From the Archives ~ My Ten essential decluttering tips

  1. Start with the easy stuff then graduate emotionally into the things you may find harder to part with. The enthusiasm gained from purging the easy stuff should spur you on.
  2. Don’t reclutter while you declutter.
  3. Learn from your clutter. Don’t just get rid of it learn from you previous mistakes of acquiring stuff. If you don’t take the time to analyse your mistakes in this area you will soon have a repeat performance and be back to square one.
  4. KISS ~ Keep it simple stupid. There is no need to disrupt your entire house during the process of decluttering. Just select one small area at a time and then move on to another. There is nothing like a trail of disaster to put you off the task altogether. Don’t even think of it as one big mammoth task just think of it as a bunch of little tasks and only concentrate on one at a time.
  5. Do your research and have your strategy planned for how you are going to dispose of your items.
    • Where or how you can donate. (Drop off, pick up, other)
    • Your options for selling (eBay, garage sale, flea market etc)
    • The how, what and where of recycling in your area.
    • Your options for large trash that won’t fit in your curb side bin.
  6. Decide ahead of time where your departure points are going to be so you can quickly transfer the things you are decluttering to these areas and get them out of the way. The more organised the area is that you are working in the less likely you are to get stress out, throw your hands in the air and give up.
  7. Don’t feel obligated to keep things just because someone gave them to you either as a gift, in remembrance or an heirloom. It is your home and you have the right to decide what stays and what goes.
  8. If you can spend hours watching TV, logged on to your computer reading blogs etc, talking on the phone, reading book, magazines or newspapers… then you can surely put aside at least 1 ten minutes a day to declutter. Find a space in your day for that ten minutes and make it a routine.
  9. Have an open mind. If you even think an item may need decluttering it is worth consideration. Sometimes an item appears in our declutter radar but we reject the idea because of one reason or another. Maybe this is because the item has been very useful over the years, maybe because at one point you loved this item, maybe because it holds sentimental value. There is usually a reason it appeared in your radar in the first place so give it some second thought, maybe the time has past when it was useful, loved or held sentiment and now you are just keeping it out of habit.
  10. Unless you have true hoarding tendencies and need to enlist outside help to assist you in making the decision about what is a reasonable level of stuff I would suggest that you decide for yourself what level of possessions is right for you. The only guide you should use to decided when enough decluttering is enough is your own comfort level. There are many variables at play here and only you know what is right for you and you shouldn’t be railroaded into what is reasonable and what isn’t by someone else’s standards.

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. I am sooooo guilty of number 2.
    I usually declutter and then create clutter elsewhere.
    Great tips-

  2. Hi Colleen,

    I found a use for some of my “tins” collection! I have been feeding the birds & squirrels because I enjoy seeing them out the kitchen window while fixing coffee, breakfast, doing dishes, scrubbing baby bottles… It makes those tasks much more enjoyable, watching the critters… But some other critter was getting into the birdseed bag on our garage shelving… Now I pour the bags’ contents into my tin collection… So happy to find a use for them and to protect the birdseed, for my favored critters 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Peggy, I’m so glad you found a use for some of the tins you love! It is nice to be able to keep things you are fond of and them be useful at the same time and not just sitting around!

    • Well done Peggy and better tin and plastic containers because those other critters can gnaw the top of the plastic ones. Doubt they’ll be too keen to do the same with tins.

  3. So guilty of No. 8!

  4. Good reminder Colleen. It’s always good to go back to the essentials and check yourself every once in a while.

  5. deanna ar USA

    I love this portion of # 9, Colleen…”now you are just keeping it out of habit.” The tablecloths I found this week fit this exactly. I had never even considered decluttering them though I’ve gone through that chest a number of times in the last months. It just seemed that I’d had them for years (though never used), so I just assumed I would have them forever. I must have so many other things I’ve never considered. Hopefully those will come to light…even if it’s slow.

    • deanna ar USA

      It was like I no longer saw them when I opened that drawer. Maybe that’s why some minimalists suggest emptying the whole drawer (or whatever), holding each item in your hands while focusing on just that one thing. When you get it out of its usual place, maybe you see it more clearly, or in a different way.

      I don’t know whether I’m explaining this very well or not but “just keeping it out of habit” is quite an epiphany for me.

