Can’t see the trees for the forest.

Have you ever heard the expression ~ Can’t see the forest for the trees. Here is an explanation of this expression according to

Definition: overly concerned with detail; not understanding the whole situation

Explanation: Used when expressing that a person is focusing too much on specific problems and is missing the point.

When it comes to clutter though this expression manifests in reverse. That is, people can’t see the trees for the forest. Or explained simply in clutter terms ~ Can’t distinguish the individual items of clutter from the sheer bulk of their possessions. Or more to the point they are paralysed by the magnitude of the task of decluttering and can’t see that all they have to do is pick out one item here and one item there until they can begin to see the progress they are making.

This paralysis if mostly caused by one, more or all of the following restraints…

Emotional Attachment ~ When things have been acquired over a lifetime, either personally or given by a loved one, emotional attachments are often forged. Once all these items have amassed it is easy to think we are attached equally to it all of them and not realise that among the bulk (the forest) there are things (individual trees) that are of less importance to us than others. We therefore can’t bring ourselves to “rape” the forest when in fact all we are doing to thinning out the excess trees to allow the light to illuminate the remaining ones so they can thrive and the forest is better and healthier for it. Or in terms of possessions ~ remove the less loved stuff to allow you to see and enjoy the items you really love and have a tidier, cleaner, happier and therefore healthier environment to live in.

Worth ~ We often squander our money accumulating items that we ultimately don’t get the true value out of. As a result we tend to find them difficult to declutter without feeling we need to redeem some of that wasted cash. This is all very well and good if you get on and do something about it. But more often than not this is a real stumbling blocks for people when it comes to decluttering. They look at the sheer bulk of the task of selling these items and it adds a “too hard” factor to the equation and avoidance is the result. We also kid ourselves that all the items  in our possession are of value because we might need them someday or they might increase in value given more time.

The question to ask yourself is what is the value of your peace of mind. How much are you willing to pay for the serenity of having the task behind you and just being rid of the stuff. Wouldn’t it be better to donate it all or sell it off cheaply and quickly and get on with your life.

If you are willing to make the effort once again ignore the forest (bulk of the stuff) and start weeding out the scrawny trees (the items of less value). Donate them to charity and sell the rest. Or If you are able why not have a yard/garage sale where you can sell off the lesser stuff cheaply and only accept good offers for the better stuff. Should the better stuff not sell find another avenue for selling where you will redeem a better price. Auctions, ebay, CraigsList, advertise in the newspaper etc. This is a compromise that will earn you some extra cash but actually make progress on reducing the clutter.

Laziness ~ So often I hear the excuse of ~ “I really need to declutter but I am just too busy.” ~ only to later discover that the person proclaiming this is an avid reader, movie or television watcher, crafter or the like that spends hours consumed by their pastime and not so much their duties. This is all very well and good, everybody needs something to unwind by or enjoy doing but leisure time is just that leisure time should not be an all consuming monopoliser of your time or an avoidance tactic.

Once again the thought of all that decluttering (the forest) is unappealing so we retreat into our other pastimes whether deliberately or unconsciously. We delude ourselves that we are spending our time productively when really we are just avoiding the task and fooling ourselves that we are being productive.  Just ten minutes a day to put aside one item (the trees) is all it takes to get the job under way. That isn’t a lot of time to subtract from the other activities you enjoy doing. Use those activities as a reward once the task is done rather than a retreat.

So the moral of this story is to not focus on the entirety of the task at hand. Just find that one thing a day starting with the easy things first and before you know it you will able to appreciate the joys of living with less.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a lazy clutter item ~ Something you have no real attachment to, you just haven’t got around to getting rid of it.

Today’s Declutter Item

Here is one of the things in my home whose removal was delayed due to wanting to redeem some of the money wasted on it. The time span between deciding to declutter it and actually selling it on ebay really didn’t bother me. I am simply satisfied that I did redeem some of my lost cash. The difference between this situation and the one I described above is that once I decided it was to go I put it aside to sell. The decision was made and the process begun and during the time between owning and selling it I am still busy decluttering other things.

Sizzix Cutting Die Organiser

Eco tip for the day

Hang your clothes to dry when possible rather than wasting power using a tumble dryer. A clothes line isn’t required, I mostly hang my wet washing on an airer either inside or out depending on the weather.

