One readers clutter nemesis

I received an email from Christie this week asking for some advice. I’ll launch right in with her email, followed by my advice, and then I would love you all to add your thoughts on the subject. Hopefully somewhere among all that advice there will be the spark to help ignite a flame of determination in her to let go of these items standing in the way of a beautiful uncluttered life.

Christie’s email

Hi Colleen. I am a single mother with a long list of things to do…always. Life is a process I know and I can’t tackle everything at one time. I try to heed my own advice I give my daughter….practice your patience. But so many things always need to be done….that I end up shutting down and waste time…does that make sense? I need to declutter and organize many things, which I am highly capable of, but there are a few things I just simply do not know how to deal with.

One of the main things that takes up space is greeting cards. A lot of them. Why do I hang on to these? I think I have 80% of the greeting cards that have been given to me in my 45 years of life. Gasp! And now I am hanging on to the ones my daughter gets. And they are a mess. Boxes of unorganized cards. Why? What to do? I simply cannot wrap my head around it. And google has given me nothing.

and then there are magazines. i am a chef. and i have years upon years of Bon appetit and gourmet magazines. why? ugh. i can’t make myself throw them out. there has to be a better way.

I desperately would love any suggestions you can throw my way. I am drowning in self loathing at this point and need to pull my head up and provide my precious daughter a better example to live by. Much thanks to you in advance and much thanks to you for your blog. 🙂

My response to Christie’s email was this…

My first advice is if you have other clutter that is easier to part with then work on that first. I always advise people to leave the hard stuff until last, at which time you tend to be more ruthless. The joy and feeling of success generated by letting go of other stuff will spur you one to get rid of stuff you never thought you would.

My advice on the cards and magazines, once you get to them, is simple. It is clear to me from reading your email that you have already decided that these are things that you don’t want to keep. Decluttering is all about getting rid of things you don’t want to keep. These things are obviously causing you stress and you don’t care that much about them so not only are they wasting space in your home they are also affecting you negatively. Just another reason to let them go. What you are doing is keeping them out of habit and obligation. Life is a beautiful thing, the way it changes for us in waves. What we must do is ride those waves not try to swim against them. The magazines are a thing of the past, a past you are obviously reluctant to let go of. However any information contained within them can be easily found on the internet. And the beauty of the internet that it is so vast and yet it takes up so little space in your home. Go digital and get rid of that collection of dust collecting, stress inducing  magazines. Just put them right in the recycling bin. I’d like to bet that once they are gone you will wonder why you had such trouble letting them go. It is kind of like pulling off a bandaid. There is way more time and agony involved in the procrastination than there ever will be once the deed is done.

As for the cards it seems to me that they would be a mix of sentimental and obligational clutter. Ones that mean a lot to you and ones the you just keep because you feel you should. Well let me tell you that you don’t need to keep anything you only feel you should. Most people don’t give cards or gifts with the obligation that we should keep them together. They are merely a symbol of their affection for us in the here and now. Sometimes cards and gifts are even given purely out of obligation and their is no sentiment involved at all. So break this task down, it will mean double handling but that will be better for you phycological state. Go through them all, even if that is just a handful at a time when you have nothing better to do. Pick out the ones that mean something to you and put them aside for now and throw away all the ones that are pretty much meaningless at this point in your life. They can also go straight into the recycling bin or donated to a craft group that recycles old cards into new to raise money for charity. Sometimes donating them makes it easier to reconcile getting rid of them but it also makes it a little more difficult to get rid of them quickly. Once again a quick google search can prove very fruitful. You can then deal with the more sentimental cards at a later date or also go digital with them now by scanning them into your computer and getting rid of the hard copies. I personally would put them aside until you feel ready to deal with the further.

Here is a link to the post where I decluttered my greeting cards.

Now it is up to you, Christie’s fellow readers, to lend your advice to her situation. Thank you all in advance.

