Natural progression decluttering

For those of you who haven’t read my earlier posts or have forgotten, natural progression decluttering is where instead of reducing the number of certain items by giving them away you use them until they outlive their usefulness. Once gone do not replace them. There are several ways this can happen depending on the kind of clutter.

  • Wearing out – Things like an over-abundance of  socks, underwear, shoes, towels etc are prime targets for this type of decluttering. The key to making this work is to move the items that you are wanting to declutter to the front position in their storage space and use these most in order for them to wear out first.
  • Use up – Toiletries, cleaners, stationary items, craft supplies etc would fall into this category. Use your imagination with some of these items in order to use them up faster than you would normally.
    • Shampoo and bubble bath  can be used as hand wash or detergent for cleaning items that won’t be used to eat off.
    • Toilet cleaners with bleach can be used as grout and tile cleaner.
    • Glass cleaner can be used as an all purpose spray cleaner if you aren’t happy with the way it cleans glass.
    • With pens and stationary stick to the one pen or one packet of staples or one notebook etc and use that one all the time until its used up or runs out. (be mindful of pens if you have far too many as they can dry up and become useless to anyone. Best to give them away before this happens if you are unlikely to use them quick enough.)
  • Breakage – crockery and  glassware are the first things that come to mind when I think of breakages. When you have tiled floors in your home like I do this can happen at a more rapid pace than you would like.

I see no point in decluttering items that I use daily just because I would rather have fewer of them. By deploying the above strategies these items will wear out, be used up of break soon enough by naturally progression. It would be a waste to throw them out  and a waste of money to give them away if they are going to need replacing too soon after decluttering.

Natural progression decluttering is different to keeping items “in case I might need them some day”. The first group are items that are in regular use that are likely to diminish soon enough to an acceptable level while the latter are items that are rarely if ever used and will be wasting useful space in your home for years to come.

At the moment I am using bubble bath as hand cleaner. Using the same bottle of perfume everyday it is actually my last but I don’t love it but I will not replace it until it is all gone. Using the same few pens although I may have to donate some before they die of old age. Wearing several pair of socks that are getting close to wearing out and using this strategy with underwear and T-shirts as well. I am also using the same two sets of crockery that I have used for years even though there is not a full set of either left. I will use these until there are too few and then start on my good set. I have almost completed a declutter on a bottle of face wash, a tube of moisturiser and  . Oh and lets not forget my mountain of craft items, I plan on creating and opening an etsy shop so I will get have fun using them and hopefully redeem some of the money I spent on them over the years.

So set things in place for some natural decluttering today.

Today’s Declutter Item

This group of baseball paraphernalia was picked up by a very happy Freecycler on the weekend

Baseball Stuff 18JAN2011

Things I am grateful for today

  • Seeing nature at play – the sulphur crested cockatoos in our neighbourhood have a liking for hanging upside-down on the electric wires and antenna tethers. The first time I saw this I thought the bird was snared but then it flew off and came back to do it again. Silly birds.
  • Catching up with friends.
  • Freecycle – One item gone five more to list.
  • Friends who take my stuff – I got rid of two more things this way today.
  • The kind people who found Liam’s lost wallet yesterday and took the time to come to our home to return it – the world is a better place because of these sort of people.

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. Natural progression is a good idea. I have been doing this with a number of things. One of the big ones has been the clothes in my closet. I have really been able to pare down what I have by this method. I’ve a few more things to give away because they are now too big. Yippee!! Then I will be down to a very small amount of items in my closet. Another item I have been paring down is paper. My mother has a habit of saving paper. She may buy a composition book to use for something and when she is done with it rather than just throw it away if there is some pages that have not been used she will pull them out and hang on to them. This is okay if she would use them but they get stashed away and then never disappear. So I am using these to cut up into 3-1/2 in squares to use as scratch paper by the phone. It’s working great. We aren’t buying those paper cubes any more and we are getting rid of a pile of paper.

    • Hi Deb J,
      Oh dear you have found one of my weaknesses here. I also refuse to throw out the unused pages of paper, it seems such a waste. But like you I cut it up and use it as scratch paper but the quantity has been out of control for some time because there was just so much of it. With two kids in high school for years I had a stock pile of unused pages and reams of holed binder paper. The trouble with the binder paper was that it is Letter size from the US but we use A4 in Australia so it just sat there unused. I finally sent it to the thrift shop the other day thinking some will be able to use it for something and I wanted it gone. Now I may finally start seeing the light at the end of the spare paper tunnel. “Sigh of relief”.

