

        Thank you for your advice.
        I’m usually selling via booklooker. That works quite well for me. I also take part in book swaps or give books away for free, if I know someone who’ll appreciate it or if they’re just staying unsold for too long.
        When I last checked momox and rebuy (about a year ago), I couldn’t reach the minimum 10 Euros. But I might check that again.

      • hey girls,
        I just got home from the postoffice, to send off the first book I sold via amazon. Lets see how long it takes for the money to arrive.
        I recently decided to sell a bunch of books from my first years of university. I hang a piece of paper on the wall in front of the relevant department/library with my name and phone number, I am not sure if this is working, but I am hoping a bit for the next semester.
        books I consider cheap content-wise, meaning, I dont want anyone to waste money on them, I put into the book-case in my street. its a big box where you can just go and take one if you like it. I found an old history school book for tenth grade recently. that went into that case the street. last time I checked it was gone.

        btw. I have also a pile of “classics” that I want to read one day. its good that I am a patient person and I can wait until I finally get around to read them. unread books dont bother me somehow.

  5. Like Cecily, I recognise that telling yourself the truth about your own life is a big part of decluttering. Probably the biggest part.

    Over the years I decluttered a number of items which related to the subject I studied at university. It was a subject I lost interest in before I completed the degree, but didn’t drop out of because I didn’t know what else to do. Plus, I didn’t want to disappoint my family who were so proud and supportive. Whilst I had those items in my life, I could kid myself that I was merely stalled in my career and would pick up on it one day. Facing facts meant that I accepted that I didn’t want to do that job, and to be that person. I knew that I lacked the drive, ambition and dedication necessary to succeed in such a demanding field. Admitting that you’ve made some poor choices in the past, and are not exactly the person you’d hoped to be, is a painful process but ultimately liberating.

    It took time to accept that just because I CAN do something, it doesn’t follow that I HAVE to do it, or should want to do it, and that it’s OK to let the acoutrements of earlier versions of myself go. Some I sold for much-needed cash and some I gifted to people who would get good use out of them, and my spirit lightened with each departure.

    Also, some craft projects were released incompleted into the wild, and the world still turns……….. 🙂 It’s good to remember that no one is going to hold you to account in the afterlife for that dress you never finished making and the hooked rug with half the canvas still bald.

    • Hi GreyQueen – I LOVE the “were released incompleted into the wild” – can almost hear ‘Born Free’ as background music!

      Bet it feels good not having them hanging over your head, reminding you finish them.

  6. I am so glad that uncompleted craft isn’t being ‘marked’ by someone. I would be in serious trouble if that was the case!

  7. Cecily, thanks for an awesome post. That was the fire I needed to finally part with some sewing crafts that I know darn good & well that I’ll never get around to starting. I cleaned out my sewing cabinet & kept only the items quite necessary & the 2 projects that I actually am completing (waiting to take an advanced sewing class that doesn’t start until May). Otherwise, I parted with over 30 spools of threads I bought for unknown reasons, 6 or so cut yardage fabrics, 10 patterns for things I no longer will wear or use, a couple of odd notions & kept only 1 cutting mat. I can make do just fine with what I have left as everything else I parted with today was stuff I was only kidding myself I would ever get around to using.

  8. Cecily, great post. I haven’t been willing to get rid of my too-small jeans, yet. I did finally get rid of all of my cross-stitch supplies and the half-finished cross-stitch project that’s been bugging me for years.

    • Anita, threw out my too-small jeans too!

      • Moni, good for you! I’ve decided if my tight jeans don’t fit by the end of August, I’m getting rid of them. If I haven’t lost a few pounds by then, I never will. 🙂

        • 🙂 Hi Anita – I am the Queen of Yo Yo Dieting, so probably would fit them again at some stage, but my up and down weight, never seems to coordinate with the right season of clothes in a previous size, so I got rid of most of those in the last month, but found this pair, and was doing the maybe-I-should-hang-on-to-them thing. But no, they’re no use to me short term, so out they go.

    • The best thing about getting rid of jeans is that I can get a new (used) pair at the op shop for under $15. Winner.

  9. Deb J. and Lena, I totally agree with both of you. We are all so diverse here and yet the same in our quest to lighten up. Also, Lena, I think a decluttering day and get together is a great idea! I find a lot of comfort here at this blog with all the like-minded people. In my real world, I’m not the normal one. It’s not “normal” to want less. It’s not normal to have one T.V. or no books or one photo album. Anyway, I look forward to what Colleen and Cindy and everyone else has to say.

  10. One thingI just noticed after reading through the comments is how many “things” bug people. The unfinished craft projects, the university studies, the unread books, the clothing that doesn’t or won’t fit – they all nag at us. Nobody likes a nag.

