Effortless Decluttering

Last week Kayote left a comment on my Righteousness post where she explains how difficult it is for her to find time to declutter. I have to admit I do sympathise living a double income, one child, family life. It is no doubt hard work and downtime is a priority in order to recharge.

But the good news is that decluttering doesn’t have to require much effort at all if you approach it in the right manner. And I am going to try to help with that in this post today. There is nothing new in this post that I haven’t mentioned before but as I always say “Reating the same things in a different manner can bring the breakthrough that people are searching for.”. I know this because I have witnessed it time and time again here at 365 Less Things.

But which comes first the chicken or the egg? Strange question to begin with I know, but that is because I am not sure which order is the right one to arrange my advice in. Will beginning with the practical advice help with the mindset change or will the advice on changing your mindset help one to see how easy the physical side of the task can be?

In this case, although the practical tips are a longer list I will begin with them first because they might clear the path to that change of mindset. So here goes.

Decluttering can take but seconds in your day when you can learn to think outside the box. What you have to realise is how effortless the physical side of decluttering can be by simply plucking an object out of its place in your home while performing your other day to day tasks. Here are some examples…

  • While applying your make-up chose one item in your make-up kit to declutter that you rarely use.
  • While accessorising your outfit for the day choose one item among your accessories to declutter.
  • While folding your wash loads for the week declutter any items that don’t fit nicely, have become ratty or you know are excess to your needs.
  • Make a point of trying to cycle through your entire selection of clothing and linen to determine which items are your least favourite and let them go as they appear.
  • When playing with your child/children identify one toy item that they don’t seem to choose to play with anymore or is broken and declutter it.
  • When preparing the family meal identify a cooking tool that you rarely use and let it go.
  • When arranging a meal plan for the week include a recipe to use up unpopular herbs or spices and then don’t replace them.
  • When you have read a book or magazine that you are unlikely to refer back to (and be completely honest about this) allocate it immediately to the recycling bin or donation box.
  • When choosing a book to read from your own collection decluttering one that you happen upon that you would happily live without.
  • While taking time out to relax take just a moment to scan the room you are in and see if you can spy an item you don’t care enough to keep. When you get up to perform your next task take a moment to deliver that item to your transition point.
  • Each day for a ware a different pair of shoes. Declutter any that are uncomfortable or shabby.
  • If you indulge in a hobby or craft, spy items, as you use your stash, that don’t appeal to you so much either declutter it or get inventive about using it up in a current project.
  • When putting out fresh linen for the week make a point of using a different set every week until you have tried them all. If you have an abundance declutter the least liked items.
  • When filing a piece of paperwork remove the oldest similar item and shred it.
  • When you buy something new that requires a manual declutter and recycle at least one manual for items you know longer own.
  • When you get up in the ad time to use the bathroom take a quick peak in the cabinet and see if there is something you can spy that you no longer wish to keep. Declutter it.

That is numerous ways to find something to declutter without making much effort. As you can see from the list all of these tasks involve acting upon what you are simply observing. We often spy things in our everyday lives that are less than favourable to us. The only extra effort we have to make is transferring these items to our donation box, the trash or our recycling bin. How hard is that?

So by now I hope you have figured out for yourself how the change of mindset comes into it. And that is ~ Simply change how you see the task of decluttering. It barely even has to be a task or take any time. So stop seeing it as a chore. The whole idea of decluttering a thing a day for me was to turn the mammoth decluttering task, I thought I had in front of me, into a thing of minimum effort. Once I had decluttering the first item it almost became a game to me as to how easy it would be to identify the next item. So make a game of it not a painful task and you may even start looking forward to it rather than dreading it.

It is all in the mind. Trust me.

Today’s Mini Mission

 Use up something “precious” in your craft or hobby supplies that you have been saving for a special project that hasn’t eventuated for years. Every moment is special in life so now is as good a time as any to use it.

“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

Not all clothing items need washing after one use. So extend the use of any items of clothing you can to ensure less washing, which means less water and detergent wastage.

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:

  • Mini Mission ~ Wednesday 20Dec2017 Declutter by recycling some items. That mound ofused takeout containers, old newspapers and magazines, paperwork that needs shredding, glass jars you set aside in case you have a use for […]
  • Mini Mission Monday ~ Memorabilia Items Mini Mission Monday is about finding ten minutes a day to declutter. To make it easy for you, each Monday I set seven declutter missions, one for each day of the week for you to follow. It […]
  • Mini Mission Monday Mini Mission Monday is about finding ten minutes a day to declutter. To make it easy for you, each Monday I set seven declutter missions, one for each day of the week for you to follow. It […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. If the sheer amount of stuff in front of you causes paralysis, maybe you can do some long-distance decluttering. Keep a list with you and when you have some dead time – waiting in the doctor’s office, the bus ride to work – mentally run through your home, or a part of your home, and list things you know you can get rid of. When you return you can go straight to those items without being distracted by all the other stuff.

