Don’t be fooled by the little things

Small things collage

Little things add up to a lot. Overlooking them when decluttering, because they are insignificant, won’t allow you to declutter to the fullest extent. You would be surprised how much space in your home is taken up with lots and lots of small objects. During my declutter mission it has always been exciting to declutter the big things like furniture or storage systems.  However, I have also taken joy from decluttering the smallest things because without that the big things would not been emptied and able to go.

Likewise, bringing small items into your home, because their diminutive size makes them seem harmless enough, will undermine your decluttering efforts.

Also, small inexpensive objects are often not treated with respect and cared for appropriately because they are just that, small and inexpensive. But the cost of these little things also adds up when we lose, break or waste them just because individually they seem financially insignificant. No doubt landfill sites contain many of these objects.

The photo above shows a very small selection of the little items that were decluttered from my home last year. There were many more in 2011 and 2010 and also more this year. Seeing this small selection gives you a visual on how they begin to add up. Remember this the next time you consider something small and lean towards the idea that it won’t make any difference to keep it.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a, not too, sentimental item.

Eco Tip for the Day

Reuse cereal bags to ~ wrap lunches, coat chicken with seasonings, bag carrots to keep them fresh, store cut onions…

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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Continue reading with these posts:

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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 […]
  • 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. I agree wholeheartedly. The trouble with little things is that you need boxes, bins, baskets, drawers and shelves to store them. When we rearranged the living room furniture in January, Ian’s antique writing desk came to live in my office/craft room. He tentatively suggested we get rid of it but the fact is, this piece has never been used as a desk — it’s a storage place for little pieces of his life. This weekend, at my urging he reluctantly tackled the contents of one drawer and a lot of useless bits (broken travel clock, his swimming badge, defunct hearing aids…) were tossed, other things re-homed or recycled. Following that he voluntarily tackled his belts, knives, flashlights and other bits, removing one entire basket from the dresser. I matched it by clearing out two baskets of my own bits and pieces, plus a bulletin board. The things we’ve kept now fit in the spaces made by removing other stuff along the way. It will take a long time but I can see the day in the future when the writing desk and our large china cabinet leave this house because we no longer have all the stuff we store in them.

    • You know first hand then, how all those little things add up Wendy. The comparison of the size of each thing to how annoying they can be cluttering up small areas in a very messing way is not even close. Well done getting Ian into the spirit of decluttering. Must be the promise of spring in the air.

  2. Over the weekend it was mostly little things that I placed in the donation box, but there were so many that the sizable box is about 1/2 full. It was a lot of hair accessories that were decluttered along with other little things that had accumulated in our bathroom cabinet. I also went through our medicine cabinet and tossed everything that had expired. I went through a small decorative box that sits in my bedroom and found that it had become home to many little things that needed to either be put away in their proper place (buttons and safety pins) or things that belonged in the donation box.

    • Sounds all too familiar Melissa. As you can see from the photo on todays post, I had plenty of little bits and pieces myself. And that is only a small selection of them. As I say, it all adds up.

  3. Hello everyone. I’ve been reading but not enough time to write lately. Have a new boss, new to the company and building a new division so have been wrapped up at work late every day.
    But after reading this post today, I want to share a husband story. My husband has season tickets to our local hockey team and they are doing some thank you gifts to long time season ticket holders. For some reason, they can only prove that my husband has been a season ticket holder for 25 years when in fact it has been 36 years. He saves all his ticket stubs but could not find any that went back as far as 30 + years. The gift for over 30 years was much better than that of 25 years so he was extremely disappointed that his name didn’t get on the 35 yr. list nor would he get to sit in the owner’s box with the 35+ folks. Now, let me backup a minute and tell you that he has a corner of our bedroom stacked with old checks, empty check boxes, ticket stubs and a variety of other papers that are nearly as high as the desk and dresser that surround this corner. This weekend, he decided to sort through these papers and found – YIPPEE – canceled checks dating back to 1977 paying for his season tickets. He even noted what the check was for in the memo part of the check. Was he ever happy! So, he can prove that he is a 35 + year fan and get his name on the “right” board. This is not so important to me but it is a major deal to him.
    What is important to me is that he is cleaning out that corner and finding lots of little things that can be tossed or recycled (the empty check boxes, for example). This corner has been a thorn in my side for years but he claims it has important stuff there. I guess it does have important stuff – the payment info – but it is extremely messy and it will be wonderful to have it cleaned out. So, little by little, these seemingly insignificant things are being sorted and cleaned out. And as for me, I began cleaning out several dresser drawers this weekend. I found it easy to put away clean socks yesterday because of the purging of things that no longer fit or were too old to keep. I also tossed some plastic kitchen containers into the recycling bin that were too stained to use anymore. And hung some quilts in the closet so I could start getting my bed set up for spring bed clothes. All in all, for me, a very productive weekend. And still had time to make a nice Easter dinner for my husband and son and me.

