Control Issues

All that “I might need it one day!” clutter is about control. Control over your future, a future that may never unveil itself. A future created in your own mind that won’t allow you to relinquish items you don’t have a use for right now, probably never will and in all honesty, although used in the past, were never really needed even then.

What tragic outcome would ensue in the future if, today, you decluttered that spare potato peeler? If you got rid of that ever growing pile of ragged bath towels you save in case of a huge spill? If you put all those magazine clippings in the recycling bin that you have been saving to reference when “needed”? If you donated all those material scraps that you might use some day to a craft group who will use them now?

Would the world come to a screaming halt sometime in the future due to these scenarios and any other that come to mind? NO is the answer to that question. “But what if, later, I can’t afford to replace such articles?” I hear you say. And I reply… “STOP and really think whether this item is really even necessary in the first place. A potato can be pealed with a knife, a good towel can be washed and reused after cleaning up a spill, any information clipped from a magazine can be easily accessed via the internet (and more easily for that matter), and material scraps really didn’t matter that much in the first place. Apply this thinking to anything that you feel is contributing to the clutter in your home and see what rational conclusions you come to.

And while you are at it think what immediate positive impact decluttering all those unused items will have on the appearance, feel, ease of organising and cleaning  and the comfort level of your home and then explain to me why you are still holding on.

Let go of a little control and live for today. At the moment the clutter is controlling your life, not the other way around. So do something about it. You might be surprised at how liberating relinquishing control can be.

Today’s Mini Mission

Have a good look in your kitchen cupboards and drawers. This is usually a hotbed of only slightly useful stuff that you could declutter.

Eco Tip for the Day

As adults it is our job to teach our children to conserve power and water. If you raise your children with good habits now conservation will come naturally to them when they become the adults themselves.

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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  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Thanks a lot, Colleen! I’m at my remaining sewing/craft supplies today. It’s still amazing how quick my eyes adjust to the new, more decluttered, “normal” and find clutter in open sight that went unnoticed before! I’m up for a good hour of cleaning from now on.

    • Good for you Sanna. I am planning on reorganising my craft supplies and tools today. This has become an that needs reassessing again now that these items are in a new home. I am finding the arrangement of it all a little dysfunctional. It will change again in the near future when the shelving in fitted in the laundry. I will be happy when we have finally fine tuned our new apartment to what works for us. I am pleased however that the new set up in my kitchen has not only made it more functional but has freed up space for the most used crafting gear to be store there right below where I do my crafting.

  2. Colleen, this is a great post. I think there are many things we try to control and one way we can stop it is to realize that we really can’t control anything. I think this is the difference between my Mom and I. Part of it is the way we grow up and part of it is a personality trait. It has taken me a long time to give up control and Mom is still struggling with it. I’m sure glad I am learning this lesson finally.

    • Hi Deb, part of control issues is relinquishing our desires for others within our households to let go of things we see no use for. All we can do is suggest and encourage then wait patiently. Wish and hoping thing would change quicker isn’t good for our equilibrium.

      • Yes, I know. It isn’t easy though sometimes.

        • Deb J,
          Hopefully, you have at least a bedroom and bathroom (in the home you share with your Mom) that you can call your own and live as simply and clutter free as you wish.

          • Kinberley, yes I do. The rest of the house looks very decluttered until you look in the cabinets. We have plenty of storage. I just know that when we move into senior housing in the next 18 months or so we will have less space.

        • I know Deb. We are the masters of out own misery more often than not. This is something I am learning and putting strategies to overcome. As they say, it is futile to continue the same actions and expect a different reaction.

  3. Wow this hit close to home. Thank you. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, and control issues are one of the things I’ve dealt with my whole life as a result. And I never thought of my clutter issues as related, but everything you’ve said in this post makes so much sense.

    • I am glad to have enlightened you Melanie. Trust me I know a bit about control issues, I have a few myself. Recently however I have been receiving some very good advice on strategies to get over them and I must say it has been great advice.

  4. I gave up control of another set of wedding china–I had two. The Noritake left the house last week, still in the box it was packed in when we moved here seven years ago. The other set has an interesting history. It was the set of dishes I actually used until we moved to Indonesia. Then I loaned it to a friend who wanted white dishes. Then when I returned 12 years later, she told me she had given them away. Oh well. THEN about four years ago she found them in her attic. I passed them on to my daughter who needed them. Last month she moved across the US and chose not to take them. Back they came to me. I unpacked them, them thinking I would use them. But they’re old, some are chipped and I just don’t have room. Here’s the thing: I am giving them up and if I ever find dishes I love, I will buy them–probably some hand made pottery.

    • Good for you Willow. Sometimes it turns out that sentimentality is simply misplace.

