Deb J and her Mom, Leona ~ An amazing transformation

My mother, Leona, is the oldest of three girls. She was 84 her last birthday. Growing up, I thought nothing of all the stuff we had because it was put away neatly, displayed neatly and everyone seemed to have all that kind of stuff. My parents were neat freaks so it wasn’t surprising I grew up to be one too. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own that I learned that we didn’t need to have all of that stuff. As I grew older I became even more aware of what we didn’t NEED. I had the 12 place setting of china, numerous pots & pans, and plenty more kitchen gadgets as well as nic nacs for the walls and shelves throughout the house. It was in my late 30’s that I realized that I had all of this stuff that I never used. I think my china had been used 2-3 times, my expensive knife set had a couple of the knives used a couple of times, I had serving pieces and decorations that I never used. Ack! What was I doing with all of this? In the meantime, Mom was accumulating more and more. She now had 2-12 place settings of china plus her everyday dishes. She had a serving platter or bowl or dish for everything you could imagine, a 30 cup coffee maker, a 12 cup coffee maker, and a 4 cup coffee maker. You name it and she seemed to have it.

In 1993 my father died and suddenly she not only didn’t have the income to continue to live in their 3600 square feet of house but she didn’t want to stay in that town. She wanted to move around with me. That was fine but what to do with all of that stuff. We sure couldn’t afford a place big enough for all of it and didn’t need it if we could. So before she followed me to Colorado Springs we had a huge sale. We sold over $3000 worth of furniture, tools (my father had every tool there was and sometimes 2-3 of them), china, and gadgets galore. I also made trip after trip to the dump with things my father had help onto. Things like 2-3 maps of every state in the US because he was always doing trip routing for friends going on vacation. Every brochure for every vehicle made by Ford, Mercury or Lincoln since 1950. The paperwork for every tax return since 1950. And on and on. I shredded what needed it and then took it all to the dump. We sold 3 cars and bought one new one. I thought we had done pretty good until the movers came to move us. Ugh. Box after box after box. The pile was over my head and took up over half of the 26 foot long living room.

Since Dad’s death we have moved to Colorado Springs, Nampa Idaho, Indianapolis Indiana and finally here to the Phoenix area. In every move we sold or gave away more things. My mother was a crafter and had a room full of craft supplies. We keep getting rid of furniture and craft supplies and kitchen items and anything else I could talk her into getting rid of. But we still have plenty we could dispense with. Over most of this time anything that was decluttered went after much discussion and lots of heel dragging at first. Mom has this belief that if you spend money for it you should keep it until it wears out. If you do get rid of it then you should sell it for close to what you bought it for. It’s not realistic but that’s the way she is. I don’t think it helped that my father was just as bad.

When I started following Colleen’s blog I began a campaign to declutter even more. I didn’t know how I was going to get Mom to go along with me but I knew we needed to do something. I decided to be more talkative about why I was getting rid of things that were mine. Now mind you, my mother has a hard time with me getting rid of things even if I paid for them or someone gave them to me. I’ve known her to dig things out of the trash because she might be able to use them. But I decided that maybe if I talked about why I was getting rid of something and why I was or was not selling it she would begin to start thinking the same way. Well, it worked. She has gone from “I’m not getting rid of anything more” to “Deb, what do you think about getting rid of this?” She still has a ways to go but it’s been amazing to see the difference. One other thing that I think has helped is that she has really learned how much energy it takes to have all this stuff. Even if it is shut away in a box somewhere, it is there and you know it. The other day she made the comment, “You know, I’m glad that when I die you won’t have so much to get rid of as before. Can you imagine having to make all those decisions when you are already dealing with my death?” Yippee!! She’s finally getting it. What really blew me away was the other day when she was talking to my aunt. This aunt has barrels of stuff in her garage attic that she has not opened since they moved to their present house 35 years ago. She’s sentimental and hangs onto EVERYTHING. They have 2 of their 3 sons still living. They are in their 50’s. Do you think their sons want to go through all that stuff when their parents die? Well, Mom was talking to my aunt and all their stuff came up in the conversation. Mom says to her, “Well, if you could afford to fly us there, Deb & I would be glad to help you get rid of all of that now before you have to do it in a hurry.” I was so proud of her. More and more she is beginning to get tired of things or finds them to feel like clutter. She’s slowly working on areas like her closet, her bathroom, and her dresser. When the weather gets cooler she says she wants to, “Get in that shed and get rid of most of that junk.” So now you know that people really can change. No person is a hopeless cause. You may have that decluttered house yet.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something intended for pampering.