    • Hi Maggie, thanks for dropping in during such a busy time. I was worried there that your story was going to evolve into one that said “Be careful what little things you throw away! Sometimes they can be so important.” I am so glad that wasn’t the case and that your husband could prove his 36 year membership and was still willing to clear out that corner. It sounds like a fiddly task indeed and I am glad he is having to do it, not you. It is a fact that sometimes clutter can save the day but for the most part it is just clutter messing up one’t home.

      By the way I would have been very upset like your husband had I been in his situation. Being a loyal fan like that for so long should be recognised and I hope he gets this cleared up once and for all. It might pay to keep those few checks that prove his case.

  4. My husband is taking the old checks with him when he gets his special seat to celebrate his season ticket years so perhaps he will get another “special date”, too.
    The only thing that scares me about his finding these checks is that he may want to continue to keep canceled checks FOREVER! He says he thinks he has never thrown away a single canceled check since we have been married. I keep special ones and shred the rest. Of course, my account is just my personal things while he manages our household account which would have many more checks to keep track of. I think he probably kept most of them because he tracks all our expenditures for renovating the house and for utility tracking. He is very O/C when it comes to “tracking” expenses.

    • Maggie – I am fascinated with cancelled checks – I heard the term a few years ago in a book, and I had to google it. I’m in New Zealand and we call them ‘cheques’, pronounced the same but probably an English thing that we kept. We don’t get cheques back when they’ve been presented. I don’t know what the bank does with them from there. The cheque number and amount shows up on your bank statement that you either download or receive in the post. We’re only required to keep bank statements for so many years, and to be honest, most people I know don’t keep them even that long – our tax system is quite different to yours, the majority of wage earners aren’t required to file tax returns as we have a Pay As You Earn system and the employer takes care of your tax payments. In this case your husband’s system has definately worked to his benefit but wow that’s a long time to hold onto records.

      I’ve been told that paper cheques are going to be phased out here in the next couple of years – having said that, I don’t use a cheque book for personal payments, everything is done either thru my internet banking or using my debit card, and I have asked the guys I work with who are next generation down and neither of them have a cheque book. For the company, we only write maybe half a dozen in a year now as, likewise, its all done thru internet banking or using debit cards.

    • We still have out American Check book but we haven’t had an Australian one since before we went to live in America. I was very surprised at how much checks are use over there. We even encountered a lady paying by check in the Dairy Queen drive thru one day. Personally I thought that was taking it too far.

      That being said, I think you need to put a limit on what hubby is allowed to keep in the way of old checks.

  5. Colleen, this is so true. I am amazed at the amount of small things my parents kept and that Mom then kept. We are getting closer and closer to having it all gone. One thing I still have to go through is one of those many drawered metal units that many men have for nails and screws, etc. When we left the house Mom and dad had been living in I took a bunch of the various types for use in our new place. I have carried this unit around in all our moves. I realized the other day that much of what we have in there I no longer use because I now have to hire someone to do things. So I am going to have the man I usually hire to come over and take any of it he can use. I have a feeling we will be able to get rid of the unit itself. I can’t wait to do that.

    Another place where I had many little things was my scrapbooking supplies. I think I have pretty well cleared most of that out. What I have left are things I can use on cards. I’ve gone from 13 drawers with 30 little divisions filled with little things to 3. It’s sooooo exciting.

    • Deb J – well done, I know you have been battling the War Against Scrapbooking Supplies for some time.

      • Moni, battling is right. It wasn’t until I realized that I am no longer scrapbooking because I have all of the pictures from the past that I wanted to scrapbook done that I also realized that I could get rid of so much. I will continue to make cards but I seldom use all the embellishments on them because then they cost more to mail. So I am now rid of all of that.

    • Good solution getting the handyman to help himself to the stuff. I am sure he will just take the lot.

