Disassociation Part 1 ~ Guilt Clutter

I was intending to write a post today about disassociating with your clutter emotionally but once I started to think about this issue I decided it deserved a whole series of posts. So I have divided this subject into catergories such as Sentimental, Guilt, Obligational, Aspirational and Security clutter as each one affects people in different ways.

Decluttering isn’t just a physical activity, in fact the metal strain of letting go of certain items is where the real challenge comes in for many people. For others letting go can be quite easy, in fact too easy in some cases, learning not to reclutter is their biggest challenge but that is a whole other post topic. For now we will concentrate of finding the will to let go.

Today we will start with guilt Clutter and I will do my best to describe this kind of clutter, explain our attachment to it and to help you find a way to disassociate from not only the items but whatever it is that binds you to it.

Guilt clutter are items you regret having acquiring in the first place but now feel you should keep in order to justify their purchase and/or get your money’s worth out of them. Just about anything can fall into this category but they are usually items that you…

  • Spent a lot of money on and haven’t used much.
  • Spend money on you couldn’t afford to waste.
  • Really didn’t need in the first place.
  • Or a combination of the above.

Some of these purchases are aspirational in character such as that fishing boat that sits in the back yard out in the weather unused week in week out, decreasing in resale value everyday. You had good intensions when you bought it but really didn’t put enough thought into it. Your wife doesn’t like fishing that much and the kids aren’t as keen as you thought they would be because they have their own intests. You soon discovered that fishing isn’t that much fun alone and launching the boat can be a challenge on your own also. Fishing really was more fun that odd weekend that your mate Bill would take you out in his boat.

Other purchases come in the form of bandaids to mask disappointment, insecurities or other feeling of dissatisfaction that occur in life. Like that new handbag you bought to compensate for the fact that you hate your job ~ That new dress you bought so you could feel better about yourself even though what you really want is to loose 20lbs ~ The diamond ring you treated yourself to because you husband doesn’t pay enough attention to you any more. Once the novelty wears off these items you are back at the store looking for another hit because you still have that crappy job, the excess weight and the unappreciative husband and now also some very unhealthy credit card debt and a cluttered home.

Sometimes purchases can just be an honest mistake. Say for instance you need a new appliance in the home and you make what you think is a considered purchase and it turns out not to be what really suits your needs. You though you had all the information you needed to make a good choice but six months down the track you are sorry you ever laid eyes on this thing. You couldn’t live your choice any longer and bought a replacement and now that other reject is sitting in your garage taunting you every time you see it.

There are many more stories behind why we purchase these items of guilt but the fact is that is does no good to keep them in our homes if they aren’t being used. They are never going to realise their worth and it is best to cut your losses now and try to sell them on to someone who may appreciate them more. You may only get back a fraction that you paid for them but that is better than wallowing in regret. The grief they are giving you far outweighs the joy they every gave you and it is time to move on.

What is important here is to learn from your mistake/s. Should you make a habit of this vicious cycle then you are really in trouble but if you realise the error of your ways and address the issues that inspire these kinds of purchases instead of running away from them then you will be on your way to recovery.

So if you have any items in your home that you feel may fall under the category of Guilt Clutter it is time to disassociate from them. Take a long hard look at these items and …

  • Recognise why you think you bought these objects in the first place.
  • Understand the mistakes you made.
  • Promise yourself to make more considered choices if you find yourself in a similar position in the future.
  • Forgive yourself.

Now use whatever method suits you to remove this object from you life, whether that be to recoup some of you losses or donate it to charity as penance for your transgressions but either way let it go.

Today’s Declutter Item

I think I have finally come to the last of the craft adhesive applicators to be decluttered from my extensive craft supplies collection. Out of curiosity I scanned back to see how many time adhesive has been the declutter item of the day and found six other occasions.

