Life moves on

I received the following comment from Kimberley to one of last week’s posts ~ Who Are You Now.

Kinberley wrote: “Your post should be titled, “Isn’t this how clutter begins?” :)
We move from one phase of our life to another. We don’t or won’t let go of what used to serve us while at the same time adding things that now do. It’s as simple as doing the math.”

This is so true. The reason much of our clutter builds up is because life moves on for us. The problem with that is that life moves on but we don’t move on the resulting items that become clutter. We understandably hold on to things for a while just in case we revert to our previous life and then after a while we neglect to let go. Sometimes we pass through several stages of life not cleaning up after the last, and in the end we have a house full of unused stuff.

The key to avoiding this is maintenance decluttering. That is, letting go of our stuff from past lives within a reasonable time frame from when we stopped needing the items. I make that sound easy because physically it is. All it takes is identifying this stuff and using whatever means necessary and appropriate for us to pass it on.

The problem for many these days is that, in this fast paced world, we don’t have or don’t take the time to look back and clean up after ourselves. In essence, we complicate our lives so much trying to keep pace with a world gone mad, with earning, consuming, temptation and keeping up with ridiculous ideals, that something has to give. That something is often our time, our families, our friends and of course the state of our homes.

And yet we always seem to find the time to go out and acquire the new potential clutter. So why is it that we can find that time, which, due to comparison shopping, generally takes more time yet we can’t find the time to move the old stuff on. I would like to give you some sort of easy fix solution to this issue but, as you can probably guess, there isn’t one. The reality is that if you can find the time to shop for stuff but don’t find the time to declutter stuff then you are going to end up with a cluttered home. Once you come to terms with this and begin to practice maintenance decluttering then your problem of clutter build up will be gone.

The tips I can give to manage this are…

  • …to stay informed about methods of disposal ~ Thrift shops, Sharing sites like Freecycle etc, other charity donation opportunities, garage sales, auction/selling sites like ebay, recycling collection days… ~ and take advantage of them when necessary.
  • …sell donate of giveaway your children’s items as they grow out of them.
  • …pay attention of your stuff and notice when items are no longer being used. These are the items you shuffle to the back of cupboards, garages, attics and basements.
  • …when you find yourself out shopping for something new ask yourself, what is it replacing and let the other similar item go.

Personally I prefer to only replace things when they wear out not just because I feel like something new. This tip will not only helps avoid clutter but also help accumulate savings. And financial security gives as much piece of mind as un uncluttered home.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter any toiletry products you aren’t likely to use because you tried them but didn’t like them. Shampoos, conditioners, bady wash, moisturisers etc. Perhaps donate them to a women’s or men’s shelter.

Eco Tip

Don’t waste that lovely picking liquid that comes in jars of peppers etc. Use it to add a little extra zing to your next DIY salad dressing.

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. Personally I find some parts of decluttering easy:
    * I keep a tidy wardrobe, don’t hang on to clothes, pass them on to the Charity Shop etc.
    * Try to keep on top of mail: filing, recycling junk, shredding etc
    * as soon as my husband and I finish a paperback off it goes, either to friends/family or the Charity Shop.
    * Only buy new things when necessary and out go the old (rubbish/recycling/Charity)

    My main problems are :

    * belongings I have inherited, furniture, china, pictures
    * our daughter’s things still at our house. She is not good at letting go of things, doesn’t have room for them so we have them!
    * paperwork which seems to multiply when I’m not looking
    * sorting out old photos. The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and where do I find the time and energy?
    Any ideas very welcome.

    • Re: your daughter. Being a daughter myself and having parents and grand-parents who store things for me, I encourage you to set limits and/or an ultimatum. Make it clear that her clutter bothers you. Also, make a clear distinction about what is stuff she keeps and stuff you keep. E.g. my granny is always complaining about my old toys I “store” at her attic, but when I suggest to get rid of them, she insists we save them for future children in the family. It’s clearly not me who’s hanging onto that stuff. Your daughter should be free to do as she likes with her stuff (I assume she already is!), but you are free to no longer provide your space to store it. Make sure, she goes through her belongings regularly, as oh-so-dear belongings become unnecessary over time, given the separation from them and the fact that new things at the new home might take their place. Also, if she is willing to take it with her, let her do so, even though you might think there won’t be room in her place. She will find room for the important stuff and probably learn a decluttering lesson or two when she really lives with too many things.
      That said, I think it’s okay to store things for children for a certain time, but make sure that you won’t still have things at your home when she’s 40! (which happens more often than I dare to think!)

