Boil It Down

Sometimes in our homes we have items that on first inspection seem to be either beautiful, useful or truly sentimental to us or a combination of those values. These items have either gone under the radar or passed the clutter inspection and survived previous culls.

However as we continue on our declutter journey we tend to become more ruthless causing us to be more selective about what really is useful, beautiful or of sentimental value to us. Having experienced how good simplicity feels, our desire to continue on that path can easily eclipse old feelings of sentimentality or opinions of beauty or usefulness. This creates thought patterns that allow us to part with things that once upon a time we would possibly not have considered letting go. We question these items each time we encounter them, testing through a process of enquiry as to whether they will stay or go.

This strategy works the same whether you are not far along on your decluttering journey or almost at the end of it. It simply boils down to whether something really warrants a space in your home. And some items don’t pass this close scrutiny. Here are some examples of the scrutinising process below.

  1. I have a throw rug that my mother gave me. It has survived the cut so far because it is pretty and it performes the, not so important, task of tying the colour scheme of my living area together, and because it was made for me. What it hasn’t done is perform the task it was made for, that is keeping me warm on cold evenings. You see it makes me itch and sneeze so I can’t use it. My son did use it when he lived he but he has since left home. It got in the way when anyone wanted to sit in the chair that it was draped over. It often slipped off onto the floor. And I have plenty of other throw rugs. In the end all I am really keeping it for is because my mother made it for me and that isn’t enough of a reason. Result:~ I have offered the rug to my children. One had more than enough rugs already and the other had the same itch problem with it that I did so I have decided to donate it to the thrift shop.
  2. I had a flour sifter that used to belong to my grandmother. It did the task that it was made for and it had sentimental value for me. But the reality was that I hardly ever baked anymore and, for the occasions when I did, I could use one of the other two more versatile sieves that I had in my kitchen. I also didn’t need this item to remind me of my grandmother, I think of her often anyway. I decluttered the sieve and haven’t missed it.
  3. I have a big cooking pot. It is actually a pasta pot which included a slotted insert and also a colander. For years I have kept this set together simply because it came as a set and because it took up no more room whether I declutter parts of it or not. I can’t remember if I ever used it to cook pasta so the slotted insert was almost never if ever used. Also the colander was badly designed with a handle that if held while straining anything hot would result in some painful scalding of ones hand. Sanity prevailed some time ago when I finally broke up the set and donated the parts, I didn’t use, to the thrift shop. Perhaps I should have asked myself these questions sooner ~ Do I use all the parts? Are they even well designed? Would I miss any of the useless-to-me items if I broke up the set? and Is it likely that I am suddenly going to change my cooking habits and wish I had kept these items? The answers were no no no and doubtful, once I finally did ask them of myself. Now when we use it we don’t have to remove all those useless-to-us parts that once nested inside of it.
  4. I have a camphor wood chest that I have owned since I was 15 years old. It holds our spare blankets and duvets and some sentimental items from when my children were small (that also come under scrutiny periodically). It is hand carved and the rich warm wood colour suits our décor and I like it. Here are the questions I ask myself about this chest. ~ Is it useful to me? Yes. Could I do without it? Yes, there is plenty of room in the closets to store the items in it. Will it fit in a smaller dwelling should we finally make that move? Possibly not. Am I going to declutter it? Not now, I like it, I feel good about it and it is serving a purpose for now.

Use these examples to help you ask question of your stuff. Don’t be afraid to put your items under scrutiny, be honest with yourself over this and make the right decision for you in the moment. There will always be an opportunity to revisit your decisions again later if you feel you want to continue simplifying.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter some wall art. I have a set of eight canvases with photos attached from trips we have made to Europe. We have more than enough wall art so I offered these to my daughter last week and she said she would take them. She is coming to dinner tonight so now is as good a time as any to take them down off the wall and give them to her.

Eco Tip for the Day

Why not engage your eco friendly habits in your work place. Scout around to find ways to save water and electricity while at work. Suggest changes to you boss and coworkers. Don’t be deterred if your ideas are met with rejection just do what you can do and hopefully others might follow suit in their own time.