      Well done with the fiddly craft bits too. I have beading supplies as well as papercrafting so little bits is a part of life here. They are all neatly organised in handy little containers though and there are fewer of them than when I first started decluttering the craft space.

      • I suddenly realized that most of what I have in that drawer unit in the shed are things we may never have to use any more. I’m all for getting them out of here.

  6. Hi everyone, am back from a lovely Easter break weekend away. Little things. Oh yeah they certainly add up. Is it just me or does anyone else find it easier to get rid of big things than little things? It might take a bit of effort to arrange for sale or rehousing of a piece of furniture, but how often the process is hampered prior with all the little things that live within it.

    Once I have caught up on some general housework and laundry from our weekend away I need to give the garage a good tidy up – why, oh why is it always the garage? Stuff seems to like to congregate out there. And Adrian keep reassuring me that I’m soooo much better than him at this getting rid of stuff bizo. It really isn’t bad at all, I could knock it over in an hour or so, but why always the garage?

    • Hi Moni, I am glad you had a lovely break. We stayed home but we got a couple of good days at the beach, the kids around and chocolate. Who could want more.

      Ah the garage, always in a state of flux. Steve was rummaging around in ours on the weekend. The only thing I saw disappear though was to tool kit for Liam’s motorbike. He took it with him after dropping in last night. But as the post today says, every little thing counts. I also gave him the last box of stuff out of his closet so big win there.

      • Colleen – one house we lived in, didn’t have a garage. Makes me wonder how we managed.

        • Hi Moni, Good luck to you with the garage! I am so happy to report that our garage is just about cleaned out. It had indeed been invaded by one or more furry critters and we decided we had to do a ruthless clear out. It took several hours but we removed everything, cleaned the walls and the window, replaced the spidery blind, washed the floor and only put back a fraction of what had been there. No more places for critters to hide! I think the garage had become the final resting place for all the things that we didn’t know what to do with, or stuff that we felt bad about getting rid of, or things relating to my aspirations of doing a lot of gardening. Now I keep going out there to admire the results. I know this method wasn’t the 365 way but the situation with the invaders made things urgent and I really needed my husband’s help with all the sorting and lifting. After the first hour when there was still so much stuff there I could feel the despair setting in, but Easter chocolate came to the rescue and we managed to deal with 9 years of accumulations. Good luck with your garage! And Colleen, you are so right about all the little things. My husband spent a good hour going through all his nails, screws, little metal things. For a person who does very little DIY he has an astonishing collection, but I’m not too worried about it at the moment and I like Deb J’s idea of giving those things to a handyman so shall keep that in the back of my mind.

          • Christine – we did a Mouse Declutter once under my daughter’s bed – there was a lot of squealing and tippy-toey prancing on the spot but everything was hauled out and dealt with. I suspect things just haven’t been put away in the ceiling storage such as suitcases and there are a few things which are waiting to be rehoused via trademe or freecycle or charity collections. I think I will concentrate on getting those things out this week.

          • Hi Christine, the 365 ways doesn’t work for every situation that is for sure. During my craft room declutter, although I got rid of most things gradually, every now and again I had to do a big reshuffle in order to eliminate pieces of furniture. You should have seen the mess I made at times but it was so rewarding at the end of the day. Big changes sure spur a person on for a while. And there is nothing wrong with going back to the nice tidy place and gloating over it constantly for several days or even weeks.

    • Garages are a real pain. I’m so glad we don’t have one. I do admit though that our last place had one but it was in very good shape. It was our only place for storage other than the pantry so we made good use of it but all was properly organized and put away in bins. We had very little to declutter because we only had room for the things we used. Now we have a carport and the shed. The shed is getting more and more empty. Just a few things to go to some friends of ours who just got into their new house and we will have a fairly cleaned out shed.

      • Don’t get me wrong Deb J, I love my garage. It is my transit point for all my clutter. It can sit out there for weeks rather than cluttering up a corner inside the house. It is slowly getting less and less cluttered itself also. Take a look at the before and after photos. Not only that I can get in and out of the house by car without going out into bad weather.

        • Oh, yes, I understand that. It is just they seem to become the storage place of a black hole. I can’t remember when we had a garage we could use for cars while Dad was alive. Then after living in several apartments Mom and I bought the condo and it had a garage. I immediately told Mom that it was not going to be a storage place with no room for a car. That was the first time I was able to get the car in out of the cold and wet. Wow! That was so nice. I think you have done a wonderful job of cleaning yours out.