      • Hi Sanna, in a way the toys at your granny’s are still your clutter as you they have become obligation clutter for you. You could collect them from her and dispose of them. It seems to me that they have become obligation clutter, due to your granny’s desire to save them, that you are avoiding dealing with. You sentence “Your daughter should be free to do as she likes with her stuff…” confirms that.
        I agree what you are saying about that there is probably room at Linda’s daughters place that she fills with other things she wants.

        • Colleen, she won’t hand them over! Haha. My granny is one rigid lady! 😀

          Oh well, I’ll wait until I either have kids or my granny moves out to dump them all. I might also suggest to my cousin that she takes them, when her baby arrives (in a few months) only that I can collect the toys from her place with less hassle and get rid of them…

    • *Pass the inherited furniture on to other members of the family or let it go. Inherited furniture was once and important thing due to mass production not existing. These days it has just become one of those hang on traditions. One should not spoil thier wishes for their home by hanging on to things out of obligation.
      *I held on to my daughters stuff only until she had a home of her own at the age of 24. Had it taken much longer she would have had to deal with it anyway because we were moving into a much smaller home. I don’t thing children should expect their parents to be their holding space for stuff that isn’t important enough to take with them. Give her a deadline to get it out of there.
      *The best way to avoid paperwork without it building up is to digitise as much as possible and minimise any unnecessary paperwork coming in. In other works simplify the task. We get very little paperwork in our house. Most bills are digitised and those that aren’t are dealt with ASAP scanned and shredded. In Australia now we can even digitise old tax papers which is a great thing. Also we go through our small file of warranties and manuals as the expire and become unnecessary.
      *Avoiding sorting out old photos is something I also am guilty of. My main issue is that many of them aren’t mine, they are my husbands. He is about to semi retire and might find himself lumbered with the task of dealing with them sometime soon. However the photos I have dealt with was as simple as eliminating all the doubles, similar photos, poor quality photos, photos of animals and scenes that meant nothing to us historically. I did this in batches so it wasn’t one big task. It is a good place to start.

  2. Your site has been enormously helpful since I discovered it last fall. Thank you, and your great readership.

    One thing bothers me tremendously, though, about the unloading process — and it applies to all the uncluttering sites I follow:

    “Everyone” says to throw away clothing that’s spotted or otherwise un-sellable at thrift shops.

    What happened to passing those items along to homeless shelters, or emergency organizations? Why should they be bundled up and shipped overseas as rags?

    Surely my warm comfy non-spiffy sweatshirts and other items could do good in the hands of the street people I see in almost every city. Folks in rags for shoes, plastic bag overcoats . . . wouldn’t they get some (non-stylish) use and protection from this kind of cast-off?

    Why doesn’t Goodwill, for instance, have an arrangement with rescue missions, etc., in every place it operates? Or with animal shelters? What they consider not profitable to display in their stores could benefit others locally. They have the ideal opportunity to pass it on.

    I didn’t realize until the past couple of years that they don’t! What they, as businesses, can’t sell, they get rid of — they apparently don’t coordinate efforts with the next step down in the helping cycle.

    I donate our items to a group called “First Families”, under the auspices of Salvation Army. When I take things into the FF office, their clients have first shot at everything. What the individuals and families who are in this temporary homeless state can’t use directly, goes into a stash for those who are ready to set up housekeeping — even pillows, pots and pans, and so forth. Rags are used by the janitorial staff. They even accept underwear – they said they wash it well, and people are grateful.

    What’s left after that goes into the Salvation Army donation truck for their stores. People like this readership take appropriate advantage of the merchandise, feel good about saving resources and money. I think that’s good environmental stewardship, and applaud it.

    I worry that we’ve lost sight of that other aspect of giving, and getting. Years ago, firemen fixed toys for “needy” children; this kept them busy in down time, and provided presents for children who might not get any. Now, it’s a big business, run by professionals, and only new toys are accepted. If it is okay to get second-hand toys for your own children through thrift stores, why isn’t it okay for them to be given to these other children?

    I don’t want to start a flaming war, but as we consider ways to be good citizens, I believe we must rethink entitlement and our own motives.

    Thanks for listening. Because of this site, I am much more aware of, and better about, what I buy, recycle, and reuse.

