Old habits don’t have to die hard

I was talking to Wendy F the other day about breaking old habits. Smoking, I believe, is a very difficult habit to break, as is overeating, chewing your nails etc. I have a theory about this.

I think that just trying to stop a habit is difficult. The ultimate reward can seem a long way off and hard to achieve. In this case the whole focus is on trying not to do something that, in some cases, you have spent a very long time doing and enjoying.

While replacing an old bad habit with new better behaviour has immediate rewards even if they are only small. An immediate reward is far more enticing and stimulating that a long term objective of finally eliminating the cravings of a hard fort battle against bad habits.

When I was in high school I had a PE teacher who lined us up after class one day and inspected our nails. Those of us who clearly chewed our nails were told that if our nails were showing no growth by the next PE lesson we would have to stay back after school. Naturally I didn’t want to spend any more time at school than I absolutely had to so, I quit chewing my nails then and there. The almost immediate reward was that I didn’t have to worry about being kept in after school. Had I decided to stop biting my nails without such a reward I would probably have failed.

So what has that got to do with decluttering you might ask. Well one of the problems that gets us into a cluttered mess is recreational shopping. If we could replace that with the reward of achieving the simple task of finding one thing to declutter each day then we have our immediate reward. If we focused only on being fully uncluttered sometime in the distant future we might lose faith and give up. It is surprising how rewarding finding that item to declutter can be.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter any season specific shoes that didn’t get used last season or aren’t likely to be used for the next or when the closing season returns next year.

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. Ooops. Right when I clicked on today’s post, I had a nail in my mouth! I think we do a ton of stuff simply out of habit. It can be difficult to implement a change, but it can really be worth it in the long run. I was in a store this weekend and saw a few things that in the past, I would have bought just because I liked them. Well, we’re trying to save for some financial goals, so one thing I put back and I spent $10 on something that I thought was really unique. Of course, the best thing would have been to not go to the store in the first place and admittedly, I did it to get my mind off some things that have been stressing me out. Yep, I “stress shopped.” (hanging head in shame)

    • Hi Michelle, ha ha, caught you in the act. 😉 Also you wouldn’t be the first person to go shopping to relieve stress. It almost has the opposite effect on me these days. The don’t by it force is strong in me but the dark side hasn’t gone entirely. Some things I even dislike shopping for, clothing would be one of those. As you said, staying out of the shops is the easiest way to avoid the dark side. I guess you need to find yourself a different stress reliever. I do craft.

    • Michelle,
      There is nothing wrong with a little “retail therapy” now and then. Like with everything else in life, it is all about balance.
      Sounds like you are already there with your decision to return something to the shelf that at another time you would have purchased.

  2. 20 years ago I used to stress shop, but since it took me 11 years to get out of debt that is no longer the case. Thank goodness! I decided that I needed to quit adding to the debt to become debt free. It took many years of deciding that nothing was worth going into debt for. I was very fortunate that no medical emergencies made me rethink that mantra. Even to this day occasionally I have to remind myself. Debt is like clutter, you have have to stop the inflow & deal with it daily by choices that we make. Now on to my other bad habits I want to break! lol

    • Well said Calla. It amazes me how no matter how low a person/family’s household income is there always seems to be a way to find money to shop and clutter up ones home. I guess, like your previous self, the debt is not only material it is also financial. I have always been cautious about money which is why my clutter or my debt was never even close to out of control.

  3. Yeah, this was a little “off” for me as I am not usually a stress shopper. And today is payday so I was going through the bills about an hour ago. The tags are due on the truck that we never drive because the 4-wheel drive component is out. Fine – no big deal . . . oh snap! It needs an emission test. Guess what? Warning light on dash will not pass. Guess I’ll be calling Dodge for that $1,100 fix. UGH!

    Calla, good for you for doing the right things to get out of debt and becoming DEBT FREE! (Yeah, I’m a Dave Ramsey fan.)

  4. Colleen, there are so many little habits we all have that we don’t even recognize. I have been coming across a few that have nothing to do with any you have mentioned but that I need to break. One is reading too much. What you say?! Yes, I read way too much and because of that I leave things go that I could really be doing that would be more productive. I also stay up reading too late. I need to stop that and get a better schedule (it will be better for my diabetes and for my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. There are more but they are little things that I just need to stop and think about before I do them. Things I have picked up over the years. I need to be more intentional about what I do and have a good reason for them.

