The Norm

My surname is Madsen, that’s M A D S E N. It is simple, two syllables, no extra letters that have no purpose, easy to read. So why do you think that most people, when confronted with this name, whether in plain print or spoken to them, automatically complicate it. Nine times out of ten people will pronounce it Marsden, Maddison or even Mathison.

I think I know why. Because these three other names are more common in Australia. So people revert to the norm rather than repeat what is said to them or written in front of them. That is the problem with “The Norm”, it is the usual way of things, acted upon by the bulk of the population whether it makes sense or not.

The Norm is…

  1. Buying stuff whether we need it or not.
  2. Replacing that stuff with new stuff when we tire of it or something “better” comes along.
  3. Keeping the old stuff when the new stuff comes along requiring progressively more space to store it all in.
  4. Hiring off-site storage when your dwelling becomes too small to store all the stuff.
  5. Needing two incomes and working 50+ hour weeks to pay for all this stuff and the mortgage.

What is meant to be the simple life (like my simple name) becomes more and more complicated the more “normal” we behave.

You know what is more fun than normal, being different. I love being different. I love the stunned looks on peoples faces…

  1. When I talk about how I have been decluttering my belongings for three years.
  2. How I don’t buy things unless I really have a need for them.
  3. That I prefer not to receive gifts.
  4. That I prefer to live in a smaller home.
  5. That I only have one handbag.

The beauty of going against the norm is that the clutter stops flowing in. My money isn’t wasted on stuff I don’t need. And I don’t have to work my butt off to afford a lifestyle that is different but quite wonderful. Granted my husband is still working full time but at the ripe old age of fifty even he can considering semi-retirement.

Dare to be different.

Today’s Mini Mission

Complete a project ~ Finish a project you started some time ago but haven’t added the finishing touches to. You can then either use it, gift it or donate it. Just this weekend I restrung some beads my mother had sent home with me about two years ago. She is coming to visit me this week for a couple of days and I can finally give the revamped necklace back to her. That frees up a little space and removes the guilt of it sitting there unfinished. 

Eco Tip for the Day

Keep a jug in your kitchen sink to save the water that would otherwise go to waste when waiting for the hot water to come through. This water can be used as drinking water, to fill the kettle, rinse dishes, water plants, rinse the sink etc.

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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  • You just never know. Firstly I would just like to apologise for my recent extended absence from the blog this month. Unfortunately my mother took ill and I rushed off interstate to visit her in hospital and to […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Being different is becoming my new norm, I’ll tell ya. And my mom is getting on board, too. But I ended up in a quandary. Her birthday is coming up. Usually I’d pick up some vintage trinket at the antique mall. I went yesterday and I think I may broken my “antique hunting bug”. All I saw was a bunch of stuff that I didn’t want to put in my house and I didn’t want to send to her either. I know she’s been selling off some of her stuff, so why should I spend money on buying more, wrapping it, and mailing it, if she’s just going to turn around and declutter it? That’s crazy!

    I do plan on making her one of my hanging brooch cabinets for Christmas because she has some lovely pieces that are not on display and I think she’d really love one, but I don’t need another project just now. I was wracking my brain until I recalled that she likes to shop at a particular place for books, CDs, and movies, so I’ll be picking up a gift card for her. Easier to wrap, cheaper to mail! 😉 Plus she’ll love it.

    We didn’t get the big shed cleaned out this weekend, but I did tidy up the little shed, where I found a box of garbage and a bunch of coins. I had to wash them because they had oil or some such sticky junk on them, but hey, it totaled $8.21! YAY!

    • Yay Michelle, your thinking has changed. Getting and being clutter free is all about the way you think and you my friend are on the right track.

      You are right, you don’t need another project right now. The flood clean up is enough to deal with.

  2. I just received some old books that I inherited from my grandfather after my grandmother (my last living grandparent) passed away. The man is a genius! I loved how he restored it, one was haning by threads when I brought it to him.

    It feels so good to have some (three!) books that I have given them a prominent place on display 🙂

    • Hi Dymphy, are you doing to declutter three other books that don’t matter so much to you to make room for these three special ones?

      • Well, I already decluttered pieces in advance, when I brought the books to the ones to the restorer. But, I’m thinking of decluttering some additional books as well.

  3. Creative intro, Colleen! Despite the stigmatizing affects of non-conformity when it comes to spending, the benefits are well worth it and you’re right. It IS fun, lots of fun. But really, how dare you have one handbag!

    Have a marvy one, Colleen!

    • I am glad you enjoyed the intro CJ. I don’t even remember how I made this connection but I felt it was appropriate in a round about kind of way.

      And guess what, the handbag is really small too. 😉

      You have a marvy day too CJ.