      • I used to go out and buy all sorts of pretty paper things–stationery, cards, phone pads, scratch pads, you name it. I was addicted to the stuff. I made myself quit. I have been using it up for 5-6 years. Yes, that’s right, years. I’m almost to the end of it. Whew! It’s taken a while but it feels good to have used it up and for good purposes–like using the note cards for our Women’s Ministry card ministry at church, using the stationary for the same thing, using the phone pads and scratch pads as little tuck in gifts. etc. Ah, it feels so good. Grin.

        • I know what you are saying, I love to use things up and I hate waste. It must be something that rubbed off from my parents. I think it is a good thing. I am about 1cm from finishing a bottle of face wash that Liam didn’t like and I will be very glad to see the back of it but I refuse to waste it.

  2. I like the idea of natural progression decluttering. I guess I’ve been doing this for awhile without really thinking about it. To me, it just doesn’t make sense to throw things out that I would use up or wear out anyway with normal use just to say I own less items.

    • Hi Rebecca,
      good for you! You would be surprised at how many people just declutter this stuff and next thing you know they are out buying more. That can be the problem with people jumping on the minimalist bandwagon and wanting to purge quickly so as to reach that “100 thing status”. Instead of just being responsible and taking their time to purge overt time with sustainability in mind. I can’t help but think these are the same people who fall of that wagon pretty quickly.
      I am quite happy to take my time to declutter responsibly until I will reach the point where I am satisfied that my level of possessions is right for me.

  3. Glad I’m not the only one who gets a big kick out of using stuff up…all those little bottles of this and that in the bathroom are slowly going to the recycle bins…my work scrubs first go to chore scrubs then to rags…

    I’ve been decluttering for over a year and Freecycle is my favorite…have met many fine folks through giving away most of my quilt fabric stash…love that it’s now being used instead of sitting on a shelf…

    Love your blog…it reminds me every day to find at least one more item I can do without…

    • Hi Kelley,
      thank you for joining us here at 365lessthings. Glad to have another Use It Up junkie among our ranks. I hope we will be hearing more from you in the future. One has to have patients when using this method at times but it is very satisfying.
      Thank you also for mentioning Freecycle, I must jump on and list a few things as soon as I am finished answering all of the comments waiting for me. I really would like to see the top of my sewing desk again. It has been covered with ebay items for weeks now. My hubby has been frantically ebaying over the last week or so and the things that didn’t sell are going to be freecycled. Sometimes I wonder when we are ever going to see the end of the clutter, it just keeps coming out of the woodwork.

  4. Like Rebecca, I have been using this method without thinking about it. I have almost used up all my travel size shampoo bottles, hand lotions and hair sprays. I hate travel size bottles because most often they cannot be refilled and just end up in trash. I bought small refillable travel size bottles and they are great. Saves me money, space and nature.

    • Hi Anne,
      like you I hate those little bottles going to waste. Sometimes I use them to store tiny beads in my craft room but mostly they just end up in the recycling. I love that in the cheaper accommodation that we stay in when travelling in Europe they don;t use these bottle. Instead they have larger pump action dispensers on the wall that they refill. I wish the motels in the US and Australia would do this as it is much kinder to the environment.
      How are you going with your mini missions and extension work this week. 😉 (Miss Colleen has great expectations of you since you are such an excellent student!) 😀

      • I am not sure if Miss Colleen will be happy or sad to hear that I have always kept my glove compartment in tiptop shape, I only have a tiny freezer box and it doesn’t hold anything extra, there is nothing in my place that belongs to someone else, my keyring only has the keys I use, there is nothing to be decluttered on the walls, my first aid kit has been decluttered last fall and has stayed tidy ever since and my sewing kit has stayed organized for years after I bought a nice plastic box from IKEA with different compartments for needles, yarn etc. Extension work—I live in a studio apartment and there is no area that has missed my decluttering sessions. Does this mean that I have graduated from Miss Colleen’s decluttering class? 😉

        Actually, I have been working with those letters. I have read some of the remaining ones, cut out the most beautiful stamps and then shred the letters. The stamps I put in an old stamp album and the remaining letters now fit into one box. I also read three note books full of poems etc from my childhood. I saved the best pages, but shred the rest. I literally felt lighter when I was able to let go of if all. 🙂

        • Hi Anne,
          I am speechless! You graduate with honours (that’s Australian for honors) and I think there is nothing more I can teach you. In fact I think maybe you didn’t need to learn anything in the first place. You seem to have the whole thing under control. What the hell are you doing here? 😆 😕 😉 ❓ No really, your home must be in wonderful shape even your collection of letters and cards is now how you need it to be. Is there any clutter category we can help you with because it must be something you are struggling with if you haven’t got it under control already. Let us know if there is because as you know our little community here would love to help.

