Setting Boundaries

This is a subject I have discussed here at 365 Less Things more than once. It was brought to my attention again while decluttering with my friend. Also boundaries was mentioned by Vicki K on Tuesday in a comment regarding the boundaries she has set for her cookbooks. You might remember the much reduced boundary I had set and achieved with my craft supplies some time ago. Not to mention my overall boundary of fitting into a two bedroom apartment, also achieved.

While decluttering with my friend we not only set boundaries but we also eliminated the extent of some. This took place all over her home as car loads of stuff were sent to the thrift shop. When it became apparent that items of furniture could be eliminated due to the amount of decluttering that had taken place, I explained the concept of setting boundaries for her stuff.

I explained that now we have chosen what furniture can stay a commitment had to be made that the category of items store in this furniture was not allowed to escape these boundaries from this point forward. If these items of furniture were full and something came in then something of equal or greater size must leave in order to make room for it.

In the previous address, not only were the boundaries full, they were themselves clutter and they were greatly overflowing. Now they have not only been reduced but I believe it is my friends intention to eliminate even more stuff so that the spaces within these boundaries are less cluttered.

I have many boundaries within my home. My closet must hold all my hanging clothes. My chest of drawers must contain all my husbands and my folder clothes. The small bathroom cabinets must house all our toiletries, medication, first aid items, styling tools and toilet paper. Only three shelves in the linen closet are allotted for store lines while the other hold other useful household items, our collection of photos and our paperwork file. The kitchen must contain all food related tools, serving pieces, cutlery, crockery, food etc with a shelf set aside for my frequently used craft tools. And the list goes on.

There is no room for overflow so these boundaries need to be adhered to.

One of the issues encountered when overstepping boundaries is money wasted on duplicate items due to the difficulty finding them amongst the overflow. This was something I definitely encountered in my friends home. In the kitchen, the linen closet, in the bedroom and particularly in the craft room. One example ~ I found three cans of spray adhesive among the craft supplies while setting up the new space. These things aren’t exactly small, so that fact that they could get lost amount the clutter was very telling. Packets and vials of glitter were another example as were pencils, staplers, hole punches, erasers, adhesive tape and glue sticks, just to name a few. Many of these items were donated while some of the more perishable items had done just that, perished. This was a very valuable lesson to my friend I think

As I set up the craft room I labelled much of the storage so all of these items could be easily located in the future and just as easily replace where they belong.

Do you set boundaries in your home or do you still have items overflowing to other spaces.

Today’s Mini Mission

Sort through your everyday household tools and declutter any duplicates. This means the array of tools you keep handy such as screwdrivers,  measuring tapes, sockets, spanners, pliers, hammers etc. Some may just need to be returned to the garage or shed while others are truly excess.

“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


Don’t accept free promotional products that you have no use for. Accepting these just encourages the continuation of this practice while the environment would be healthier without the manufacture of cheap throwaway or needless items like these usually are.

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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  • The key to action is enjoyment I received a comment from Bernadette on the 365 Less Things Facebook page this week that said... "I enjoy getting rid of things. It is so liberating. Got rid of a bunch of old photos […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. We are about to start planning our new house, which will be a bit smaller than this one and have about 1/3 the basement space. Instead of waiting until we move in to make our stuff fit, I am in the process of paring down to fit the space we will have. We are going to have less linen storage, and fewer bookshelves so I will be tackling those areas. We have already reduced the kitchen stuff by about 25% and we are talking about what pieces of storage furniture will disappear.

    Ian’s employment with the government filled our house with uniforms. Every time they re-designed the uniform, we got another load of clothing and all the used stuff went into storage. Seven years into retirement he has worn out most of the pants and a good number of t-shirts, we’ve given away shirts and pants that didn’t fit, but we had an entire closet of outerwear for all seasons. Yesterday he shocked me by heading down the basement carrying two jackets and coming up about 20 minutes later with an armload of empty hangers. The pile I now have to dispose of contains 8 coats (windbreakers, mid-weight and parkas), and a variety of specialty clothing like chainsaw pants and safety vests. The worn-out rainsuit was deconstructed to 3 plastic clip-buckles and some velcro (which we will use) and I stripped the reflective tape off his fire-fighting gear before putting it all in the garbage. The rest of the clothes will find new homes. So will the hangers…

    I’m actually glad to have a space-limiting goal. It seems to be the motivation we need to get back on track.