Craft Adhesive

Something I Am Grateful For Today

I am grateful that my thrift store has opened at its new location and that the rain (deluge) held off long enough to drop off a trunk load of donations. While I was there I asked if they needed volunteers and as a result tomorrow I will probably be processing my own donations since I will be doing the afternoon shift. That is one way to increase my knowledge of what happens behind the scene at thrift stores. I will be sure and let you all know how it went.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Don’t agonise over getting rid of clutter It has been a busy week for me and I didn't get around to writing a second post. So rather than leave you uninspired for the week I am republishing the following post from the archives. […]
  • It’s all about you Today's mini mission is ~ Just declutter something that isn’t “you”. In reality all of this weeks mini missions have been about getting rid of things that aren't you. By this I mean […]
  • Don’t agonise over getting rid of clutter I had a reader back in the early days of my blog who seemed to have trouble letting go of her clutter. It wasn't that she wanted to keep the stuff, or found it difficult to make the […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Fantastic post Colleen. I can’t wait to read the rest of them. And I’m very eager to hear about your thrift store experience. That should be a real eye-opener. I hope in a good way!

    • Hi Cindy,
      I am looking forward to seeing how things operate at the thrift store and I truly hope I won’t be disappointed because I would hate to lose a great resource for offloading my stuff and really really hate to think that all this time I have been finding new homes for my stuff but it has actually been ending up in landfill anyway. Yikes!!!

      • Colleen,
        Do, please, let us know how this works out – I’ve thought once I’m back on my feet, I’d like to volunteer in our hospice opshop, and had the same ‘wonders’ as you have.

        • Hi Ann,
          I spent half my day there today. I processed clothes ~ ticketing, pricing , hanging. It was very busy because this shop has just moved from another location to a area where there are a lot of secondhand store which will likely bring in a lot of customers. I was happy that only a few thing out of the 7 or so big bags I emptied and priced were not in selling condition. There are so many question I want to ask and to learn more about the process but every one was so busy today just keeping up with sales and getting more stuff out on the shelves which is great. They had a really good day.

  2. I love your categories of clutter. It is so true!

  3. I was thinking that one object would fall in this category, but now I realize it is the obligation clutter. So I will be waiting on how to deal with that! I think I’ve decluttered pretty much all of my guilt items by now. I don’t have trouble letting those things go because they are just a reminder that I did something stupid and added to my debt. (Can I sell my kids? No? Darn.)

    Have you written the obligation post yet? I’m looking forward very much to that one because we have a real fur hat from Russia that my husband inherited, a boatload of teacups (also inherited) that added to a collection I no longer want, and a stuffed bear made out of my dead grandmother’s bathrobe. Yes, really. And my mom guilted me about thinking about getting rid of the bear, so please help!

    Thank you and hugs,

    • Hi Chelle,
      I am sure there is a market for the kids but I don’t think it is a legal one. 😆 Just kidding of course and I know you are too. When my son was four weeks old I went back to the hospital where he was born to visit a friend who had just had her little girl. The nurse recognised me and asked what I was doing there, I told her I had bought my son back for a refund because he wasn’t working properly (he had reflux) but she wouldn’t give me a refund. I am glad I kept him though because he turned out pretty well in the end. 😆

      I haven’t started writing the obligation clutter post yet but I am looking forward too it. Unfortunately though it can sometimes take steel will to stand up to those who feel they should be able to insist you keep stuff you don’t want. Putting your needs ahead of someones else’t wants takes guts but I know you can do it.

      • Colleen, my middle son had reflux and his first year was a nightmare. I don’t even remember it, it was such a blur. I had the worst case of PPD because he never stopped crying and never slept. We kept him in his car seat for the first four months, because he could only sleep upright. Now he is a mouthy 14 year old who thinks he knows it all. Not sure which is worse!

        I will be really glad to read the obligation post. The teacups are no big deal because that’s my choice. The hat is my husband’s choice to keep or part with. The bear…oy, that awful bear! It’s really creepy. Not even cute! And when I told my mom I wasn’t sure I wanted it, she GUILTED me! Like my kids are going to want a bear made out of their dead great-grandmother’s bathrobe! NOT!

        Good luck with that post. I am anxious to see how you handle this problem!