Today’s Declutter Item

These don’t fit with the mini mission for the day but they sure are things that have a use that has never been utilised. Hopefully someone will buy them at the thrift shop.

Eco Tip of the Day

 Save a tree ~Stop junk mail. It mostly contains advertisements for stuff you don’t need anyway. In Australia this is as easy as putting a No Junk Mail sticker on your mailbox.

“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:

  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • 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 […]
  • You just never know. Firstly I would just like to apologise for my recent extended absence from the blog this month. Unfortunately my mother took ill and I rushed off interstate to visit her in hospital and to […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Great great post Deb J. It has been a real joy to follow you and your mother’s decluttering journey. Thank you for all your posts sionce you joined us, the gradual change in your mother has been amazing.

    I am a great believer in explaining why I am getting rid of my stuff; I think it helps normalise the action and transforms a negative into a positive – “It makes it easier for me to keep our home clean”, or “someone else could be really needing this” or “it is so much easier to have space for everything to have a home, then I can find it when I need it”.

  2. Deb J, Loved, loved, loved this story! I think I’m almost as excited as you for your moms change. I also know first hand the feelings of freedom and liberation that you both are feeling. It’s a wonderful feeling, this lightening up. Plus, the message that change is possible at any age and any time. That’s very encouraging and gives hope to a lot of people living with clutterers or savers. Another plus is that this way of life is totally on the spiritual side as far as lightening up and not being attached to worldly possessions. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. And your treasure is obviously your mom. Well done. And Leona, excellent job decluttering. You have a wonderful daughter.

  3. I’m having similar issues with my own mother. She’s 54 and clings to everything. If it’s useful, or pretty, she “has a place for it”.

    Lately, she’s learned to start saying no if she doesn’t REALLY need something. I was so impressed by that! Baby steps…

  4. Great post. My Dad was the same way and my Mom is to an extent. However as a 91 year old widow she is trying to remove things from her house. She was so successful that when I went to get a suitcase to give to my son I found she had donated all of them. Go Mom.

    • Juhli, this is great. What a hoot. We finally sold off a huge rolling soft-sided suitcase aobut 6 months ago. It was heavy enough when it was empty but when you filled it you could barely roll it let alone pick it up. I told Mom we were better off having two smaller ones if we needed them. We actually only have one small rolling carry-on. I can get enough in it for a week without having to do laundry so cold use it for any length trip. Since we no longer travel, I’m trying to come up with a way to suggest we get rid of it. Smile.

  5. Loved your post, Deb J! How wonderful that your mother has changed her way of thinking about “stuff”.

    I grew up on a farm, and both my parents save everything. My father died a year and a half ago, and we got rid of a few things from the farm, but basically, my siblings and I are going to have a HUGE job clearing everything from the house, barn, and outbuildings when my mother is gone.

    We are not looking forward to that at all. I don’t have the energy for it.

    I like to keep decluttered and pared down so that my daughter won’t have a big project to deal with some day when I am gone.

    • Yes that the extra thing is’nt it/ By having to help or declutter someone elses home makes us realise that we also need to be mindful that we don’t leave the same mess for a loved one.
      This is what I have been doing ever since I have had to do my late aunts home.

