Avoiding the pitfalls

Much of the clutter in our homes is stuff we didn’t need in the first place.

They are often things we purchase to make ourselves feel good…

  • Things for making us feel attractive.
  • Things that make our homes look nice.
  • Things that are intended to lighten our work load.
  • Things to amuse us.
  • Things we buy to please others.
  • Things to create a little more comfort.
  • Pretty things that caught our eye in a moment of weakness.

…and the list could go on.

Ultimately though, these things often lose their appeal fairly quickly and the cycle begins again. Poor impulse purchases would describe them well I believe. With this thought in mind take a quick look around your home and see if you can identify five things that would fall into this category of clutter. If you haven’t been decluttering for long I am sure you could probably quickly find at lease ten.

Now take another quick look around your home and attempt to find at least two items that you put a lot of thought into buying but didn’t live up to expectation. When I say expectation I mean either didn’t live up to its promise as a product or it did but you didn’t end up using it much anyway. I bought an iPod once thinking I would use it a lot. I didn’t rush out to buy it, I thought about the idea for a while, considered what size memory would be best etc etc. Guess what, I hardly ever used it. Thankfully my son was only too happy to take it off my hands when his wore out. He is quite the opposite to me when it comes to his iPod, he wouldn’t leave the house without it and has been like this since he got his first one at lease ten years ago.

So let go of those impulse buys and avoid them in the future. And also let go of those items you thought would be great for you but weren’t. There is no point in hanging on to things that didn’t turn out to be right for you. Avoiding future clutter is all about learning from past mistakes and implementing strategies to stop it coming in. So when considering a purchase, think, think again and then think some more about whether it is right for you. And if you are looking for a little joy in your life look somewhere other than a shop.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter any pet toys that are overabundant in your home.  ~ Do you buy a new toy to amuse you pet with on a regular basis when their old toys are still in reasonable condition. Slowly they build up and then you find yourself throwing away the oldest or less loved items whether they are worn out or not. Think of the money you could save.

Eco Tip for the Day

Use a mixture of 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water and a couple of drops of eco friendly dishwashing liquid and a little elbow grease (effort) to clean your shower rather than harsh chemicals. Is is effective and a great aerobic workout.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

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

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • The problem is acquiring Clutter is very much about being keener to acquire than to let go. We acquire things we need, or more likely just want, but once their usefulness to, or novelty for, us has expired we […]
  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Now take another quick look around your home and attempt to find at least two items that you put a lot of thought into buying but didn’t live up to expectation: My Bosch dishwasher (hate that thing) and our relatively new mattress, which feels like it’s already a decade old. SO disappointing. Not sure I’m able to let either of these things go at this time, though. I did try to persuade the girls that they surely wanted a queen-sized bed, thinking that we could give them ours and start over, but neither one of them went for it. They have twin beds and value their remaining floor space too much.

    • Hi Cindy, that really does suck and I sympathise. I hate making big purchases for this reason. It is one thing to spend $20 and the items turns out to be a lemon but hundreds or thousands of dollars is hard to take. Hence why I still have the same mattress even though it isn’t particularly comfortable for me anymore. I figure that if the ancient Orcadians could sleep in a crouching position on straw and skins with God knows what crawling in it, then I can cope with what I have too. After seven weeks of vacation, sleeping on about 15 different mattress I still didn’t encounter one that felt any better than mine. In fact some were decidedly worse. So I’ll stick with what I have until it actually wears out.

      As for the dishwasher. I have only ever had two of those in my life and neither were great but it sure beats having to do the dishes yourself. Perhaps the perfect dishwasher just doesn’t exist.

      • Cindy – we recently bought a bed topper and it certainly made it more comfortable, however if we’d read the details a little more carefully, it was a thermal design one which holds body heat etc, will be lovely in Winter but we are going into Summer, so we’ll have to take it off soon and will be back to square one.

    • Could you consider buying a mattress topper Cindy? Ours transformed an old mattress at a fraction of the price of a new mattress.

  2. Considering your list of purchase downfalls because momentarily it felt good… I began my decluttering with more intent this last April and since then have found it not-too-difficult to stay out of my favorite stores (TJ Maxx and Marshalls) where I committed most of my unnecessary purchases. However, I never realized how one of the comforts and cozy feelings of Autumn for me is spending and it is just now that I am having to sit on my hands to not spend.

    Colleen, one of your other listed reasons was “to please others” and that along with some Deb J-inspired discussion about examining relationships has really helped me examine my Christmas gift-giving. Why was I going to spend more $ on a gift for someone that I had already purchased for – because she would be even ‘happier’ with my better choice. Maybe for 5 minutes. Never mind that I have put more effort ( than she) into the relationship in the last year or so. So, NO, I did not purchase the ‘better’ gift. And maybe next year I’ll be ready to graduate to re-thinking exactly why I am giving gifts to certain people.