          • Ooooh, I have never graduated with honors before! Thank you Miss Colleen! 😉 😀
            I must admit, I’ve been a pretty organised person, but then I lost three loved ones within a short period of time and kind of let go of the organising part of life. But, having decluttered for the past 6 months or so, this place if finally starting to look like it used to look. Sentimental clutter is my biggest problem, but at least I’m making progress in getting rid of the things I really don’t want or need.

            • Hi Anne,
              I am so sorry for your loss that must have been a terrible time for you and the sadness still lingers on in your heart everyday I bet. Under those circumstances I can understand why it is the sentimental clutter that you are having the biggest struggle with. I am glad that you found yourself again and are getting your home back into the shape you like it to be in. Our homes should be a haven but unfortunately they don’t always feel that way for some. We have some very caring and sharing people in our 365lessthings community that have great ideas to help with any kind of clutter so stay tuned and one day all our homes will be in the best possible condition for us to enjoy.

  5. I received this tip from Susan S today and wanted to share it with you…
    Shampoo and bubble bath are great for hand washing delicates, if anyone still does that.

    • I still hand wash some delicates, so thanks for sharing that tip. I use shampoo to clean my makeup brushes and sponges until they need replacing. A doctor told a friend of mine to use no-tear baby shampoo to clean her eyes when they get crusted. It might also be a good way to remove eye makeup.

  6. I’ve always been a shocking tight-arse when it comes to toiletries and makeup: I HATE spending money on the stuff! Now I can reframe that by saying I’m frugal and saving the planet 🙂 I get great pleasure – maybe TOO much pleasure – in using up every drop of anything, and stand bottles upside down to get the dregs (so does my husband). I cut the toothpaste tube in half and get at least 2-3 weeks’ worth of extra toothpaste.

    One thing I used to buy a lot of was hair product: mousse, sprays, leave-in shine stuff. I must admit I did give away and throw most of this out, but have an expensive bottle of Frizz-Ease that I will use up instead. Just for you Colleen! I’ve pretty much gone shampoo-free so don’t use any products apart from jojoba oil or Moroccan/Argan oil.

    • Hi Loretta,
      Oh My! We seem to have the same habit of turning the bottles upside down to get the last drop out. I even do with with sauce bottles. I like to walk away and do something useful during this process but there is always the risk that the whole thing will topple over. I even thought of inventing a gadget for this very purpose once. I should and maybe I could call is The Tight-Arse (Tight-Ass) Helper. 😆

      Judging by the hair products you once bought I am thinking you must be an unruly redhead like me. I am yet to find a product that will tame my hair adequately. What is your hair washing routine if you don’t use shampoo?

      • I think the Tight Arse lotion saver already exists. I have a set from the Container Store. While I’m sure that this would count as something to declutter in many people’s households, I find that they’re wonderfully useful. I had a few too many shampoo bottles tip over while I was trying to get out the last drop. What a mess!

        I am working on using up the last of some vitamins right now, and it feels like I’ll never get to the end. Because, really, I am taking them not to be wasteful, not because I want to. I’m going to have a party when I get to the end!

        New job (first in 11 years) starts tomorrow. I’m a bit nervous!

        • Hi Cindy,
          well I should have known, how am I ever going to make my fortune now?
          Those vitamins sound like a treat! I hope you have a good day tomorrow at your new job. Don’t be nervous remember they need you more than you need them.

          • Thanks Colleen. They already love me there. There are two lawyers and one is the husband of my oldest friend. I’m worried that 1) it will be really, really dull (then I tell myself – it’s not like staying at home is so thrilling) and 2) The bigger worry – that working even PT will really disrupt our family life. Although, I think I told you that in thinking about why I shouldn’t take the job, “I don’t have enough time” was not one of the counter-arguements I came up with, so apparently, I think I do have enough time. I just hope I’m right!