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

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  • Clutter Maintenance Every time I have moved house I have had a reasonable length of notice. Although, sometimes the definite ~ "Yes we are moving." ~ may have come a little last minute but the maybe had been […]
  • In the moment Today's post has been brought out of the archives as a timely reminder to stay in the moment. We all spend far too much time "multi tasking" and thinking about what has to be done next, […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Colleen, I love the idea of boiling it down. I try this type of questioning with my Mom now that she is more open to decluttering. It works every time. It really is a good way to decide about things. I have 12 state maps cut out that we have talked about putting on the wall. Your boiling it down examples and the mission for today helped me see that we just don’t need these on the wall. Or anywhere else for that matter. The 12 states are the ones we have lived plus my Dad and Mom’s birth states. I can’t even remember why we thought it was a good idea to begin with.

    • Hi Deb J, boiling things down together is effective too because there are two perspectives. Sometimes, as I am sure you know, the results from such conversations isn’t immediate. However once the reluctant party mulls the logic over in their heads they often come to the conclusion to let things go.

      If those state maps are big enough they would make great wrapping paper.

      • Colleen, you are right.

        The maps are not big enough. I’m going to just put them in the recycle paper basket.

  2. Thanks Colleen, for sharing your thought process as you declutter. I enjoy reading how different things come under consideration and how you work your way through it. This weekend I didn’t declutter anything, but we did get some things put back in their proper homes – tools that were in the house that needed to be put in the shed. Somehow my household tools end up either out in the shed or disappearing all together, so I bought pink duct tape and if a tool is mine and belongs in the house, it’s got a pink band on it. 😉

  3. Colleen, this past weekend, I came across several catalogs full of expensive classical guitars. I’ve seen the stack several times before, but I always kept them for when I was rich, as a symbol what I would someday deserve. My guitars are fine. I just need to keep practicing and writing music.

    • Good decision CJ. I am sure you can access all the information you need about expensive guitars on line should the day come that you are rich. Considering the direction in which you are going I dare say that you won’t care that much about expensive guitars should you ever reach that goal. Keep up the practice as I am sure the the rewards are in the beauty of your music.

    • Hi CJ – when my two daughters took up guitar several years ago – they just got entry level half or 3/4 size guitars – well, my husband decided this looked fun and announced he was in the market for a guitar too. We have a thing here called and every day at midday 3 ‘bargains’ are advertised on their site and around this time a shipment of full size guitars came up for $68 each. I decided to grab him one in case he got swept away at the music shop. It is great. Two of his friends are semi-professional guitarists and have really expensive guitars but they comment every time that they can’t believe that Adrian’s guitar was only $68, they would have assumed late hundreds, early thousand at the most. Adrian thought they might just being nice and decided last xmas that the time had come to look for a ‘real’ guitar now that he was more competent. Yes there were some beautiful and expensive guitars in the shop, but he realised he would have to spend at least $1600 to get one he liked more, and so bought himself some better quality strings for his $68 guitar instead. I know bargains don’t usually go this well, when I bought it I was kind of expecting something crappy but if it got him started and we replaced it you couldn’t go too wrong with $68, right? Well, he’s had 5-6 years with it now and no longer has any plans to update it. He keeps the stand by his spot on the couch and its used regularly.

      • CJ – I realise that you are a professional and would need something much better, but I love telling this story.

        • No wonder you love telling that story, Moni! It’s a marvy story. $68 for that kind of quality is spectacular and it has lasted so long, needing only a string change. Usually, a tuning peg or a fret or some other mechanical thing will go wrong.

          A $300 Yamaha got me through 6 years of college in a classical guitar program. Of course, I had an instructor who had no qualms about telling me how much it sucked every opportunity he had. But he was also nice enough in the end to let me borrow his dreamy and steamy Ramirez for my senior and graduate recitals.

          • CJ – my half-step-brother (confusing I know: my half-sister’s half brother – him and I share no parent but we have the same half sister – we take blended families to a whole new level) has one of those guitars and its a beaut. Fortunately my husband has never seen this guitar in person so he remains content with his guitar.

