Clutter or not clutter ~ that is the question

Some time back I wrote a post ~ How many is too much ~ which addressed the issue of ~ what is clutter for one person is not neccessarily so for another. Last week I wrote a post ~ Over catering for guests ~ the goal of which was to get my readers thinking about how much stuff do you really need to keep in your home in order to cater for people who are only there a small percentage of the time.

In both these posts I give examples as to what I think is a reasonable amount of items to have for specific circumstances. However it is possible that many of my readers would agree in principal but may well be happy to possess more and in some cases even less than I stated. The suggestions I make here at my blog are a guide only and not some formula that is set in concrete that should be be applied to everyone.

For instance my suggestion last week on towels and sheets stated the bare minimum that I would be comfortable with. Some readers actually have less others more. I have more, although I would be very comfortable with the idea of reducing the numbers should the circumstance arise that I had less space to store them in. In fact I would happily declutter many items in my home in a heartbeat were I to finally find the perfect smaller home to purchase which was the original goal behind my decluttering mission. In fact many such items will likely be decluttered before then.

So basically what I am saying is your declutter goal may be minimalistic in nature while another person’s may simply be about not being embarrassed should guests drop by unexpectedly while yet another person may just want to be able to get to and from their bed without tripping over something.

The key is don’t have a static decluttering goal in mind and stay open to possibilities. In many ways I have reached points along my declutter journey that I hadn’t even envisaged before I set out. Such as…

  • Realising I no longer had the desire to acquire stuff. What a freedom that was.
  • When I became detached from pointless sentimental clutter . Another wonderful freedom.
  • When I realised that so many of the things I had acquired in the past, expecting them to simplify my life, only made it more complicated.
  • When I realised that having so many material choices didn’t make my life easer it actually complicated it.
  • I believe that relinquishing my attachment to and desire for stuff has taught me to eliminate other control issues in my life.
  • I would even say that the process of decluttering a family home has taught me to communicate better.
So it is entirely up to you where on the scale of simplifying your life ~ by decluttering the unnecessary ~ you want to be. Leave your mind open to all possibilites and you might find that you will go a lot further on this journey than you expected when you set out.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter one rarely used tool or gadget in you home.

Today’s Declutter Item

Who needs a napkin holder when they rarely if ever use napkins. This napkin holder stayed in my house so long not because it was useful but because it was handmade by my son in middle school. When asked he said he had no desire to keep it and didn’t expect me to either.

Napkin Holder

Eco Tip for the Day

Save on electricity by sweeping your hard floors instead of vacuuming them sometimes.

“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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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • Mini Mission ~ Thursday 21Dec2017 Declutter your fridge of out of date items or by using up as much as possible before adding more. With the holiday season here you will likely need every inch of spare space.
  • Mini Mission ~ Wednesday 20Dec2017 Declutter by recycling some items. That mound ofused takeout containers, old newspapers and magazines, paperwork that needs shredding, glass jars you set aside in case you have a use for […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. I think for a lot of people, we buy things for the life we want, not the one we have. We may see a commercial for an espresso maker and think, “Oh, I will buy that and my friends will come over for coffee and snacks and it will be great!”
    Most people don’t entertain like they do in the tv ads. But that’s the picture in our minds when we make these purchases. We buy into a lifestyle that seems exciting and glamorous. If I have “x” my parties will be better, I’ll be more popular, I’ll be happier and so on…
    Advertising is pure fantasy. If you can evaluate what you really need for the way you actually live, you’ll be able to cut down on the “stuff”.

    • I so agree Kimberly. I think what we see on TV and in magazine ads causes us to think we “need” something when we really just want it. We really need to take into consideration our lifestyle. I know this is an area I’m working on with my mother. There are a few things she is hanging onto for “entertaining” only we no longer entertain that way. We are much more casual and serve buffet style now.

    • I agree entirely Kimberley. Far too many purchases are made to impress other people, to hopefully improve our lives or because we are fooled by clever advertising. Oh, I am so pleased to be free of all of that.

      I love that I have so much less stuff now, cluttering up my house and causing me extra work but beyond that I just love the freedom of not ~ having emotional attachment to material possessions, wanting a large home or caring about keeping up with the Jones. When I see how other people are so attached to their stuff, working so hard to afford more and better stuff I just feel sad for them.