    For myself, just unloading the aspirational sewing crafts today has felt like an invisible weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I don’t feel let down or deprived or a failure for not finishing those projects. If anything, I feel relieved.

    • they not only nag at us but they weigh us down. I don’t know about the rest of you but when I got the biggest of the mess tossed out I felt like I weighed less. Like there was a big bag of something off my shoulders. Maybe it was the guilt of having all that stuff and doing nothing with it. Sure feels really good to have all that gone.

      • Hi Deb J – exactly! Its almost a buzz!

        • I already consider decluttering as my hobby. its not a chore I have to do, but I am having FUN. I like the feeling of selling things, bringing things out, even trashing things is more fun than it was before. it also includes this little ping of excitement when you identify an object thats “worth decluttering”. and then the task of “what am I going to do with you” – and then finding the right solution.
          the next step for me is rearranging my “leftovers”. My shelf hasnt been fixed for half a year now. Everytime I declutter more, I shuffle around things, getting closer to a well working system. I LOVE doing that, I usually find new things to declutter and I usually find a good place for those items that I love to see and touch.

          today I put old clothes to the red cross container, I put two books into the public book case and I sent off two books via post. one I sold, one is a gift for a friend of mine. I trashed outdated spices, I listed a couple of items on ebay and now I am feeling really satisfied with myself.

          • Lena, I’m so on the same page with you on this! I seem to get more joy out of selling off, donating, trashing, recycling, purging long-ago stored clutter etc AND then getting to spruce up the remaining space. Weird I know, but I see people doing weirder stuff all the time!
            It’s too late in the season to go back up in my attic (the heat is already in the 80’s here – so that means the attic is about the same temp as Mercury), but I took photo’s of what remains in all the boxes in the attic & I’ve got myself a list going on things to get rid off next chance I can stand going up there!

      • I completely know what you mean!

  11. Thanks for your affirmations everyone.
    I should say that I’ve written a few more decluttering posts on my own blog at including thinking about decluttering my speech and emotions.

  12. Hi Moni, the “Born Free” soundtrack is a good one.

    I often find myself thinking that I’m a jailer of stuff. If I have good stuff incarcerated unused in sheds and cupboards, it isn’t safely in some science-fiction stasis zone. Inexorable biological processes are taking place with its consituents parts. Stuff is menaced by vermin, by damp, by dust and by insects. A lot of it is quietly being superceded by newer technologies and is moving from “valuable and useful” to “so useless you’d have to pay someone to take it off your hands” whilst I swither and dither.

    I have a few things awaiting Freecycle pick-ups and a pair of too-small jeans too worn out for the thrift store which are going into the textile recycling bank. If I ever diet back to that size I shall reward myself with a brand-new pair. And, thanks to Cecily’s inspiration, I shall drag out the large box of fabric scraps and trimmings, effect a cull of at least 50% and bag them for Freecycling. My home is so small that every inch needs to be accounted for, and I want to have more wide open spaces to rest my eyes on and soothe my busy brain.

    I shall also diarise an appointment with myself to try out the new-to-me breadmaker which someone gave me 5 months ago and will pass it on if I find I prefer my tradional breadmaking methods. And there is the remaking-old-candles-into-new-ones project which I will try as an experiment. I flaked and sorted the wax over a year ago and haven’t bought the wicks, despite walking past the store twice every working day………… Craft projects are truly the worst kind of clutter in my life but I have been wanting to try candle-making for at least 40 years, so I feel that I need to get this one out of my system. 🙂

    • Hi GreyQueen! Yes I have the requisite breadmaker in my pantry too, and every day I ask myself why did I buy one? Ironically I had just convinced myself last year to put it on Trademe, when the Maui gasline had an explosion and the upper North was without natural gas for over a week, which meant all the restaurants, bakeries and a surprising number of industries had to shut down. The bread aisle was empty for a week. So it got a lot of use but now I have to psyche myself up to get rid of it again.

      • Hi GreyQueen and Moni, I don’t want to talk you into keeping your bread machines, but I use mine once a week to make pizza dough. I know I could make dough in a bowl, but the bread machine keeps it at just the right temperature. So, I never actually bake in my bread machine, but I still get a good bit of use from it.

        • Hi Anita – my sis-in-law uses hers ALL the time bread, dough, yoghurt, cakes even. I live two mins from an awesome bakery that is reasonably priced, and as I’m “cateringly challenged” it is probably a far better option as far as my kids are concerned.

  13. As a twenty something, I have to say that I loved when my mom and aunts sent me their sewing room overflow! Without spending a dime, I got a full thread collection (30-40 spools, as full as I want it) tons of needles and attachments for a singer machine, rulers to use with a rotary cutter, buttons, and even vintage lace my great grandmother had tatted. (I’m thinking I can make the lace into a ring pillow for when my cousins and I get married…) I’ve also been able to be generous with their gifts, giving away skeins of yarn to other knitters or making gifts with their castoffs.