  4. Oh wow that’s the sieve on your “five things colleen will never declutter” list isn’t it? You should link to that for laughs!

    Seems I’ll be moving again soon which always flexes my decluttering muscle 🙂

    • Good idea SarahN, I will find it and do that now.
      Wow Sarah, you are moving. Does that mean you are going to sell your place or are you going to keep it as an investment?

      • Colleen – hi, yes I had some sort of memory of grandma’s sieve but couldn’t tell for sure. Just the other day I was talking about how items that we said we’d never part with……eventually do find themselves on the chopping block.

  5. Boiling it down , simmer, reduce some more, great cooking terms so apt for decluttering.
    Having purchased an inexpensive microwave pasta cooker, I could remove my large boiler, but it is great to make soup in, which is happening less around my place….mmm.
    I just placed my purple Crocs in the recycle bin. They get used occasionally but are more a nuisance at the back door .
    I was only away for a week and the potato peeler I had has been binned because Hubby likes the old fashioned variety . The cups and glasses have been rearranged in the cupboard. The yard has been cleaned up and trees pruned. I am excited to see the results when I return after two months away :).

  6. As I am progressing on this decluttering mission, things are easier to let go of as time goes on. I do ask those pertinent questions concerning items that are difficult to let go of and that makes it even easier to get it out of the house.

    • Good for you Jen. I am finding that I have to ask questions of most of the things I am decluttering these days because since most of what is left has escaped the cut for three years, it is all stuff I thought worth keeping all this time.

  7. Colleen, this is my favorite line: I also didn’t need this item to remind me of my grandmother, I think of her often anyway.

    Now, I have been decluttering and not having too hard of a go of it except for a few last items. This statement makes me realize that if I want to think about someone, I will think of them. I barely look at most of the “things” around my home anyways! The space created when I remove “things” feels so much better!

  8. It is really funny how something of which we think that will never decluttering is already or will be decluttered soon. At first, I thought that I would never decluttering my pill box collection, but now it is boxed up and ready to go!

    Only a few more days until Friday when I drop everything off at goodwill. 🙂

  9. I decluttered a stack of about 20 books again. These are all ones that survived several culls before.
    Isn’t it funny how you move on?
    I’m kind of envious of all of you moving, I’d like to go through the process of packing and unpacking my stuff as well. Well, maybe I can do that without actually moving as well.

    • Sanna – I’m like you, a bit envious of Colleen’s upcoming move, but yeah, what’s stopping us packing and unpacking even one room?

      • I read about that method rather early I think, but I never had room to actually empty one room completely. I think, I’d have enough room now, so I might just do it. 😀

  10. How funny. Only today I was reflecting on what I had learned from the firt month of decluttering and the first thing was that despite the vast amount of stuff that has gone, it isn’t enough. I look at everything in the house and think Do I really need you? And most of the time the answer is No.

    • I think of that, too. I look at how much I have gotten rid of and yet there’s still too much stuff.

      I’m in the process of helping my mom get rid of many of her things. Her health is not good, and she’s fretting about how my sister and I will sell her townhouse after she is gone. I’ve been telling her about my own decluttering efforts. She says she wishes that she and my dad had done that (my dad was more of a packrat but everything was orderly and labeled) because they could have moved into a smaller, single-floor condo or even a ranch house. She has a hard time going up and down stairs now, so her day-to-day living would be easier with a single level. Every week, I try to bring a trunkload of things home that I can donate on her behalf, and we just cleaned out much of the basement. So much is left, though.

      In essence, I’m tackling two places at a time, although I’m getting some help with her home.

      • Hi Donna B, you sure are in the deep end right now but I guest the best thing you will take out of all of this is that it truly is important to keep a rein on your stuff. Hopefully the situation with your mother will be inspiration to get and keep your own stuff under control. Hang in there, you will be through the worst of it before you know it and it will be plain sailing from there.

      • Donna B – wow, what a big task you have. I hope you can get her house cleared and her moved into something more comfortable soon.

    • Hi Gillie, have patience my friend, you will get there in good time. Just be the cup half full kinda gal and keep on keeping on.