  2. I know for myself I do these little things everyday to maintain order, but at this stage in my life I have the luxury of time. I think Wendy B’s advice is very sound. And mentally, visualizing objects you already know you are ready to say goodbye to definitely helps to focus you when you are likely to be distracted by other piles of stuff. I struggle with this even though it’s on a smaller scale.

  3. Exactly, Colleen! This is why I love your approach – it is something I can do even when I don’t have time or energy to spare – which is most of the time these days. I only have to deal with one thing at a time, and over time the job gets done. As Wendy B says above, and as I commented a few days ago here, a lot of the effort is mental and can be done separately from the physical act of picking up an item and placing it in the appropriate receptacle of trash, recycling or donation.

  4. All good tips! Every day, even the smallest of decisions to part with stuff accumulated, makes results over time. I look at photos of my home from 5 years ago and see big differences in the density of objects, just by little choices daily. My favourite moments are when I realize that an “organizing aid” like a shelf or bin is no longer useful! That is huge for me!
    Still plugging away at it, still a ways to go.

    • Hi creative me. Oh yes, it is a great feeling to empty out clutter holders, I mean organizing aids, and know that you will no longer need it. I must have decluttered a lot of these and still have hope to declutter yet more.

  5. THis is a good reminder Colleen. I think sometimes any of us can forget this and need the reminder. I know that right now it helps me keep moving along in the process without expending much energy, energy I don’t have.

    • That is a good point Deb J, lack time isn’t always to hinderance, poor health can be something to get in the way of decluttering. Even more so actually. You are a fine example of decluttering through adversity. Well done you.

  6. Great tips! “I don’t have time” does stop/slow me down sometimes too, but really it’s just an excuse. It only takes moments to complete these tasks. Good reminder!

  7. These are excellent suggestions for decluttering on the go.
    Also if there is a specific area you want to make headway thru, make a deal with your husband that, say, he cooks dinner on a particular day or if he is keen to see progress, for a week and you use that time to work on that area.

  8. Going off on a tangent here…… Late last week, we finally took away our freezer from the garage. Admittedly it is going into storage at our workshop but it is out of our garage. So we have been enjoying the clear spot in the garage, especially for the relatives who arrived for the weekend with wheel chairs and their equipment.

    Imagine my horror when I got home last night I discovered our old lounge suite had arrived back and was sitting in our garage. Nooooooo! When my son went flatting he took these. He came home a few months later but without the couches. In the back of my mind I sort of decided the chances of getting them back were slim and to view it as charity with a decluttering advantage. Somehow, they found their way home. Not sure how I feel about this.

    • I sympathise Moni. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want them back. But hey ~ probortunity ~ see them on Trade-me and make a couple of bucks.

      • Colleen – they will definately need a steam clean whatever their fate is. My older daughter thinks they would probably benefit from some Holy Water too knowing this bunch of guys. My son seems to think he will go flatting again at some point in the future, so thinks we should store them for him. It worries me that we could end up one of those parents who run a ‘furniture library’ for their adult kids who are in and out of flats.

        • haha, “furniture library” – this made me laugh so hard.
          I was already owning furniture from living in shared flats and then I moved abroad for a year. My mum offered (grinding teeth) to store my furniture during that time. I remember her regrets sounding like “if you dont get a place soon, I will give your stuff away – I want to have my basement back”.
          In the end you apparently offer enough space for some storing, but I totally understand that you dont want your kids to use your garage as a store. whatever you do, you can leave the steam cleaning to your son. 😉

  9. I also appreciated the advice: easy stuff first.
    if you start debating wether or not to keep an item, then keep it and dont bother anymore. declutter the obvious clutter, the broken things, the “I dont know, why I still have it” items. that gives you momentum and it gets easier and easier. at one point you will notice that you suddenly declutter those things that were once triggering the mentioned debate.

  10. Enjoyed your post today as always. I gathered two bags of donations over the past week and took them to the donation center this past weekend. These tips were great and I find that since I have started decluttering I am always on the lookout around my house for items that are no longer needed. When I am doing things in different rooms in my house, I do a quick survey of the area i am working in to see if there is something that can be decluttered. Before you know it, a box or bag is full. This time we got rid of coats that were not being worn. With the cold weather here, someone will get good use out of them.

  11. It does get easier over time. When changing sheets on the bed last night, I decided to reduce the pillow cases. We use them other places, too, like covers for dining room chair pads–just tuck in the extra length–so I guess that is how we ended up with extra, plus small grandchildren pillows, etc. Later I found 6 books to donate when I was looking for something in a drawer. Today I was getting our OTC supplements better organized and tossed 2 out-of-date ones. I think of this as kind of “painless decluttering”. So a lot of decluttering is just keeping your eye out or maybe it is training your eye to see what is really there, not just gloss it over–kind of like we can see better if company is expected, lol. That is also probably why the books were in a drawer.