  4. This is good Colleen. I understand what you mean about your name too. How hard is my name –Deb Jones? Yet, you wouldn’t believe the way it is butchered. I think so many people resort to the norm when it comes to many things. I have never fitted in because I have always been out of the norm about many things–neat, organized, decluttered (especially when I live alone), etc. Over the last week I have been in 3 homes that make me want to shudder when I think of what someone will have to get rid of when the homeowners are gone. In two cases it will be left to nieces of nephews because the people have no children. You know that means it will all probably just be sent out the door to charity or sold in an estate sale.

    • I do not want to leave my children with such burdens, and no one else for that matter either. Most of all, I don’t want them to ever feel like they have to fight over “stuff” or worse yet, let it affect their relationship. The more that I can deal with now and as I get older, the better it will be for them in the long run. If most people realized what would happen to their possessions after they are gone (given to charity or sold in an estate sale), I think that they would deal with their “stuff” in a different manner while they are here.

      • Yo mention a lot of things here that I am sure some folks don’t think about. The squabbles that can result, the hurt when things aren’t shared fairly, the burden shared of clearing the clutter during grief. No one wants to face their own mortality but the fact is it can happen any time not just in old age so the sooner we get our stuff in order the better. I am off tomorrow to have a new will written up and that will be one more problem I will not be leaving behind should something unexpected becomes me.

    • Hi Deb J, I am used to the problem with my name. Funny thing though. The only person we ever encountered that got it wrong when we lived in America was an Australian woman. Strange?

      • After 61 years I am pretty well used to my name being messed up too. My other problem is that there seem to be so many with the same name. Weird. Now your story about the Australian lady in America being the only one who messed up you name is definitely strange.

    • My inlaws are hoarders and I dread what we will have to deal with when they go, thankfully my husband is from a big family so won’t have to shoulder the burden alone but still it is going to be painful for everyone concerned. It’s certainly not the legacy I plan to leave for my girls.

  5. OK confession, I have two handbags. One gets used 99% of the time, the other its a really small one but can wear over/across my shoulder and isn’t big enough for even my wallet, so I just carry my debit card, keys and phone. We use it when I’m going somewhere and I don’t want to lug my ‘mum bag’ such as out to the movies or if there’s a crowd situation such as a concert or movies or sports event or situations where my handbag won’t always be in my line of sight usually somewhere with the kids such as the pools, ten pin bowling that sort of thing. On the plus side, my girls borrow it too when they don’t want to carry a handbag.

    My regular handbag, well buying a new handbag is such a major decision, honestly, I can take several days going to every store to find the right one, but I keep my handbag until it falls apart and can be repaired no further.

    • Hi Moni! Ok, confession time: I have 3 handbags. And I have a real fancy one to go to work that matches my fancy briefcase. So that makes 4 of them. There, I confessed my sins… I resist the urge to buy handbags, because I really like them 😀 .

    • Hi Moni, I have a friend, who after experiencing how I shop for a pair of shoes, wanted no part of accompanying me while shopping for a handbag. I know what I want and practicality is high on the list. I don’t want the item to be ugly but it sure doesn’t not have to be designer either. I usually get what I want in the end but it can take a while.

      • Hi Ladies, I thought I was the only one who dreads trying to find a new purse. Ugh! I know what I want and I know what’s in the stores and the two are NOT the same, so the purse I have now, I have had for three years. I need a new one, but I’ll wait. :S

        • Most of the time I carry a change purse in my pocket with my money and credit cards. That’s all. I do have a small 5 inch X 5 inch purse with shoulder strap that I carry when I need to take something more but I seldom use it. Since I got it free and it is so small I feel I can hang onto it. I have a small “carry-all” bag that I use when I take my Kindle along with me. It’s just big enough for that and one or two other small things. I don’t use it often anymore either. I may get rid of it.

  6. Hi Colleen! I really enjoyed your post! I know what you mean about “the norm”. I was in a beauty salon about a month and a half ago and I was talking to the sister’s owner. She owns about 200 dress shirts and was bragging to me about it (and about her full closet…) and that she doesn’t even know the clothes she owns. I looked at her and said that no one needs that many dress shirts and that I had 5 and considered it more than enough. I said I was down sizing my wardrobe and would be very happy when I had and amount of clothing that was functional and beautiful. Then I told her about Project 333 and my talks with Moni. She looked aghast at me. She could not understand how I could manage to have “so little”. I said that, before I learned a lot, neither did I. I told a I have few, but good pieces of clothing and it was not a hardship, because I have to take care of my own clothes and stuff, so the less, the better (which she doesn’t because she has a full time maid). It was funny really. I was not criticizing her, I was just stating how I had started to live my own life in a different way, but she did feel criticized. I think that, for her, the norm was to be envied and admired because of her 4m by 4m closet and her 200 dress shirts, her 100 pair of jeans, her 50 purses, her 150 pair of shoes and so on and so forth…(she was dishing the numbers to everyone before I started speaking – can’t tell if it´s true 😀 ), not someone saying that it was great for her, but thanks, but no thanks.

    • Andreia – wow, would she even get to wear all those in a year? Even with my small wardrobe, I find I don’t wear everything every week but my favourites definately once a week!