  2. excellent post, Colleen. I can especially relate to this:
    “I believe that relinquishing my attachment to and desire for stuff has taught me to eliminate other control issues in my life.”

    I think starting to declutter and getting the most obvious outcome – SPACE gave me a whole new idea of how I can shape my life. in the easy way. Admittedly, I had to make some changes in my lifestyle anyway, because I am finishing university (two more months, and I am done) but decluttering for sure helped me to tackle other things in life, like weight loss and other things too.
    I am in control of how I want to live. I knew that before rationally, I just didnt act like it, nowadays I very much do.

    mini mission monday: a white hanging flower pot that I just dont have a hook to hang on. its going to a friend of mine, who will hopefully use it on his balcony.

    • Good for you Lena! Read my response to Kimberley as I am sure you will agree. A have a story I would love to relate to you about a conversation I had with a friend yesterday but I think I will save it for a blog post. Needless to say it was related to people having too much attachment to something material causing them sadness when that thing is finally removed from their lives. This will never be a problem for me I am glad to say.

      • Hi Colleen – I would be interested to read your upcoming post as I have been researching why people form emotional attachments to material possessions, its a bit baffling but I have found myself caught in that a bit lately.

        • ah, as soon as you find some interesting things, please let me know, I am also very into this recently! I dont know how many debates I had with friends about exactly that.

          • Hi Lena – a lot of material out there is in reference to hoarders and so probably doesn’t apply because they are attached to, well, everything. It would be interesting to know why a particular item triggers a response – what are your theories?

            I have a friend who is a therapist that I could ask but next thing I’d be lying on a couch and telling her about my childhood! 🙂

          • Hey Moni.
            As I study sociology, I am not so much into the psychological explanation side. I have had seminars about sociology of living(space), where they explained a lot of studies that revealed the motivation about peoples choices of interior design. they grouped the people into different “milieus”, depending on socio-economic status and values (ranging from conservative to postmodern). They stated that in every flat you could find a “idyllic world motive” expressed by decoration, or in some cases, lack of it. So I was stunned at the similarities of certain places, revealing not only similar consumption patterns, but also similar values… I remember one of those was a study funded by a german company selling furniture (and interior design), they were obviously trying to find out the target group for their market 😉 it would be interesting to see studies from abroad.

            My explanation for the difference between the items in question, the ones you get attached to, is somewhere between taste, which is in my opinion similar to the ones of your parents (kind of “taken over”) and the financial abilities to require the lifestyle you want to lead, as consumption plays a big role in personal preferences. I know from talking to friends/family, that the possibility of attachment to a certain item is highly influenced by your values, or lets say by the image you have of yourself and your life. like lets say, if you consider yourself poor, you are likely to keep items coming in useful, or wont waste things in general. if you are a risk-loving person, you will probably not save up things “just in case”.

            the psychology behind that is of a totally different nature however, judging from psychoanalysis I would guess that each item somehow contains the aspect of the “transitional object”, which originally helps to transfer emotions of separation (child-mother-relation, etc). items can trigger emotions because we put those emotions into the object in the first place. so why and which reasons we have for doing that, however, I cant possibly tell. But that are just my completely unprofessional ideas. I would guess that talking to a psychoanalyst would probably explain more than one to a psychotherapist, who has to treat hoarders in their OCDs…

            • That is all very interesting Lena. The bit about poor people interested me. It is not only people who consider themselves poor that will do this but also people who were once poor. Their thrifty nature, by the time have become more affluent, is well embedded. But at the same time the opposite can be said for others who have become affluent suddenly through a lottery win who blow it all on ridiculous stuff and end up poor again within a year or two. Perhaps they are so used to spending when they can and going without the rest of the time that they can manage to do the same with $1,000,000. So there are many variable to these situations.

              • Hi Colleen – we helped a relative pack to shift a few years back, who are what you would call poor, and I was amazed at the stuff she insisted on taking – empty jam jars. She doesn’t make jam or had any particular plans for them. She was quite distressed at the idea of sending them to recycling. So I had to individually wrap and pack about 50 or so.