    So, when you release your crafts into the wild, think of the young crafters you’ll be setting up for success!

  14. A lot of times we try to live in the past or the future. We need to focus on the present and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work for now.

    • exactly. Who knows what will happen later on, and it’s not hard to go out and get what you need when you need it rather than hang on to something and never use it.

  15. Great post Cicely, thanks. Given me another layer of understanding about the whole process.

  16. Great Post Cecily,

    Timely and true on so many levels. We are in Comp Season for the next two weeks, the previous 8 weeks have been spent learning new routines and making new costumes and props, through it all I have been reminded that de-cluttering big things ultimately leads to de-cluttering small things. The ‘BIG’ thing for us was the dance studio we left because of all the negativity going on the ‘LITTLE’ things were all the previous costumes we had made whilst at the other studio. The ‘TRUTH’ of it all was we were unhappy being there with all the ‘crappiness’ and once we all told the truth about the ‘CLUTTER’ we were surrounding ourselves with it was easy to face the truth and get the hell out and move on! Five mums and 8 kids left and followed our hearts to start another studio and between us we unloaded over 300 costumes, although perfectly good and could be re-used and re-worked we collectively decided to not drag the bad Karma around with us, we all told the truth about what we wanted and expected to achieve and together we have done that. The kids are happier, we have spent some money over the course of our journey but none of us regrets it and we can all move forward in a much happier and more truthful environment.

    Gone is all the backstabbing and nasty comments and ridiculous situations that always seemed to rear it’s ugly head! We all love dance and now we and our kids can enjoy what we love best because when the ‘TRUTH’ was told everybody listened and agreed.

    Another little truth was told to myself, just last night, I am 11 days into Project 333 and I still haven’t worn certain tops and a light jacket! The truth is I don’t really like them so I figure at the end they will definitely be going. Even though we don’t have to count our underwear there are bits that I still move aside so I think I’ll be chucking them as well. I obviously lied to myself when I said I’ll use them!!!

    I can’t believe this weather at the moment 34degs in Perth!!!!
    Cheers everyone, 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Funny you mention project 333.
      To be true, I’m cheating. We had fairly warm weather in the end of march (about 12 to 20 deg. Celcius), but when Easter approached it turned windy and cold again and it actually snowed at Easter. So, I’m still using my winter coat, my boots, my mittens and a warm hat, although they’re not included in the 33 items.
      I don’t think, project 333 is about getting ill. 😉 I still use only the bottoms and tops I included in the 33 and will put away the winter clothes and turn to my SPRING wardrobe, as soon as it’s getting a little warmer again over here.

      • Hi Sanna – I agree completely – Easter weekend is supposed to be the end of nice weather here, but we’ve had the best weather all Summer, so I decided it was ridiculous to cook in a pair of jeans and dug out a pair of shorts. As soon as the weather turns, I will return them to storage. 333 is about learning to mix and match with less. I have noticed several items of clothes that aren’t being worn too. I might need to pull everything out and have a look to see if that is because of a ‘hole’ in my mix and match options or if I’m just bored of that item.

        • Don’t stress, that all sounds totally fine, at least you are actually using your gear and you have it there to switch out. Here in Perth, Easter usually has very mild days even wintery sometimes, ‘who da thunk’ it would get so damn HOT!! we are having days in the 30’s and it is screwing with inbuilt temp gauge, one min I’m chilly the next I’m a sweatin’ (Oh hang on that be Menopuse hahaha) seriously girls, if nothing else at least 333 will give you eyeopener to what you really need. Who knows after this you may all go shopping and buy something you really like, on sale, in your colour, style and fit and be really happy! not just ok with it.

          Sanna where are you in the world, I’m losing track of everyone now because we are so international. I wonder if we all decided to meet where in the world could it be so everyone travels the same distance!!!! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cuppa together! Oooohhhh and cake and chocolate and ……….

          Have a beautiful, colourful day 🙂 🙂 🙂

          • Dont forget colleens ice cream. just the other day I was contemplating about the “world decluttering conference” 😉 Or I will travel around the world, visit you guys and use my camera for a project called “365lessthings in 365 countries” or so.

    • I love a dance studio with no expectations. It beats all the rubbish that can go on. My little boy is very happy turning up in his shorts and t-shirt to boogie for half an hour a week and that’s all I want.

  17. Reducing my wardrobe has obviously reduced my mental capacity, I don’t think any woman would like ‘Menopuse’ any more than ‘MENOPAUSE’ sorry about that, I’m decluttering letters as well as clothes Hahahahaha 🙂 🙂 🙂

  18. Okay, Lena! Whether it is a conference or you coming to see us, I really like the idea.

    • give me a year and I might be able to have earned and saved enough money to afford a trip around the world. from the states to australia =)