    • Willow – it’s so interesting that for all these years those dishes have been tethered to you but you never even used them! I like your plan to let them go and when you see dishes you like, you’ll know and het them.

  5. It was a great day in the de-clutter department today. I spent a good few hours cleaning out and re-organizing the garage, mainly so that I could get to my exercise machine (that I do not want to bring in the house). I was thinking I had hit all of the mini missions except for de-cluttering a toy. Then I realized, I had a kids craft set that girls make bracelets and necklaces out of. The foam shapes can be used for name cards for babies, so I will take these into work. I was finally able to get my husband to part with large boxes. He likes to keep them, even though we do not plan to move. I also got rid of serving dishes and platters that neither of us like that much. I am in the midst of shredding papers that are 10-20 years old. I don’t know why I have never gone through this box before, except that it mostly contains my ex-husbands business paper that are no longer needed. I got rid of a few more books and clothes, as did my husband. I now have enough for a run to the charity shop. I also need to get the rest of the hazardous waste together and either drop it off or arrange a pick up. This may take a few more weeks to complete. It was a very productive week-end all in all. As usual, the more I get rid of, the more I want get rid of, and the more thoughtful I am about the purchases I make.

    • Sheryl – wow you are on a roll!

    • Well done Sheryl! You must be feeling pretty good about yourself right now and rightly so. There is little in life that is more satisfying than a productive day. Go back and gloat over the improvement until the novelty wears off. That is what I do. In fact I have had a productive day myself, not decluttering but reorganising and that feels just as good.

    • Sheryl, what a great and productive weekend. Way to go.

  6. Im having a giggle at the potatoes can be peeled with a knife – yes they can but after the 3rd big cut to my thumb my mum told me to stick with a peeler. I’ll make up for it in other ways though, I promise!

    • Hi Moni I wouldn’t part with my peeler either but it helped me make a point. Mind you I could live without it if I had to. Actually it gets used more than my paring knife, perhaps I should declutter it. 😉

  7. I recently decluttered almost all of my craft supplies. Not because I was going to give up but because I wanted to take it back up again. There was always so much there that I was just overawed by it all and never really got around to doing anything. When I was younger and had very little I made a lot more, because I had little choice and got on with what I had.

    I think this applies to so much of our . The more we have the less we are able to do because it takes too long to choose or sort.

    • Gillie, you are making such a good point here! I also find that in the past I often have bought supplies for a hobby instead of pursuing the hobby (bought books instead of reading one, bought fabrics instead of sewing etc. etc.), whereas I purge most in the areas I actually work in most – because it bugs you most if you can’t get to things you need on a nearly daily basis because they are buried in an overflow of other similar items.

    • I have experienced this situation myself Gillie. I actually think that I gave up scrapbooking because it was too hard sifting through the 100os of photos of every vacation we went on. In the end the decision making got the better of me. Now that I no longer scrapbook I also never bother to look at the vacation shots once we get home. I was there, I remember it, I had a wonderful experience and I don’t need to relive it through photos. It is all there in my mind when I want to revisit it.

      And the same goes for me with the craft supplies and tools. I ended up with so much that they were also a pain to sift through every time I wanted to make something. Even lately I have been picking up some free bits and pieces from my mother and MIL for crafting and it just starts to build up to too much aspirational clutter. KISS (Keep it simple stupid) really does apply when it come to craft. Right now I want nothing more to come in, even thought there is more going out, because I just can’t bare the thought of it building up again.

      • I have to add that I have found letting go of preconceived ideas helpful. Oldest daughter keeps old pictures in a (read: one) shoe box, after extensive editing of duplicates, the numerous turkey or tree pics, and blurred photos. At family gatherings, everyone enjoys passing the box around as well as the photos, each sharing their memories and such. No more time on fancy scrapbooking or mounting them in an album. More of a carefree hands on approach, and everyone gets to join in , and that is simply what works for us. I could never embrace the scrapbooking, left it to the oldest daughter, and she opted for the shoe box.

  8. Great post thanks Colleen. I have had to learn that you can’t always control what happens to you but you do have control over how you deal with and respond to what happens. I think the space – both physical and emotional, that decluttering helps to create, makes a really positive difference.

  9. Ann in Boston

    Wow, Cheryl…. We too, had a busy weekend. I had been collecting things in boxes in the basement from our kitchen remodel. ( I had written earlier and stated that I wasn’t going to put it all back. I didn’t!)
    My husband was suddenly aware and overwhelmed by the “mess” this weekend. I explained that I was motivated to continue the process throughout the house and had collected more and more. He knew all about 365 Things and agreed it was time well spent! He helped me work on this project and got our sons involved.
    Pretty soon, we had it all organized and had a plan to donate it this week. One of my sons even took photos of the items being donated. 🙂
    We now have a plan for the family room (finished basement) and we are going to purchase a sofa for our sons and their friends to enjoy while hanging out. The space has opened up and given us some breathing room. The boys are happy with the results,too.

