Clinging to the past

Do you have a lot of stuff lingering in your home that serves no purpose but to have you clinging to the past. Not that there is anything wrong with holding on to things, so long as they are useful or beautiful in your eyes. But dwelling too much in the past can hamper the possibilities of the present and the future. And there are endless possibilities.

I am not saying to try to forget your past and I am most certainly not saying to let go of your memories of people, places and situations you once loved, lived and enjoyed. But if you have a home full of stuff that is now of no use then it doesn’t leave much space to comfortably allow those new possibilities into your life. And besides the memories are in your mind not in the stuff, the stuff is merely a prompt. And it is my experience that we run into these kinds of prompts on a regular basis in our everyday lives.

Mind you I am also not saying to get rid of the clutter from the past just to fill your home up with a whole lot of new clutter. Sometimes being spoiled for choice is just that, having so much to choose from you don’t know where to turn. You could just end up with a whole pile of unfulfilled aspiration. There is always a fine line between inspiration and aspiration.

Anyway I am getting ahead of myself here. So lets go back to all that stuff in your life that you no longer need, want, use or love. Things like…

  • Gifts that you no longer care to keep but do out of obligation. The point of a gift is in the giving and although most people try to give you something that they believe you will like, that goal is not always achieved. And, even if it is, eventually the novelty can wear off and you no longer want the item. You should not feel obliged to keep anything you never or no longer like or want. If the giver has a problem with that they that is their own personal issue.
  • Sporting, equipment, hobby and craft supplies that you no longer use but fear getting rid of in case you have a desire to return to that particular pastime. The fear and thoughts of waste could be blocking you from taking up a new and more enjoyable pastime for the current you. If you do start something new, cater to it in moderation so if you once again move on then not much will go to waste.
  • Clothes that fitted a body size that you may never return to, whether you desire to or not. That is larger or smaller clothes kept out of fear or aspiration. Fear that you will regain weight or aspiration that you will lose it. Both types can cause feelings of negativity.
  • Fashion related accessories ~ jewellery, shoes, handbags, hats… ~ that no longer suit the person you are at this given time. Keeping such items in the hope that they will come back into fashion is a fools game if your desire is to have an uncluttered home.
  • Papers from past studies, business etc. The chances are that you will never need them and most of what is in them are out of date materials now anyway. Of course when it comes to business, tax papers need to be kept for a certain length of time but shred them and make space to thrive as soon as they reach their expiry dates.
  • Personal papers are a tricky one. Only you can make the call on how important they are to you and how many you are prepared to keep. Digitising is an option if you aren’t that attached to the original form.
  • Even the value of certain keepsakes in your abundant collection will wain in importance as the years go by. And don’t be fooled by the buzz you get when you encounter them after long periods of time. Take them out of that dusty old box and put them on display for a while and see how long it takes for the novelty to wear off. Having volunteered in thrift shops for a long time I can attest to the fact that once you are gone, if the items have no meaning to the next generation, they will soon end up in the trash or donated. However if they items are particularly special I am sure they will be kept and passed on.
  • General just-in-case items. All of those miscellaneous items we don’t use anymore but keep just in case we might need them one day. The chances are we never really needed them in the first place. When you encounter such an item ask yourself ~ “If I found my in the situation where I “need” this item in the future could I improvise with another item I still own or easily borrow one from someone else?” The answer is usually yes.

My intention when decluttering was to do it for good. No getting rid of stuff just to make room for more clutter. As each potential declutterable item passed into sight I would ask myself ~ “How much do I really need or want this?”. The answer was often ~ “Not enough to keep it and waste space in my home.” Through this process I realised how much stuff passes through our lives that isn’t used or loved enough to have wasted our hard earned money on. I came to the conclusion that is was time to put not only the stuff but that way of living behind me. So good by stuff and hello not working so hard to afford it. And hello to a much more satisfying life full of far more worthwhile pursues and possibilities.

Is that the kind of life you would like? Well get rid of all the stuff holding you down, shake of the bad habits of the past and get on with your new clutter-free life.

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. I was cleaning out our basement the other day, throwing away a lot of stuff, when I came across my girl scout sash with all my badges. My family could not believe I wanted to throw it out. I tried to explain to them that I have lots of picture of my activities in girl scouts that are just as memorable and I don’t need the sash for anything. Additionally, I gave my daughter her box of school projects and told her to keep her favorite five. She took pictures of the rest and what she ended up keeping were some writing projects that told stories about her life as a child – very meaningful to her.