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. I did my lazy clutter! I finally got rid of a pair of shoes I’ve been clinging to. Haven’t worn them in almost a year, and though they are comfortable, they are beat up beyond repair. Into the garbage can they went (Which totally surprised me, it’s been a week since garbage pickup, and those were the first things into the can).

    • Good for you on both fronts Amanda, getting rid of the shoes and having reduced your garbage. Well done.
      I have a pair of shoes I haven’t worn in at least 5 years. They are my only outdoor snow/walking boots. I think the reality is I am never likely to need them in this climate so I think I will follow your lead and but them in the recycling box today. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I bought a new holder for weekly meds and just needed to move the pill containers into the new holder. Finally did that and threw away the old holder. It was getting worn and looked bad and the sleeve holding the containers was torn. In the old days, I would have kept this because I could use it for…(travel, work, in case of). Now, new one in – old one out.

    • Well done Maggie.
      My mother-in-law sent me a text message yesterday to inform me that she threw out my father-in-laws old shaving brush (he got a new one for his birthday on Tuesday) and by Thursday still haven’t used the new one because the old one was still in the drawer. Out with the old in with the new for him too. I hope he likes the new one. 😉

      • Haha, I did that with bf’s toothbrush the other day. He wears them down SO fast, and then keeps using them. He’s got spares, but won’t grab one until I make him.

        • I wonder why he wears them down so fast. It has come to my attention recently through two sources that one shouldn’t use too much pressure when brushing teeth. I believe it is bad for the enamel but wonder why no dentist has ever mentioned it during my other 47 years of appointments. Maybe your bf is doing this. Perhaps you should mention it to him.

          • My mom was the same way, and her doctor recommended switching to extra soft bristles. I had him do the same thing, since switching a purchase is easier than switching a habit (and there are other habits I wish he’d work on 😛 )

  3. Also, the decluttering of the email has begun. I got rid of 2500 emails today (but probably still have a bunch to go). Digital clutter is so omnipresent that my generation (and others) don’t even notice it anymore. I had no idea I had 12,500 emails saved in my gmail, it never bothered me. But today it did, and I took care of it. Phew. I still have way too many, but I got the easy ones done today.

    • This is interesting Amanda. I have always been reasonably diligent about decluttering emails. Once read and acted upon I delete. Mind you, after having been away from the computer for three weeks there were 500+ emails to delete when I came home. It was one of the first things I did.

      • It’s the junk in emails that becomes the forest hiding the trees. Just like physical clutter. Take a week away from email and then you pick out the important emails in the rush of returning, without taking the time to remove the clutter or organise it. You have to be strict with yourself, particularly with subscriptions – just like magazines. If you don’t have time to read it in a couple of days you probably won’t go back to it.
        And like physical clutter – it feels great when you clean stuff out and organise what you keep 🙂

        • Most of my emails are just notification of comments from my readers. I don’t read them in the emails so I have set them up to group together and then delete them all at once. Easy. Then I only have about five other blogs I subscribe to regularly, I deleted most of these without even looking at them because I don’t have the time to play catch up. If I don’t look I won’t know what I am missing out on and I am content with that. Easy. That left me with a few miscellaneous emails and about a dozen emails from blog contacts that I will deal with in good time.
          As you can see Gail decluttering is a simple for me whether it be physical clutter or digital. Now what I need to do is figure how to stop those email notifications of comments so my inbox is permanently less cluttered. I’ll get on to that right now. Or to be honest I will get my hubby on to that.

    • Hi Amanda – I can remember “discovering” digital clutter here on 365, at the time I was gobsmacked as I was dealing with reality clutter and just couldn’t fathom worrying about something that was contained within my hard-drive. Eventually I got there and yes I had thousands to get rid of.
      Here’s what I do these days. I don’t download e-mails onto my computer. I log on via remote e-mail and read them in cyber space. A good 2/3 can be deleted on the day and of the majority of the left over most are no longer needed after a week. There are a few that I haven’t deleted after a month as they relate to events or something that hasn’t passed yet but every couple of weeks I go back and have a looksee and cull a few more.

      • My problem is mostly with the past ones. I’ve slowly saved fewer and fewer (I do like having a lot of them around, so I think my goal is 5000) However, it’s hard to find all the ones I no longer want, so I’m slowly going through them and reorganizing them.