  12. My tip would be get some tools to help with the decluttering.
    I like to use broccoli boxes to help me declutter. They are free from the supermarket , made of styrofoam, are stackable and come with a lid. With the kitchen nearly finished and the old cupboards almost gone, they have been fantastic in keeping the clutter to a minimum. What’s not to be donated can be stored for when an adult child finally leaves home.
    I also use a smaller plastic basket for dirty clothes in the bathroom. With the laundry downstairs it is easier to carry the little basket and do a load each day than have a bigger basket.
    There are times I think decluttering is just throwing away the rubbish, the out of date food, the ripped underwear, the empty packaging, the old newspaper, the old uneaten biscuits, the chipped china. It’s just something you do everyday. Cheers

  13. Colleen, I like this advice and oftentimes this is just what I do.
    However, sometimes exactly this sneaking decluttering into my leisure activities puts me off. There are days (or weeks for that matter) when I really want to just relax when I relax, that means, I do not want to declutter books when I want to read etc. etc. This happens particularly when I’m stressed out anyway.
    So what’s best for me is to make it a daily habit. I allot it a specific time in my day (e.g. before I go to bed or when I go up or after I read your blog – whatever suits my schedule), grab one thing and put it in a “to declutter” box. (sometimes it’s more than one thing though but it is always done in less than 3 minutes) I remember, when I first started decluttering it was mainly old under-used beauty products and the like – as you advice I started with the easy stuff and over time the hard stuff got easy, too.
    Important is to have that box/drawer/shelf where you put your stuff that is going to be donated, sold or given away. I sometimes think, once you install that out-box it fills itself. Haha, it seems to attract clutter just as much as any other spot. 😉
    However, even more important is to really keep at it. Decluttering, done the slow and steady way, doesn’t show after one week, but it does show in time! The change of mindset you speak of took place when I was feeling I was a “regular declutterer”. I started to feel weird when buying unnecessary stuff and I found more and more things along the way to easily get rid of.

  14. Ideas of items I can let go of come to mind when I may be on public transport or reading. So I note them on my phone, to declutter when I get home

  15. This is such a great list Colleen and a good reminder of how decluttering can indeed become quite effortless. It’s easy to get so used to seeing stuff around that we don’t really see it anymore but removing unnecessary items quickly makes a big difference. When I was at my dad’s in the summer I offered to clean out his sewing box. It is a lovely antique piece that he and my mother bought many years ago and it was full of a jumble of items that had been in there for decades. Really all he needs anymore are a few needles, spare buttons and some thread so we were able to clean out a lot of things, including some embroidery that my mother had once started working on. And we just did it while having a cup of coffee, it didn’t take long at all. Some of it we threw away but there were enough odds and ends to make up a bag which he put straight in his car to drop off at the charity shop. I hope someone is enjoying those vintage knitting needles now! The best thing was that my dad seemed so pleased at this little accomplishment and realized that decluttering doesn’t have to be overwhelming or involve hauling huge boxes down from the attic; success really is within arm’s reach.

  16. These are all good ones to think about. I often run my eyes around a room and ask myself if there is anything that can be decluttered in this particular room. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Fortunately we have not been bringing in much the last several months. It took so dang long to get rid of that crap that I am reluctant to bring anything else in. 😉 I have taken up quilting again, but am only purchasing supplies for the immediate project. I am really enjoying this and it makes me feel good to quilt, so this is a good thing – makes life better for me.

    Christmas is just around the corner (YIKES!!!) and I am struggling with my gift list. Gift cards are always a good idea and that’s what we did last year, so I’m thinking that will be what we give again this year.

  17. I’m going off on a tangent here, but has anyone here use a silk fill duvet inner? My daughter has developped an allergy but we don’t know to what. I’m starting with bedding as that is the easiest place to start. I have heard about silk fill duvet inners but as they are somewhat darer that a fibre fill duvet or a feather & down duvet, they aren’t common amongst my friends. The reviews on Ezibuy averages at 4.9/5 which is pretty good but I’d be interested to hear from a non-biased site. I think it is a fair bit of money but considerably less than what we’ve spent on medicines so far and as the next step is an allergy specialist I’m sure that won’t be cheap either.

  18. Comment received via email

    Best advice I can give
    Make a definite place either in your garage or house for decluttered items.
    quick to access and easy to move on to appropriate endings.
    I wish I had done this many years ago…actually now have a large cardboard box
    behind always open door…easy to fill …easy to empty. Thanks and regards, Narelle

    • Hi Narelle, having that box handy seems like a simple thing but it makes the task just that, so simple. I told my mum to set one up when I was visiting her recently. I hope she takes the advice on b0ard.