          • Hi Deb J, I think we can safely call that a transfer of responsibility. That is, garages are useful spaces that serve a very good purpose, it is not the fault of the garage that they become cluttered, they don’t accumulate anything, people do.

          • That’s a good way to put it Colleen.

  7. It’s the little things that hardest to find a new home! I took IKEA dowels and screws back on Saturday – felt silly but good! Also donated to their as is a second shelf I didn’t need from their trolley (that I found curbside). Little things that were lingering were broken cheap jewelry (decided the bin was best) and some pretty cards (into bag to take to the op shop). Slow and steady!

    • We get broken cheap jewellery in at the thrift shop all the time. I bring it home and repair it for resale. Anything not worth repairing I dismantle and fill old glass jars with the useful bits which sell to crafters. Very little waste this way. So next time consider donating it whether it is broken or not.

      Slow and steady does win the race. It may take a while but it is thorough.

      • Hi Colleen,
        I like the way you fix, dismantle or re-purpose. We have a lady and gent that fiddle with things that no-one can be bothered with and wow do they do a great job. They told me it keeps it out of the rubbish, what gets trashed does so thoughtfully and what is re-furbished is WOW!!! Honestly they do a great job, and all their hard work is to help others . Gotta love that 🙂 🙂 🙂

        • Thanks Dizzy sometimes I get a little carried away and fully restring items that then get sold of $5. If they are lovely old vintage beads I just can’t help myself. I enjoy it so I don’t think about how much per hour my time is worth. You can’t put a price on fun anyway.

  8. The little items are also the ones that are most easily misplaced. I have been doing some decluttering at home (partly inspired by this blog), and as I have removed junk I have found clothes pegs all over the house. I have put these back into a bucket with all the other clothes pegs. Hidden in the the wrong place they were junk, in the right place they are useful.

    • Hi Ed and welcome to 365 Less Things. I am curious as to how the pegs got all over the house. I am also curious as to where you are from, it seems there aren’t that many places, among where my readers come from, where people hang their clothes out to dry. One of our readers who lives in Arizona (yes sunny hot Arizona) has neighbourhood rules forbidding hanging clothes outside to dry. What a crazy world we live in.

      You will enjoy Cindy’s post tomorrow it hits on the idea of bringing like things together so you know how many you have in order to declutter the excess.

      • Another reader from Arizona here who couldn’t bear it if we couldn’t hang clothes out to dry in our neighborhood. A good reason for all of the cement block fences. The nice thing is that my mother spent the winter with us, and now wants to begin hanging clothes again when she returns home. They removed their lovely clothes line (I was horrified!) several years ago, so it could be a bit of a challenge.

        Our house is awash with little bits. My daughters aren’t too bad, except for all of the hair doodads, but my young son seems to manufacture the little bits and bobs in the backyard. I’m always thrilled when he says such things can leave our home. It looks as though it’s time to start going through my crafting items again because I’m sure that there are many small things that can go…Thanks for the reminder!

        • Hi Ann, I am glad you are permitted to hang out your washing and being a good influence on your mother.

          Good luck with the little thing decluttering. I might take another look in my craft room too. In fact today I am going to do a little craft with a six year old that ought to remove a tiny thing or two.

      • Hi Colleen….I live in Maine, USA and I hang outside 3/4 of the year (winter is too difficult with low temps and sun below the tree line) It makes me crazy to hear of places that don’t allow hanging clothes on a line! What will be next?

      • I am from Sydney. I don’t know how the clothes pegs got everywhere. That is a weird rule in Arizona. Personally I have never owned a clothes dryer, and in Sydney’s climate you do not need one most of the time.

        • Hi Ed, we aren’t so far from one another as I am in Newcastle. I don’t use my dryer much because as you say mostly we can dry outside or on an airer inside when it rains. To bad today isn’t one of those days.

          • Just wanted to tell you all that I think I have found a way to hang things to dry on our patio (it is enclosed with laticework. I am going to see if a friend of mine can get it to work. It’s a retractable clothesline that won’t be seen from the road or by any neighbor.

          • Good for you Deb J. I hope it works for you. And you can feel like a rebel as well. You devil! 😉

  9. I have to agree that the little things add up and sometimes can be overlooked compared to the big stuff. For me, if I got the urge to pick up an item during an outing/trip, I started opting for something small. I would tell myself that it was better to get a small trinket rather than a big item. Like somehow that made it acceptable to buy something. Funny how we justify things to ourselves. Nevertheless, just like you said, clutter is clutter, whether it is big or small. I have gotten better though and I don’t choose to get little or big items much anymore as so much of that has lost it’s appeal to me. I would rather take pictures or just enjoy the time rather than spending time searching in stores.