    • Hi Wendy, it seems you have thoroughly embraced the boundary limitation concept. As you say, it sure does motivate one to let go of stuff. And it is great to see hubby is on board with the task. How is his back doing these days.

      • Not great, but thanks for asking. We meet with the back surgeon in a few weeks to see what else, if anything, can be done. He’s not going to stop outdoor work but moving to a smaller place will at least lessen the load.

        Good news. Took an entire armload of the outdoor stuff to friends and they were happy to take all of it. The nicer coats go to the thrift store tomorrow. Out, out, out. Yay!

  2. I think, setting boundaries is a great method. I tend to alterate between “go through categories and declutter to specific amounts” and “set boundaries of space things should fit in”. I am now down to amounts and boundaries I really am comfortable with, but I will do some more fine tuning as to what to store where, as I’m only about 90% there regarding what is useful and accessible use of space. After that (probably achievable this month) we are down to only maintenance decluttering, I think. I’m so happy that I’ll finally achieve that in 2014!

    • Good for you Sanna. I think I might enjoy the boundary method of decluttering the most. Probably because a boundary was always my goal from the beginning. I continue to shrink the boundaries as I work my way through my craft supplies.

  3. Boundaries are a fantastic way to keep clutter under control. Now that I got my cookbooks to 10″ of shelf space, I have absolutely NO desire to accumulate more. I intend to keep trying recipes that I already have and if they work out, I’ll keep it, but if I don’t like the result, out it goes!

    A new warehouse store is opening up soon and I won’t be joining. With limited storage space, aka the boundary, I don’t want to store the same items in multiple locations. Your comment about the spray adhesive cans was interesting. I’ve done that in the past, but not in quite a while. 🙂

    At work, a new cleaning crew is coming in this weekend to do an initial deep clean. There are two closets where things seem to just get shoved into. I pulled out every single item. A bunch of garbage, some things to donate, some things to recycle. An old Kirby vacuum (that weighs more than a Volkswagon) with multiple attachments I am taking to the local Kirby repair shop to see if they want it for parts. Most of the junk I didn’t even ask anyone about, I just got rid of it.

    • Hi Michelle, well done with the recipe books. Both for setting the boundary and for working through them to see if more can be eliminated.

      Bulk buys at warehouse stores never really appealed to me. And I also found that, when in America, I could buy smaller quantities at much the same price at Target. I did love Costco for craft, printer cartridges, electronics etc though.

      Well done cleaning out the cupboard at work. Like you, in this circumstance, I never used to ask either. At least not after the first time when I encountered people who were afraid to through anything out. I figured if it was out of date or unused then it was only wasting valuable space. So out it went. I’d tell everyone I was happy for them to point the finger at me should it turn out that I had ditched something that I shouldn’t have.

  4. Unfortunately I have tons of storage space. I have to work hard at keeping 2 extra closets empty along with only filling half of my walk-in closest. When people comment I tell them what hard work it actually is not filling all available space. I have set boundaries for myself to achieve my goals.
    Keep up the great posts and comments, they help keep me motivated.

    • Oh Calla, I would love to have even “normal” storage space! No linen closet, no closet in our guest room, no pantry. UGH! But you are right – it would be so easy to fill up the space, it’s harder to keep it empty. 🙂

  5. Two years ago, I emptied out my 4-drawer filing cabinet so we could move it into another room. I vowed not to put any of those files back into the cabinet until I went through every file folder. At this point, I am over 1/2 way done. I have piles of paper piled up in a spare room and I’ve spent last summer and this summer going through my papers. I hope to get it all done by the end of August. So far, 2.5 drawers have been filled and I was able to label them and now know exactly where everything is. I just need to get down to business and get through the rest of the papers in the next two weeks.

    I actually think I can be more ruthless with the files that made it back into the filing cabinet in the last year. Once I have gone through the last of the files, I am going to set aside time to go through all of the files once again. I know I can cull more paper!

    I am a teacher and a reformed packrat. I have been very diligent about decluttering most areas of my home, but paper has been the hardest to deal with. I know I have to keep on top of it once I have completed my big task.

    • Hi Judy, I am glad you took on this challenge and it is finally coming to an end. I am also glad that now that you have almost made it through that you realise that even some of the things that have been filed could also be lived without. At least this time around you could take care of it one file at a time and leave the rest in place.