      • Hi Denise, I have fortunately never had to clean out anyone’s home after they have passed on but it will happen eventually. That is why I talk decluttering every time I get together with my parents and in-laws. The horror stories I have heard here from people who have had to go through cluttered homes in their time of grief is enough to have me encouraging people to do this themselves before they foist it on someone else. I find it very selfish to ignore the issue.

  6. Enjoyed your post. You mom is lucky to have you there to help her each step of the way and look what influence you can still have on your extended family! My dad wouldn’t get rid of anything until he had to move close to us because he couldn’t live by himself any more. We filled up a 35 foot dumpster over the top with stuff. That didn’t count any furniture or other big items. When his stuff came before him, I got rid of even more. His new home looked really nice and it was clean and uncluttered. I think he really liked it, although I hope he has forgiven me for getting rid of some things he didn’t know about! A crisis situation may be the only thing that will help them to let go. What matters in the end, is not what caused it to happen, but that it happened.

  7. I laughed when I read “I’ve known her to dig things out of the trash.” This morning as I was cleaning up after a breakfast at the Senior Centre, I picked up a pair of dirty oven mitts to take home and wash. One of the fellows advised me that they’d been thrown in the garbage. Obviously, someone else had retrieved them. They went back in the garbage but not until they’d had an ‘accident’ with a pair of scissors!

    I often wonder where everything we declutter will go but one of the women at the breakfast said her son-in-law had just bought a used shipping container to store his extra stuff in. Better him than me!

  8. Great insight to your own decluttering journey Deb as well as your Mom’s too! I agree that some folks just need a little guidance & patience & even to witness the good that can come from decluttering before they can agree to it themselves. Sounds like that’s what happened with your Mom.

    I’ve been kinda MIA lately from posting, but that’s only because I’ve really ramped up my own decluttering goals & any free time has been going to actively decluttering. I’ve nearly finished up with eBay & the consignment shop & am rounding out a few decluttering projects / home improvement projects that have been languishing for months if not years. I’ve been keeping detailed logs of just what I’ve been doing & what exactly I’ve physically decluttered from the home over the past month or so & should finally be able to report that I’ve made it to the maintenance phase of decluttering rather than the active purging phase. At the rate I’ve been going – should have things wrapped up in a few more weeks if not sooner! Wish me luck!

    • Hi Jane – yes I’ve noticed you’re MIA – thought of you the other day when someone mentioned the Gravity Gods again. How’s the plans for the boat house? Have I got that right?

      • Well we are still doing what we can to eventually relocate to the FL Keys. Originally we planned to buy a houseboat…but after much research & me being paranoid about it sinking & my pets going down with the ship – have we refocused back to buying a small conch house on dry land!
        The husband is taking some super special class that will earn him some special qualification that will greatly increase our odds that he can land a full-time job down there. I also applied for state licensure in FL for my profession – so we are being as proactive as possible.

        • Jane I love the way that you have a plan that you are working towards, even if it doesn’t have a specific date. So often people have The Great Idea, set a date and then have a stressful time making it happen. Adrian and I were talking about this the other morning, and how nice it will be to be ready to go when we figure out what we want to do when the kids have all left home.

          • I’ve found myself behind the power curve before & it’s never been a comfortable place to be, so if I can somehow/somewhat “control” the future then I’m less inclined to just spin my wheels or worse, find myself making no decision out of blindsighted fear like a deer in the headlights.

        • Jane – I like your thinking, I too hate that wheel spinning feeling and oh yes have been in a deer-in-the-headlights situation before.

  9. I love your story Deb J. Congrats to you and your mom!

  10. Grace from Brazil

    What a motivational piece of writing! It just makes me want to get up and get rid of some more stuff…so I won’t have to deal with it later, like when we start moving. Why not now before that huge stress hits? Good work, Deb in not fighting your mom but working to bring her along side! Bravo!

    I had to laugh at the decluttering item today! I amy trying to get my bathroom to have a minimalist look and took out toiletries that are used occasionally. When I was moving these items around I saw a facial product that I was holding on to for some pampering! ha! It is going to be put in the to-give-away pile right now!