      • thats exactly how I do it too. two thirds of the emails are junk that get deleted sometimes even unread. the rest usually gets sorted into the folders (uni, friends, important stuff from different websites like username and password, etc.). What stays in my inbox gets a regular cull once a month usually. I do keep all of my conversations with friends who live abroad. Once a year I save a copy of those on my harddrive.

  4. I came here after writing my post for the day and thought that maybe we had the same idea after reading the title of your post. It is a little different, but can still apply. I was thinking about how it is hard to find what you are looking for because you are lost in the forest of clutter. So many times important or valuable things are lost in piles of paper or mounds of clutter. Life is so much easier when you keep your things to a minimum and it gives you more freedom of time to do what you really want. You can’t take it with you when you die.

    • No, I think that is a whole other kettle of worms you have opened up there Spendwisemom and I think of this often as my relatives age. Who knowns what is valuable and what isn’t among other peoples stuff. Quite frankly though I think I will be working on the principal of I don’t care should the inevitable happen. My sanity is worth more than that. I would rather miss out on a few thousand dollars than to have to sort through all that stuff. One of the other relatives are welcome to it if they want it.

  5. Ugh! I have two collectable dolls that I could easily just give away but Mom’s wants money for them. I have posted them on Craig’s List to no avail. There are too many of them already listed on eBay. I guess I will have to wait awhile and list them again closer to Christmas.

    Mom and I were laughing today about how she hates the clutter in her bathroom and she doesn’t want to add anything else. She has double sinks and little counter space. What space she does have has to handle the 3 things that need to be plugged in. It’s driving her nuts. I just love how she’s beginning to get bugged by clutter.

    • Try looking up Doll Clubs in your area or even further afield. Send them and email listing what you have for sale. There are often older women in these clubs that aren’t computer savvy who aren’t shopping on ebay. My mother-in-law is in a doll club and there are always people there wanting to buy collectables.

      Your mom never ceases to amaze me Deb.

      • Thanks for the ideas. I hadn’t thought of Doll Clubs. I will try that.

        Yep, Mom is always doing something that amazes me.

        • Hi Deb J – at least your mum is thinking in terms of stuff leaving the house – I remember when we first cyber-met she was quite adamant that nothing was leaving, so she’s doing really well.

          • Moni, yes Mom is really coming along well. It’s wonderful. I’m excited to see how much she is changing–in lots of ways.

  6. How I missed reading you! I love your analogy with the trees and the forest. What really got me going is resumed in these lines you wrote: “The question to ask yourself is what is the value of your peace of mind. How much are you willing to pay for the serenity of having the task behind you and just being rid of the stuff.” I don’t even try to sell most of my items anymore. I would pay hundreds to have a beautiful decluttered home! So out it goes, for free. 🙂

    • Thanks NatalieInCA, I have missed participating but I did have a good break.
      Peace of mind is certainly worth more the any amount of money than a pile of unused items lying around the home. I know one particular lady who is tormented by her stuff, especially the fact that she can’t park her car in the garage because it is full of stuff. Her problem is she was once a secondhand dealer who still can’t resist a bargain. She continues to buy stuff she doesn’t need and then it is all too much bother to have a garage sale. While she is complaining about her plight she is planning her next visit to the thrift stores. It is insanity if you ask me.

    • I love that line Natalie – “I would pay hundreds to have a beautiful decluttered home! So out it goes, for free.” I’ll be using that one for sure!

      • Yes, great train of thought to think about. We flee to faraway places or weekend destinations to find relaxation. What if we would find that relaxation at home?! I wouldn’t want to forgo trips – but maybe clearing your head (because it is as cluttered as the house) shouldn’t be the underlying motivation.

        I’ll have to definitely explore that thought further, as I have dragged out all the boxes I have filled with stuff to sell from the attic and placed them in my bedroom to finally get going. It’s an embarrassingly huge amount of stuff, a wall of boxes – and selling on ebay is painfully slow. At least I started on it (with mediocre success, but well, one medium sized box is gone so far). As I continue to list single items, it dawns on me that I need to reach (yet) another level of disattachment. I sense that it lurks somewhere not too far away from where I am now – but I still have to get there.