    • Good for you on both counts Vicki K.

      Bargain stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls are easy to justify purchases in because they have such great prices. But clutter is clutter no matter how much you pay for it. And being environmentally friendly does not include buying stuff you don’t need. I am sorry you are finding Autumn to be a little more difficult when it comes to resisting spending but I am sure that will become second nature to you by next year.

      As for gift giving, rationalising it makes sense to me. My children (daughter and sons-girlfriend) approached me recently and suggested secret Santa this year instead of everyone buying for everyone. I am a great lover of this idea and yet I feel a little awkward about not spending what I usually spend on my kids. It is something that I am sure I will warm to especially as our financial situation will be changing soon as we borrow to buy an apartment.

  3. Putting myself on the wardrobe diet has stopped not only so many of the things I bought coming into my house but also the packaging that comes with them. So while you would definitely declutter my wardrobe of more things than I have this year, I am still so happy at how much leaner and more organised my cupboards and wardrobes are. In fact, my clothes fit into their allocated wardrobe, cupboard and chest of drawers space.

    Really, there is little point decluttering if you keep bringing things into the house. And I feel decluttering while still buying a lot of stuff is bad for the environment in so many ways.

    You are so right: find happiness somewhere else besides the shops. If you stay out and de subscribe from online shopping emails, you won’t impulse buy.

    • Well said Lucinda and well done with your wardrobe diet. And the lack of packaging is an added bonus to not shopping, that’s for sure. Your wardrobe sounds like it is in good shape. I dare say mine and my husbands clothes may not fit into the smaller walk through wardrobe in the apartment we are buying because it is quite small. The problem will be solved by packing away the clothing not in season.

  4. Great post, Colleen. The reasons you listed in this post are the primary reasons that I have a clutter problem. I am especially guilty of buying things to make myself feel more attractive and buying things to please others. I started innocently enough with a gift closet, but the gift closet grew beyond my control. I discovered that I ended up with unused gifts as my relationships with the people in my life changed. I’m really beginning to believe that the best gifts for people are either cash or experiences. They can either have the fun of spending the cash or participating in the experience. My grandmother learned this same lesson many years ago. She quit giving people cards and just added the money that she would have spent on the card to the rest of their monetary gift.

    I completely understand where Vicki is coming from, too. I often find myself buying things to please others. Many times I take these things to my office to share with my coworkers, but I am beginning to feel that I have even overdone that. Our department has decided to refrain from buying gifts for each other this Christmas. We are just going to buy for upper management. I think this will take much of the pressure of gift giving off everyone’s backs. However, I still have many things in my bloated gift closet to give away. So, now I am trying to think creatively of charities that could use these items.

    It’s hard to retrain your brain to refrain from using shopping as a coping mechanism, but I am slowly making progress. This website has been immensely helpful to me in the retraining process. Thanks for all you do, Colleen.

    • Hi Valerie, they are they same reasons why everyone has a clutter problem. We have been conditioned to this behaviour so we can’t entirely blame ourselves but what we can do is change ourselves. I am glad you are making those changes. Slow progress is better than no progress so well done you. And good for your grandmother making her own less orthodox gift giving traditions. I like the idea of you donating the items in your gift closet to charity. Gift giving has obviously been a very important thing in your life and you should be proud of the progress you are making to overcome the need to give too much. One thing to help you with this is that most people when in receipt of a gift then feel obliged to return the gesture. It is not always affordable or enjoyable for others to do this and therefore puts them in an awkward position. You may be pleasing some people more by not giving.

      I am pleased to hear you are curtailing the gift giving insanity at work but I am curious. Could you explain the gift buying for upper management. This seems particularly pointless to me but I may be looking at it from a skewed perspective.

      • Colleen, As I read Valerie’s comment, I was thinking what a shame that it is often EXPECTED from lower level employees who earn less, to purchase a gift for upper level management who earn more!!! How perverted!!!

        I have always refused to participate in workplace giftgiving, often at the expense of being looked down upon. But, I always figured I was working to pay off debt, not to add to it! And, I can truthfully say that I enjoy holidays and birthdays more now that I have stopped exchanging gifts with friends and family!!! All the pressure is gone and you are free to enjoy the moment. I always hated having to act pleased and appreciative over a gift to be polite, when actually I was thinking, “more clutter……….”.