    One thing that I have done during this decluttering process is, if someone special to me has given me many gifts over the years, I will opt to keep one thing from them and I will choose the smallest item. I have a small box in which I keep small trinkets like that. It helps me to declutter the large items without as much guilt but keep small things. For now that makes it easier for me and I feel like I am making progress without getting stuck. I am sure in the future there will come a time when that small box will be decluttered too.

    • Those sound like good strategies to me Jen. You also have the right attitude that in the future you might find that even those small sentimental items may not even mean enough to continue to keep them. Nothing wrong with having special little treasures that are meaningful to you but limiting them does make for a less cluttered house.

  10. Love this post, Colleen. I have been taking a slow and steady approach and sometimes feel that the little items shouldn’t really count as an item as they are so small. But this post has reassured me. Every little bit counts. One ring on its own might not simplify much but all the little pieces – rings, key rings, hair clips – that have been decluttered are leading to a more organised, neater house. My bedside table is starting to look much better and I can see what’s in there. Better still my jewellery is not getting tangled.

    • Hi Lucinda, did you also know that the fewer of these items you have the better you tend to look after them because losing one may leave you short. I discovered this with hair elastics. When I get down to my last two I am careful with them and those last two survive longer than the rest of the pack of 20 put together.

  11. For today’s mini mission I will declutter the decorative pen that we had set out at our wedding next to the signing book. It is pretty, but it does me no good locked up on a shelf in a closet drying out. It makes sense to let it go. When I get home from work I will pull it out and place it in the donate box.

    • Good choice Melissa, or you could even use it up yourself.

      • It’s sort of huge for a pen and I really don’t have any where I’d want it. It has a decorative square holder and the pen sticks up out of it. It’s best to say good bye to this one! 🙂

        • Melissa – if you’re up for donating it, why don’t you list it on Freecycle – there’s bound to be a bride out there on the prowl for one.

          • Hi Moni,
            I am up for donating it. It will be dropped off at Goodwill. It’s still in it’s box (I kept the box and then put the pen back in it after we were back from the wedding). I think Freecycle is a wonderful idea but I don’t list on Freecycle for a few reasons- 1. I live in a gated community and I don’t know how anyone would get in without me giving them our gate code and I’m not thrilled with the idea of that 2. I live in a condo without a driveway (I know, it’s hard to visualize but our garage is the front of our house and it opens right onto the road) and I wouldn’t know where to place items for pick up where the yard workers that maintain the complex wouldn’t pick them up and throw them out and I’m gone about 10 or so hours everyday between the hours I work and my long commute. Goodwill has always been my pick for where to donate items. It’s easy for me to drop things off there (I pass by near three of them during my commute).

          • I am with you Melissa, just uncomplicated it and let it go to Goodwill. Sometimes we can just put too much thought into letting go, especially sentimental stuff. If we are thinking we don’t want then we just don’t end of story.

          • Yes, Melissa and Colleen. Just do what’s the easiest. The more you try to “do the right thing” the more it becomes overwhelming and you might give up.

  12. For the past few months (and ESPECIALLY after reading 365LT), little things have annoyed me. We are not a family of too many little things, but still there are a TON of them in our home! Attacking our junk drawers has been incredibly liberating.

  13. Thank you for this reminder, Colleen! I see this with my children’s toys-the tiny junk things don’t get taken care of and are left around. I toss them as soon as I can. They are the toys that I can’t stand. I need to do this more with my own small things like extra pencils, paper, jewelry, make up…

  14. Not sure if I’ve told you that I collect vintage brooches. I believe I have over 40 of just Christmas pins and probably another 50 of different ages and styles. Some I like more than others. I usually wear just a few favorites. I went through them all once when I first found your website and decluttered maybe 10. If they sit in a box, they are not getting displayed or loved. I wish I could make myself dig in and make some firm decisions on these.

  15. Oh wow, I so totally agree with your thoughts on this.

    I love getting rid of all of the little things.

    We treat every object with the same test, no matter its size, value, or length of ownership. It goes through the same questions, the same process.

    Admittedly, it was tempting to leave the little things to last, but we just questions them as they come up.

    Thanks for the great reminder.