      • Makes perfect sense to me Deanna. I had no shortage of items that I kept out of habit when I first go serious about decluttering. That is why I mention all these things here because it is very easy to overlook items for one reason or another.
        As for emptying a drawer completely. This is especially simple once you have already removed several items while carrying out the mini missions. I used to often encounter a drawer while doing the missions and discover there was little enough left in it the emptying it out and given it a total clean out in ten minutes was easy.

  6. I was so guilty of #2…recluttering
    Was so happy when I was able to break that endless loop!
    Thanks for the reminders.

  7. Colleen, I’m back and hopefully getting on track again! Retirement is going to offer me lots more time to declutter and determine exactly what I want to do with stuff and time. I love your ten essentials.

  8. Good post, Colleen. I think you really have the situation in hand when you don’t have any desire to re-clutter. Yesterday Ian spent a number of hours in the hospital and I couldn’t be with him so went across the road and wasted three hours of my life in a shopping mall. What a mind-numbing experience! Came away with a bathing suit (been on my ‘need’ list for a couple of years), one necessary item from the drugstore, indigestion and a searing headache.

    Ian came home with a new stent in his heart and a new lease on life. Yay!

    • Wendy, I guess this is my night for commenting, but just wanted to say I’m so glad your husband is doing fine after his surgery. And congratulations on finding a bathing suit! That’s usually a real chore!!

      • Well, considering the last time I bought a bathing suit was in the late 80s, I don’t feel guilty of over-buying!
        Thanks for the kind wishes for Ian.

    • Hi Wendy B, shopping malls usually have the same effect on me. I usually come away without anything and a headache. Buying nothing is only annoying when there is something I need but can’t find the right something.

      I am glad however that Ian came away from the hospital feeling like a new man.

  9. OK, I have a number 11 for you: Get a carpet beetle infestation! OY!

    Seriously, it’s amazing how my thought process on what to keep has changed, when the price of keeping something is not just that it will occupy some space in a closet or storage room. Now I have to consider everything as a potential breeding ground for larvae – which means that everything I keep will have to be repeatedly and frequently cleaned (as in sanitized) until I can be sure the little buggers have been evicted and cannot re-infest!

    Since the larvae can live up to 3 years (!!!) I have decided to pare down my belongings significantly – there’s just no way I’ll be able keep up with it otherwise. So far I’ve gotten rid of 2 overstuffed chairs, one spare bed, a dozen garbage bags full of clothes, linens, fabric and the like, I’ve shredded box after box of old documents, and I’ve tossed barrel after barrel of junk that I was hanging onto “just in case.” I was able to clean some things so I could donate rather than toss, but much of it just had to be trashed. Sigh.

    Anyhow, while I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, it’s certainly given me a new perspective on stuff!

    I guess the moral of this story is that clutter has a cost, even if we don’t realize it. Well, that and: Never, ever, EVER bring used upholstered furniture into your home… EVER!!!!

    Wish me luck…

    • Oh my, EcoCatLady!!! I don’t know what carpet beetles are (thank God!!!) but it sounds horrid!
      Like getting fleas or bed bugs in ones home. I wish you much success in getting rid of them! Could you tell us what the process is for that? Did you have to call an exterminator?

      Thank you for the advice about not buying used upholstered furniture!

      • I’d never heard of carpet beetles before either, but I’m discovering that a surprising number of people are dealing with them. I wonder if they’re one of those insects that got nearly wiped out by DDT but are now making a comeback like bedbugs are. Basically they’re little beetles who lay eggs that hatch into larvae. The larvae eat keratin, which is found in things like hair & wool. They’re called carpet beetles because back in the days when carpets were made from wool, they were a common household pest. Violinists actually call them “bow hair bugs” because they can get into the instrument cases and destroy horse hair violin bows. Fortunately they don’t bite either animals or people, and they don’t carry diseases, they’re just destructive to things made from wool or fur – plus the “ick factor” is pretty high!

        I’m pretty sure I got them from an overstuffed chair that I bought at a yard sale… thing is, that was YEARS ago, so at this point the infestation is pretty bad. If I had realized what was happening I could have dealt with it sooner, but I just never put all the pieces together. I would see the occasional beetle on the windowsills (the larvae “pupate” in the spring and the beetles head for the light) but I just assumed they were coming in from outside, and was focused on the window screens.

