Extra Incentive

Rebecca J sent in a comment on Tuesday and two lines really struck me as something worth sharing with you all in a post. Here is what she wrote…

“6 years ago, my parents decided they both wanted to lose about 50 pounds. They did lose the weight and have kept it off. One aspect of their approach was that they weighed themselves each day and plotted their weight over time in Excel.”

Rebecca J’s parents were clever, maybe unintentionally but clever nonetheless. Whether they realised it or not they actually put in place a task that gave them extra incentive to lose the weight. Seeing the weight drop on the Excel spreadsheet was probably more tangible than seeing it drop on their bodies which would no doubt have added inspiration to keep improving their diet. Rather than focus on what they were missing out on, they had turned the table on those nasty potential cravings by replacing them with a  craving to see the weight drops in the spreadsheet.

This is a great tactic to utilise, whether it be through a spreadsheet or just by focusing on an alternative gain. I have done this with my decluttering. By simply focusing on being one item less cluttered everyday, and the joy of passing those things on to someone who can use them, made it easy for me to let things go that I might otherwise have been unable to detach myself from. I replaced a bad habit of holding on to stuff with a new joy of letting it go, even though physically it wasn’t all that obvious I was making a difference.

A fraction of the items I decluttered in 2011

A fraction of the items I decluttered in 2011

Photographing all the items was also a help for me to see that I was making a difference. It is nice to be able to look back on the sheer bulk of stuff that has left my home. I wonder how it ever fit to me honest. I must be a genius at organising is all I can say about that.

So give it a go. Focus on the joy of letting go, the freedom that living with less affords you or the joy of helping others. Perhaps start a list of the items you are getting rid of or begin a photo file on your computer so you can see the progress you are making. Measure your departing clutter by the box load, by the square metre or by the trunk load and keep a count. Keeping track and looking back on how far you have come gives you insentive to keep adding to the the count.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a piece of furniture, especially if its only purpose is to hold items that need dusting.  Hopefully your previous decluttering efforts might have freed up such a piece by now.

Eco Tip for the Day

Need a new wooden spoon, salad bowl or even bathroom accessory consider buying sustainable bamboo items.

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. What an incredible idea to take a photo! I can see the clutter just from this picture (makes me nervous!). I truly believe that we need to make our longer term goals into a “game” of sorts; be it finances, exercise, or whatever. It helps!

  2. Colleen, I think this is a good post for people who need something extra to help them stay on track. I didn’t take pictures of each thing I have decluttered but I have pictures of piles or bags or containers full of things I am rid of. I decided to make a layout of it all with before and after pictures. Though I know we are not done this layout will be a reminder of just how far we have come. It’s an exciting visual.

  3. I decluttered my list of the items that I decluttered during the first 2 years, and I rather regret it. I’d like to be able to look back on all that I’ve seen the backside of. But oh well, it’s gone now.

    • Me too Cindy! There were over 2000 items on my list over 2 years, but these days I’m lucky if I get rid of 1-2 things a week. I miss that decluttering high:-) Yesterday I did a happy dance when I was going through my daughter’s wardrobe and found 3 baby-sized coathangers (and she’s now 12!)

      • Loretta – SNAP! Me too! Or rather she still had them in active duty and was wondering why her clothes (she’s nearly 15) kept falling off! 2 mint coloured and 1 pink coloured.

    • That is a shame Cindy. Oh well, I am sure the memories are still strong as to what you home used to be like and how much better it is now. Be proud of that.

  4. I would be useless at photographing each item as then I would be able to visit it and then regret getting rid of it, and so it would slow my progress if I could see what I’d gotten rid of, but I do love seeing your montages of everything you got rid of, they’re so interesting! If I had more will power I’d love to make one too.

    For me I think the biggest two indicators of my progress is firstly that the floor which was knee deep in items now has a rug in its place around 120x170cm, and secondly the state of my bank balance and the fact that there is rarely anything on my statement which isn’t the local supermarket. So I guess I am definitely the kind of person who measures how far they’ve come in terms of what spaces/areas now have been freed up rather than photos, that being said keep the pictures coming, I do love to see them!

    • Hi Jane, I hadn’t thought of including the improved state of ones bank account as evidence of the changes. Good idea, I bet there are other readers who have noticed the same improvement or even a healthy chipping away at debt. That is pretty good incentive if you ask me.

    • I got to thinking…man I must have had my tea spiked as I don’t recall leaving a comment for this string posts…then it occurred to me that I’m not the only Jane!

      • Well heck Jane I didn’t realise there are two Janes commenting. Perhaps you might like to add your last initial to your comments so I can tell you apart.

        • Wow, so rare to run into another Jane on a same forum! I’ll concede & change my reply forum name to “The Other Jane”.