    • Hi Road Writer, the problem with most of what you are concerned about here is the health and safety issue imposed on charities by law. If something does go wrong and the blame can be traced to them they are the ones who get sued. This takes money from the causes they support or provide. We can’t even sell a plastic baby bath out the shop I work at because, to my understanding, if a baby were to drown in it the charity can, for some bizarre reason, be partially held responsible. We also can’t sell microwave ovens in case they have been tampered with. Nor strollers and cots because of risk of collapse. Underwear for obvious reason (And yet we sell used swimwear. I can’t figure that one out.).

      As for not being able to donate slightly tattered clothing. I generally leave that up to the charity and donate anything still worth wearing. I dare say there is more than just the Salvation Army that cater to the needy. I am pretty sure the Smith Family also do this and Father O’Reilly (These are Aussie Charities).

      Some charities sent the less sellable items (I read that Australia only sells about 25% of donated clothes within Australia) overseas to the needy. I see nothing wrong with this. One needy person is a good an another. And as good as anyone else for that matter. Other fabrics are sold as rags to make more money for the charity.

      One way or another the money goes to help someone in need. Whether they need clothing, food, shelter or counselling. There are all manner of services that need to be met and one isn’t any more important than the other. People who need suicide counselling may have no need for food, shelter or clothing. So the money for charities that fill this need come from what ever way they can best make money from the donations they receive.

      I hope that helps put your mind at ease.

      • Thank you for your reply, Colleen. Maybe it’s all the media hype at times to only donate new or pristine items, said with the undertone of, “if you wouldn’t wear it now, don’t think anyone else — including the homeless — want it either.” (Usually said by young people who look like they’ve — fortunately — never experienced the anguish of rocky times.) That’s one part that bothers me.

        The other issue is when donation centers “don’t have the resources to get rid of non-sale able clothes” – that donors are making it tough on charities by giving them anything they can’t put in their stores. Here’s where I believe they should liaise with the next level of services in a community. Or maybe set up boxes in their parking lots for those items. I’d gladly do the sorting there if I knew what they’d do with them. (And, yes, I don’t want to drive all over town to do it. As your readers know, getting it out of the house is huge.)

        I don’t have a problem with sending things elsewhere. In fact, I’d much rather see that than the items dumped as trash. And, Heaven knows, people all around the world are in desperate need, and should not be forgotten. It seems that sometimes we don’t even notice what’s around us, the people in our own towns, who could use direct assistance beyond the bureaucratic.

        “Think globally and act locally” has merit, and helps us realize even more clearly how each action has a consequence, and also helps people feel they are individuals, not just numbers.

        I always learn from your sage advice, and the thoughtful comments of your readers. I feel I know some of them now, wonder how things are going when they don’t post often. And cheered for the victories, the mountains moved (like Deb’s mother!).

        Thanks again for helping us stay focused on discovering what’s important in our lives.

        • Hi Ron, sorry for the slow response as usual I have been a busy girl. I understand how you feel about the homeless. I used to pass a guy on the freeway exit each morning when going to work when I lived in Seattle. I would often chat to him and give him a few dollars while waiting for the lights to change. One morning while getting my lunch ready I decided to heat him up some beef hot pot from the last nights dinner to take to him. I figured if he wasn’t there I could reheat it for myself so it wouldn’t go to waste. He was there and was so excited to be given a hot meal on a cold morning. It was the highlight of both our days.

          On the other hand there is a homeless man who walks the streets on my town. I see him at least once every time I go out. he asked me for money once and when I gave it to him he just grunted and walked off. He has never asked me again and I have never offered because I assume he just wants to be left alone and will ask if he feels the need. I often see him with a cup, of coffee I assume, so someone must be helping him out. I’d like to point out that his clothes are very ragged but, perhaps wrongly, I assume he is happy in them and wouldn’t accept new ones if I offered them. Perhaps one day I should just ask and see what response I get.

          As for what charities do with less than wonderful clothing, I don’t know. I can only do my bit and hope that they are also being as responsible as possible. Just like it is no point my getting annoyed every time I find the wrong things in the recycling bins at my apartment building.

  3. This post is something I have been thinking about a lot over the last year or so. This affects households with children/teens a lot especially when stuff has some potential to be used by younger children or a phase has more or less passed but not entirely dead and buried. The problem is that the next item from an outgoing phase may end up stored next to it and the next and the next.

    As the post says, I have to keep re-visiting such items to check it hasn’t slipped past an ‘expiry’ date but also the constant ‘seeing’ of the item and regularly acknowledging that this item is ‘in the way’ – speeds up the emotional process when it actually comes time to part with it. Its been rehearsed in my head, so to speak, and I have had time to consider how its going to leave the household ie sold, donated, who etc.