Today’s Mini Mission

And how about those book shelves ~ I haven’t picked on them for a while ~ how about you visit the elephant book graveyard and choose five books you are unlikely ever to reread and declutter them.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

Just like my decluttering approach you can gradually improve your carbon footprint by implementing a new environmentally friendly routine into your life on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a chore but a fun challenge to not only help the planet but quite often it turns out will also save you money.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms are also happy to receive donations of used magazines, as are libraries.

  2. Hello Christie,
    First of all, please, don’t feel bad about yourself because YOU ARE NOT YOUR STUFF! None of us are, no matter how much or how little we have, how well organized or unorganized it is. We all came with nothing and we will all leave with nothing. Stuff is just what we use along the way. So all we really need is what helps us on our journey. Anything that makes our lives difficult, therefore, is unneeded and is something we should definitely let go. Life throws enough at us to deal with without letting inanimate objects get in the way!
    I know many people have a hard time letting go of greeting cards. My mom passed away recently and we found drawers full of cards in her home – 96 years worth! I doubt she ever looked at them once they were put away. But she had room for them and I think they made her feel good somehow.
    I have a few special ones that I have kept, ones from my husband or children, that they have
    written something especially sweet in, but only a dozen or two. I don’t send anyone a card expecting them to keep it and I don’t think they believe that I should keep ones that they send me.
    The fact that they have expressed their care, we always have that in our hearts, whether it is expressed in a card, a call or face to face. If someone calls with good wishes, I don’t need to tape their phone call and keep that. It seems like saving cards is pretty much the same thing!

    So these are just my thoughts. I can’t do anything better than Colleen’s advice for decluttering, only to say it works! Just don’t worry about how much of something there is to do; that is often what stops us in our tracks. One thing at a time, one day at a time, and it DOES become easier before too long!

  3. Hi, Christie. Go through the greeting cards and keep those that you receive from the people you love, that come with a heartfelt message, and not just a signature alone. Have a limit for the cards – such as a box or folder – and only keep whatever fits inside. You could also scan them. I don’t know if your daughter is old enough to go through her own cards and decide which ones, if any, she wants to keep. If she’s not, you might want to keep hers for her to go through and decide later.

    As for the magazines, if you really need to go through them, restrict yourself to the latest issues (the past year, perhaps?) and go through them to see whether there are any articles that you really need. Scan these or tear them out and file them. Only keep those articles that add value and that you will refer to (and even then, go back to your files six months to a year later for some pruning). Recycle the rest. Take it one step at a time and take a break when you need to … you will get it done.

  4. Christie – I went through my greeting cards a year ago. I had about two large boxes of them. I divided them up by who gave them to me – husband, kids, parents, in laws, friends. I shredded any that brought back bad memories, why was I saving those?!! Then I got rid of whole categories that I felt I didn’t need to keep – in laws, specific friends, relatives and holiday cards with just the signatures. This got me to about half of what I had originally. I was really starting to resent all of those cards after filing through them all and come across some bad memories. I half wished I could just throw them all out without going through them all. I don’t think I’d be any worse off now if I had.
    About the magazines – it sounds like they are really making you feel guilty. I think they are wasting your emotional reserve and draining you just by their very presence. I’d just recycle the lot of them and start fresh. You haven’t wasted them, you have learned from the experience that you did not need them and could do without all of their information all this time. Don’t torture yourself feeling obligated to read them. They’ll never know if you did or didn’t! Anyway in life to alleviate guilt and feeling badly for something that you certainly do not need to feel badly about is an excellent thing in my book. It takes a moment of gumption but I don’t think you’d regret recycling the whole bunch. Just my take – best of luck!

  5. If you have a Craigslist or freecycle or similar (sometimes there are FB or Yahoo groups) near you, you might be able to give away the magazines. Then you can help a budding chef get started. 🙂 Or help a teacher with sources for art projects–those have fabulous pictures, but I don’t know if art teachers still use such things (or if art teachers still exist *sigh*). I find it easier to get rid of things if someone else wants them.