            • Hi Cindy,
              I am sure it will all work out and if it doesn’t try something else. Life is too short to be miserable in your job, trust me I know. I look forward to hearing more about how it is working out. If they are good to work for I am sure you will feel more fulfilled if only because you are doing something for yourself for a change. There is nothing like the reward of a good pay check and a pat on the back from the boss to make you feel worthwhile.

      • Not a redhead, but have long (down to bra-strap), wavy blonde hair, which I used to try and blow dry into submission ( in the amount of time I spent blow drying my hair, I could have learnt a language, or doing something useful, sigh). I use a big tablespoonful of bicarb in a cup of water. Don’t even bother rinsing with vinegar, though it does make my hair shinier. That’s how I wash the kids’ hair too, and my husband clips his hair to a No 2 (i think) so doesn’t need shampoo). I still have a couple of bottles around the place, but do occasionally still use it if I’m feeling lazy 🙂

        • Hi Loretta,
          thanks for the tip I think I will give it a try. Nothing to lose here that’s for sure. 😀

          • One thing I have been doing is keeping the hotel samples and using them to give to homeless shelters and abused women’s shelters. They love receiving them if they haven’t been used. Like you all I turn the bottles upside down and get the last drop. I tried soda as shampoo and love it. But I have a skin condition that causes me to breakout from all sorts of things and have found that while the soda does great for my hair it doesn’t for my scalp. So I am back to the special shampoo I have to use. Bummer. I really like the way the soda makes my hair feel and it is so much easier to deal with.

            • Hi Deb,
              I am going to have a go at that soda hair wash although I have had a very dry itchy scalp lately so I hope it doesn’t make that worse.

      • Wow! I guess I’m the Tight-Arse Maximizer. LOL I actually have a gadget that completely empties one bottle into another. There is a clip like a clothes pin that you pinch open and attach around the opening of the bottom bottle. It has a little funnel and another clip at the top that attaches around the opening of the upside down bottle. It doesn’t fall over because I usually prop it in a corner of the counter and let it be for a while. I got it through a mail-order catalog years ago, and use it all the time for all kinds of liquids, condiments, and lotions. So Colleen you don’t have to invent one; someone already did. But I also have to say that maybe, like Loretta, I get a little too much pleasure and satisfaction out of using every last drop of a product. Haha

  7. We have two bottles of green sauce in the the frig right now–old one is upside down waiting for a little room to be made in the new jar to add the last bit to it.

    I think I’ve been using the natural progression method on my yarn; at least, I’m trying to. Even when I need to purchase a new skein for a new project, I try to use the old yarn for a second color or for a decoration on the hat or scarf.

  8. I used to be very good at natural progression decluttering of drinking glasses 🙂 It seems all the fragile ones have been weeded out now; haven’t broken one in a long time. Knock on wood.

    This is an aspect of decluttering that doesn’t get emphasized enough, in my opinion, by a lot of declutter books or websites, although I see it often on frugality sites. There is a verse used by some of those sites that sums it up: Use it up, Wear it out, Make do, Or do without. (not sure who to attribute that to)

  9. Hi Coleen. I am doing some of the things already. My mum has put up in our hall cupboard some tiles left over from the bathroom instead of chucking them out. I have got a bubble bath which I was thinking of using as a hand gel so it won’t be wasted. As for paper, well any scrap paper I find that I don’t use one side I save for using for the printer on the blank side.
    PS Stationery is spelt with an e not an a, when it means paper etc.

    • Hi Julie,
      good for you Julie. I love to use things up about as much as I love using things for something other than what they were intended. I am a bit of an outside the box kind of gal. Much it may seem a bit like “might need it someday” clutter keeping those tiles from the bathroom is a good idea. They will come in handy if any repairs need to be done to the bathroom. It would be too bad if something happened and the tiles were no longer available.

      Thank you for helping me out with that spelling mistake that is the only downfall of spell check it does work on wrong words only misspelled words. The sad part is I have probably been spelling that word wrong all my life which is only more embarrassing because I used to sell stationery in my first job. Oh well, I always was a bad speller.

  10. I work in a hospital and donate any shampoo/conditioner/lotions that I don’t like or won’t use. Over the years I have received a number of those pre-packaged gift baskets with things like shampoo and bubble bath in them. Many times they have not been in a scent I like, so I donate them. I have quite a bit of bubble bath because it is one thing they cannot use at the hospital. I never even thought of using it for hand wash. What a great idea! I probably have enough bubble bath left, to last several years as hand soap.