        • Hi Brenda, I was making no asuptions as to what level employee Valerie was but like you I also thought it a little odd. I can’t say I have even encountered this practice before but I would sincerely hope that the upper level management gave a damn good bonus that more than covered the gifts bestowed upon them as well a gift in return.

          I can relate to our thoughts on gift giving. It is even worse when you make it easy for someone to buy you what you really want by telling them and then they buy something that to is clutter. I know this probably seems like bah humbug to a lot of people but we are all entitled to our own opinion on these matters.

      • The tradition in our office is for everyone in the department to contribute toward a gift card for our department manager. Likewise everyone in the office contributes toward a gift card for the Executive Director. The department manager typically buys gifts for his subordinates and the Executive Director typically buys gift cards for his subordinates. The department manager’s gifts are usually fairly equal in value to what his employees gave him. The Executive Director’s gift cards are often greater than what was given to him. I’ve been here 14 years and it is a fairly entrenched tradition. We have a new department manager this year, so I suggested to one of my coworkers that perhaps we should change the tradition. She didn’t think that it would go over well. Quite honestly I would rather that we all just contribute our time and/or money to some worthwhile charity and do away with the office gifts completely, but I fear it would be an unpopular suggestion.

        • Hi Valerie, I am glad the gift giving is communal and seems to be a fair exchange. I do like your idea of giving to charity instead as the current situation all sounds like giving for the sake of giving and not heartfelt. I wouldn’t mind betting that the Department Manager and the Executive Director probably think is is pointless also. 😉

    • Valerie – Like you, I had a full gift closet. One good outlet for most of my items was a Women’s Weekend Retreat at our church. They used them as door prizes for each day of the retreat. Similarly, any sort of conference or retreat may be accepting of these type of items.

      • Thanks for the suggestion, Vicki. I’m not sure yet what to do with these items. I’m trying to decide if I should just donate the items to charity or if I could get more bang for my buck my selling some of the items on Ebay and then donating the money to charity. So far I have been successful with donating a lot of my excess office supplies to my child’s school. I’m thinking of possibly donating these gift type items to the local children’s hospital.

    • Oh, the wicked gift closet, haha! I too, had one for more years than I care to admit. My mother had one and it was drilled into my head to never to be without “something” on hand to give to someone. When I eliminated the gift closet, it was a feeling of relief. Many things I had also purchased “Justin Case”, I donated to different charities. I also think it is a welcome change for a charity to receive new clutter as well as used clutter. Colleen may be able to speak more to that since she volunteers in a thrift shop (so wonderful of you to do, Colleen :). Ban the Gift closet, shelf, boxes or wherever you store the gift clutter. Relish in the empty space. If you must, dedicate a small area as a holding area for upcoming events until they are wrapped and delivered.

      • Kimberley, it was drilled into my head that you should be thoughtful of others and do little things for them. I think this is why gift giving has been so important in my life. Honestly, I was a little taken aback when my coworker suggested that I give too many little things to the others in my office. It never occurred to me that they might feel a duty to reciprocate. I was just trying to be a kind person and to continue with my decluttering process, but I’m coming to realize that I need to find a different outlet for decluttering these things.

        • Don’t feel bad Valerie, your heart was in the right place. I am sure you will find a better outlet for giving away your stuff. You could use Freecycle, that way you still have the joy of giving and the recipient intentionally and happily receiving.

  5. One thing I put a lot of thought into buying was my bike..3 years ago I had an unexpected windfall of £150 and after research and much though bought a bike. I have used it once and it is now in our attic… “embarrassed smilie face” lol. I know I really need to sell it, I just need to find the oomph to sort that out: maybe in the New Year when everyone is in the first flush of new year get fit resolutions. If I can just get rid of the fantasy of summer evenings cycling along the seafront promenade…

    • That is food for thought for me Doodle. I keep thinking a bike would be great when I move into our apartment in the City. I think I will pick one up from the bicycle recycling guy or borrow one from a friend before making the decision to spend money on a good one. I fear that I might fall into the same pitfall as you otherwise. I had the same experience as you when we moved to America.

      • I think borrowing one, or getting one extremely cheap is a great idea Colleen: that way you can test the waters and if you use it a lot, an justify getting a better one/suited to your body size etc.

    • Doodle – my husband bought himself and our son mountain bikes some 5 or 6 years ago with visions of father-son bonding as they hurtled down the mountain side. They went for one ride together. My younger daughter is the only person who occasionally takes it out and more often than not it has a flat tyre despite a number of visits to the bike repair shop to find the puncture or fix the problem. I have suggested a number of times that we could cash up on these bikes but I keep running into opposition. So you’re not the only one! Hopefully Adrian will see the light one day.