    • Hi Lisa, your story doesn’t surprise me. My husband thinks I am too ruthless with the memorabilia items too. I perfectly understand that you would rather have the space than an item that reminds you of something that you can remember without any visual or cluttery prompting. And well done to your daughter too for letting go of some of her stuff.

  2. Colleen thanks so much. Really needed this post at the moment. I have a large amount of sentimental clutter that I am slowly working through. As I am a huge softie, it has been difficult – however I really enjoy your wisdom and appreciate your website very much. regards Wendy

  3. Colleen – one of the best bits of advice I was given was “live in today’s life”.

    There is also a quote that I love “Old baggage never fits well into new spaces”

  4. Oooh boy, the gifts are the worst ones for me! No matter how awful, I not only keep them, but put them on display!! I feel like your advice is a pass to take another look at my approach 🙂 Thank you.

    • Hi Kori, I hope you have success at convincing yourself that gifts don’t have to be kept for ever and a day. They are given with the intention that you enjoy them. Once the novelty or usefulness wears of there is no enjoyment left so you shouldn’t feel obliged to keep them.

  5. This post touched on a problem I have had for many years——keeping too much sentimental stuff. I am worlds better now, seemingly losing my need for sentimental items to hang around as I get older. I have been thinking about the need to go through my trunk of sentimental things and pare down. Do I really need the teacup from the first set of dishes my maternal grandmother ever had? It is not beautiful or anything and I have never had it out to look at as decor. Maybe it’s time to get a few bucks for the nurse outfit I got for Christmas in the 4th grade. After all, I’m 63 now. 🙂
    The list could go on…….. I still have too many greeting cards saved even though I have gone through them more than once to eliminate massive numbers. I think I have thoughts that someday when I’m alone, I will sit down and revel in the memories. (it IS fun to do that, but I seem to have less and less time the older I get. Could it be that I’m getting slower and slower and it is taking longer to complete my chores????). Actually, there are LOTS of things I am wanting to get rid of right now. Thanks to Colleen and all the 365ers who keep us motivated!!!!! I think if my husband would go away for about two weeks I could get this job completed! Ha!

    • Brenda, regarding greeting cards, I read this idea somewhere (was it on here?)
      DH and I no longer do a traditional gift exchange with each other for birthdays and Christmas.
      The last time I went through greeting cards I mostly kept those that DH and I exchanged. What if I pulled all those out and, instead of buying a card for each other, we “shopped” from those cards to and from each other? I’m actually considering this…just not sure I’ll be happy with it. I do like my hubby going out just especially to buy me a card. On the other hand, I’ve given him the same card a couple of times. Each time it was a card that I had especially liked…and he never knew (tee here).

      • Deanna ar USA,

        I had a friend who did just what you stated——she started giving her husband cards she had saved and said he never knew the difference. My husband and I have stopped exchanging cards (never did do gifts really) and when I went through the ones I had saved (to eliminate them), I discovered we had both bought duplicates over the years!!! We live in a small town, and the card shopping is limited, I guess. Ha!!! However, I still have too many cards from old friends, many who have passed away. I need to go thru them again.
        Actually, I think it would be good just to get rid of the whole box and never look back!!!
        I’m not quite that brave yet, though, but I think it is coming!!!!

      • Hi Brenda, it sounds like you are making good progress. And always remember it is up to you to decide what is clutter and what isn’t. If those greeting cards are precious to you them you don’t need to declutter any more than you are happy to let go. We all have our own limits and I am sure they don’t take up so much space. Let go of other things first that are less meaningful to you then return to them later if you feel the need.

      • deanna… , you could also use the old cards but use a piece of paper to add a new sentiment each year. Something written from the heat heart. The words are more important than the cardboard.

        • Colleen, thank you for the sweet reply to me above. But, I especially love the reply to Deanna which has a great typo— or not! You said to write something from the HEAT!!!!! Yeah, Deanna!!! Hubby would LOVE something written from the heat!!!
          Ha-ha!!! Being a man, he would probably like that better than something from the heart!! If we all did that, we probably wouldn’t have time to be writing Colleen at 365!!!! Sorry, Colleen…….I just couldn’t let that pass by!!!! I love typos!