  11. Deb J – great post. The work you have done with your mum is awesome! And her transformation is unbelievable! I can remember when I first came to 365 that your mum was still in the reluctant stage and it has been lovely following the progress ever since.

    Hopefully your Aunt doesn’t call on your services before you have S’s place under control.

  12. You and your mom are an inspiration to everyone Deb J. Especially anyone who has a reluctant decluttering in their lives. The gentle, lead by example, guiding approach you have used with your mom has been successful beyond expectation. Well done to both of you. And thank you again for sharing your story here at 365 Less Things, not just through this post but through all the comments and wisdom you are shared with us along the way.

  13. Great post Deb! So pleased to hear your mum slowly come around!

    Colleen – I’d have (attempted) to return you declutter items. Actually I did return some brackets, but alas, attempting the project last night, I realised I did in fact need the second packet, so back I go to ‘re’ purchase them!

    As for the Junk Mail sticker – ultimate fail! I got mine for City Of Sydney (coincidentally right beside the post office, which I visited the same day I got the sticker!) I still get junk mail daily – the same as before: ads for new apartment complexes, and AUSTRALIA POST branded ‘catalogues’ and other random things. Out of 115 boxes, I’m the only ‘no junk mail’ box, you think it’d be simple to skip me… but no! I’m going to ‘go postal’ one of these days, cause I am NOT happy at this blatant ignorance to my wishes.

    • Nice attempt with the brackets Snosie, never mind that you had to repurchase them at least you used the shop to store them in rather than your home.

      I’d make a larger No Junk Mail sign that is impossible to miss and stick it on the box and possibly phone Australia Post to find out if there is anything you can do to stop the addressed stuff. Two days before our recent council elections I received a voting slip from the Green Party in my mailbox. Political parties aren’t obliged to conform with ones No Junk Mail request. To add insult to injury the GREEN Party added yet another piece of paper explaining why they had put the first one in. Couldn’t they have included that message at the bottom of the first piece of paper.

  14. Hi Everyone! I’m so glad you liked the post. I have been off the grid for the last few days and totally forgot Colleen was going to run this today. I wanted to report to you all that I was talking to S on the phone and Mom heard me. She yelled, “Tell Susan when you get done at her place we are going to go after this place again and really make hay while the sun shines.” To say I was excited is an understatement. I have several more people who want to “borrow my expertise.” I told them we would have to make this slow. This is wearing me out.

    • Face it, Deb. Your mother was abducted by the same aliens that got Ian – and they’re living happily ever after on Clutter Planet!

    • Hi Deb J, you will be back in the professional organising business before you know it.

      Honestly though, take it easy mate you don’t want to exacerbate your health issues.

      Oh heavens, I just realised I didn’t include the photo of your mom. I had better go back and fix that.

      • I am not sure I will do it for others. Maybe go and tell them what they need to do and put it in steps for them with an occasional checkup but doing the real stuff is killing me. I was supposed to go tomorrow and canceled. I’ve hit the energy wall and can barely function. Will go again next week after some rest.

  15. Deb J, I hope you won’t take this “Australianism” the wrong way – but all I could think of to say when I read your post was “Bl___y legend!”

  16. Excellent story, Deb! I love the idea of verbalizing the reasons you are decluttering an item. I think that would help almost anyone in the process.
    And Colleen, I had forgotten what the declutter item was for today and when I looked at the end of the post, I realized I had already done it this morning: I threw away a couple of bottles of ‘hotel’ shampoo and conditioner. They’ve been sitting half empty waiting for a guest to finish them up. I doubt they’d be used so out they went!

    • Good job Willow. I actually brought back, from my recent interstate family visit, some little toiletry samples that my daughter didn’t want. I don’t usually bother with too much in the way of beauty routines so I thought I would see if I could pick my game up without it actually costing me anything in the attempt. I am pleased to say I have already used up the face cleanser, the face cream is almost gone, there is only enough face mask for maybe two more and the hand and nail cream is quickly running out as well. Does this mean I will invest in full size products, doubtful but I may consider a proper cleanser instead of using soap in future.