  11. It is funny how our minds change after some time passes. I thought I had culled all of the cookbooks I could then when packing them up two weeks ago I found two more that I honestly don’t use, so off to Goodwill they went. This morning I decided to declutter a skirt from my closet. I have tried to wear it three times over the past two weeks and never ended up leaving the house with it on because I just didn’t like how it looked. I think 3 failed attempts means that I will never wear that skirt anymore. There was a time I liked it. That time has passed. The skirt has been set in the Goodwill pile in our extra room.

    • Hi Melissa, it seems you have learned the art of boiling it down. Ask question of your stuff and if it doesn’t pass the test, off it goes.

      I now only have my home made cookbook with all the old family recipes in and the ones I have accumulated and use often. And as for clothes, I do the same as you have just done with that skirt. I decluttered one just recently, I loved the fabric and the cut but it was so hard to find a top to go with it. After seven, mayby plus, years I finally gave up and sent it to the thrift shop.

  12. As I have time I have been going through my Kindle books in the cloud and deleting those I have read and didn’t want to keep. I’ve pared it down from a little over 1000 to a little over 400 so far. I can’t believe I let it get so out of hand.

    For those of you who have been talking about packing and unpacking without moving let me tell you that doing an inventory will do the same thing and you don’t have to have boxes and packing paper. This inventory thing is really an eye opener. We are starting to pare things down even more after writing down pages and pages of things. I am going to have Mom help me do the kitchen. Grin. Just thinking about it has her listing things we no longer need. Love it.

    • Good luck with the kitchen! I agree that an inventory could acheive the same thing as packing things up. We will be moving some day (as soon as we find a house we want to buy), so packing seems prudent albeit a little early. So far we haven’t found the right house, but we’ve only been at it about 2.5 weeks. Beginning to pack makes me feel like we’re making progress towards the move even though we don’t have a new place yet.

      Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to have digit clutter get away from you? I struggle to keep my email inbox reasonably decluttered.

      • Good luck with finding a place you like to move to. I’m rather picky so it is hard to find a place I like. I want lots of light and that right there can be a problem.

        I do fine with my Email Inbox but the rest I have to make myself keep on top of. Sometimes I don’t and then I have to do what I am doing with my Kindle.

        • Thanks Deb! With the short supply of houses out there we’re going to need all the luck we can get!

    • I think, the inventory isn’t really for me. I want to properly clean stuff, too! 😉

    • Good for you Deb J. I am finding my inventory to be a bit of an eye opener too. I had hoped I could lower my house contents insurance once it was done but I am finding that over time I have replaced quantity with quality so although the number is reduced the value isn’t so much. However this morning, as we are working off an old inventory, I realised that the downstairs bathroom that is empty had a hole lot of stuff listed from the last house which had the linen closets in the bathrooms. That sheared $2000 off the total quick fast.

      • Don’t you just love being able to shave that amount off the inventory?! Once I get this inventory done I am going to talk with my insurance agent about our policy. I have no idea whether it will go up or down because I just made a guestiment of what we had. I’m thinking/hoping it will go down. I need to do the same thing with our car. It’s 10 years old now and it’s time to redo that policy as well. Ah, more money to use for better things.

  13. I have just returned home after a week in a 2 bedroom holiday unit with my family. It struck me that not only were we able to cook, relax, have fun with far fewer things; it was very liberating. It was easier to keep the unit tidy. And I felt lighter.

    You are right, Colleen. So many of our things we just accept as “there”. We don’t really see them. And when we boil it down, as I did on holidays, we not only need less, it is better with less.

    I came home and walked through the house and quickly got together 9 items to go. And more will go!

    • Hi Lucinda, I love this comment. Vacations are often an eye opener when you are in the throws of decluttering. Dive in a do some quick bulk decluttering while the memories are clear in your mind.

  14. It makes it so easy to connect with your idea with so many real-life examples. Thank you for sharing these Colleen.

    We are still cycling through all of our stuff again, questioning it all once more, and I am happy to see what is leaving our doors.

    Thanks for the constant inspiration.