  6. Christie, I can’t give you any better advice than Colleen, Dianna A, Nicole V, and Claire already have! But, I CAN give you some encouragement! I, too, was a sentimental card lover/buyer/maker/sender/saver!!!!! Over the last several years I have weeded out the saved ones.
    Like Claire, I started by sorting. Thankfully, I had not saved those from casual friends and such. Even so, I had a lot of wonderful cards. I made a file for family, friends, and a few individuals.
    The first pass through was a time consuming task!!! I picked a lovely day that I could sit on the porch alone and enjoy the memories. As I went through them, I saved the most special till I just had a few from each person and filed them. My plan was/is to not keep many, and if a more special one comes along to replace one already there. Within the last year, I got rid of all the cards my current husband and I have gotten each other except maybe a half dozen that brought back good memories. My husband is expressive in life, but tends to sign his cards just “love, (and his name)”. Even though I know he picked a card with a verse he liked, it still diminishes the sentimental value. Out they went. Now, we have basically stopped buying each other cards, so more will not be coming in. Cards have gotten so expensive that it seems a shame to pay the price just to throw away!

    I am embarrassed to admit the last two batches. In the last few months, I just threw away most of the cards to my first husband! Again, I picked a day when I was alone. I live in the country and I started a little fire where some brush had recently been burnt. I looked at each card, enjoyed a lot of memories and the humor of some of the cards, and then cremated them. I still have a large box from my first husband to discard. They are harder, and I have saved them for last. He was my fairy tale love, inexpressive in life, but very expressive on paper. They, too, will go in time.

    What I can say about all this is that, like all decluttering, it feels better when you do it!!!! Not to mention the saved space!! I can also say (at 62) that it is very time consuming to go through so many cards and now MUCH easier to throw them away every birthday without saving ANY!!!!
    Actually, I am to the point that I think I could dispose of them all with no regrets. I may do that in the future.

    If your cards aren’t truly sentimental, I would save the time and effort and let them all go. And if your daughter has not requested that you save hers, I would not. If they ARE sentimental, you can go through them as most of us have done.

    I loved what Dianna A said about we wouldn’t expect to tape a conversation of someone expressing their feelings for us. I don’t know why cards have such an emotional tug on our hearts, but they do. My goal for the future is to have no more than one serious, and one funny saved from each person! it really is true that the fewer you have of any given article, the more precious it is.

    Wishing you much success in your card journey!!

  7. Hi Christie,

    My elder daughter felt much the same way about her magazines as you describe. However, when she was planning to move out, she finally trashed all of them (they had taken about 1/2 her closet space!). I haven’t heard anything since about her missing them… If you don’t want to trash your magazines, you could drop one or two at the hair salon, nail salon, doc, dentist, library, or car service station (any place there is a waiting room) each time you visit. I don’t think recipes ever get old 🙂 You would be adding to others’ enjoyment because all I ever see in waiting rooms are Golf and parenting magazines, which do not interest me LOL You could also check with language teachers/tutors or cooking schools to see if their students could benefit by reading those magazines.

    I agree with the other commenters that I don’t value cards that only have a signature. They would be my first cull. If there is a thoughtful personal note that makes me smile, I might hold onto the card as long as it still makes me smile. Probably I would start the process with putting all the cards into a pile and having a small box nearby for the “keepers”. Then I would check for any that I really wanted to keep. They would go into the box. The others would either be trashed or if very beautiful, maybe the pretty part torn off and put into a big baggie for craft donation to school or nursing home. Especially if the cards are still in their envelopes, I would check to make sure I wasn’t throwing out any money!

    Another thing that has helped me with sentimental type items is to decide on one or two items to keep from each person I care about. This can apply to cards, gifts, furniture… anything. That way, I don’t feel the need to keep the entire inventory of stuff someone ever gave me, at which point it is obligation rather than joy 🙁 This decision alone has helped me part with many things!

    Maybe you could allot 15-30 minutes on the weekends to work on this project… if you go longer, great, but if not, at least something got done. Before and after your sessions, you should plan to have your favorite drink and snack or reading time… something that you enjoy, to reward yourself. And you can dream about how you are clearing space in your life, physically and temporally… It’s likely that you will have less to do as you part with more 🙂

    I wish you well in you declutter journey 🙂

  8. When I downsized, I also had a lot of magazines. I bundled them by year and took them to a used book store. They bought them. I was told cooking magazines sell well because they are timeless. Another way to set an example is let your daughter have the proceeds from book or magazine sales if she does the sorting and helps with bundling.