          • Thank you Jane I appreciate that. You may have been here first, I am not sure because I didn’t even realise there were two of you. I am just happy you pointed it out, so I can get to know you both separately.

    • I’m with you, Jane: I couldn’t look at all the things I’d got rid of. I do like the idea of this post though, of counting everything. I’m thinking a tally of items out and items in would be a great idea, then it would be possible to buy things without guilt, as long as the tally kept going down. No need to even count at the start, just start at zero and see how low you can go! Also, only one number (the current tally) needs kept in your head each time you buy or get rid of something. I’m gonna start mine now! x

  5. Five boxes of fabric will be picked up next week. I donate them to an organisation that runs thrift shops but also a sewing workshop to give people who are out of work a perspective. You are right, I should take a picture of the bulk that’s leaving. All the pictures i have taken (not of every object though but at least of some things/lots) are astonishing and encouraging in hindsight. I know that some things have been replaced (2 armchairs had to make space for 2 other armchairs that I wanted that came from my grandma when she moved. My bed had to go so my boyfriend could bring his bed, same with the wardrobe and some other things we otherwise would have had multiples of). But many things have NOT been replaced and I just can’t imagine anymore how cluttered the place must have been once. I still feel there’s way too much stuff, though and wonder when I’ll ever have the feeling of being done or at least close to it.
    For today I am happy and relieved though that I’ve finally made the decision to donate the boxes, investigated the organization and scheduled a pick up date.

    • Good for you Ideealistin. Being that little bit more organised and decluttered, no matter how slow progress it may seem, is always a great feeling. Perhaps you should have taken some pictures around you apartment before you got into the swing of decluttering. At least then, on the days where you feel discouraged, you could look back and go, WOW I really have made a difference.

      • I actually have pictures of the apartment but things have been moved around so much during the years (first living with a roommate, then alone, now with boyfriend, soon with baby …) that they don’t make real before/afters. What they don’t show either: How good I am (was?) at stuffing things into the second or even third row. I have pictures of some things though that I photographed for ebay/craigslist or to mail to friends to give away and I loved it when I recently went through them. Some nice things – but in total absolutely no regrets, just astonishment. Some day I should make a nice collage, too. 🙂

  6. I wish I’d taken decluttering before photos, but it wasn’t on my mind at the time. I’ll try to take current photos to remind myself of the progress I’ve made and maybe they’ll be the new “before” photos that inspire me to do more. I do like benchmarking decluttering progress by getting rid of storage or clearing out floor space. I just figured out what to get rid of so I can hide my husband’s Pepsi stash in the pantry rather than leaving it out on the living room floor. Huzzah!

    • Don’t you just love to free up floor space Rebecca J. I got most of that sort of joy with my garage decluttering. Inside the house was in pretty good shape. That is where I get the joy of clearing shelf space. Although there were a few pieces of furniture that were either decluttered altogether or downsized that reveals a few square metres of carpet and tile. Gotta luv that!

      • Exactly! I went through the home yesterday and realized how many things are sitting on the floor. So I have started working to clear out closet / cabinet space to get those things off the floor. Once I’m done, it will be easier to sweep, and it seems to help to have a goal to put up against the “but I might use this someday” thoughts.

        • You’ve got the idea now Rebecca J. Good for you. Making tasks easy to achieve sure makes it more likely they will happen on a regular basis. Dusting nicknacks was like that for me. Now they are mostly gone so what is left gets dusted more often.

  7. I’m with Rebecca J – I wish I’d taken before photos too, and a part of me wishes I’d kept a register just for a bit of encouragement when I feel I’m not progressing, I’m also with Jane that I could also maybe have a few regrets, whereas out of sight, out of mind. Like Kimberly said the other day (and I have it written on post-it notes in several strategic locations) “Once Gone, Always Gone”.

    Some time ago I lamented that I hadn’t taken before photos and I can’t remember who sorry, said just try to imagine if everything that you’ve gotten rid of just suddenly landed on your front lawn again in a big heap. Oh my goodness! It would be like that meteorite that landed in Russia!

  8. It suited me to keep a list of what I have decluttered. I opened a file on Excel called “365 days” as I originally was going to declutter one item a day like you Colleen. But I found some days I got rid of a lot and some days nothing. So I have decluttered on 115 actual days (over almost two years now) but got rid of 802 items, or bags of items. When I go through the list I can barely remember the things, and certainly don’t regret any.

    Many parts of my home now are “done” but there are still danger areas! I am a quilter, sewer, knitter and although my stash is quite small (in comparison with others) and I produce a lot of quilts, etc., people keep on giving me fabric, thread, yarn, and so on, and I find it hard to say no to really nice quality stuff. The good thing is I practically never spend money on my hobbies and I am sort of keeping up but I would feel happier with less.