    • Hi Deb J, could you please write me a post about reading too much and not doing more productive things. Whenever I read comments about the amount of books people own and read I often wonder what time is left over for maintaining ones home. I could do with reading more and spending less time on the computer perusing Pinterest and playing games. Everybody needs down time but if you stopped and measured the downtime we might be surprised how much of it we take. In your case it is understandable when making an effort takes a whole lot more effort.

    • Den J – my doctor prescribed me Melatonin to get my sleep patterns back to normal, it isn’t sleeping drugs but rather a synthetic form of the sleep hormone we ( should) produce. It is the hormone which says the sun has gone down, go to sleep, the sun has come up, time to wake up. It takes time to build up in your system, but and there is always a but, no blue screen in the evening ie TV, computer screen, cellphone as the light from these pretty much destroys the melatonin you have taken and naturally produced. Your body has decided all this artificial light must be the sun coming up. I’ve been on it since Dec and I’m just starting to establish a normal sleep regime. It took some effort as I like the house put to rights and a load of laundry in the dryer before I turn in, plus as many of the teens settled for the night especially the one who is a real night owl but horrid to get up in the morning. So heading off to bed at a reasonable hour has been difficult for me but I am starting to feel the benefits and Adrian tells me I am less grumpy.

      • I have a friend who now takes Melatonin and it is really helping her. My problem is that it is nice to have Mom in bed and it quiet. But, it isn’t good for me in other ways.

        • Deb J – I said the same thing to my Doctor about my teenagers! She told me to start off with announcing I was going to bed and to just read (no blue screen – fortunately my kobo isn’t blue screen) to get into the routine and so that my kids got into the routine that I wasn’t really available. Without them realising it, they have figured out that if they want my assistance they need to get in earlier, the first week or so they’d arrive in my room and to start with it was 50-50 whether I’d get up, but after a while it was ‘But I’m in bed’. Mind you, I suspect my teenagers go to bed a lot later than your mum. I was getting to bed around midnight and then needing to read to wind down.

          • Moni, Mom goes to bed around 11. I find d myself reading until 1 or 2 just because I don’t have interruptions and lose track of time.

        • Deb J – I’m surprised she stays up so late. Ok, announce you are turning in at 9 and anything she needs assistance with will need to be done before then. I don’t imagine it will go straight forward to begin with but I have learnt over the last few months that I really do need my sleep and others need to fit in around it. It hasn’t been easy and initially it was almost like I’d withdrawn a service to the family ie to be available to them until midnight, but they adapted. It’s as much about training them as it was about training me. I realised I was letting them dictate my schedule.

          • Moni, my problem is that I want to have time by myself with her being in bed. I can’t do that without staying up after she goes to bed.

        • Deb J – that is EXACTLY what I said to my doctor about my teenagers. She replied that they aren’t going to change as I had the problem, not them. Here’s my recommendation: announce during the day that you are going to turn in early tonight, say, 9pm and if your mum needs anything done for her to let you know earlier. At 8pm announce that it’s an hour until you turn in and does she need any assistance first? At 9 pm, go to bed and read, have your alone time then. It will not go straight forward initially. There will be some reason to disrupt you, because she/they (my kids) have had you/me on call until midnight in the past and have become comfortable with that arrangement. Stick to your guns, learn to say “sure, we can deal with that in the morning” and “you needed to mention this earlier, sorry, I’m in bed now” – it will take a while to establish the new regime but re-establishing new sleep patterns takes time. I found without me to be their ‘audience’ there was no point to putting on a ‘performance’ and eventually they stopped bothering me and adopted a new normal to their evening routine.

          Your mum sounds very similar to my teenagers. Keep faith, eventually mine will move out and your mum will get her new apartment. Until then nothing will change for you and I unless we instigate the change. A few months ago I wasn’t going to bed until midnight and reading for an hour or so to quieten my brain, which was exhausting me but convenient for the kids (having me available) and to Adrian (who could relax in front of the TV or go to bed if he wanted etc) – they’ve adapted, no catastrophe has occurred so far, yes a few problems while they adapted but I’m learning good sleep habits and find I don’t need to read so long to wind down. Give it a go, you’ve got nothing to lose apart from more sleep.