      • Ha! Moni, every time I have said I am going to sell it, my husband protests and says ‘ but I thought we could go out together on our bikes…sometime…’ : his bike is also in the attic and I have never known him ride it in the decade we have been together, lol. Trouble is, his romantic vision always melts my heart and I agree not to sell it!

        • Hi doodle, then: just do it! Fix a Date, Ride your Bikes and See whether you enjoy it or not. Maybe you can sell both Bikes soon – or you finally put them to use. Wanting to spend Time with you is romantic but denial isn’t

          • Ah, if only Idealistin, but such tactics as deadlines and firm commitments (other than marriage, lol) do not work with my dear husband and in fact , have the opposite affect. I have no power to get him to sell his bike only continued gentle encouragement and leading by example help him off load any of his hoard.
            I’m working on my on fitness at the mo, so may feel more inclined to cycle myself by New year, if not, I’ll stick to revisiting the idea of selling mine in the New Year when everyone else will be making resolutions. I go through phases of having the urge to sell stuff and the rest of the time it is too much effort – I have just offloaded 3 large item and need to wait for the next urge to come round, lol.
            It doesn’t help that we have no where to keep these bikes indoors or out.

          • Good advice Ideealistin.

      • Maybe one of my readers near by has such a bike that they would like to lend me.

  6. As a reformed comfort shopper – I’m sending out a Hell Yeah to this post. Like you Colleen, occasionally a well considered and delayed purchase doesn’t hit the jackpot once it is home, but the majority do these days and that’s better than fairly high failure rate that I used to have if the amount of items I have decluttered is to go by. I have read about the scientific/psychological explanation for comfort shopping and its all about the instant buzz and not actually about the item, which is why the cycle repeats and repeats and repeats. These days if I’m considering a purchase, without meaning to I find myself asking where would I declutter this to, if it doesn’t work out and that in itself slows me down, all the mucking around with auctions or freecycle or adding it to the donate box and dropping off and so on and so on.

  7. Hi Colleen! As you have seen in my bedroom, I have made big purchases that have made a dent in my finances, but I have not regretted them, because they made a big difference in my decluttering (yay for me! my husband would have loved to rub the wrongness of those purchases in my lovely face 😀 😀 😀 …). Back to the subject: I am experiencing a change in my home style and I am not sure I am going to like all of the changes I am making (I am not sure I am going to like the new wood headboard…) I did choose it carefully, but I am afraid it won’t “match” my vision…It was not an impulsive change I am thinking carefully about all that I am buying and replacing (and not replacing…as it was with the wardrobe). Let´s all hope for the best. I will share the complete change here.

    • Hi Andréia, I hope that you will be satisfied with your new hardboard. The bed seems to need one in order to balance our the space so I am sure it will be fine. My friends find me painful to shop with because I am so fussy, but I rarely end up with a purchase I am not completely satisfied with these days. The only thing that I am disappointed in is when I end up having to pay full price because the best item for me is not on sale. I refuse to settle for an item just because of price because the better one will satisfy me longer so, per use, will be cheaper in the long run.

  8. It’s like a light got turned on! My purchases, especially the ones to amuse me or my kids, are too easy to make. It seems I am easily amused by cheap silly things. I have come far in resisting the temptation (just yesterday I picked up an adorable animal flash drive and then put it back before leaving the store). 2 things help me resist: Carrying it around in the shopping basket for 15 minutes to enjoy “owning it” for a little while. And taking a picture of it if I happen to have a camera on me. I share my amusing discovery with anyone else the “gets it” and then feel I have experienced the joy of it. It gets it out of my system without bringing it into my home to deal with later.

    Things not living up to expectations really hurts. Buying a new (expensive) item only to find out the quality or function is terrible breaks my heart and I really REALLY wish I knew the answer to it. In the past I have returned an item complaining about it, and asking for a BETTER option, but the store owners more often than not just shrug and say “no matter what you buy, all of these things are made nearly the same. You are just picking the style and features you like”. DU-OH!

    • DU-OH alright. That sounds more like sales people who don’t know the quality of the products they sell. There is usually a level of quality to everything available. Sadly that is still not a guarantee that you won’t end up with a lemon. I have found that the longer I wait to purchase something, coupled with the plethora of questions I ask of sales people, friends and family the more I learn about not only what is available out there but also what I need or don’t need from the product. It pains my friends to shop with me but that is beside the point. 😉

  9. This is always the big thing for me. I get irritated just thinking about having to make BIG purchases. LIke you Colleen, I can handle the $20 mistake once in a while but I really shy away from the big things. I do lots of research before making a big buy. Even with all of that we ended up with a washer we intensely dislike. Sure can’t afford to replace it.