      • Hi Moni! I think she buys clothes just because she can and like all of us has some favourites that she wears all the time. Yes, even though I down sized considerably I also don’t wear everything every week and keep to favourites.

    • Hi Andréia, I dare say she probably thought you were quite odd. I am glad you spoke up and if nothing else got her thinking that not everyone thinks she is special because she owns so much. I would hope that her lifestyle isn’t the norm either. I would prefer to think that her lifestyle is excessive compared to most. It is interesting that she feels the need to brag about it. That just goes to prove that owning all that stuff isn’t enough to bring her happiness, she needs people to know she is living that lifestyle. Perhaps among all that stuff this is actually something missing in her life.

      • On reflection, perhaps I am a little needy liking people to know that I don’t care about stuff. Although I prefer to think I talk about it to spread the word that less is more. And the environment can’t continue to afford these excesses.

  7. I seldom talk about my ‘not norm’ life. People just look at me like I’m weird. “You hate to shop?” Weird. “You prefer activities to shopping?” Weird. “You’re vegan?” Weird.

    • Hi Willow, embrace being weird it is a good thing.

    • Willow, I get that too! The “vegan” thing….they ask, “don’t you miss meat, seafood, cheese?” I say “yes, sometimes” but if you saw what I did, then you’d think twice about what you are doing to yourself and the environment! Eating meat is really just a habit and the “norm” everyone thinks they can’t change, (when the real reason is that they don’t want to)! I declare that “weird” is the new “norm”!!!!!

  8. I do not want the “norm” and I am reminded of that everyday.

  9. One positive thing about a name that people mispronounce is that you can always tell when a telemarketer calls. When they ask for the wrong name, I can honestly tell them that they don’t live here, because it is true. As for the norm, we are lucky to have the knowledge we know that we can retire early, instead of just working until the government tell us we can stop. We can try new things and learn ideas so readily from the internet. I am grateful to live in the time period that we do with the examples of people who try new ideas on how to live.

    • haha! That’s so true. When people tell me on the phone they are a local business and mispronounce the name of my city, I just laugh and tell them, “No, you’re not! You don’t know how to pronounce my town’s name!”

    • Ha ha Marianne, I have had this experience. The telemarketer asked if this is Mrs Marsden and I have told them that no-one by that name lives here, politely said goodbye and hung up.

  10. About my name, I am constantly asked ” Is that Brown with an e?”
    I’ve decided I’m going to reply ” No, it’s Brown with an O W!”
    I’m new here and so happy to find others who only have one handbag. I only get a new one if the one I have breaks or is no longer practical for my needs. I have 6 pairs of shoes, 2 of which are work shoes. I don’t like shopping ( most of the time) and I’m so happy to find others like myself! I do have a long way to go with excess stuff I still own but have been working on decluttering for years, it really is an ongoing process as needs change. We’ve just downsized our car and I’m looking forward to the day we can downsize our house!

    • Hi Andrea, I understand where you are coming from, one would think that brown was pretty straight forward when it comes to names.
      I am glad you are also a one handbag type of gal. Like you I only replace mine when it breaks or is no longer practical. I had to change when I started wearing reading glasses but then I went to progressive lenses and don’t take my glasses on and off anymore so don’t need room in by bag for them. So now I have a very small bag again. Hopefully this bag will last a long while.

  11. GracefromBrazil

    In line with the mini-mission for today. I wanted to share that I finished a project today! My father had printed out all of my letters that I had emailed through the years and put them in a notebook. He added all of my my sister’s and brothers’ as well. I inherited two of these notebook when he passed away. I was getting ready to just pitch them but thought I should ask each sibling if they wanted their letters and they all did. So I went through and divided them up since he had put them in order by the date received. We had a family reunion today so I gave a stack to each of my siblings. Now I don’t have to store those anymore! I leave to go back to Brazil next week so I have only two totes in my brother’s storage….I used to have a lot more. I have gotten rid of a doll collection, wedding china, baby blankets, photos, scrap books, decorations, old medals, journals and more in the past six months. Was it painful? Yes. Am I happy I did it? YES What is left are mainly family keepsakes that have either been whittled down to an irreducible minimum or those more difficult items that need to be treated with sensitivity which I need to work on more when I come back in a couple of years but I am so happy with what has been accomplished!

  12. Such a good point! For years I was keeping suits and jackets, or boring skirts “business casual” skirts and blouses, thinking that I might need them for interviews or meetings, despite the fact that I work in theatre. I haven’t worked in an office or business environment in 20 years! I also live in Seattle, a city so casual that people wear jeans to the Opera. I finally got rid of all those clothes that I always thought were boring and uncomfortable anyway. I chose to work in the arts because I hate that stuff, but I was keeping them to “feel like a grown-up”. They’ve been gone for awhile now, and even when I have the opportunity to acquire more “boring business casual” for free through the Clothing Exchange parties I attend, I always resist.