          • Moni, I understand now. I will have to try this. It might actually work. We will see.

          • Deb J – it will take time, but I am now quite possessive of my sleep and I love it! I was encouraged to look into ‘Mindfulness’ and was given a flash drive with a prepare to sleep piece to wind down mind and body within a few minutes – nothing hokum – ironically Adrian embraced it as he used to wake up thru the night – and he swears by it. If you want, I can copy it for you and post it over.

          • Moni, thanks for the offer. I have no problem going to sleep most of the time. When I can’t sleep it is because of pain.

  5. Quitting and giving up are the words used to describe stopping smoking . In reality it is regaining your freedom .
    My sister has been cigarette free for nearly two months. What seemed an impossible task for her and her husband has become very empowering. The flow on effect has seen them reduce their alcohol intake and embrace a healthier lifestyle including some exercise. I sent her this message I saw on Pinterest-
    It always seems impossible until it’s Done.
    How true is that?

    • I am pleased to hear that your sister is doing well with her bid to give up smoking. And you are so right, changing any bad habit is empowering. And in the case of smoking it is also a great financial decision. I bet she is enjoying that part of the situation.

  6. I wanted to tell you all about a habit change I am trying to make (hopefully by setting it all out here I will be encouraged to stick with it).
    For my decade or so as an adult I have had every family member, friend etc referring to me as academic, a career woman, strongly independent etc. Very stereotyped like I can’t be anything else as well. But I have always aspired to having a husband and a bunch of kids as well. I never felt like I could really say any of this to the important people in my life, as whenever I have tried to mention it, they’re just so determined that I fit the non-mum stereotype (like there is something wrong with it – I think they’re forgetting none of us would be here without mums!). So my way of balancing things out was to buy items for my future, secretly hoped for life. Crockery in multiples for the future family. Book sets to read to the kids. Keeping clothes that had gotten too big, for when I got pregnant.
    Well after years of that habit I am giving it up. It hasn’t worked for me at all so time for a change!
    I am going to get rid of most of those items (keeping the books for now). And I am going to be brave and whenever it comes up, everyone important in my life will be told of what I actually want my life to be like. Hoping this habit will be more successful than the old one. And at the very least, I won’t have a house full of items haunting me, reminding me constantly that I am not living the family situation I would like to have.

    • Hi Amelia,
      Good for you to realize that you need to live the life you have now and let the future unfold. I can relate to you on this. At the age of 28 the Biological Clock kicked in and I married the wrong man so I could make a family. This was not a conscious decision – hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Well, the unfolding of my life turned out that I physically could not have children so I put myself through a number of years of anguish trying to attain the impossible, then realized I was married to someone I couldn’t stand. At the age of 40 I started my life again.

      Motherhood and being academic/career-oriented are not mutually exclusive as we can see by the millions of women who are now holding fulfilling positions as well as having families. It doesn’t matter how your family describes you, what matters is how you describe yourself – preferably as a happy, interesting person who is open to whatever life brings.

      My life is not in the least what I imagined it would be when I was your age, but my life is fulfilling. Go ahead and declutter those things that are causing you stress and let the path ahead unfold as it will. Best wishes. Wendy

    • Hi Amelia, I think you have made a good choice there. And I am particularly glad that you have made the choice to share with others who you really are, or think you are. Life really is a funny thing. I say that because my life mostly consisted of living the life of the stay home mother and wife. I think that is a privilege and a great achievement to manage to not only make ends meet but to raise a close family and invest in the future and the same time. Yet, not unlike you, I feel and felt like people looked down on such a life choice. Like it was some sort of cop out, lazy, un-achieving persons lot in life. When going to functions people (professional women) would ask “What do you do?” and I often felt like replying “I stay home and raise my own family, keep a clean house and volunteer in the community.” So my point is that you just have to be comfortable with and make the choices that suit you because although we my feel that others see us in a certain light it is most important to be true to yourself. Sometimes what others are thinking is quite different than what we perceive anyway.