      • Hi Colleen,

        The wonderful thing is, while I emptied out the 4 filing drawers, I also had many many boxes of papers that didn’t have a home. I know that when I’m done, all of my papers will fit into those 4 drawers, and I’m hoping that there will be room to spare 🙂
        I’m thinking that I will have gotten rid of 3/4’s of my paper.

        It feels so good to have so many boxes of papers to recycle and/or shred. Last year, I recycled at least 4 boxes of papers. I haven’t had a chance to shred the confidential papers, but I plan on getting to that over the winter while watching t.v.

        I now need to go to my office at work and do the same thing. I have about 8 boxes that I need to go through. I know that I now don’t feel the need to save every paper. I’m hoping that I can get through it at a faster pace than my papers at home.

        • Hi Judy it sounds like you have learned a lot from this experience and that is great. I am sure you will make certain that you won’t find yourself in this position again. Good for you.

    • Funnily enough my husband and I tackled our filing cabinet today as well. Done half of the top drawer and got rid of 80% of the paper. We don’t have a shredder so my husband burned all the sensitive papers and I put the rest in the recycle bin for next week. We will carry on, the rest will be easier, the ones we did today were quite complicated: legal, houses, banking etc. It feels SO GOOD!

  6. OK – I didn’t know the idea of Boundaries when I first started out as my method up until then had been to add another storage facility to the household and the idea of compacting it down would have been unimaginable. Once I gained some momentum and saw storage facility after storage facility eliminated I began to entertain the notion that maybe I could fit the wine glasses into the kitchen somewhere rather than needing a buffet/credenza in the dinning room. Maybe I could fit two freestanding cupboards into one etc etc.

    It has been a long journey but here goes: 3 full size bookcases, 3 small bookcases, 1 2-drawer filing cabinet, 2 freestanding cupboards and my hall/craft cupboard all condensed down to fit all in the one hall/craft cupboard.
    (I have to thank my e-reader for making getting rid of books easier, but certain ones now live in the hall cupboard)

    A buffet/credenza in the dining room eliminated and everything incorporated into kitchen cupboards.

    A buffet/credenza in the lounge eliminated and all incorporated down into the tv entertainment centre.

    Three sets of drawers in our bedroom elimnated to fit all our clothes into our wardrobe and a double set of drawers in one of my daughter’s rooms, now split between the two daughters and the other set of drawers eliminated.

    The spare sheets that were stored in a storage bin in the ceiling storage, what doesn’t fit in the hot water cylinder cupboard was eliminated. So far, nothing missed.

    • Moni, that is WUNNERFUL!!!! You have to be pleased with those results! That is an incredible amount of furniture to empty.

      Yesterday on the MSN home page was a post about “Tiny House Nation” and what tiny homes cost and their locations. Most of these were 250-450 sq. ft. The main level of our home is 740 sq. ft. and the finished attic is 400 sq ft. We have no garage, but two garden sheds. If it were just me, I think 740 would be sufficient, but with hubby, the 1140 total is pretty darn small but most of the crap is probably MINE! 😉

      You did fantastic, Girl, and I am proud of you!

      • Michelle – it took a number of years and a fair few Hurrianes. And everything fits nicely these days but there are still enough items with ‘expiry’ dates put on them to go over the next year or two that I need to stay vigilant, especially as things still trickle in the door. It is surprising the things which can quietly take up residence without being aware of it. And as always the master plan is to downsize when the kids leave home (for good).

        The funny thing is that my kids friend’s think we have a really big house. I point out that it is average for the area and they all live in similar size houses or bigger houses but they’re not convinced.

        Alas a “Hurricane” these days involves emptying a half empty drawer. Wow, go me. I need to find someone else’s house to declutter.

        I had to convert feet to square metres – but your house (without attic) is admirably small, our first house was 850 square feet but we started off with three of us and it grew to five of us. It just got too small for a growing family and one OCD neat and one Rats-nest messy daughters sharing a room, just didn’t work out. I imagine once its back to just the two of us, then something like that would be ideal.

        I have seen articles on the Tiny House’s – aren’t they more or less caravans? Built on trailers? It would be ok for a short time but unless I had a really good reason I don’t think I’d like it permanently.

        • They used to mostly be caravans aka trailers, but now people are making actual permanent tiny homes – little, bitty guys.

    • Wow I’m impressed, well done!