                The irony is that by time we helped pack everything there were so many boxes of useless items, they had to upgrade the size of the truck the shifting company they’d hired to shift out of town. We couldn’t get it thru to them that they’d save money if they let go of the useless stuff.

                • Oh my, Moni.
                  Even in my jam-making family (every single member of this family is making jam) we all send glasses to the recycling often. You get new ones by buying pickles or mayonnaise anyway. (Or you do it like my little brother and pick up some glasses from the glass recycling containers when you need some more)

              • thats what I mean. people have been poor and never learn how to give up being thrifty, and then others who were poor and just forget about it. the same origin can go into a totally different direction.
                I wrote that people who consider themselves poor, because I have a friend who grew up in a family that was in my opinion well off, but money was always a topic in this family. she was always feeling that she was short on everything, and didnt get as much as others… money was also an important factor in her career choice, and she became a real estate agent and is earning a big amount of money now, and spending it on (in my opinion) absolutely brainless consumption. I never fully understood where she got that attitude from, as I have always considered myself “rich”, having more or less the same amount of money as her…

          • Wow Lena – that is really cool – you should write a guest post on it.

            Idyllic world motive. I have noticed on movies and sitcoms when the sets are made they make the ‘homes’ stereotypical of the character but a bit more – does that make sense? Would they be using that sort of information when designing the sets?

            Ironically today on 365 (it is now Wednesday here) it is ornament day. For the record I don’t like ornaments, when I think of ornaments I think of all the hundreds of china ornaments I had to dust for mum when I was a kid. When I met my biological mother, she doesn’t like ornaments either and is also a book fiend.

            We recently moved two pieces of furniture out of the lounge, both of which held our ornaments (my hubby likes a few ornaments) and I’ve been at a lost as to what to do with them. What you said have given me a few clues and I think I have figured out that I bought one lot on a whim and after I got home I returned a call message on my answer phone to learn that my half-brother had died in a car accident. Although there is nothing about those ornaments which relate to him, in mind its almost like they were the last happy moment before the world changed – does that make sense?

          • moni, please remind me in december (when I am finished final exams) that I read into that topic again. I did a quick library research on sociology and livingspace and also possessions. there is not that much, but it seems like you can find your way around…

          • I’m just reading through your conversation here. Really interesting.
            I think, most things I don’t want to give away are linked to my “idyllic world motive” ;-). My personal “idyll” is a picnic on a meadow in the sunshine (for a greater stretch of time, add a tiny Scandinavian summer cabin to sleep and cook in). I am really drawn to all these “happy summer picnic” items, as you can see in my preference of bright colours, cuddly blankets, wicker baskets, simple, sturdy yet colourful crockery and other dishes, plants and a couple of books. Those are the items I first add to any room and I feel are hard to part with.

          • hey Sanna,
            great that you could identify your idyllic world motive (in german its “heile Welt”) immediately. and by the way, this is a perfect one, “picnic in meadow” is almost a cliché idyllic image. I had actually problems finding my own. I have only few decorations, the ones I have are always linked to my past, usually pictures of places I have been, people I love or little reminders of my travels or important events. but I just thought hard about it and found that above my front door I have a little silver bling bling crown, a wooden big fat angel and a ceramic sign that says “princess” – if you would know me in person, you would get the obvious irony of those signs. but I guess as I have grouped them there, you could interpret that as my idyllic world motive.

            moni, I find that your emotional relation to those ornaments makes a lot of sense. and btw. I can totally relate to this moment “before the world changed forever”.

            isnt it interesting to reflect on each item what emotions it can actually bring up, or more which emotions you immediately link up with certain items, like sanna’s blankets or wicker baskets…

  3. Monday: I’ll take care of the lettuce in the backyard later today.
    Gadget: It’s sort of a backwards declutter for me. I’ve been in need of mixing bowls for a while, and have been awaiting the day I traveled back “home” to my parents house. Lo and behold, in her pile of “gifts I can’t get rid of” clutter in the garage, was a gorgeous set of mixing bowls (with lids!). Whilst the lids are more than I bargained for, they add nearly no space to the set, which is a far nicer one than I would have purchased for myself. So while it added to my home, it got rid of some of her clutter, and I’m thrilled to use it (no more making dough in 4 pieces in salad bowls).