    • Hi Carrie,
      I am glad the bubble bath tip was helpful to you. I have been using it in my kitchen soap dispenser for a week now and it is working a treat. You could use it as a body wash too I don’t doubt. Just try a little first to be sure it doesn’t give you a rash or anything.

  11. Hi Colleen, Although I never called it that, I have used the natural progression decluttering method for years. I think it combines very well with my frugal nature. I am currently working on a bottle of hair gel that my son left when he moved out four years ago. It’s a very large bottle and not something I would naturally use. A bottle of body wash is being re-purposed as a foaming hand soap. Several different lotions have been combined in one large pump bottle (using my nifty gadget mentioned above). Last spring I wanted to go ‘poo-free, but I have shampoo to finish up which I use once a week. As some of your other readers mentioned, I tear out used pages of notebooks and use the rest for lists, notes, etc. Printed printer pages are reused on the opposite side, but I don’t use my printer as much anymore. I also use the paper cutter to make 3 x 3 squares to use in notepaper blocks and take some to work and to church. One thing which I would like to be more naturally progressive is my underwear. I bought a new package about a year ago thinking I’d be throwing away the old ones soon, but those stubborn little panties refuse to give up their “seat”. They are old, but not so bad that I can justify throwing them out. And I don’t see any way they could be re-purposed. Maybe I could get a few holes in them by sliding down a hill pant-less. Well, that would be quite a sight, but maybe not practical or in line with your ideas of natural progression. I have never been able to understand how some folks get holey underwear. Any ideas?

    • Hi Di,
      well that was quite a comment. You have this natural progression decluttering thing down pat aside from those pesky underwear. I must admit I understand you problem here I have several pair like that myself but also I threw a few away recently because they did eventually get so thread bare that it was justified. Maybe the measure of if they should stay or whether you can justify disposing of them is whether they would be embarrassing to be caught in if you had an accident in a very public place and the first responders had to cut your outer garments off at the scene. Would it be totally humiliating to be seen in them tossing aside the thought of being half naked in public. If so maybe you would be justified in giving them the chop. Aside from that I have no real solution as to how to make them wear out sooner.

  12. I think cans of soup more than bottles of shampoo. Make a conscious effort to become aware of what sits stashed on the shelves and work your way through it.

    As for keeping things I don’t want or like, forget it. They go to Goodwill or Boomerangs and I repent, but I will not prolong the stagnation of clutter.

    • Hi Mike,
      I like your advice and I particularly like your line “…but I will not prolong the stagnation of clutter.” That will be the inspiration for a blog post next week I think. And I love your web site I will feature that in my favourite five next week also. Thanks for dropping and and enlightening us and I hope you will make frequent visits here.

  13. I try to use everything until its gone. One of my favorite things to do with worn-out or stained undergarments. When I take a trip, I back what I think I will need of those items, and as I use them, I throw them away. I get one last use and I come back home with a lighter bag.

    • Hi Virginia,
      I don’t believe you have commented here before so I would like to say welcome to 365lessthings and thank you for stopping buy to talk to us.
      I like this tip. I will remember this idea when I go on my next vacation. It’s the opposite of bringing home chintzy souvenirs, instead you go home with less than you left with. I left a pair of shoes in Italy last year.

    • Thanks for the tip, Virginia. I have done that with jackets and other clothing, but I had been wondering what to do with old but not completely useless undergarments. What a great idea! I will definitely put that one into practice on my next trip.

  14. I do that too, Virginia! I have left sandals in Venice, a top that I was done with in Paris, Pants in Rome, and Puma sneakers in London… I always hope someone will find them that can use them…. so I leave a note that they can do what they want with the articles.

    And I have whole-heartedly embraced Natural Progression Decluttering in my home. There are a few things that will not be repurchased after they are used up.

    • Hi *pol,
      I must confess I left a pair of worn out shoes in Rome last year but I also left toiletries products (shampoo,conditioner, sunscreen…) for the next traveller to help themselves to.

  15. I have been trying to use things up too. I have lots of bubble bath but a friend suggested using it as body wash, so when one of my squeezy plastic body wash bottles was empty I refilled it with the bubble bath (as I wasn’t happy with the thought of having a glass container on the side of the bath). I have also found that by taking a hand cream to work that I use it more there than at home as working with paper all day tends to make my hands very dry.

    • Hi Rae, a warm welcome to you from 365 Less Things. You can also use that bubble bath as liquid hand soap. I love a good use it up challenge I am glad to say though that I have run out of any extras when it comes to toiletry products. It took a while but.


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