  9. Hi Christie
    Two ideas. Firstly my sister’s idea: she only keeps the last set of birthday/Christmas cards.
    Secondly mine: I keep all the “Special ” ones: 18th/21st/ones from my husband, daughter, granddaughter etc.
    Hope this helps.

  10. Marilyn in Texas

    I can’t improve on the great advice everyone gave about the paring down process. But I do have a few suggestions for what to do with the greeting cards you keep. I’ve been going through my mother’s card stash, and some of my own too. I’m scanning all the holiday letters and cards with notes and will make them into a digital collection for our family, then the originals get recycled. I’m doing the same with all my personal cards for other occasions. Most of the originals I’m letting go of. The exceptions are extra-sentimental ones, like some birthday cards from my childhood that my mom had saved that amount to “historical artifacts” by now. 🙂

    Another idea is to scan cards that are just “too pretty” to let go of, and either frame them or load a batch into a digital photo frame as a slideshow. (Easier than it sounds, if you haven’t done it.) I have slideshows for Halloween and for Christmas of my favorites. Long ago, I popped a couple of Xmas cards I especially like into picture frames. Recently, I framed a birthday card I gave my husband five years ago that sat on our coffee table ever since. (!) It’s a little kitten flying through the air, saying “Get ready for your birthday hug!” I signed it from me and our two cats. He says it makes him smile every time he sees it. That’s the kind of thing to keep. Bless the rest and let them go,.

    With magazines, there is no personal connection to a giver, so it’s much easier to let them go, in my experience. Colleen nailed it: just rely on the Internet for the information you need. Consider the paper version as something beautiful to relax with, read and enjoy. Be grateful for that, and let the object go.

  11. People lovingly send me cards to make me happy. I accept and hold onto the love, but recycle the cards. To me, very little difference between a card, a hug, a homemade pastry -all given to me to enjoy. It would be ridiculous to hold onto a cake for years, so why hold onto the cards?

  12. Christie, I used to keep all the cards I received having special sentiments. I finally realized I seldom ever looked at them again. I also realized I already knew how the person felt about me and didn’t need a reminder. After more time I realized if the printed sentiments on the card were something I thought I could use later I copied them into a file on my computer. I no longer keep cards past a few days after receiving them.

  13. There is a lot of good advice here, I personally like the Craig’s List or contacting a High School or Cooking School.

    I have a friend who is a chef and she told me that recipies and ideas have to keep updating to be in current fashion.

    I had several years worth of home & garden type magazines that I had a huge sentimental attachment for. I had a similar reaction to wanting to get rid of the collection. Eventually I flicked thru and realised that it was all a bit dated and the ideas I liked the most I’d already copied in my previous home and ironically, were already looking a bit dated! So Im wondering if you started with the older editions and have a flick thru whether you will come to the same conclusion.

  14. Christie, I went through my cards last January. I kept most cards from my hubbie, a few from my Mother with her own dear handwriting, at least one card from my dear aunts, sis-in-law and a few others. I still have quite a stack. Now I usually throw away most of them after the occasion. I think I’ll continue to go through them every couple of years, maybe pare them down more through the years. However, we don’t get a lot of cards anymore. We don’t send many. And most of our greetings to and from our family and friends are through email or on Facebook. I like that…no clutter.

    I had a huge stack of Guideposts and Angels on Earth (both spiritual magazines). I loved them and subscribed to them for many years. Then as they began to stack up, I realized that I wasn’t reading them anymore. It took me quite awhile to be ready to relinquish my large stash. I kept thinking I would give them away as I read through them gradually. Finally I realized that I didn’t want to read them right at this time of my life. I think other things have taken their place. Then I thought I would go around and drop off a few at the laundries, etc. Then I was just ready for them to be gone and I dropped them all off at a local thrift shop.

