Don’t return to old habits

How many times have you decluttered in the past but then a year or so, or maybe more, later you find yourself back at square one. This is often the outcome when the task of decluttering is the focus and not the cause. In fact many times in the past I have decluttered only with the intention of making room for new stuff. Stuff I didn’t even realise would be my future clutter.

The thing that was different this time for me was that my focus was mainly on my intent to remain decluttered in the future. With that intent in mind it is helpful to analyse the clutter as you let it go and recognise the possible mistakes made in the past the got you into this mess in the first place.

There are numerous reasons why newly acquired stuff soon loses its appeal and becomes clutter. Making poor choices to acquire it in the first place would top the list of those reasons. However when scrutinising each piece of clutter while you declutter it slowly and deliberately you soon start to realise your purchasing errors. This is key to not making the same mistakes in the future.

Now that my home is nicely decluttered and even downsized due to my decluttering I don’t ever ~ in fact I can’t ~ allow it to become cluttered again. There isn’t much room for that. But even if there was I have discovered a little trick to staying focused on the goal of remaining decluttered and that is to save at least one decluttering task until the last that will keep you mindful of where you once were and how far you have come. For me there are two such tasks. One is the seemingly endless task of reducing my crafting supplies and the other is the goal to finally declutter and organise our photo collection.

If you have been reading here for a long time you will know that photos are one thing I have been going to get to right from the start of my decluttering mission. My husband and I have both taken small chunks out of the task in the past but there is still the bulk of it to be done.

So constantly working on reducing the craft supplies by creating and selling my the results of my labour of love and by knowing those photos are still there to be worked on when I am not so busy keeps my mind continually on decluttering to a certain extent. And while that is still my focus it is natural that I remain fully aware of keeping a check on what purchases I make, being sure to scrutinise each possible purchase and making a decision to buy or not to buy based on the likelihood of whether the item may just end up as future clutter. Of course, allow my catalogue of experience of past mistakes to be my guide.

So to cut a long story short…

  • Analyse you clutter in order to recognise purchase mistakes
  • Save one long fiddly task to string out at the end of the bulk of your decluttering to keep your mind focused your new uncluttered lifestyle.
  • Scrutinise possible purchases to save you from making bad choices that would help put you back to square one.

Today’s Mini Mission

 Declutter a hobby related item.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

Don’t be tempted to bring home those hotel toiletries, the ratio of plastic to product is a poor eco choice.

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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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. We are in the process of moving into a home that is slightly smaller than the one we moved out of. As we were removing boxes from the storage pod, all I could think of was how much stuff we still have. As I declutter while unpacking, I will be looking at those things that go into the big give away box and thinking about how not to repurchase these items later.

    I’m also with you on decluttering the photos and my yarn. The yarn stash is smaller than it was last year. But the photos are still waiting. As you work on your photos, will you please share your process? Many of us have this same issue still to deal with.

    • Hi Willow, is the building on schedule and when are you supposed to be moving in. I hope it all goes well and that you decide to declutter a whole lot more stuff.
      As for those photos, I will be sure to share my process when the time comes. There have been some great tips on this in the past from 365 readers that I must look back on when I get around to it.

  2. This is a good post Colleen. I think this is something we have to constantly keep in mind because it is so easy to fall back into bad habits. One thing I do is to stay away from stores unless I NEED something. Then when I go I go with a specific thing in mind to purchase so I go to that area of the store, look for what I want, and go to the cashier and pay for it. I don’t go to other parts of the store “just to look.” This is especially working for my scrapbooking. If I decide to make a card or group of cards that is when I go purchase a embelishment if I need one. I am no longer keeping drawers full of them in case I need them. It’s quite freeing.

    • Hi Deb J, crafting can cause real clutter problems. I keep certain stuff on hand, mainly because I already have them for previous indiscriminate shopping, that I use all the time. But even that can be an enormous amount of stuff. I actually enjoy it when a supply runs out and I have to improvise. Necessity can be the mother of invention. Now if only I could refuse the free stuff people keep offering me. I do use it up pretty quickly but nevertheless it means by backlog doesn’t disappear nearly quickly enough.