          • Ha ha Brenda, my husband and I have all the letters we ever wrote to each other. There is no way he would ever allow them to be declutter. And I must say, he wrote a lot of them from the hear. Made me flush to read them at the time. 😉

          • Ha! I caught that too Brenda. I’m also part of the grammar police force! I don’t look for bloopers…they just pop out at me.

        • Colleen…sounds like too much crafting…and I’m not a crafter. Sometimes crafty, yes…but…

  6. Oh, my! You are SUCH a blessing to me! I can’t even tell you the number of times I have opened my email to read your posts, and it has been exactly what I needed to hear, at that moment. This subject is the hardest for me. I am SO overly sentimental, and I feel such guilt for letting go of things that I am emotionally attached to. Seriously, I cannot even begin to say how hard it is for me. And when I do finally decide I can let something like this go, I don’t know what to do with it. We have several boxes in our garage that we keep taking things out to, as we declutter and decide to let things go. It somehow feels relieving to get the items out of the house, but then we never can decide what to do with them. I try to give myself grace and take my time with it all. I suppose it is a process. But, I just wanted to tell you what a great difference you are making, and I can’t thank you enough for keeping this before me and keeping me motivated. God bless you!

    • Hi Cheryl, feel free to ask for advice about how to move items on that you aren’t sure about. You can either contact me via the “Contact Colleen” option at the righthand top of the web page or post a comment any time at the blog. Don’t worry if it has nothing to do with the daily topic. If you need help just ask. As you know, we have a wonderful community here who are only too willing to help.

  7. Doing 365 has helped a lot, especially in changing my thinking and buying habits–right now everyone is having back to school supply sales and in the past I bought things for the home office at this time without really knowing what was on hand. Rather than buy a black marker (the only item we might need) we can probably use a purple, aqua etc. which we already have. We just need to use up what we have, and if we need something later, we will save a lot of money, and space, by waiting until then to actually buy it. As time has passed, and sentimental items were sold or donated, it has become easier and easier to let other items we didn’t really like but kept out of guilt also leave. I still have some I do love, but I realize my children have no memories of many of the people I dearly loved, and therefore these items mean nothing to them. So I will probably find some more that can go. This week I went through our computer documents and downloads on both computers and deleted quite a few we no longer needed or in some cases moved them from my husband’s computer to mine since it was my family, sewing items, etc. I use his printer, and that is how it ended up on his. The different ways you look at things helps us all think differently, too, and that is good. As we got older that spare time we thought we would have somehow never showed up, and I have less time to keep house, not more.
    I had to laugh about Moni losing stuff. I put away an order that came the same day visitors were coming, and it took me about a year to find it. It got mixed in with sewing supplies, and I suspect I had seen it and just didn’t recognize it for what it was, since it was in a plastic bag with a lot of printing on it, and I think I looked for a more or less plain bag. So Moni’s missing objects will probably show up. Like someone said, it may be under something. We “lose” paperwork all the time because other papers get on top.

    • Hi Molly, thank goodness there are so many ways to look at our clutter and so many aspects of each of those way, or I would run out of things to write about. You would be surprised at how many time I write about a certain subject and then one of my readers who reads finally gets an ah ha moment, simply because it has been worded slightly differently this time. I am glad this post spoke to you.

  8. I really enjoyed this article Colleen, thank you. Clinging to things that represent the past is one of the core reasons for getting cluttered with stuff that has absolutely no relevance but somehow has the power to drag us down, make us feel guilty or sad, or negative about ourselves. Love Moni’s quotes as well, those are going in my planner as reminders and motivators.

    • Hi Christine, you put that very well. We don’t need to be dragged down, with regrets and sadness that phases of our lives are now behind us. That’s life and we should just enjoy the here and now.