        Hugs, Chelle

        • My grandfather always wore a certain style of overalls – either solid blue in various degrees of fading or a blue and white striped. After he passed, my aunt made at least one quilt from these overalls. While the person she made it for loves and treasures it, I find the whole business a bit creepy, which I think is irrational but true. I don’t think I’d be at all eager to keep an ugly teddy bear that gave me goosebumps. If it’s so important to your mother, let her have the bear. Obviously SHE has sentimental memories associated with it, while you do not.

          • Cindy, she had one made for herself too, so she already has one. Ugh, I don’t know what to do with it. It gives me the creeps! She asked me if the fact that she wore the bathrobe a lot made me feel better. I was all like, “Um, no, that just means you wore a dead woman’s bathrobe.” *Shiver*

            Maybe I’ll have a ceremonial teddy bear sacrifice party. I wonder if any of my friends would come.

          • Chelle,
            I love the idea of your ceremonial party to get rid of that darn bear. It sounds creepy just reading your comments!!! Actually, the hardest part is eventually having to come clean to your Mom that you ceremonially rid your life of that darn bear. Like Colleen says, YOU ARE STRONG! Go for it!

        • Hi Chelle,
          my son was a bit different with his reflux he was as good a gold except for the fact that he just refused to eat and threw up most of what he did. It was as though he associated (rightly so) the pain with the eating and we could not hold him in a lying position in our arms or he would think he was going to be fed and would start screaming. He was a champion and still is with tolerating pain and illness and when he had Chicken Pox when he was two he was so patient especially considering the severeness of his case of it. Thank goodness this trait hasn’t changed over the years because last year when he had his accident he was so patient with his recovery, he never once complained about pain even though he had a two broken vertebrae, a broken jaw and a severe brain injury. Mind you he did get very impatient about getting our of hospital once his brain injury improved and he could remember being there the day before. But like your son he is still a mouthy teenager who thinks he knows it all.

          As for that bear get rid of it, tell your mother you don’t want it and ask her if she would like it and if not do what you like with it. Let her know that you will always remember your grandmother and cherish those memories but don’t need the bear to help you with that. People have no business insisting that you keep things that you don’t want just because it suits their beliefs. Your mother should understand that the well being you are creating by decluttering your home is more important than any object no matter what sentimental value she has attached to it. Put your needs ahead of he wants.

          • Colleen,

            I wish it was that easy. My mom was diagnosed in December with a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma and her left leg was amputated on February 1st. They said everything was fine and there was only a 1% chance of it coming back, but her CT scan last week showed two spots in her lungs that were not there in April. They are sure it is the cancer that has been hanging out somewhere in her body all this time. They told her in December that if it went to her lungs, it would be terminal. We are waiting on a needle biopsy to be done next week.

            So, it’s unfortunately not a great time for me to take a stand on the bear! I may just quietly get rid of it. She will never know the difference if I do. The question is – who would want it????

            I’m glad that your son is recovering from his accident. Jamie has struggled with reflux all of his life, as well as a lot of problems with his lower digestive tract, and also has had a lot of injuries to his mouth and has been in braces since he was 7. He’s had a long haul too, so I try to cut him some slack. The poor kid seems to get all the worst of our genetics.

            Hugs, Chelle

            • Hi Chelle,
              I am so sorry things aren’t going well for your mom and my heart goes out to both her and yourself and family at such a scary time. Like you say now is not the time to quibble over a silly bear so best just to drop it for now. I am not saying don’t get rid of it if you want to I am just saying do it on the quiet and don’t broach the subject with her. If she ever notices it gone then you can explain to her then how you didn’t like it and didn’t need ti to remind you of the love you have for your grandmother.

              Once again I send her healing wishes and you thought of comfort that you weather this storm together the best you can.

              God bless!

  4. Calico ginger

    Chelle, you take that bear out to the rubbish right now! If anyone remembered me by making a bear out of my dressing gown I would be mortified! If you have a nice piece of jewellery or something you actually LIKE that belonged to you grandmother, you should wear or display that and if your mum comments on the absent bear, you should just point out to her that this is how you prefer to remember your grandmother.