        • Hi Ideealistin I wish you luck and Godspeed with your clutter selling. But just remember to consider the peace of mind aspect and perhaps let some of it go the easy way so you don’t have to deal with it.

          • I know, letting go the fast way is necessary, too. I won’t be able to sell everything. And I don’t intend schlepping back more onto the attic than a reasonable amount for the next flea market (one per year is doable and sort of fun, but that’s about it so no need to save 10 boxes of sellable stuff). But decluttering is like peeling an onion. You go layer by layer. And all of this is the stuff that I couldn’t let go earlier because it felt like the good stuff. Maybe some of it (or hopefully a lot of it) will either be sold or will stop feeling like “the good stuff” soon. I am annoyed that it takes me so darn long but I guess everybody has his or her own, very personal amount of layers to work through and working through them is the only way to the core. I’m sure I am only am half the onion I used to be before I seriously started decluttering (and I don’t want to know where I would stand today if I had accumulated instead of decluttered the past 2 years). It’s just, that I still have such a bunch in front of me …

  7. I keep forgetting to say this. Glad you are back safe and sound. Have missed you.

  8. Just want to comment to let you know I enjoy your posts! Although I don’t comment very often, I do read your blog and it is a constant inspiration for me to keep decluttering. Thanks for being here!

  9. Colleen, Glad you are back. Just wanted to respond to the post about continuing to buy while trying to declutter. Someone said and I am paraphrasing – Continuing to do the same thing while not changing your behaviour and expecting a different result is INSANITY! I have a friend who is always going to yard sales and then saying she needs to declutter and praises me for actually doing something with my clutter. I tell her not to buy and start moving some of the things she already has and she will see a difference. She just can’t see “the forest for the trees”. I know she would be so happy to just get rid of a few things and have told her about 365 Less for some inspiration. So far, no action. This is definitely something you have to be ready for and guess she is not ready yet.

  10. I have to say, it’s sort of reassuring reading this blog for such a long time already and still seeing the same people commenting and still struggling with decluttering. I have come a far way, but I still wouldn’t call myself “decluttered” – I’m well aware of drawers and shelves that need to be tackled.

    I have been visiting my childhood’s house and got going there in my old room (which is sort of a guest room, but hardly ever used except by me, so there is noone but me sorting through closets or dressers in that room). I got rid of a lot. I only stopped, as I didn’t want to fill the trash can and recycling too soon (it’s not me who pays for it anyway), but I was able to make that room much more inviting and easier to clean (put most decorative items in drawers) and also got rid of a bunch of letters and “sentimental” stuff from my teen years. Next time, I’ll throw out some more. I also brought quite some things to my current home and will evaluate in the next days whether they are really worth keeping or whether they could replace some of my other stuff.

    I find there is still so much stuff around both in my home and in relative’s houses that I am responsible for in some way, it probably will take years until I’m really down to the essentials, especially as goal posts move on the way. But somehow it’s not decouraging. Seeing how far I’ve come makes me looking forward to the further journey.

    • hey Sanna,
      seems like we are having the same agenda… the last weekend I visited my mums place, I got rid of all school binders that me and my brother left at home for some mysterious reason. And I finally got my brothers consent to declutter CDs. I guess its been more than 100 that I got rid of (trash/for free box/amazon). Its been more than one year for me decluttering CDs. my guess is that I have gotten rid of more than 600 in the process. I am a bit proud.

      I have been buying a lot of books lately for my exams (2 month to go and I am done finally), so my bookcase is getting a bit crammed. But I am making progress in selling the ones I dont need anymore. I think I finally got to the point where I can treat books the same way as other possessions. good change.

      • Wow! Lots of CD out the door. Good for you. Glad you are getting to the point where you can start detting rid of books too. That can be a real hard thing to do. Keep up the good work.

  11. Glad you’re back Colleen. What a wonderful length of time to be away 🙂

    Not really relevant to this post (but it may help people see how much decluttered stuff is not missed) I can honestly say in my years of decluttering 1,000’s of items that i’ve only re-bought ONE thing: I just bought my son the Emily Rodda “Rowan of Rin” series in 1 hardback edition, having decluttered the 5 paperbacks a couple of years ago (he wasn’t ready to read them then). But then, you know how I feel about books 🙂