  3. I imagine photos are a category that nearly everyone needs to work on. So easy to take – so hard to get rid of.

    • Cindy, this is always my worst Achilles heal. Digital as well. It can be blurry and off center , “Oh, but at how cute baby’s arm rolls look!” Even though I can’t make out the face.

    • These days it doesn’t matter but back in the film and print day it certainly did and it is a hangover of that that I have to deal with. Now we can take as many as we like and quite frankly I rarely ever look at them. Facebook keeps one in touch visually and the rest is history which is easily preserved on the hard drive.

  4. When we moved 2 years ago I purged like crazy. This was going to be our “forever home” so anything that wouldn’t fit was donated, sold, gifted or tossed. At first it all looked great! The spacious crawlspace under the house was barely occupied. Somehow things are creeping in, even with my daily walk around the house in search of things to remove. And the crawlspace is looking like a genuine storage area…. it’s organized but getting more full all the time! Time to look again.

    • Hello creativeme – it’s great that you are aware that stuff has been creeping in again. Funny how that happens. 🙂 But it sounds like you can wrangle it under control again. Cheers.

    • Sound like it surely is time to look again creativeme. This is why we need to be ever vigilant not only on what we have but what we bring in. I was at the thrift shop working yesterday and had but aside a bunch of craft stuff I felt I c’d like to buy. In the ended up putting it all back on the shelves as my goal is to diminish the quantity not adding to it or at the very best having it stagnate. There is plenty going out at the moment and I really don’t need anything more to continue to create so best not be tempted.

  5. There are times I am guilty of this, on that smaller scale but just as distracting. For me it’s easy to maintain some boxes or areas easily, but, like with papers, I still find myself constantly overwhelmed. It’s only one box of papers (not including craft paper) as opposed to the huge totes and filing cabinets full I had in my twenties. It is no less aggravating, however and unsightly when I attempt to tackle it. My paper box is also the one that accumulates that miscellaneous clutter. I went through it again yesterday, and, again I asked myself how it had gotten so bad.

    • Hi Jean, it seems like you need to really reassess what it is that you keep putting aside in that box. Or perhaps just embrace the idea that maybe you just need to follow your habit of collect and purge in this area. You can’t have it both ways. There is no point in fighting a losing battle or stressing yourself too much over it. It seems that you have conflicting desires in this area and you just need to pick a side and run with it.

  6. At this time of year, it would be fairly easy to fall back into the old habit of buying whatever pretty Christmas decoration I wanted, but I have been getting strong on this. I was in a wonderful kitchen store this past weekend. It was so difficult to restrain myself from grabbing stuff! But when I considered all that I have gotten rid of, I realized that: 1) I don’t need it and 2) I don’t want to spend the money on it. We have some financial goals we are trying to meet next year and buying a bunch of stuff would not be prudent. 🙂 I haven’t been in too many stores this holiday season and did most of my gift-giving shopping online so that I’m not tempted with impulse purchases. Just say noooooooooo!

    • Hi Michelle, don’t worry I find myself in this situation at times too. It is just old connections in our brains that trick us into still seeing these items as worthy of our admiration. Gadgets and craft items still have this effect on me too but I stop, like you, and allow the logical side of my brain to help me to see sense in most instances. The older we are and the more entrenched these ideas are in our brains and hard to shift.

      • Hey there, Colleen. You know, it really is becoming a way of life – to seriously think before accumulating more stuff. You’ve said it before, a responsibility seems to come with items. I’m all about making it to the simple life and decreasing my responsibilities. Love this blog!