  9. I have already commented more than once, but I got so hung up on the sentimental aspect of things that I forgot to say what a great post it was in general, and also to mention the “just in case” part. I have confessed here before that “just in case” continues to be one of my main problems.
    Previously, someone suggested I might be keeping things out of fear. I don’t consider myself fearful. However, I am somewhat of the survivalist mindset, and also live in an area where the electricity goes off sometimes in the winter. Or even in the summer. The longest I have been without power so far was 8 days during the blizzard of 1993. Thankfully, it did not seem to be a really cold snow, and although it was pretty cold in the house, I never felt cold due to layering clothes. I cooked on the fireplace, etc. So, when I say “just in case”, it isn’t the type of things I’m keeping spares of, or something that I could borrow if needed. I keep more survival type items to cook with, keep warm with, candles and lanterns to see by and such. unfortunately, it takes up a lot of space. I have also collected some fleece clothing at the thrift stores to have on hand.

    Right now, if I look at my surroundings, I mainly have too much furniture because I have always loved antiques. I have eliminated the majority of excess glassware and things on display. I am getting to where I don’t enjoy dusting!!! I still have a huge set of dishes I collected that I might sell and they fill an equally huge primitive corner cupboard. Anyway, I am making progress, but more slowly than I’d like. However, I feel good about the process so far. I am to the point of getting rid of a LOT of rubber stamps and paper supplies, etc. There is still lots to do, but it a slow go unless you just donate it all!!!! I’m looking at having ONE more yard sale this autumn. (I keep saying, “Only ONE more…..”. Ha! ) Sometimes I’m better about reading about getting rid of stuff than actually getting rid of stuff!!! 🙂

    • Hi Brenda, it sounds to me that it makes sense to keep that survival stuff in your situation. So just make room for it by getting rid of stuff you don’t need.
      I always wish I lived closer to some of my readers when they mention getting rid of papercrafting supplies. But then I realise it is probably a good thing or I would end up replacing the craft clutter I have already gotten rid of.
      If you enjoy those yard sales and make some extra dollars then why no have them. I used to love to have a good old yard sales, but those days are gone because I live in an apartment. That and the fact that I just want to get the stuff out of here in a hurry. I did sell lots of stuff on ebay back when I first began my big decluttering mission. But I eventually got tried of that although the money certainly keep me doing it way longer than I wanted to.

  10. Great post, Colleen. I still have a few things I would like to declutter. I can do that once we move and mother no longer has them in her clutches. They are mine but you would think they were hers. Ha!

    • Hi Deb, perhaps it is time you also decluttered this attitude of your mom’s that she should have any say over what you can and con’t do with your stuff. If it is yours, it is yours to do what you like with. Sometimes I think, from reading your posts, that it is the restraints on you that cause you the most grief and not the stuff itself. Every now and again you would benefit from wining a battle on your terms.

      • Winning a battle is easy, living with the fallout is not. I have found that it is easier to just live with it rather than deal with all she has to say, for years, about it.

  11. Oh we have sport gear that we do not use. Nobody practices a sport at home. So, I took everything out and set it next to my husband’s closet. He gave me an evil look and asked what I was doing with that. I said I would leave it there for him to use and that if he did not use them in 2 weeks they would be gone. … Two weeks went by and I looked at him and said, this is going, you have not used it in over two weeks. He gives me the evil eye again ! asks me to put it in a closet 🙁

    • Lorena – I feel your pain. My husband is the King of ‘use it twice’. Pretty much all his recreation gear has been used twice ie snowboard, surfboard, snorkeling gear, golf clubs etc etc. I had him talked into getting rid of his snowboard as broke his foot on it and hadn’t used it in the five years since and his dirt bike gear as he doesn’t actually own a dirt bike anymore (coincidentally he broke the other foot doing that) – he agreed and later that day he came to me and said that he’d given it to our son who asked if we could store it for him. He also agreed to sell one of his surfboards but put such a high price on it that it didn’t sell. We have two tramping backpacks that he and my son used to carry when they did dirt bike camping trips, he is adamant that he is going to do the Milford Sounds walk (other end of the country and certainly an advanced hike) but he isn’t interested in doing local hikes or joining a group to learn bush craft. Sigh…….. Oh and the Mountain bike but this has been used THREE times!

      • Yikes Moni how frustrating! That is even more frustrating than husbands who buy crap on a whim and then give it away of sell it not to far on in the future. At least it is out of the house but oh the wasted money.

    • Hi Lorena, ask a friend (preferably and neighbour) if you can store it at their place for a little while. You can then make a good point to your husband when the neighbour (after six months) asks if you would please remove you crap from their place. Ha ha!