  15. Hi Christie. I’m going to risk getting kicked out of the 365 Club by suggesting you do only one thing with the cards right now. Organize them. Dump the entire lot in the middle of the floor and sort them by size – Big, Medium, Small. Then pack them neatly away in boxes. Does this solve the problem of having too many? Nope. However, you may find that they take up less room, you can declutter some empty boxes and neatly arrange the rest. This will remove some of the visual clutter and guilt that you feel because of the mess, and lessen your stress until you are ready to start the discard process.

    From my own experience with magazines I would advise AGAINST looking through them, and particularly against tearing out things to keep. All I did was destroy a lot of magazines someone else might have wanted, and ended up with loose bits of paper that I am now having to declutter anyway: recipes I won’t use, crafts I won’t make… Unless you can find one recipient for the whole lot, give yourself permission to recycle them the easiest way possible and do it all at once.

    • Hi Wendy B, I can’t imagine why you would think that comment would get you thrown out of 365 Less Things. That is great advice.

      • Hi Colleen, I know the main purpose of your blog is to declutter rather than organize but I do find that the two go hand in hand. I cannot function in chaos so I often tidy and organize which helps even if I don’t declutter anything.

    • Wendy B,

      I was going to suggest the same thing for the cards. I’d gather them all together in one place as a first step. If the cards are stashed all over the house, then that first step of gathering them and boxing them up is still a huge decluttering effort!

  16. I’ve been thinking about the cards – I have one card that I have kept and probably will always keep, it was from my bro-in-law for our wedding. Had we known about rehearsal dinners, the message inside it would have made the perfect toast for a rehearsal toast, it is sooooooo funny. It listed all the things that could go wrong on the big day, ironically some of those things did come to pass.

    Anyway, I was thinking that maybe you could go all Marie Kondo and examine each one and decide whether it brings you joy or not. Personally I’d go through them and the ones that rate 8 out of 10 or higher put in one pile. Ones that rate between 5 and 7 out of 10 another pile, and ones that rate lower than 5 make an out pile. If you do that a couple of times over a few months, eventually you’ll weed them down. I think with items like cards when looking at them as big pile, there is a fear that something special will get thrown out by mistake. By re-familiarising yourself with them and rating them, it will be easy to get rid of the un-special ones, and then whittle down.

    The card I’ve kept is a 10 out of 10, and lives in my ‘keepers’ box that is not allowed to expand beyond its current size. Thankfully we don’t really send or receive cards, we are of the text and facebook generation, so I don’t have cards coming inwards to the house.

  17. Christie,

    I did not have time to read the previous comments, so mine may be a duplicate. However, when I was decluttering my closet, I turned all of the hangers around the wrong direction. If I wore an item, I turned the hanger back the proper way. After a specific time period (which for me was about six month–now I would consider that too long), anything left turned the wrong way, I knew I didn’t use or wear, for whatever reasons. They were not helpful to me and I obviously didn’t use them. I got rid of them.

    I would suggest you put your greeting cards and/or magazines into a pile or box or whatever. Label it with the date. Give yourself a time frame. If you haven’t needed or looked for the box within the time frame, toss it out, maybe even without looking at it. If you are worried there are things you love in the pile, do what Colleen suggests and put the sentimental ones in a different box to go through later.

    I would never have tossed out the clothes. I love clothes and liked most of them, but my experience helped me to see that whether I loved them or not, I wasn’t using them and thus they were taking up valuable space in my closet and caused me more stress when I was looking for a particular item.

    The bigger issue is don’t beat yourself up. You are doing a great work just single parenting. It is hard and stressful. Decluttering will make your life more enjoyable and easier, but it is important to take the time to nurture yourself and relax. If you can reframe your ‘decluttering’ into a relaxing activity that makes you feel better about your life and your surroundings, it will be fun to do and not something you loathe and put off. Just make a set time, something managable (like 15 minutes), set the timer, work until it goes off and don’t do anymore until tomorrow. Most of us can do really difficult things if we know we can quit in 15 minutes. 🙂

    You can do it!! Hang in there!