  7. Doing the decluttering every day seems to give our minds time to change and realize that it will be better to think before we buy anything. Before I was just “organizing”. I don’t think I am in danger of running out of things to declutter any time soon. This is my third year, and just last week while sewing realized there was a sewing magnet I can no longer use because arthritis keeps me from picking up a pin from it. That same day I saw a day runner planner not in use and full of blank pages. So those 2 items were added to the consignment box, where I donate anything that doesn’t sell, and of course, not everything does sell. Some things have been useful, but conditions change and they become clutter–in some cases, like the arthritis, not really my fault or the sewing pins magnet’s fault.
    Photographs are difficult. They were very expensive when my husband and I were growing up, so there is a tendency to hang on to them whether they are really very good or not. Those of our children bring back a lot of memories, but seems like the only time I look at them is when I organize or declutter–so maybe they are all really just sentimental clutter, lol. Our grown children have shown almost no interest, though that may change someday.

    • Hi Nana, great comment. I was an organiser once myself, still have to be of course but now there is a whole lot less to organise and it is usually easy to find the logical position for things.
      As you say, sometimes things become clutter because life just changes for us and that is Ok. What is great is when those object have been well used when we get around to not needing them any more.
      And those photos ~ it is only tow generations, I think where photos were an issue. Photography was mainly for the professionals from my grandparents generation and above and the generations below have mostly if not all digital so easy storage or decluttering there.

  8. Photos are where I am at too. I had probably 20 photo albums of many various sizes, shapes and styles. I hated how they were all mismatched and how the photos would fall out of the sleeves over the years. So I ordered a large wooden box and took most of the photos out of the albums. Now I am in the process of organizing the photos into rows and labeling all the categories. Unfortunately, it was tough to estimate how much space my photos would take up in a box and it looks like this box will be too small for all of them. The majority seem to fit though. My husband thinks it is a bad way to have to look at photos but he never looked at them in the albums anyhow. We had so many missing photos and gaps in the photo albums that it would have taken me forever to reorganize them. This works for me for now and some time later if I’m inspired with a better idea I can change my system. My husband suggested scanning them all – not on your life! There are hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands!

    • Claire – my husband also wants our photos returned to photo albums but after they have all been digitised and organised. I doubt we have enough photo albums and they’re surprisingly hard to buy these days.

      • Moni – ours had been in albums for years and were falling apart. When I went to try to buy matching new albums it was going to be very expensive. You’re right, there isn’t that much of a selection anymore and I wanted good ones that wouldn’t fall apart so I wouldn’t have to replace them again. There were so many missing photos throughout the albums that the kids have taken out. I do have the negatives but don’t know when I’d ever get to replacing them. Anyhow, I like how I can categorize the photos and label the rows and sections when they are out of albums……meanwhile it is a giant hodge podge right now! That is my current project….which will probably take a little while to complete I’m guessing.

        • Claire – my husband and I decided that digitising our photos was part of the project as one of his cousins lost everything in a house fire and soon after we had to evacuate so we wanted to cover that angle. I have heard of people who have digitised their photos and destroyed the originals but I’m not quite ready for that.

      • I have seen this too, and had never known anyone to mention it. I went online to buy some blank photo albums and stymied by the lack of selection. I even looked at Scrapbooks but couldn’t find photo sleeve sheets that fit in them.

    • Oh the mismatched albums, that drives me mad too. I am thinking of buying 12 x 12 albums which will match my scrapbook albums and then just sew the 12×12 pager inserts into 4×6 sections to slot the photos into. More culling is in order first though.

  9. Elaine Farrah Costello

    In the KonMari method of decluttering and organizing , Marie recommends leaving the photographs until the end…. And have ALL your pictures together in one place. By then, we have decided what gives us joy, we have learned how to toss that which is undesirable , and to keep what is valuable , and we then have the experience of doing it right. Of course she explains it very well , so I’m thankful that I’ve left my picture collection until the end.

  10. Good post – yes I’ve become notoriously fussy when purchasing for my home and often in the back of my head is a voice asking how much effort will be involved in decluttering this new item. Sometimes I get frustrated at this new mind set as it can stretch the purchasing process into a much longer time frame that what I had hoped.