    Thank you all for sharing your stories with me. It’s been a great motivator.

    • Ann in Boston, wow. It is so great that your whole family got involved in the decluttering. It’s pretty nice to have a usable family room come out of all that work.

    • Good for you Ann in Boston. It is so liberating to open up spaces and use them for much better things. I am sure your boys will have many fun times in the newly liberated space. And your kitchen will be so much better for the purge as well.

  10. Woke early knowing it was recycling day and I had lots more paper to get through. I wound up not even letting the things go I was considering but recycling pickup will come around in another 2 weeks. Or I could just run out to the alley and stuff things in before pickup rolls around. 🙂

    My latest ‘I may need it someday’ is a water filter pitcher and extra filters. I haven’t used it for years but keep thinking the water may be ‘off’ again at some point and I’ll need it. Or maybe (when I finally downsize) the new place will have poor water. Any thoughts?

    • Ron B – I was in the same dilemma. What helped was deciding to donate pitcher and (new) filters to a food bank where someone might have immediate need for it. If you do move, they may have new and improved water systems by then.

    • Ron, I’d consider a pitcher and extra filters to be emergency preparedness items, and would put them wherever I happened to store any other emergency items I might have.

      With the world the way it is, I think it’s wise to keep some of these types of items on hand.

      These kinds of things are considered as a type of “insurance”, and shouldn’t always be presumed to be clutter just because they haven’t been used yet.

      Just my opinion…

      • Wow, you are both right.

        Becky, you make a lot of sense and I do need to consider making an emergency kit. My mother reminds me of this periodically.

        On the other hand, Vicki makes a lot of sense too. The water filter I have really only handles odours, I believe and the Food Bank might be happy to have it (as are my many friends). I should do some researching for a decent water filter that would remove contaminants in case of emergencies. Maybe my filter does it bud I’d better look into it a wee bit more.

        Thanks again to you both.

        • Ron B – if you don’t mind me adding my two cents worth, my dad worked for Civil Defence for years and he says a couple of drops of household bleach will do the trick or if that sounds a bit ??? to you, you can buy a small pack of purifying tablets to add to water during times of emergency if you aren’t sure if the water has been contaminated.

          • Thanks, Moni. Sounds simple but effective.

          • My old neighbour used to say ~ when in doubt take a shot of whiskey with iffy food or water. The bacteria can’t live in the alcohol. That is why in the days of old people drank weak beer instead of plain water as a staple. It seems to me it would help deal with the situation better as well. 😉 Probably not sound advice but more fun than the doom and gloom approach.

    • Hi Ron B, I am with Moni on this. “I might need it one day” is a real trap. And take it from me, if one day does come around when you could use it you will no doubt improvise, like I usually do in these situations, and find you don’t need it after all.

  11. This post is spot-on for me. Growing up without things (poverty) and definitely no money to replace things, we keep everything (like you named…) and were meticulous about keeping things perfect. Flash forward and I accumulated the “good” things and the regular things, kept everything “just in case” and had many collections. When downsizing a year ago I began letting go and getting down to one of each thing and using the best things. (we purged a ton of stuff)This post helped me see that this all about control–trying to offset any discomfort or “going without” that could happen. Instead of belief “we will be ok, no matter what.” I am going to go through another round of purging of the things “I just can’t let go of….” THANKS so much.

    • Good for you Connie. Perhaps we even bring about out own demise by being pessimistic about the future. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I have spent in this lifetime worrying about thing that never eventuated. All worrying does is bring the future imagined misery into the present when everything would otherwise be just fine. Wow, I should print that out and pin it up somewhere to read everyday.

      • Was out of town and just catching up on my 365 fix and read this. Brilliant! I might just print that out and pin it up to read everyday too! Very inspired, thank you!

        • Hi Claire, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I always suggest that, if you want to read things over and over to get them to sink into your head or just to remind you of the wisdom, print them out and pin them up behind your toilet door where you will be reminded every time you are in there.

  12. As I’ve decluttered, downsized, whatever u want to call it, during the past four years, I realized my conglomeration of “stuff” was a combination of my depression era parents(save everything) and my 1980’s mentality of “buy everything.” Both were creating a huge conflict in my life. First I de -cluttered because I didn’t have the room in our smaller home, then I sat back and watched what I actually used and what I did with it, how i used it and and how often(and how often I had to dust it if it were decorative). It was like a minor epiphany. I understand the “I might need it one day” or “I spent a lot of money on this” guilt and logic. if I live to 100, I would never use all the stuff I’ve accumulated on a consistent basis, so off it goes. charity, eBay, heirlooms back to relatives. I used to take any free thing offered to me, no more, much to the affront of the giver. I had one of my biggest arguments with a friend over a pair of hot pink velour sweatpants (which I would only wear if I were comatose and naked), because I refused them. They weren’t a gift, someone had given them to her and she didn’t want them either. I now follow my own logic and heart, not my guilt. it’s really hard to do, but just like any habit, if you keep doing it, it will become standard practice. Minimizing is very liberating once you get past your own mental roadblocks and detours. Drive straight and don’t deviate.