    Over the weekend, I cleaned out an entire lab room at my college (to be used for a club). It was a MESS, but it’s now neatly organized and just about ready for the start of the school year.

    The “buy no food” plan failed when my boyfriend decided to make me a meal from scratch. 95% of the ingredients he bought are gone though, and I did use up a lot. I plan to mostly continue for another week (with the exception of milk that we buy once every two weeks on sale, and a 10 lb bag of potatoes that I got for $1). A hearty leftovers soup will be tomorrows dinner, with shredded squash and zucchini in tomato sauce over pasta for tonight.
    There’s visible space in the freezer again though, which is very nice to have available.

    • Hi Amanda,
      the fact that you are conscious of what you are bringing up, being thrifty and even helping organise outside your own home is fantastic. It may take some effort at times but you must be learning so much from it.

      Those mixing bowls sound like the set I have. The lids are great because it means you can also use them for storing leftovers etc in the fridge without having to use cling wrap. One less expense and less plastic wasted.

      • Agreed. Between them and the “nesting” tupperware I have (whipped cream containers stack beautifully), I hope to make our roll of plastic wrap last the rest of the year. I’m thrilled with the set.

        Now, to take care of the rest of the stuff at my parents house (which is where a lot of my clutter is, as well as theirs). That could be a LONG process.

  4. Great advice…..we buy so much stuff for company….its CRAZY!! I decided to stop saving the “good” things like towels for the rare visitor. I was using the old worn towels but no more…Im treating myself to the visitors towels…and Im throwing out the old worn ones….ive also began using the clothes in my closet more…I would save the nicer pants and tops for an occasion….I woke up this morning…that is now the occasion….Im 53…you realize life can change in the blink of an eye ….. its not about stuff for me anymore….I actually blogged about how life is so transient….here today …. gone tomorrow….if you would like to read it…. this was a great piece….thank you for sharing:)

    • Hi Donna – I agree completely, why save the good stuff for the visitors and why not wear your good clothes just for you. I was given a gift basket a few years back and I squirrelled away all the gourmet special items for visitors – well, by time I re-discovered these items they were expired, we should have just enjoyed them.

  5. Enjoyed your post today. When I went back and read your post titled “How many is too much”, I appreciated your insight on things. I think if we all cared less about what others have and what they think, it would help greatly in the quest of living with less. For me it was turning 40 and thinking about the last 20 years of my life and I knew that “enough is enough”. I was tired of letting certain things have control over my life. That included my excessive belongings, lackluster friendships, etc. Over time my focus has become different and I see life more clearly.

    • Good for you Jen. Sometimes it takes a little acquired wisdom to come to this conclusion but better late than never. I so envy the young ones who come to this realisation so early in life. They have the foundation for a great future. I am just glad that, even though I can it took till now to see stuff for what it really is, when I was younger I was still quite sensible about budgeting so the consequences of materialism weren’t too hard on me. However the freedom I feel being detached from it now is something I would like to have experienced much sooner. But like I said before better late than never. I know plenty of people much older than me who still don’t have a clue. I am glad to be able to try to help them see.

  6. Gave a set of knives and grilling forks at a wedding shower on Saturday. I bought this set back in 1973 and only used two of the knives and only a couple times each. Due to living with roommates, my parents and little time on my own I just never needed them. I have held on to them all this time because Mom thought we might need them someday. They were very nice knives with a lifetime warranty. Now they are gone. I’m so happy someone will get some good out of them. People seldom have the money for knives like this as they are now quite expensive so this was something these newlyweds are excited to have.

    • Well done Deb J, many people have a hard time parting with things people gave them as gifts especially on very special occasions such as wedding. To be able to pass them on to someone else on another special occasion must have made this much easier to do. Good for you.

  7. Colleen,
    To further add to your comment on clutter making things more complicated, one of my mantra’s in all things related to life is, “Don’t complicate that which can be made simple”. It has served me very well. Our living spaces must reflect the people that live there, not the occasional guest. For the first 25 years of our marriage, we did not have a “guest room”. If people wanted to stay at our home, they had two choices: 1. The couch or 2. A hotel/motel/inn. I have lived to tell the tale, haha! We get so busy planning the future for situations that may never arise or guests that may never visit, that we miss out on living our lives right now in the present.