  7. My husband would like to add that by far the biggest accomplishment as far as he is concerned is conquering the the plastics cupboard. I’m still convinced they breed but yes there isn’t an avalanche everytime he opens the cupboard. Actually I gave it a quick straighten this morning and wondered if I could eliminate any of the smaller containers. Or maybe I could find a better way to store them so they don’t get scattered or depend on other people to stack them nicely.

    • Hi Moni, many people have this plastic avalanche issue. I am glad to say I have had this issue under control for quite some time now. However your comment does raise the interesting fact that people always seem to have more empty plastic than there are number actually in use at any given time.

      • Colleen – I assume it’s like the saying for purchasing school uniform or work clothes or (insert whatever is relevant) : one on the body, one in the wash, one on the line, or in other words (especially in a country with a high rainfall) less than that equation could leave you caught short.

        My guess is that plastic containers are in use in the fridge, with baked goods or opened packet goods in the pantry. I used the same ones for lunch boxes, so there were ones in the school bag and knowing certain people whose names will not be mentioned……..several under the bed. And so I’d go to grab one from the plastics cupboard and there would be none. So the next time I was at the supermarket I would grab a couple more. Next I would reorganise my craft cupboard and store stuff in some of these containers and once again it would be famine in plastic land. So a few more at the supermarket. Then I’d vacuum under the beds and find a number of missing containers, my husband would bring home a number from work, I’d decide to clean out the fridge and pantry and suddenly the cupboard would be chock full again.

        That’s my theory and/or story.

        • Hi Moni, I agree that does make sense. However I think sometimes that when it comes to plastics the ratio gets a bit skewed. I have been slowing doing trial separations on my and then giving the ones I don’t need to my daughter. I clearly haven’t given her enough yet because her pantry is a shambles.

  8. This post hits right on the spot for me now. We are in the process of ‘major remodel’ and our final outcome will be slightly smaller than the space we have now (but with more useable space). I have two boundaries to think of: household storage during remodel (we’re thinking pods) and new square footage space. Looking at decluttering and packing through the ‘setting boundaries’ lens will help me make decisions.

    • That sounds like a good plan Willow. Be very discerning now as every house that gets packed up has to be unpacked at the other end. The math is pretty simple on how much time you can save at the other end if you get rid of the excess now. Once again I wish you success with a simplified move.

  9. similar to moni, my boundaries changed widely during the last years.
    I began with just getting rid of things. then I kept a list and realized I was making money. One important boundary was “live with just one arm” – this means that everything in my house must be reachable and doable while I am on the phone.

    Dedicating a certain space for certain items came later. I was more focused on eliminating the big items that were taking up a lot of space. The first thing was the bathroom storage under the sink. I remember that I was so happy about decluttering this, but that meant that my other rule – one hand – was violated, because I crammed everything into the cupboard behind the mirror. often something fell… 😉

    funny, when I start thinking about it, it was basically always alternating – limiting the storage and then thinning out the left overs…

    Nowadays I keep clear boundaries – I have areas for things like CDs, books, clothes, shoes, and there is no more changing. those are under control. one in – one out.
    most of the items are reachable with one hand now – and its just sooooooo much easier.
    New boundaries are connected to the trial seperation – I am trying to improvise. I am living without a desk nowadays and I noticed certain projects (like editing a friends thesis) are flying around my flat without a spot to land on. So I am forced to deal with it rather than just dump them somewhere and forget about it.

    • Hi Lena, it seems you are doing a good job of setting boundaries. My boundaries keep changing too. Even though I fitted into my new smaller home when the time came I am still keen to limit what is within those boundaries.

  10. I love this concept, and having just paid for my home to be cleaned (for my mental health due to a longer commute and new role), and how easily it was to straighten it up at about 6am!

    What I find interesting and harder is non home environments like work and church, it’s hard to know how to declutter. Not everyone is like us! There’s far too much in my new office, and I know for sure one desk to another we have the same documents as references etc. My desk is far smaller than before, so I have had to make sure I thinned what I had before the move, but also think carefully about what I still truly need. Speak nothing of the boxes on tops of cabients and the like in the rest of the place! I’ll see if I can slowly slowly improve it. I do agree that labelling helps!

    • Hi Snosie, it sounds like while you have simplified your home your work is doing their best to complicate your job. Oh well life is like that sometimes.
      I am with you on simplifying at work to if you can.