  5. Hi Colleen! Great post as usual. Hi Chelle, can I comment? I will assume you accepted and will comment. I am deeply sorry you are going through such an ordeal with your mother, and I am not saying you should go over and talk about the bear, but you do have to take a stand. I don’t understand why she attached such an importance to a object when what is important is the love you felt for your grandmother. Because of her health at the moment I really think you should take the time to tell her that you *love* her, and that any objects that are left behind when she goes, might be kept to remind you of that love. However, you don’t need any objects to remind us that we love people. I am reminded of the love I felt for my grandmother every single day, just by hearing a song, making my bed, or looking at my children. So, my guess is she might be hanging on to objects because she might think that if you don’t have anything to remind you of her you will forget her, your grandmother and all the love you shared, which you never will. Sorry about butting in, but do tell her about love. Nobody goes to funerals and says: “Wow what a nice crammed up house full of stuff that one left to the family!!!”, no, they say, “Such a loving family, he/she will be missed!”.

  6. Andrea,

    No I don’t mind you putting your two cents in at all.

    I think what I will probably end up doing with the bear is just putting it away for right now and seeing what happens with my mom’s health. It might be a subject I can bring up later when she is once again healthy (please!) or I don’t bring up at all if she is terminal. If the latter is true (and I so hope it’s not!), there is no point to fighting with her over stuff while she’s dying. And she won’t care what I do with it once she’s gone.

    It’s funny, because she has never cared before that I keep something of this nature. I really think she thought I would treasure it because she treasures hers. Which makes sense because it was HER mother’s. If it was something of my own mother’s I might feel differently.

    It’s a shame they didn’t make the bear cute, because that would have solved the problem. At least I could look it in the eye, but no. It’s just ugly terry cloth blue with those eyes that follow you. Ick.

    Got a trunkload of stuff to Goodwill today with the help of my oldest son. I love it when we clear stuff out because then I start looking around for more stuff to clear out. This will be fun until we run out of stuff and then we’ll have to find better uses for my time. Like all the things I don’t do now that I want to do. Like walk on the beach every day!


    • Hi Chelle,
      always find time to do the things you love to do even when you are decluttering. Walks on the beach are so therapeutic.

  7. May I put my two cents’ worth in, Chelle I think you are right in your last comment; I was going to suggest – if your mother is so ill just now, why make things worse for her – just let the … bear sit in a cupboard a little longer, and face it some time later – one way or another, the problem will probably sort itself out. Her reaction to your parting with it may well be related to her current feelings of mortality….
    All the best for the future.

  8. Colleen,
    Oh I’m so excited to hear how your volunteering goes!!! Keep us all ‘post’ed! (hee hee).

    Thank you for helping me to forgive myself for my GUILT CLUTTER (ugh!). 🙂 I’m learning EXCELLENT lessons, and each step along the way, decreasing my shopping bug (more like trying to STOMP OUT the shopping bug!).

    • Hi Annabelle,
      I want to hear good things about you fighting the shopping bug. Whenever you are tempted to buy something you think of me (frowning), that should scare you into submission.

      • 🙂 well I don’t know about being scared thinking of you frowning, maybe I should think about that bear made out of the bathrobe!!! 🙁

        • Annabelle, I LOVE the idea of my scary bear being an inspiration. I will try to get a picture of it later when I get home to send to Colleen. Maybe she can post it up on the site as a way to have people remember why we declutter.

          Still laughing. Colleen, let me know if you would like me to take a picture and send it to you!


          • Hi Chelle,
            I would love that picture and I am sure we could have some fun with it. I know! When I have a photo of a collection of things to declutter at once I could paste a tiny copy of your bear picture into the photo of the clutter and we could play spot the scary bear. That would make a fun Saturday feature. 😆

        • Hi Annabelle,
          at my mother-in-laws house there is a doll (actually there is a million dolls but that’s another story) that is really creepy looking and my daughter has hated it since she was small. It has those evil eyes that watch you no matter where you are in the room.

  9. Hi, Colleen…This is an excellent post, and I’m looking forward to the rest of them in the series.

    My guilt clutter used to come in the form of little bags of stuff my mother would send home with me: little freebies that came in the mail, recipes or coupons she had clipped, just random little items.

