The problem is acquiring

Clutter is very much about being keener to acquire than to let go. We acquire things we need or want but once their usefulness to us has expired we hang on to them. I feel that there are three main reasons for that and they are laziness, fear and indifference.

Laziness of course refers to having the stuff there, being aware that it is a problem but refusing to deal with it because you just don’t want to make the effort.

Fear is all about thinking you might need it some day and keeping it just in case.

And indifference is being aware that you have clutter but don’t mind, don’t care or even like it that way. It can also be that you don’t even notice because you like being surrounded by stuff. 

I don’t intend to elaborate on that, the purpose of this post is to have a discussion ~ inspired by a situation in my life right now ~ about the insanity that acquiring can be.

So here is my story. As I have mentioned here more than once, I have an art space where I sell my handmade cards and, at the moment, beaded spiders. My space runs as an artist collective of, at present, six artist/crafters. Our price range begins at $1, for a handmade origami gift bow, and goes up to as much as $500 at times for and original acrylic painting. So as you can see our creations are many and varied as are our members.

There has been some contention recently, both internal and external, about the integrity of the value of an artists labour and real art v kitschy craft. And one of the issues is that people coming in to the venue, which also houses ten other art spaces, might opt to purchase one of our least expensive items rather than opting to buy something of greater value, either within our collective space or the venue as a whole. It boggles my mine that anyone would think they might be losing the sale of, for example, a $200 fashion item to a $5 string of origami cranes. I could elaborate more on this situation but that would just be expressing my emotional turmoil and discontent, so I will leave it at that as a lead into my the point about the strangeness of acquisition.

So let us assume that no one in their right mind is quietly making the choice between a $200 or $5 purchase and that they are purchasing the $5 item…

  1. …because they actually like it or…
  2. …they feel obliged to buy something while in the space and just choose the cheapest item they like the look of.

The second reason above is one of those situations where the better choice would be to buy nothing.

This of course got me thinking about the futileness of acquiring stuff just for the sake of it. It brings to mind the clever marketing many companies like Tupperware, and the like, who almost exclusively sell their products via party plan. In the past even I used to felt obliged to buy something when attending such parties. The host is your friend, they have provided a delicious spread for the event, and how much of a heal would you look if you just walked away satiated, entertained and empty handed ~ well orderless but same thing.

Then there is recreational shopping, where you just go shopping with no real need in mind and end up finding all sorts of things you didn’t know you “needed” and go home with a whole lot of potential clutter on your hands.

All these scenarios above are where most of the clutter comes from in your home. Combine that with the three reasons I also stated as to why it is not being removed and you can end up with quite a mass of clutter on your hands.

So the moral of this story is, don’t acquire for the sake of acquiring. Stuff doesn’t make you happy, at least not for long. If you curb your shopping habits you will also reduce the likelihood of clutter buildup in your home. And removing clutter only to replace it with more clutter gets you no where on your decluttering mission. That is the first lesson in avoiding clutter and it won’t do your bank account any harm either.

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Sorry to hear that there is turmoil at the gallery.

    I doubt more $200 items would be purchased even if all the sub $200 items were removed. Buying a larger ticket item tends to require greater certainty that one likes it and will use it … and possibly that it will hold or appreciate in value.

    I once spent a few thousand dollars on a piece of art because when I spotted it, I really wanted to have it … there was just something special about it … but even then, I slept on it and went back the next day. I had to be sure.

    Before and since then, I’ve been in countless other art galleries and nothing has stood out.

    To really highlight this, think about how hard it is to choose a specialty coffee vs buying a house.

    On a separate note, there seems to be a correlation between the original cost of an item and the angst about whether to let it go. If the item also is bolstering a fantasy self, the angst goes up again.

    Currently, I’m having a sort through the house because we may be moving next year and one focus is giving things away while they are still useful to someone else. We had a Dacor dive regulator, which sort of became defunct when Dacor was bought out as the acquiring company decided to discontinue support. If we’d given it away a long time ago, someone could have made some use of it before it became defunct.

    • Kate, I think what you have to say about the art space and whether cheaper things prevent buying of the more expensive is good.

    • Hi Kate, sadly when a group of humans have to work together there will always be turmoil. We are all very different after all and all have our own self interest. As for your take on the price point thing, I entirely agree. I thing twice at least about any item I ever buy, even if it is a 50c cup from the thrift shop. Buying new adds one more level to that because it affects the environment as well and my clutter level and hard earned cash. So I would prefer that a person only bought the items I make for the art space because they really want it and am just as happy if they choose one of the other makers things instead for the same reason.

      And I know your pain about not letting something go before it becomes useless to anyone. These are the items I use Freecycle for because there are all sorts of reasons why people want things and I rarely put something up on Freecycle that isn’t claimed. People usually tell why they want the item when they send their claiming email. And the beauty of that is that I can then choose who, among multiple claim, I give it to.

    • Also Kate, I am like you when it comes to art, expensive or not, I only buy what I really like. The idea of art for me in my home is that I get continued joy from looking at it. And that I love that I am happy to dust it every week.