    I’ve got a couple of areas that have gotten a bit untidy lately while we were preparing for the annual ballet concert and so I will be putting those to rights and looking out for stuff that has crept in. I’m only planning one more drop off to goodwill this year. I’ve got a couple of items to put on trademe, so I must do that tonight otherwise the auctions close too late in the year.

    Photos is also my big project for 2015.

  11. Oh Moni, I COMPLETELY agree! With more frustrating time spent considering the purchase, I say the heck with it and walk outta the store. ha ha! If I have to think too long and hard about something . . . . could be I have a short attention span.

    • Michelle – we got the opportunity about a year ago to sell our bedroom suite as it had many matching drawers and dressers and scotch dresser etc, but our headboard and bedside drawers had to go with it. I thought it would be easy to find a new headboard and bedside drawers but it took almost a year to find something. I was getting very frustrated with myself as obviously I was the person holding up progress. I did find what I wanted in the end, but in another city which meant waiting for an opportunity to return to collect them but I’m happy with what I got.

      • Hi Moni. In this process of decluttering and becoming more aware of what we are buying/spending, it has made us more thoughtful about our purchases. Too many times, people hand over the money for something that isn’t quite what they want but it will do in the interim. I’m like you. I’ll wait it out until I find exactly what I’m looking for that will suit my purposes. Example: I need a new purse – badly! Mine is shredding and looks awful. I’ve been in so many stores that it just got ridiculous. This weekend we’ll be in a different town and I will be on the prowl again to see if I can find exactly what I’m looking for. (Goldilocks – this purse is too small. this purse is too big. this purse is just right! LOL)

  12. This is a random comment but may help in decluttering the kitchen or china cabinet without much thought or effort during the holidays. I had a boss decades ago that was from England. She presented me with a new coffee mug because she had noticed that the one I was using had hairline cracks in the ceramic. She told me to dispose of it immediately. Cracks and Chips = bacteria seeping through as well as bad luck. I immediately went home and if something had a crack or chip, it was out of my home. Over the years, I have since read many articles stating that the Asian culture believes this as well. It doesn’t matter if it is Waterford crystal or Dollar Store….out it should go.

    • Kimberley, I had read this before several times in random health tip articles and started telling people. I always get that suspicious, side-ways glare. There’s this mentality that it’s a waste to throw those things out. I do have some chipped plates, but chipped mugs go out immediately. Even without hairline cracks (that are not part of the design finish) I have cut my lip twice on other people’s chipped cups.

  13. Clutter creep is insidious. It takes constant vigilance – to be on the lookout for it – and quick, firm action – to stop it in its tracks – before it sneakily takes root and multiplies. Very often, easier said than done.

  14. I will freely admit that I’m not always in an utterly non-consumeristic, stuff avoiding mindset these days – but I am about 90% of the time. This has the nice side-effect that even with hardly any conscious effort there isn’t really any more stuff creeping in that what is going out. I think it’s quite astonishing how much less conscious this whole decluttering process has become. I guess with the change of mindset that took place, NOW a purge twice a year would be sufficient to keep things in check.
    Last week a couple of big items I stored for other people got finally picked up. I’m really happy about the freed space! 😀

    • Hi Sanna, it sounds like you are very happy with where you are at the moment. Good for you! And woohoo on having those large pieces picked up. Oh the joy of freed up space.

      • Haha! I’ve been decluttering almost for as long as you, so it’s only time it shows off!
        Still, I’m not really “there” yet – in my home there are quite a few things as well that have been on the list right from when I started off. It’s just, I realized I bring in less than I purge even without making any effort these days. Things do break or wear out after all and so, even without really acting on it, things get less. Also, I seem to have made my point amongst family and friends and I meanwhile receive almost only consumables as presents.

  15. I find, as I declutter and release stuff from my life, that while I still enjoy going to stores and shopping, I am more mindful now of whether I need to actually buy something. I recognize that enjoying looking at beautiful stuff does not mean that I need to OWN it and have it in my life forever. I can admire it and then move on. So for me this has been a big step. I am still working on decluttering but I feel like I am making progress in limiting acquisition.