  17. Great post Deb J! It is inspiring when you get someone so reluctant to start decluttering. I hope you and your Mom succeed in your decluttering and can have a functional uncluttered home. Your mentioning china brought to mind my own excessive china collection, but I am decluttering slowly. I could understand your Mom’s wanting to keep it, but I am glad she made such progress. Way to go!!! 😀

  18. Excellent story Deb J, congratulations to you and your mum for all of the hard work you’ve been doing to declutter! Cheers, Judy

  19. What a great story!
    I did smirk about the china part as well. We still have a lot of serving ware around this house. Not quite three full sets plus everydayware, but definitely more than the basics. This is because of the two sets my bf inherited (one full set, one tea set) and because of me being unwilling to give up on my cheery crockery and relying completely on grandma’s “good” dishes. (I kind of dislike eating Japanese food from a gold-rimmed plate) My assortment of bowls, big and small plates can serve 6-8 persons and his inherited sets originally served 12 and 24 persons. I have been and am allowed to declutter broken pieces though and may declutter the matching saucer and cake plate when a cup broke etc. So we’re down to sets for 10 and 12 persons now. But we still have lots, especially in the tea set departments.

    • Ah Sanna, those pesky inherited items. My mum has been slowly offering her inherited and acquired (mostly golfing trophies) china cabinet items to her children and grandchildren. When she told me I could take whatever I like I graciously declined. She wanted to share it our to those who wanted specific pieced now while she is still alive to enjoy the giving and receiving process. Good for her I say.

      • I’m glad, I like those inherited items in general. They have a nice style, rather simple, and I imagine I could have bought them myself a couple of years ago – I’d only like them much better if we only inherited a set of six each. 😉
        I can also imagine that it would be rather nice to own one set (plate, saucer and cup) of each of the sets of your loved relatives. They bring forth memories of happy childhood days eating cake and drinking cocoa and could make a nice mix-and-match “fine china” for family gatherings. However, I think, my boyfriend isn’t quite up to such an idea yet. 😉
        My grannies (both still rather healthy for their age) are giving away or “assigning” things as well while still alive. I make sure these days to not raise my hand too often. After all, though we have no kids yet and still rather student-like furniture (i.e. cheapish) for the most part, we have all we need and I can’t think of us really needing/wanting any more.

  20. you give me hope Deb! I have a reluctant mom too 😀
    thank you for sharing!

  21. Great story and post. It certainly takes time to change a person’s mindset, but it is never too late as we can see. I have learned over the years that if it is in a box and doesn’t make it out by the time a person has lived in a home for a year, then you probably are not missing it and you don’t need it. Looking at your items and truly determining if it has a functional use really does make the decision process easier. Also, thinking about how someone will have to deal with these items after we are gone, helps us to let go of things easier too. Even those with the best of intentions, will not place the same value on our items and may not have the time to handle it either. Better to handle it in the here and now. You are so right, it really takes so much of your energy. So glad that your mom is on board and sees the bigger picture now.

  22. Hope. I need that! Thanks for the inspiration to never give up HOPE!

  23. Deb J, I’ve enjoyed watching your and your mother’s progress for quite some time. Good for you both; your story is very inspirational and proof that change is possible – which is something all of us need to hear if we are the first in our families to embrace decluttering .

  24. You already said it in the title: AMAZING!

  25. Great post. I’m dealing with a similar situation except I haven’t been successful in helping to make any great changes with my mother. She’s a product of the depression and doesn’t like to throw much away. I fear my sisters and I will be dealing with what to do with her possessions.

    Maybe there are others on this blog that have suggestions or stories about how they were able to help their parents remove some of the items in their home. I definitely could use some suggestions.