  19. I am always finding items I have no idea what they are or what they’re used for. I used to keep them, now I ask if anyone knows what they are before tossing them. I’m not the only one that has no idea what they are!

    I find it a fast & easy way to declutter. Like I’ve heard from numerous sources, do the easy stuff first.

  20. OK… so here are my stumbling blocks:

    1) I’m really good at gathering things to declutter and putting them in a box, but I’m REALLY bad at getting said box out of the house and to the donation center. Inevitably I end up pulling things back out of the box as my systems & needs change, and this only worsens my “what if I want/need it later” anxiety. I logically know that it’s not a tragedy if I have to replace something… and it’s not the money either… I just feel SOOO guilty about contributing to more stuff on the planet.

    2) I tend to hold onto things that most people would consider to be garbage. Seriously, I patch clothing beyond all reason, I repair old stuff forever, and I even feel guilty tossing old rags that are beyond use or putting things like glass jars in the recycling because I know they could be used for something and that it would be so much more efficient than recycling them. So often, I am wary of putting something in the donate box because I’m pretty sure that they will consider it garbage and just toss it, and I have such a hard time with the thought of something ending up in a landfill when it could be repaired or re-purposed, or otherwise used in some manner if it could just find the right home. I have tried FreeCycle, and have managed to get rid of some “bigger ticket” things that would have been garbage like an old waterbed mattress and a dead computer backup battery…. but the truth is that posting things on FreeCycle and dealing with the craziness that ensues is a massive pain in the rear! I just hate dealing with the hassle of it, and can’t really imagine anyone taking my old yogurt containers or ancient scraps of plywood, or broken laundry baskets etc, etc, etc!

    So, do you have any suggestions for dealing with my eco-guilt?

    • Regarding your second stumbling block:

      For some ‘garbage’ items, sometimes it is just a case of knowing the right person to give it to… I’ve found that groups or people who work with children often need odds and ends for craft projects or learning activities. These items can include egg cartons, yogurt containers, the cardboard rolls from inside paper towel rolls, tags from bread bags, the plastic rings that match the lids on peanut butter jars, soda bottles etc.

      I never seem to be able to hold on to any glass jars, this is because an assortment of relatives making jams / needing paintbrush or crayon holders / organizing their pantry storage etc are forever taking them! It is also easy to get paints suitable for use on glass and decorate the jar and use it for a variety of gifting options too. If you manage to get a collection of similar jars, some people like to use these in their wedding settings as well.

      For old fabrics, pet shelters or wildlife rescue groups are usually very happy to receive old blankets, sheets, pillowcases, towels etc (even some have been keen to take old flannelette shirts!) These items have a range of uses, from keeping animals warm through to wrapping baby animals in makeshift pouches.

    • Hi EcoCatLady. Doing The Right Thing For The Environment has always been of my biggest sticking points when it comes to decluttering. Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. There are billions of people on this planet and you are only one. Filling your house up with glass jars and scraps of plywood isn’t going to save the planet nor is disposing of them going to cause it to end. If you know that something should be thrown out – THROW IT OUT. If something can be recycled, RECYCLE IT. Empty your home of all the junk, even if you send it to the dump, and then use all the psychic energy you free up to do something else that is good for the environment — plant trees, pick up litter, volunteer at the ReStore. Doing something positive and long-lasting will far outweigh the damage of ridding yourself of guilt-inducing garbage. Go for it!

    • Enlist the help of friends. Ask people if they want your items. Or get a charity store to come and collect your box. Ask the neighbours if they can help take it to the thrift store. Don’t let the items sit in the box too long. Get rid of the box each week.
      The local organic grocer likes glass jars. I have started dropping them off there as it is next to my favourite coffee shop.
      Bags of rags are handy for mechanics , painters, plumbers etc, lots of people would love a bag of rags to put in their workshop. Find someone who uses rags and ‘gift’ them whatever you declutter.
      Some schools or playgroups may love your yogurt containers .
      Don’t let Eco guilt consume you.

    • Freecycle probably is the best way to give used/ odd things away without worrying about things being landfilled. Somebody willing to come to your house to pick something up isn’t planning to turn around and toss it. And it is far easier than seeking out homes for each rag, jar, and piece of wood.

      So maybe think about strategies for reducing the hassle of using Freecycle? Group things to give away, so you don’t have to handle as many “transactions”. When you post something, you could provide your approximate address and ask people to include a pick-up time frame in their first response so you don’t have to exchange as many e-mails for each item/batch. Don’t worry about figuring out the best recipient if multiple people want something; just pick somebody. And just leave the stuff outside, maybe with a post-it note with your recipient’s name/e-mail address, a few hours before they’re supposed to come, so the pick-up is as convenient for you as possible.