    • NF, my husband is like that–he’ll take ANYTHING that anybody wants him to take. I get very frustrated with this because WE end up having to pay to dispose of most of these items. I tell him that a lot of times, people just don’t want to pay to get rid of something themselves, or are too lazy to find a new home for the item.

      I learned quite awhile ago to “just say no” to things like freebies offered in stores, and other things people want to give us. Example: No, I don’t need a stuffed animal free just because I bought three birthday cards. (My husband would take this though, and then it would lay around at home until I got rid of it.)

      I used to feel guilty if I didn’t want to take something a relative or friend wanted me to take, but now I just thank them and tell them that I don’t want them to waste their money, to pass it on to someone who would really have a use for it instead. So far, that’s been working. I don’t think anybody’s gotten angry with me yet.

      • @Becky. LOL! I have been staring at a “free” tote bag that my husband recd for purchasing an item. It’s been sitting on the edge of the sofa for about 2 months. He won’t put it away somewhere and I refuse to ferret it away for him. We don’t need another cheap tote. One day it will disappear. Sorry, sneaky but I now have my limits.

    • Fantastic NF. And what a wonderfully practical approach for someone who had two very opposite habits in this matter. You have done well. Also I applaud the conditions you place on unwanted gifts and offering back ones you received in the past that you no longer wish to keep.

    • Thank you for using my comments. Did I also mention, I’m driving my husband crazy doing all this? He’s never seen me let go of things so easily and say “no” to shopping and freebies. I love keeping people on their toes!

      • Hi NF, it is I who thanks you for adding your brand of wisdom to my blog. And I love that you are driving your husband crazy. Most husband would be chuffed that their wives aren’t shopping. There is just no pleasing some people. 😉

  13. Kind of on subject here, but today I decluttered a (never worn) bra. I bought it probably 10 years ago, and when I purchased it I was on a visit (three hours away). It fit wonderfully in the store, but upon returning home I realized the sales clerk grabbed the wrong one and it didn’t fit me (and it was expensive = grrrr). So for whatever reason I held onto it, taking up space in my drawer, all this time – thinking maybe, someday, I could *possibly* squeeze my assets into it. Today I finally tried it on and lo and behold – ill fitting as can be. It was comical. So into the Goodwill bag it went. It feels great to look in my drawer and NOT see it. WHY, oh why did I hold onto it all this time? The world did not end . . .

    • Hi Michaela, we all ask the ~ why oh why… ~ question of one item or another every so often. Especially so if they were an expensive mistake when acquired. I am glad you freed yourself of the annoyance once and for all and can forget the insident ever happened. What a relief you must feel.

    • @Michaela, good for u. Nothing worse than ill fitting intimates, bras or anything else. To tell u how wonderfully crazy my decluttering has become, I ran around one day, in my most comfortable, decent undies and tried on almost every piece of clothing I had. I wanted clothing that fit now, not 5 yrs ago and in colors and styles I would really wear every day and if I went out for the evening. Oh my, what a few disasters I had lurking in my closet and bureaus. To charity they went and I have not replaced them(I love clothes). Guess what, I am not naked. I still have plenty of stuff to wear. Did the same thing with makeup and shoes. I used to have a large tackle box full of makeup, I now have a small shoebox and my shoes fit in one “banker’s” file box instead of lying all over the closet floor and hanging on the back of doors(hated to dust them). It is so freeing(no, I’m not a minimalist at all) and so much easier to maintain. I can also keep track of what I have much easier. I’ve also learned to use the KIS principal. keep it simple. As my husband says, though he does not follow it, when in doubt, throw it out.

      • NF – I have been diligently trying to reduce what I have down to the space I have. I have a very small closet, two side dressers, and two large dressers. Everything I wear HAS to fit in the space I have (this is my clothes rule now) – including sheets for my bed (a newer rule I have acquired over the last few years). It try hard not to let things get piled up or overstuffed. When I started my decluttering back in 2008, I literally could not get in my dressers or closet I had SO MANY clothes. A lot has changed and I have parted with a LOT of stuff. But still I’m amazed at the things I find after all these years. I keep thinking – HOW could there be MORE? This piece of clothing was a real thorn in my side, and I’m over what I paid for it. I just wish I would have let go of it sooner LOL! I love that less is more, it has been a great lesson to learn 🙂