    • Hi Wendy and Colleen, thank you for your supportive comments. Funny how sometimes it can be so hard to ‘just’ be ourselves. And then of course, no one knows how the future will turn out. So as you’ve said, it’s best to be happy with who I am and make choices that are true to who I am. And then regardless of what unfolds, I will be happy. And really, anyone who is truly important in my life should be happy that I am happy as well.
      I decluttered nine items last night, mostly just breaking up sets/multiples of things. The thought of breaking up the set being tougher than getting rid of one or two pieces of it of course. But now I don’t have these perfect sets for my imaginary family, the remaining items aren’t looking so important any more either. I think this is the beginning of a new wave in my decluttering!

      • Amelia – I don’t know your friends or family, but perhaps they are referencing you the way they are because they are trying to be supportive to your life style and it has become their way of protecting you against people who like to slip in ‘ticking bio clock’ and ‘when are you going to get married’ type questions, which can be offensive to some career women.

        Maybe over a dinner thank everyone for their support in achieving your goals and add that you have reached a stage where you have softened to the idea of having a bit more in your life. Soften is a brilliant word in these situations because it indicates you have thought about the idea but haven’t done a radical 180 or heading off in a rash direction. Someone will be curious and ask the right questions to open the conversation.

        I am in bed with a head cold and I am hoping Kimberley will jump in on this. Consider reading ‘Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui’ by Karen Kingston and ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’ by Marie Kondo. Both books came to mind when I read your comment as both authors write about how items in our homes can attract or prevent what we want coming into our lives. Kondo isn’t a Feng Shui practitioner but her findings on the topic are very similar.

        • Thanks Moni, those are some great suggestions.

          The more I think about it, the feedback I’ve been getting has been fairly neutral, and it is just a couple of people (my parents, sigh), coming out with such statements as ‘when are you moving in with your brother to be a nanny to his kids, it’s not like you’re going to have any’ and ‘you need to accept that the only chance women like you have of getting married, is when they are in their forties, and they have to settle for a guy no one else wanted to marry’. Maybe I just need to declutter my parents.

          I hadn’t considered how the items I have might be influencing other happenings in my life. I will definitely get onto those books! Oh, and I hope you feel better soon!

          • Amelia – my daughter sent me a link to a Facebook comment that really tickled me so I screen saved it “my mum is either my best friend or satan, there is no in between”.
            Why would you want to be a free nanny to your nieces/nephews? I don’t know the children in question, but based on my own kids at a younger age, it could put a novice off children completely!
            I found the suggestion of ‘leftover’ options rather mean. Tell them straight away if they say it again.
            Re: objects influencing other happenings, I was sceptical but gave it a go and had some surprising results. Konmarie has another perspective on the matter and sites an example which has some silimitarites to you.

          • Moni – I think you know exactly where I’m at with all this!

            Yeah, as much as the kids call me their favourite auntie, if I was looking after the 4 kids aged between 1 and 4 1/2, I could maybe manage a week and then any inclination to have kids would be gone completely I think!

          • Amelia – there is a reason children arrive little, cute, defenceless and an inclination to sleep a lot of the time – and usually one at a time!

    • Amelia,
      One thing I know for sure is that when we let go of outdated things/ideas/people in our lives, we open up a space for the “magic” to happen. In my too many decades on earth, I have personally experienced this magic as well as observed others that have experienced the magic.

      You are on the right path. Trust your intuition. It will never, and I mean never fail you!

      • Crossing my fingers for some magic! Although I know in years from now, when I am able to look back on things this will all make sense, somehow!

  7. Impending trip to NZ instantly made me drop quite a few habits, it’s quite fascinating… I seem to have hit a brick wall with decluttering named Obligation Clutter, mum won’t let me get rid of MY stuff. I’ve got a somewhat passive-aggressive solution though: Guess what’s staying behind when I leave the country?? ^^

    • Hi Niriel, that sure is a bad case of obligation clutter there. Good idea leaving it behind. I hope that works for you.