        They also feed on cat fur – where could they possibly be finding a source of cat fur in this house? 🙂 Anyhow, I think the problem got significantly worse over the past 2-3 years because I had two elderly kitties who got very sick and I basically did hospice care for them – sort of a sequential thing – one was sick for a year and a half, then he died, at which point his sister got sick and I nursed her for a year or so before she went. Anyhow, cats HATE the vacuum cleaner, so I didn’t have the heart to run it as often as usual, or to do the moving-all-the-furniture type of deep cleaning that I usually do because it was just so hard on them. I think that’s what really gave the little buggers the upper hand.

        Anyhow, the process for getting rid of them involves finding the nests of larvae – generally dark places like closets, under furniture, along the edges of wall to wall carpeting, and especially in fabric things like upholstered furniture – or linens, clothes, and the like that don’t (ahem) get used frequently. You can suck the larvae up with a vacuum cleaner or wash the item in bleach and hot water – the drier will also kill them. The trick is getting them all, because they’re pretty good at hiding, and it only takes a few larvae to hatch into beetles, to lay more eggs and start the process over again.

        If worse comes to worse I may end up having to call an exterminator, but I’m trying to deal with it “organically” – mostly because exterminators and cats are a bad combination, and I really don’t want my remaining 2 fur babies to suffer any ill-effects from the pesticides. Plus, I needed to get rid of things anyhow. So on top of regular and thorough vacuuming of all carpets and furniture, I’m emptying every closet, drawer, cupboard, etc., cleaning them out and only keeping what’s essential. I’m washing all fabric things (linens, clothes, curtains, etc) and storing whatever doesn’t get used daily in air-tight bags or boxes – and holy moly! You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you go through a process like that! It sort of feels like I’m moving – you know, all the fun and excitement of sorting, cleaning and packing everything you own without the hassle of a nice, new home (sarcasm intended.)

        Anyhow, that’s the story. I’m working my way up to a blog post with pictures, so if anyone has an interest in following the carpet beetle battle, feel free to click on over.

        • EcoCatLady, thank you for all the info on the carpet beetles! I had looked them up on the Internet after your comment, but your info was much better!!! 🙂

          I don’t know if this would work on the beetles, but have you ever heard of diatomaceous earth? Completely harmless, but you should not breathe a lot of it. It feels like the consistency of white flour and looks like it. Yet, it is the dead bodies of microscopic crustaceans if I remember correctly. And the “flour” is actually full of tiny barbs that kill soft bodied things by cutting into them and then they dry out. You can dust it on animals for fleas and ticks or put it on carpet. Some people drink it in water for parasites. Would not hurt your cats. Just try not to breathe any flying dust because it can irritate your lungs. You can also put it on pet food to control parasites. I know beetles have a shell, but it would probably cut into their undersides. It is very reasonably priced. I got mine at a county co-op store @$35USD for 50 lbs, I think. If you order online, shipping is as much as the product, so local purchase is better. I have started putting it around the inside walls on the floor of my garage and it is amazing how many bugs it kills. Then, I sweep the bugs out and add more DE if necessary. It might be worthwhile to try this on your carpets. Just a thought!

          • Thanks Brenda! I have actually heard of it, and considered using it, but I think I’d want to talk with my veterinarian first. I have read mixed reviews about using it around cats because apparently it can be hard to keep them from breathing the stuff in since they spend a lot of time rooting around in dark corners with their little noses. And it’s really bad if they do breathe it in. Still, perhaps there is a way to do it safely. Thanks again for the tip.

    • I do wish you luck with that EcoCatLady, how annoying for you. However someone somewhere came up with a word for this type of situation once and that word is Probotunity :~ A problem turned into an opportunity. Those beetles sure are a problem but they have forced you into the opportunity of seeing your clutter with a different eye. I have written posts in the past of how our clutter can actually cause maintenance issues within our homes and I guess this is the perfect example of that.
      I do hope you manage to eradicate those pesky beetles.

      • Thanks Colleen. I totally LOVE That word, and I am really trying to see this as an opportunity. It’s certainly providing a level of decluttering motivation that I have never felt before! And I think this may be the thing that cures me of my cardboard box “habit” once and for all. I kinda can’t believe the amount of those things I had laying around gathering dust (and, ahem, larvae.) I think it’s the legacy from my years of trying to make a living selling used books on eBay, when cardboard boxes were a precious commodity. But things change, and what was once an asset is now a liability, so out they go. Onward!!!