    I used to feel bad that I didn’t have any use for most of the stuff, but would keep it anyway, since “my mother gave it to me”.

    Somewhere along the line I started keeping ONLY what I had an actual use for, and passing along or throwing away what I couldn’t use.

    Works much better that way.

    • Hi Mrs. B,
      it is funny how we create the idea in our minds about what other people will think if we decluttered objects they gave us. I think we beat it up to a bigger deal than it ought to be most times. If we were to ask the other person in this equation they would probably laugh at us and say don’t be so silly. I for one do not loose an ounce of sleep over the things I have decluttered that were given to me, if someone has the hide to ask where an item is I will be more than happy to tell them.

  10. Colleen,

    Just tell me how to send it to you. I actually wrote a blog entry about the scary bear today and the picture is there. If you want to head over to my blog at http://www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com, you can copy the image over to your computer and use it. I give you permission.

    I wish I could figure out how to market this bear idea. I think it would be a great motivator for anyone struggling with decluttering.


    • Hi Chelle,
      I have copied the image thank you and I might feature him on a Simple Saturday one week.
      I think everyone has their own item that represents the same thing as your bear so it would be a purely individual thing. I like the idea though and maybe I should sift through all my declutter photos to choose one to represent my blog. My husband has often said I need a logo.

      • Colleen,

        Maybe you could use him for a post about picking one of your items to be your inspiration. Something that creeps you out or that you want to get rid of but haven’t been able to. You can turn it into an item that inspires you to keep on getting rid of stuff because every time you look at it, you will remember that you didn’t really want it, but now you need to keep up the good work!

        I think it’s a fantastic idea for you to pick your own item to use as your declutter logo. Make it something you had a really hard time getting rid of. I agree with your husband – a logo would be very cool.


        • Hi Chelle,
          I would love to write that post if you don’t mind my using your idea. Of course I will link to your blog and give you full credit for the idea. It would be fun.

  11. Great post Colleen and I look forward to the rest of the series. My biggest callenge at the moment is to get rid of the shopping trolley load I decluttered weeks ago and has now taken root by the door…

    We’ve had our first request for a wedding list, and the desire expressed to buy us something that will last us for ever, like a dining service. We happily live with 2 dinner plates/bowls etc,lol so don’t think we’ll be going for that. There really isn’t a ‘thing’ we want.

    • Hi Katharine,
      I have really solved this problem now by volunteering at the thrift store. Since I am going there anyway, one day a week, I can drop of my stuff while I am at it. It is also good for declutter inspiration as customers ask if we have certain things, like my first day when two people came in looking for records. Needless to say I have now put all my old records together to take there next week.

      As for that wedding list, Good Luck!!! I went to a wedding last year, it was a young couple who had already been living together for a year or two. They had a wishing well at the wedding. This is a small wishing well replica that people could put a gift of money into so the couple could buy what they really needed and not end up with lots of stuff they already had. I personally think it is a great idea but I am sure other folks would think it was tacky.


  1. […] has been doing a series on types of clutter that are hard to release.  She started by describing Guilt clutter: Guilt clutter are items you regret having acquiring in the first place but now feel you should […]

  2. […] has been doing a series on types of clutter that are hard to release.  She started by describing Guilt clutter: Guilt clutter are items you regret having acquiring in the first place but now feel you should […]

  3. […] My closet is often the first place I go when I need to spend a few minutes decluttering and no matter how often I clean it out, there are always new pieces of “clutter” in there that I didn’t see last time.  So first, I’m going to use the backward-hanger tip to identify what I really wear every season; then I’m going to replace the hangers for those items I have worn with my new hangers.  I’ll start this week by hanging my fresh laundry on the new hangers and at the end of each season, I’ll declutter those items that didn’t get worn.   (If I have a problem getting rid of any of these items, I’ll use Colleen’s tips here. […]

  4. […] something you are only keeping out of guilt because it cost you much more than it proved useful to you. That is you paid a lot for something […]

  5. […] Colleen at 365 Less Things has been doing a series on types of clutter that are hard to release.  She started by describing Guilt clutter: […]