      • I doubt she’ll dispose of it, so either she’ll keep it forever (thus making it not my problem), or she’ll pay lots of money ship it to me against my wishes, in which case I can dispose of it in peace and quiet without her input!

    • Muriel – assure her that there is plenty of stuff in New Zealand, you don’t need stuff in two countries.

      • Oh, I’ll assure her of that, but I doubt she’ll accept I really don’t want my childhood “treasures” any more… -sigh- Also, she’s taken to telling me off for not having a cluttered enough wardrobe…!
        (and is Muriel a typo, the fancy font, or autocorrect? 😉 )

    • Niriel – sounds like you and my older daughter (she’s just turned 18) could have a great time together on the topic of clutter. I’m a bit afraid to let her read Marie Kondo in case I come home and there are 20 big rubbish bags full at the front door – and not just her stuff either! Her and I want to do a Packing Party on the kitchen – ie pack everything away and bring back things only as they are needed and see what is left over a couple of months later. You know that TV series ‘Wife Swap’ where they take two mothers from very different households and swap them for a fortnight and film the fallout? I was thinking what would it be like to send my daughter to your mother?

  8. Recreational shopping is a term i had not heard before, but think might me one I unconsciously participate in.
    I make efforts to get rid of things, I do monthly closet edits, however I feel swallowed in stuff many times.
    I try to shop less, however sometimes I feel like I am a magnet for “stuff”- like last night – my 90+ year old great aunt handed me two pieces of vintage jewellery. While I was excited to get these, I immediately thought of where I would store them.
    Decluttering is a lifetime event.

  9. Sometimes it helps to frame things in a positive manner. You’re not “giving up” something, you’re “adopting a healthier outlook”, or a “clearer vision of what I want my life to look like (feel like).” I have framed my desire to drop a few pounds (which means ramping up my exercise) as “I want to be able to continue to run with my grandsons!” As far as being a clutter magnet, there are definite times when something is given to me and I want to keep it. The iron clad rule is something MUST be removed from my house in order to keep it. Not necessarily a like item, but definitely something!
    I so love reading your posts and the comments, thanks very much!

    • Nicely said Karen. I, like you, also receive things or even acquire things that I wish to keep. And also, like you, I remove something else in order to keep the right balance in my home.
      You are also so right about framing things in a positive manner. That was exactly the message I was trying to get across. I only wish I could have stated it as eloquently as you did in this comment. When I began my declutter mission I replaced procrastinating about purging my home of clutter with my easy one a day approach to decluttering. I was immediately excited to find that thing each day and amazed myself with how doable and rewarding that was. I never looked back.

  10. Hi Colleen,

    When I think about the things I have managed to pass along or repurpose, I am amazed! The dollhouse (sold), an unused medical test kit (returned to lab), unused Sephora gift bags (returned to store), foam roller, unused toiletries, and clothing to Goodwill, old eye glasses & unused Restasis to eye doctor office, organizing containers to work, old sheets, blankets, & towels to veterinarian, and lots more gone! Toiletries and cleaning supplies used up and not replaced. Books donated to library and favorite coffee shop. My husband has joined in little by little, parting with some old magazines, a cheap pocketknife, etc. He “shopped” our elder daughters mountain of boxes for her old laptop. Our younger daughter then fixed the old laptop up for him so that he can use the internet (win win). He is going to “shop” these boxes again for an earphone cable, even though he could buy new for about $7… I suggested this, to avoid possible duplication. These things are just remembered examples of the many things out the door and not replaced, or repurposed instead of purchasing new. So many little pockets of space cleared! It is much easier to see what IS needed because there is less excess. We are in no way “finished” with our decluttering journey. However, I am so grateful to be this far along and to have changed my thought processes with regard to stuff… I wonder all the time what our home must have looked like and how it functioned before I started to understand what you are teaching here. I know that our home functions better the more we rid ourselves of the unused and unloved items. 🙂

    • Well done Peggy. I am so glad you are learned not only how to make do with stuff that has sat idle but also finding so many way to pass on stuff you probably thought no one would want. Most people (not 365ers of course) would just through them in the trash but conscientious consumers find a way to pass them on and think better on buying them next time. And this is way I keep writing my blog. Thank you for sharing your story.