  18. Two other things to try:
    – If you think you’re ready to get rid of the cards and/or magazines, box them up and put them somewhere for a period of time so you could always – if necessary – retrieve them before that time is up. Then when they “expire”, recycle them or otherwise dispose of them. This is the trial separation method Colleen has covered in older posts.
    – If actually disposing of them yourself is an issue, do you have a friend who could take them away and relieve you of that step? Sometimes I want stuff out of the house but I just don’t seem to have the oomph to both make that decision AND act on it. It is so much easier if someone else will do the deed for me!

  19. Couple of ideas –
    Cards: I read the card and decide if I want to hang on to it for a while. Usually these are cards that make me smile or have a special meaning. If I decide I don’t want to keep it, I generally tear the front off and put it in a pile to go to the children’s Sunday school class. They use the fronts to make cards for other members of our congregation. The back of the card, which has a message and a signature goes directly in the recycle bin. The ones that make me smile go in a box…when the box is full, I go back through and repeat the whole process. Usually I’m ready to let go of the older cards by that time.

    Magazines: I’m an avid fan of British home magazines, which is an expensive habit since I live in the U.S. I don’t have room to keep the magazines, so after I’ve finished with them I donate them to the local hospital. The Volunteer auxiliary hands them out to patients, people waiting, etc. I’ve sat in numerous hospital rooms with sick relatives – those magazines can be a life-saver to someone’s sanity!

    Honor your current feelings and use them to help you propel yourself through the tasks. But remember to be gentle with yourself – doing the internal screaming ‘why did I let it get so bad’…’what was I thinking’…’ only makes things worse. (Ask me how I know!) Set a timer and know when to walk away.

    And it’s really okay to dump the whole mess in the recycling bin and be done with it. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a bad chef, a bad friend or bad anything else. It makes you someone ready to be open to the next good thing in life.

    Good luck!!!

  20. Hey Christie,

    If you aren’t ready to get rid of the cards, I suggest gathering them all into one location and put them in a container until you are ready to deal with them. (I recently got rid of about 100 containers, so run on down to the Salvation Army and get you one. LOL!) Sometimes we can only take a tiny step, but that’s okay! You won’t stop there. You will be so motivated to take the next step, even if it’s another tiny one. Personally, I keep cards that my husband and I give each other, but that’s it. They are neatly organized in greeting card boxes. Other cards get enjoyed during whatever occasion they were given (for a few days or a week), then I throw them away.

    Ah, magazines. I used to LOVE magazines. The glossy pictures, the feel of the paper, the smell. I can still remember with clarity the first magazine I ever bought for myself….Seventeen magazine (I was about 14, I think). I fell in love with magazines right then and there. Over the years, however, I realized that (1) the content was being recycled over and over and over and over, and (2) it was really nothing but ads anyway. As I moved toward a more minimalist lifestyle, I knew that magazines didn’t really have a place in my life anymore. I gave them up cold turkey several years ago. The truth is that magazines clutter up your mind WAY more than they clutter up your living room. (I still buy one occasionally, but they only remind me of why I gave them up in the first place.)

    Funny story: My grandmother used to tear recipes out of magazines in the doctor’s office waiting room (much to my mother’s horror and embarrassment). So I know of at least one waiting room that could use those cooking magazines. LOL!!!

  21. I used to save every card I got, and even if it wasn’t sentimental, “they’d be good to use in art journaling.” Then it occurred to me, what’s the difference, saving them in a drawer, or having them stuck in a journal on my shelf? So most of them are gone.

    My husband and I used to send each other tons of cards when we were dating, and then for every occasion after we got married, but as the years went on, it was like somebody else mentioned–why are we spending five dollars each on cards that we’ll read then get rid of or stick in a drawer? So we don’t buy each other cards anymore. My husband isn’t thrilled about it, but I can think of a whole lot of other things I could do with that ten dollars.

    I used to be a magazine junkie too. Would have boxes of old magazines in a closet or stored in the basement. Finally discovered the same thing that others have–I really didn’t re-read them, stuff was really outdated in them, and I could use the space, so into the recycling bin they went, and I haven’t bought another one.

    They’re all stuffed with ads, and I can find enough to read online that I don’t really even glance at them in the store now either.