    • Hi Annie, this is what I do too. The antique shop below my apartment and the thrift shop where I volunteer, and the art spaces downtown are about the only shops I care to go into. I am very happy to look, admire and then go home empty handed.

  16. Hi, Annie. I so agree about admiring something without needing to purchase it. It’s like going to a museum and admiring the works of van Gogh, Renoir and all the rest, without wanting to bring them back home with me. Imagine taking ownership of ‘The Starry Night’ … the attendant responsibilities of protection, insurance, and what have you will be nightmarishly overwhelming! We see many things in “museums” of consumerism that we can ooh and aah over, without having to add them to our lives.

  17. Hi, Colleen. Somehow, the thought of you – an advocate of freedom from the desire to acquire – living above an antique store made me smile 😉

  18. I have yet to declutter my pictures.
    Right now I have been working on my Christmas decor.
    I figure I have 6 boxes of Christmas ornaments that are used once a year and that take up a lot of storage space.. so I just brought them down and started going through them last night.
    Many of the decor that I am putting up right now will not go back into the boxes as they will be donated….

    • Good for you Lorena, I did the same some years back. I don’t even own a tree. I used twig branches for a couple years and three out of the five years I either wasn’t home or was moving house and didn’t decorate. I probably won’t be here next year either so that really does make one wonder why I even bother owning Christmas decorations. I only have one box though so it isn’t too much room wasted in the cage in the parking lot.

  19. I love that term “clutter creep” from Nicole. It’s great!

    I worked at a Christmas bazaar this weekend at church. There were so many really nice things in baskets that you could bid on. I had my eye on a antique silver teapot. Wow! It was beautiful.
    But, like Colleen, I admired it greatly and moved on. There is no room in my home for it.

    To help manage “clutter creep”, I have unsubscribed from shopping catalogs ( to resist temptation) and I also use the 24 hour rule. Walk away, and think about a purchase. If you still need/want it after 24 hours, then go ahead and get it. Hopefully, it won’t be clutter. 🙂

    Thanks to everyone for sharing!

    • Hi Ann, if I admired that teapot that much I would have bid on it and, if won, ditch my old teapot and use the beautiful one every day. Just because it is beautiful and antique doesn’t mean you can’t use it. Mind you I would not go for silver because I hate to clean it.

      I do like your strategies for avoiding making purchase mistakes. I have been using the same ones now for many years. My mother always used to say, if it isn’t there when I come back I wasn’t meant to have it.

    • Thank you, Ann 🙂
      Hubby and I were talking a couple of nights ago and he remarked that clutter creeps up on you; the next day, I read what Colleen wrote about not returning to old habits and “clutter creep” just popped into my head. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how clutter infiltrates and you’re “clutter-crept” before you know it?

  20. Just found this website in the middle of a massive declutter! I moved to my own first home, which is very small and has no storage , started a new career and began an intensive study programme all at the same time- 2 1/2 years ago and every single room and corner is now full of stuff to sort. It is so tiring just looking at it! It was crowded but ok when we moved in but I have had clutter creep, mostly because I had no storage and didn’t declutter enough before we moved.
    I am at the stage where the novelty has worn off and the mess is at its worst but am determined to feel less tired from looking at mess.

    • Hi Kaydee, your situation seems to occur to most people at some time or another. The key is to learn from your mistakes so as not to find yourself in this position in the future. Good luck with your decluttering and feel free to come here for advice and/or a little inspiration.

  21. Hi,
    I’ve been reading all the comments about digitising photos. I have been given all the family’s photos, this meant more then 8 photo albums worth. I purchased a hand held scanner and have been scanning in the photos while watching tv. I now have all the photos scanned and stored digitally. I did keep one photo album worth of the really good photos as a brag book. I now love looking at the photos on the computer whenever I what. It’s actually easier than pulling out the photo album.