    • So true Kimberley, so true. If or when my hubby and I do find a home to buy it will surely reflect this attitude. The guests will likely be sleeping in the living room.

      • Thank you for your comment Kimberly! I have been told by people who want to make my house their own personal hotel/inn/bed&breakfeast that I should have a “decent” guest room, with a “decent” bed, more television sets (I have only one) so that WHENEVER “people” want to drop by “they” can be confortable. Sounds ridiculous? Not when “people” measure your house up and say that to your face. I have, in a moment of “enough is enough” told “people” that my house is not a hotel and there’s a nice one a few km from here. It was liberating! But it was VERY rude 😀 That’s when I decided that I would have no guest room, ever. Was I radical?

        • Hi Andreia – what an appalling thing to say to a host! Your house is your home and guests enter it at your generosity. I would say exactly the same thing!

          • They are relatives, Moni. Sometimes because people are related to us they think (very wrongly) that we are at their disposal. My family has this very stupid idea that guests should get the better of the house while they are there. I disagree. We live there, they get the rest and I get the best. I changed over the years, but i had my share of sleeping on the floor because a cousin or aunt or uncle was visiting. It annoyed me to no end. I grew up, I married, and had two empty bedrooms in my house. Well can you guess what I did to those rooms? I HOARDED them. Yes I confess. All that cluttering was a direct result of also not wanting guests (there are other reasons, but this is one I figured out now).

          • Andreia it is quite a break thru that you’ve figured out that hoarding was a response to not wanting guests taking over your house. Most people never figure out what was their trigger, so it is great!!!!!

            I feel your relatives, have come to expect a bit much and now that you are un-doing the hoarding, need to set firm boundaries as to how much hospitality you are able to offer. Work out for yourself how many days in a month or year you would be comfortable having extras in the house and perhaps set limits on things such as food budget etc.

            I personally have a 72 hour rule for visiting my family – I love them – but by day three it is best to start moving on as that’s right about the time we start getting on mum’s nerves (she doesn’t keep the best of health and I have three noisy teens) and then I start getting defensive. So 72 hours it is for me. Other relatives/friends it is more or less depending on the situation but its nice to leave on a happy note.

        • Andreia, You are my hero! I love the idea of no guest room. Who wants guests like that anyway?

          • Oh Jennifer, my relatives are relentless :D. But no guest room, none. I have a playroom that has a bed, but the matress is old and bad. So it is sleep where you may or at a hotel. My Dad once complained that my linen for guests was awful, ugly and old. I said: “Dad, there’s a store, so if you want new linen buy it, and bring it with you next time you visit, so you can sleep in new linen. Your own.” We never talked about it again. 😀 😀

  8. Excellent thoughts Kimberly! My daughter is looking at building a house and the brochures for houses “scream” perfect life with designer furniture and clean spaces. The reality is massive debt and constant cleaning. Getting people to evaluate what they need as you say, is a bit hard for young ones wearing rose colored glasses.

  9. Something that was said on Midway Simplicity some months ago struck a chord with me and is in line with today’s post. Mohamed wrote that he felt minimalism was having the minimum for you. I really liked that idea because I didn’t want to be called a minimalist as (a) at that stage my home didn’t look anything like the minimalist decor I saw in magazines and (b) I felt it meant austere living and (c) I didn’t think that would fit where I was in life ie three teenagers, involvement in events etc. I’m sure I had it all wrong, but Mohamed’s post and this post explain to me that its about having as little as necessary or as much as necessary, but not an excess above what is necessary.

    • Hi Moni, that is what Tohami intended Midway Simplicity to reflect ~ simplicity without going extreme which is something everyone can do if they can just let go of their materialistic thinking.

  10. Colleen, Dayna announced to me the other morning that she hadn’t been able to get to sleep the night previous so she did some major decluttering. She told me she’d gotten rid of 3 pitchforks, 5 haystacks, a stool, 2 lanterns, 3 wooden buckets and so on and so on – sorry I can’t remember the rest I was still caught on the pitchforks – since when do we have a pitchfork, let alone 3 and haystacks? Turns out she was decluttering her virtual Smurf Village on Facebook because she’d read about digital clutter here. It was very hard not laugh………

    • I was wondering where this comment was heading there for a minute Moni. I was thinking she was decluttering Halloween decorations weirdly enough a Smurf Village makes a lot more sense.