    In the past I have had to put items literally ‘in the way’ ie on the floor somewhere to speed up the desire to have it out of my house. I can’t remember what item or what attachment I had to it (shows how important it was!) but bumping into it daily certainly helped me to get over it! I’m finding that visiting items with expiry dates and acknowledging the count down has a similar effect. I am mentally moving something else into that spot already!

    As mentioned above, I use ‘expiry’ dates. I set a time frame that its last possible opportunity to be needed one last time will be. It may sound ‘just in case’ but I am talking about items of value that can’t be quickly replaced. An example, is my older daughter’s tap shoes. She finished her final level of tap dancing last year. Though it is unlikely, there is a possibility that she may volunteer or get roped into this year’s group tap item for the dance school’s end of year concert as this is her last year as a student there. The shoes are $175 new and need to be broken in. Her’s are old and tired and no good to anyone else but she could get another month or two out of them if she desired. As I said, it is unlikely she will return to tap dancing but once the curtain closes on the show they can go in the bin.

    I have noticed this year that phases can take a lot shorter than a year or more, some phases can be a few months even but they’re not so easily identifiable. For example, we had to buy a new road code book for my youngest due to law changes when she went for her Learner’s license. We can now pass it on. When she gets the next level up license, we can pass on the L plates.

    • Hi Moni, what you say makes perfect sense given that you have growing children in your home. I remember those days although I had the advantage of having only one girl and one boy with only two years between. So not so much of the handing down and what was had a short time frame. Therefore things could be parted with quite quickly.

      • Colleen – the other advantage to moving things on quickly is that hopefully there isn’t time to develop an emotional attachment. I’ve found that the longer things stay around the harder they are to move on.

  4. A good post Colleen. It makes us all think about why we hang on to things. I do everything I can to not bring new things into the house unless we really can’t do without them. I also do everything I can to regularly evaluate what we have and declutter as much as possible. One thing question high on my list for decision making is “How much energy does it take to keep this?” With my disabilities I find that my energy levels are low. I want what energy I have to go for things I want or need to do and not for taking are of things. When I look at this question I realize that it is a good one for everyone because taking care of anything takes energy. Many times our busyness can be caused by having to take a lot of time taking care of things.

    • You are so right Deb. I have had a busy week, most of which could be avoided if I didn’t take on silly project that I could live without. Fortunately I am able bodied so I can cope but if I wasn’t I would be far kinder to myself. In fact I think I am about ready for a break from all my hustle and bustle. My sister is visiting as of Friday and I plan to take it easy for five days that she is here. Easy aside from having a good time together that is.

  5. Colleen,
    I had a feeling that my original comment might give everyone a different perspective on their clutter.

    One idea that has really helped me to hold on to the wonderful memories (without a lot of clutter) is what I call, “A few of my favorite things” drawer. I have designated one drawer in my desk for this purpose. Everything in
    the drawer has a back story. For example, I kept my favorite monopoly metal thimble playing piece, but shuttered the larger game. I was amazed at how many things I was able to send on their merry way, by just saving a small piece in my favorite things drawer.

    • That is a good idea Kimberley. I think Andréia had a good term for this but I have forgotten what it was. Oh I remember, she has an untouchable box. This box had her few favourite things in it. It was only so big and could only hold so much. If something new got put in and there wasn’t room then something else had to go.

      I treat my craft supplies like that. Each category of things has a certain space it can take up and no more. If I acquire I have to use up in equal amounts in order to keep to the space.

  6. I volunteered in a charity shop as a teenager for work experience and my mother still does. The clothing donations is split up into suitable for sale, or not. The stuff too worn or stained is packaged up and sold to another company that recycles it into a filling/stuffing product. So nothing is wasted, and benefited the charity. It was a church store so they were funny about books and CDs as they would throw away things not considered godly, which was random depending on the volunteer going through it. I donated a lot of my books to non-religious thrift shops, colleagues and friends instead. Electronics all have to be checked as suitable for sale in New Zealand so the charity stores often don’t like them. However, some shops have an electrician who donates his services so it is worth asking.

    • Hi Kaydee and welcome to 365 Less Things. Your thrift shops run pretty much the same as they do here in Australia. I took a tour of the local warehouse/sorting space for the charity I work for one day. It was very interesting. I was glad to here the a large percentage of the clothing gets used one way or another.