    I have such a good feeling of contentment and satisfaction and wish I could spread the word to my friends, but have learned to offer my help when they say they want to declutter, and then keep my mouth shut when they say no!

    • Hi Janetta, have you even considered just doing a periodical declutter of your hobby materials and just donate the items that haven’t been used for a long time. There has to be a charity sewing group somewhere nearby that would be happy to take them off your hands. You still get to keep the good stuff that you haven’t had for long and are likely to use.

    • I have decluttered the “easy” areas of my house…kitchen, bathrooms, living room…now I am getting to the point where I need to start on the craft room! I am also a quilter, cross-stitcher, dabbler in other crafts…this room is so overwhelming! BUT, knowing I only have to find ONE thing each day is helping so much…yesterday I thought there must be at least one pattern that I don’t want anymore, and I found two…so, little by little I will transform this space until it makes me calm and happy.

  9. I haven’t taken photos, but sometimes, I sit back and try to remember a couple of things I got rid of – though I probably forgot quite a lot of random items, I remember clearly the reduced craft stash (I also sold a couple of things), how many books I had (also sold some of them), the time when I brought bags of clothes to the thrift store or the dishes I had such a hard time to part with. In all these areas, my storage furniture is still rather full, so I really wonder where I did put all these things in the first place!

  10. Drum roll please! Taaa Daaaa!!!!! Two pieces of furniture have left the house for today’s mini mission! And guess what? One of them is my last bookcase!

    • Huzzah!!

    • Great job, Moni!

    • Woo Hoo go Moni. My son has been moving out today and there are car loads leaving my place. I am soooooooooo excited about this. He will only be five minutes away so it isn’t as though I need to miss him or anything. 😉

      • Colleen – did he take his old skateboards?

      • Colleen, that is exciting! It is the natural progression of life, but that is so nice that he will not be far away.

        • Yes, I hope he will be very happy. I helped him drop some stuff off yesterday and he showed me how he had cleaned out and tidied up the tupperware cupboard. He had also defrosted the freezer and he was complaining that the vacuum cleaner needs replacing because it was rubbish. I felt very proud that he cared enough to do and realise all these things. They also had a pile of stuff ready for curb-side pick up.

      • It’s great to hear Liam is moving out. I know you are excited to have him moving on in life and becoming responsible. I hope it all goes well. Now to get Bridget moving along. I know she will be glad to have her own place. It’s fun being on your own finally.

    • Yeah for the furniture! That’s always soooo rewarding because it makes such a big impact!

    • Wow, Moni, I’m really impressed!

  11. I love before and after photos so you can really see the difference, but I tend to just focus on the after picture. I don’t always want to remember the before, but it can be helpful to see how you have made progress.

  12. Photos and lists are definitely a great incentive for me. We have done a pretty detailed inventory of all the things we have donated so we have a record for the taxes, and taken photographs of each load of donations. I am amazed every time I look at those pictures as I very quickly forget the things once they are gone. Not once have I regretted giving away any of those things. I also took pictures of my son’s messy room in the summer and now that is has all been tidied up I realize I didn’t need to get quite so upset about it at the time. I shall be sure to photograph the garage before starting the great declutter in there.

  13. I probably should clarify what I meant by ‘regret’ – how I get rid of things has evolved thru the journey – nothing was chucked in the bin, but have learnt along the way some better ideas or more appreciative options. No regrets about having a tidier, streamlined house though. Wish I’d started 5 years earlier.

  14. Another good post; I don’t know how you keep doing it Colleen – you take a chance comment and find all the threads that come from it and lead to it and spin them into new fabric. Fascinating.

    These days, feeling that my decluttering muscles are fairly strong, I find myself “mining” the posts for ideas that can help my weight loss project. My take-away today is to realize I should keep track of pounds lost. This will be more helpful to me than recording current weight. A small difference in perspective, but with a big impact on my thinking. As usual – thanks 🙂

  15. Great post today, Colleen. That was certainly motivation for their weight loss efforts to utilize the spreadsheets. I have not kept count of the items that I have gotten rid of, but at the very least, I wish that I would have taken pictures of each load that I have taken to the donation center. That is okay though, as long as I am seeing and realizing the results in my home, and I am. I enjoy the before and after photos that you have on your blog here also. I especially like to see the progressive ones, like the one of the garage space. The amount in there keeps getting smaller and smaller, it is neat to see that in pictures. I guess everyone has to find that one thing that keeps them challenged and motivated without veering off the path to a decluttered home or weight loss, etc. I challenge myself to continue to find things to fill up a bag each week because it makes me feel good to give to the donation center and it feels good to see how my home is evolving. I also like to see cabinets and shelves becoming empty. Condensing shelves and having empty space in my kitchen cabinets or bathroom cabinets motivates me too.