      Oddly enough , just the yesterday, my son was showing to me how much more savvy he was with real estate investing than his friend Nicole. As it turned out that was in the Simpson’s virtual hometown of Springfield.

  11. Hi Colleen,
    nice reminder that decluttering isn’t necessarily about being minimalist and that it is okay to have different goals and to be at different stages. At the moment I am decluttering on the one side but I am trying to learn to be relaxed, too – about the things I can’t decide about because they are not mine but BFs and about the things that are going to enter our apartment in the near future. One will be very welcome (but no “thing” at all – we’ll have a baby in a couple of months). But the rest … I’m not too keen on the amount of stuff you need and less keen on the stuff you think you need but then turns clutter because it doesn’t work for you. And of course there will be presents as well. At first this all made me anxious but now I am trying to remind myself that if life isn’t about stuff it isn’t about the absence of stuff either and that I don’t have to be a perfect minimalist mum.

    I have to say though: I love lists and numbers. I love other people’s input on what they think is necessary or sufficient because what would be left if the (aspiring) minimalists and declutterers wouldn’t share their thoughts? It would only be the manufacturer who tell us “you can never have enough x” or “always have x spare items”. It remains me to judge upon the numbers and suggestions and see whether they’d be applicable for MY life but at least they give me some idea – especially in fields where I have no experience.

    • wooohooo, congratulations!! I can imagine that while the baby is super welcome in your home, the stuff that comes along with it is probably less of joy. but hey, you know a couple of years go by quickly and you get the chance to teach the important lessons early!

    • Congrats! That’s exciting news! I just googled “layette” and a good 1/3 of the items listed I didn’t have for my babies but they were published by baby clothes/shops so that probably has a bearing on it.

      I think Colleen did a post of baby gear a while back if you look in the search field.

      All I can remember is that babies grow fast and finding the balance between having enough (because lets face it, they can go thru several changes of clothes in a day) and having so much that it doesn’t get worn before its outgrown.

      Good luck!

    • Congratulations, Ideealistin! That’s wonderful news! As to the baby-minimalism conflict: I think you got it right. People and relationships are always more important than possessions. And if a new relationship brings along some temporary clutter that also shouldn’t be something to worry about. Stuff is just stuff after all.

  12. Moni, so sorry to hear of the loss of your half-brother. My condolences to you & your family.

    • Hi Jane – its ok its been 10 years now, we miss him but accept it.

      10 years is a long time to keep a set of ornaments that I probably got bored of with a couple of years.

  13. Sanna – I am trying to think up my idyllic world motive and I’m coming up stumped. Will have to put some thought into this.

  14. I really enjoyed this post, Colleen.

    When you talked about some of the discoveries you’ve made about yourself along the way, it reminded me of something that is happening to me.

    I’ve been creative and artistic all my life–wanted only to be an artist as long as I can remember. However, more and more these days–and I don’t know whether it’s because of the economy (who is really going to buy arts or craft pieces these days?), or because I just don’t like the clutter of all the art supplies and craft materials hanging around–I’m losing my love of making art, and find myself more and more going to my other equal-love, the love of writing instead.

    Writing requires no supplies other than my laptop, so there’s no mess or clutter around, and it’s as creative as making art, so…

    I’m on the verge of getting rid of a bunch more of my art supplies and craft stuff.

    I wonder if I’ll regret getting rid of the stuff?

    • Becky, I understand what you mean. I am finding myself less and less interested in scrapbooking which has been an artistic outlet for me. I’ve been thinking of doing more writing. Sounds like we are both in one of those life changes that happen.

    • Hi Becky – I’ve changed course recently and have decided to be ok about as nothing was ever set in stone and I may or may not do a 360 turn at some point but I’m ok with that I’m just going with the ‘now’.

      If I’m getting rid of something that I’m not 100% sure about, I say (this will sound a bit New Age but it works for me) “I won’t even miss you when you’re gone” as I get rid of it and I don’t miss it, in fact its like opening a trap door because I can’t even recall these items now.