    • Monique, my mother was also a product of the depression. Several things have made the difference with my mother over the last few years. I think the one thing that made the biggest difference is in telling her that at some point someone would have to get rid of all of that stuff. She could hang on to it and I would have to deal with it or we could get rid of it over time and she could benefit from any money that came in from any sales. I also told her that I did not want any of the things she has held onto for sentimental reasons. They were from her life and for me they had little meaning because they were just things that had been sitting around or packed away all my life. I told her that anything she felt someone would want and she didn’t care to still have around to give it to them now so she could see their joy. Why wait until you are gone to give things to people? If she had things that she still wanted to have around then she needed to keep a list of who was to get them after she passed on. I also told Mom that her lifestyle had changed greatly and there were many things she was holding onto “just in case” that would be never used because those “just in case” happenings were no longer going to happen. Due to health reasons she knows that she will no longer be gardening, traveling, entertaining except in small groups and casually, etc. That meant there was no reason to hold on to things that were kept for those types of events. Once we had talked it all out, she began to see the reason why decluttering was a good thing to do.

      • Deb J – I think you’ve explained it beautifully. Our needs and possibilities change as we get older and we need to adapt our surroundings and possessions to match. So often clutter reflects a bygone era of our life.

        I have releatives who are borderline hoarders and the responsibility of clearing their house will probably eventually fall to my husband and I, I would love to have that kind of conversation with them, but they’d be offended and defensive. They’re just not ready for it yet and we live too far away to make any sort of regular inroads. I just tell myself that I have learnt a lot of skills that I can put into practice when the time comes.

        • There are always those who are not ready. Look how long it took with my mother. I think she is a good example of how you just have to bide your time and do what you can when you can. I also think it is easier to do with a parent, child or sibling than other family or friends.

          • Hi Deb J – I don’t think these will ever be ready. The last time my husband was there they asked him to help clear the backyard and as he was putting stuff on the trailer, they were taking stuff off the other side. What makes it worse is that my FIL’s father died a few years back and so his stuff has been added to the house and garage too.

            I really admire what you are doing with S and the changes you have made to your mum’s life. Don’t over do it though. I know it is hard to walk away when things are on a roll but things have a way of catching up with you healthwise.

      • Deb, thanks so much for such your thoughtful comments. I think when my sisters and I are together we will try to diplomatically and very, very gentle suggest just that. I told her the other day that she doesn’t need to cut articles out of magazines and laboriously put in plastic see through jackets which she adds to a binder. I mentioned that I used to cut out a bunch of articles from magazines but then when I needed to reference the article, I couldn’t find it and it was wasting my time. I threw the clippings away. I left the comment at that and haven’t said anything else. But as others have mentioned, I am not looking forward to culling the items in her house.

        • All you can do is try. Culling isn’t fun at any time when you have to do it for someone else. It’s a real pain. I hope that you and your sisters are able to make a difference and that she will do it herself.

    • Monique – the other day I heard one of my kids refer to themselves as a ‘product of the recession’ – LOL – the poor didums has to share the iPad with her siblings……….

      • Moni, I chuckled when I read this comment. “Product of the recession” because they have to share an iPad. LOL — Too cute! Sounds like wise parenting to me.

  26. I found Deb J’s emphasis on keeping only things that fit your lifestyle really helpful. My condo can comfortably sleep one couple besides me and my husband. My table seats 4. While I can at a stretch sit 8 people for dinner (we did for Thanksgiving!) it will be crowded and informal. If that ever happens again, we can ask our guests to bring some things or use disposables. I really should only plan for 2 guests at a time because that’s what our place fits and that’s how things usually work out. I have no desire to move to a larger place – this is and will be my life.

    • Rebecca, I think is is great that you already know you are where you want to be and are fine with the restrictions that places on your entertaining. It took me a long time to get away from the “have a party” or “invite a bunch” mindset. It wasn’t that I wanted all of those people but that was the way you were supposed to entertain. I have found that I can really get to know people if I have fewer and we sit down with the intention of deepening our relationship. Now I have learned to really like that we can’t have the neighborhood in but must have only one couple at t time.