  16. Well, I had sort of a before picture when I helped my mother move house last year.
    As I began my declutter journey quite a time ago and it was by no means systematic I really got used to the gradual changes.
    It is always good to recall where you come from. Because for someone else your current state might have been the starting point.
    What I find more difficult to reconstruct is the mindset that got me in the cluttered place as I now find joy in open spaces and see no point in buying stuff just in case.
    So as much as I would love to have photos of my progress I don’t let myself be held back from decluttering when I don’t feel like taking a photo (which is the case most of the time).

  17. Measuring what you have achieved is called the “Burn Up” approach (i.e. how much of a candle has been burnt up). Measuring what you still have to do called the “Burn Down” approach (i.e. how much candle is still to be burnt down). With things like decluttering Burn Down can be so motivating and Burn Up extremely motivating.

    Thanks for reminding us to look at and celebrate what we have achieved instead of getting overwhelmed with what we still have to do.

  18. I started writing a list of items for consideration soon after I started serious decluttering. That was shortly before I discovered 365lessthings last March or begining of April. I score off each item that has left my home in an orange marker. It’s VERY motivating to see all the orange. I don’t keep a tally (except for 52 books) but I’ll count the total amount when my 365 days are up. I know it’s well over 365 things because I downsized and got rid of tons. I’m impressed by the things I decluttered after thinking that I just can’t find anything else that I’m ready to let go of. It goes on and on, the change in your thinking about possessions and your desire to get rid of even more. I know I’ll be decluttering long after my 365 days are up. I want to be a new person like you have slowly become, Colleen!

    • What a great comment LenaC, thanks for that. I love to hear about people really enjoying the freedom of letting go of stuff. Some people seem to find it a struggle from go to whoa while others really get it. I am glad that you get it Lena. My husband thought I would run out of things before the 365 days were up but I went way past that. Now if I could just get rid of more of his stuff I would be really happy. 😉

  19. I do enjoy decluttering and know the many benefits. Although at the same time I regularly struggle with choosing what to declutter to improve the uncomfortable feeling in my home. That’s where this blog helps. I always somehow find more. I’m sure your husband will declutter a bit more. Every little helps.

    • One day he may not have a choice. It is him that keeps pushing to move into an even smaller home than what I want and if that happens he is going to have to let go a a lot more stuff.

      • Update: It is a 365 days since I started writing my list of items to declutter and I have decluttered more than 1 item a day. In fact the total is 746 items. I still have a long way to go and hope to beat that in the second year. When I started the list, I didn’t know that it would turn in to a list of 100s of items so it’s a mess and hard to read. I stapled it in to a notebook (old one I already had) and continued the list. I find it interesting to read back. I don’t feel the need for photos as I think I’d pine for a few items. I don’t count items that I’ve aquired since I started the list. There’s not many anyway because in the past when I’ve decluttered I was still obtaining things, now I’m far less likely to bring something home. It’s very useful to have a method to motivate yourself, a way of measuring. It’s almost worth being cluttered so that you have the satisfaction of decluttering and crossing things off!

        Colleen, has your husband decluttered anything since that last comment?

        • Hi Lena, well done you! I am going to have to find a new pastime once there is nothing left to declutter. And yes my husband has decluttered some stuff. He gave some collectable magazines to Bridget so technically they haven’t left the house yet, but that day is nigh. He got rid of some bits and pieces that belonged to an old camera including some old curtains he was keeping as a backdrop for photos. He was shuffling about in the garage the other day but I don’t know if he decluttered anything but the tool kit that he gave to our son because it belonged to his motorbike. That doesn’t count as something of his though but at lease he decluttered something.

          • You could go on a shopping spree and reward yourself for all the effort you made. You would then get to experience the joy of decluttering again. JOKING of course! I’m so looking forward to getting more things out and already have 3 more items that I have no trouble parting with that were difficult before. I’m looking forward to that happening with other possessions. As for your husband, camera items and curtains all help.

          • Lena C, I almost had heart failure when I started reading that last comment. Thank heavens you were kidding. 😉

  20. Didn’t mean that to happen! But I bet it has been done ie.people undoing their effort, like celebrating reaching their weightloss target with a binge. I’d hate the thought of going back to square one with decluttering. I really, really want all the benefits. This blog and the comments are my main support and inspiration. Moni, that’s so inspiring about your final bookcase. My books are falling like dominoes with each book that I’ve got rid of.


  1. […] Loved that Jane has found a finical benefit in her new attitude towards stuff. She tells us about it in this comment. […]