  2. Colleen, maybe your art space members need to think about creating a space for more expensive items if they are going to have a problem with sharing with lesser costing items. Personally, I don’t think the issue is the sharing of space. The issue is the fact that most people have to really THINK about spending the money for more costly items.

    • Hi Deb J, I would like to think so too Deb J.
      The pricing issue within my art space is only an example of the problem of acquiring, it is indeed however about the overall concept of spending for the sake of spending rather than being discerning about what one buys. How that effects ones budget, the aesthetics and feel of ones home and the environment. And particularly in that order.

      I for one do not understand why anyone who has a home full of clutter that they have bought, while at the same time have massive debt to the point where they are wracked with anxiety whenever a bill come in. Stop buying the crap and start budgeting for the things that really matter. Decluttering anxiety is as good a goal as any.

      • Colleen, I am with you about people with clutter and massive debt going out and getting more of anything that isn’t a true necessity. Doesn’t make sense to me.

        • Deb J – no, it doesn’t make sense, and yet I have been there! My clutter isn’t terrible, but even in deep debt, I have gone and bought things I didn’t really need, just because I was in denial about being in debt (“it’s ok, I can afford it!) When I won some money – enough to clear my debts plus a bit more, I went out shopping; I didn’t buy a thing, because now I had a choice – “yeah, I could buy that, but I don’t want to”. Psychology is a funny thing!

          • Jane Dodd, I hope seeing the you have a choice will hold true from now on and you will be able to stay out of debt and only buy what you need.

  3. After being invited to no less than six “parties” in one weekend, I have been teaching my teenage daughters they can just say , “it just isn’t me” when invited to the “girls night out parties” that are really “come listen to a sales person for an hour and buy overpriced junk you don’t need so the hostess gets free stuff” events.

    I don’t like the idea of making money off guilting my friends into being ripped off for over priced junk. I especially don’t like it when you have an acquaintance who only invites you over or to do stuff that is related to this. If they really cared about me, they would want to be my “friend” on other occasions too.

    It does mean missing out, but I can use that money to enjoy real time with those who actually are important to me. You can’t buy love or friendship in my opinion!

    • Jamie, I know what you mean about all those “parties.” I just can’t afford them. There is nothing out there in those parties that can’t be found elsewhere in some form. I don’t need to go to a party to get them and since I can’t afford them anyway why go?

    • Well said Jamie, I remember many years ago (the last time I held a party plan event) that all I wanted was for people to show up so I didn’t look like a social leper. If they bought something then that was just a bonus. It wasn’t worth the anxiety.

      • My first party was at a neighbor’s house. It was pointed out to me later that this woman constantly hosted sales parties but never attended anyone else’s. I gave up attending completely when I was attending another neighbor’s candle party. I had made a small purchase the previous year but didn’t really want anything else. The deal breaker for me was when I overheard her telling someone that she had a closet full of candles that she got as hostess gifts and she never used any of them. So I am buying this overpriced stuff because?!?!? Never again

  4. Like many of you, every purchase I make a lot of thought goes into making the decision & usually several days while I see if I can make do with something I already own. The only exception is when I travel & see something I want I buy it as the likelihood of finding it again are zip.

    It seems like the people with more expensive items would welcome less expensive items, as I’m betting it gets more traffic seeing their items. The sale might not happen immediately, but gives more exposure for people to ponder the items. My 2¢

  5. Grace from Brazil

    Colleen, I am so thankful for your constant reminders. Even someone like me, who is committed to a decluttered way of life, needs reminders. I loved your title today. I have been traveling for the past few months and realized my stress level was rising in my living-out-of-the-suitcase lifestyle. I discovered it had everything to do with my full suitcase. Since I have been in the U.S. I have bought a lot of lovely clothing items at thrift stores but have been guilty of buying more than I could realistically carry with me. So my stress was especially felt every time I came to pack up as I would have to try to fit too many things in my little suitcase. I noticed that I would stall as long as I could before finishing my packing. Then it hit me that my problem was that I had acquired more than I really needed. So then I knew what I had to do. I easily chose 3 items that were not favorites and got rid of them. Now there is no stress and I enjoy packing up because everything fits and I even have space. Things, too many things, don’t bring happiness, rather they bring the opposite. They bring stress and unhappiness.

  6. Colleen, that title really hits the nail on the head! Thank you.

    My mum and dad have been working towards downsizing for a while now. About a year ago they decided to declutter their VHS collection (after many comments from me that it was just sitting there deteriorating – they didn’t realise and thought it could have been an heirloom), but only after watching each one once more, so it wasn’t wasted. Not quite what I would do, but kudos to them they have followed through with their plan, watched and decluttered hundreds of video cassette tapes. End result is zero kept.
    Mum was telling me last night, next up is the bookcase. Dad has finally come to terms with the fact he won’t reread his sci-fi book collection acquired since the 70s, but it is still going to take some time as he wants to decide to declutter or keep each book one at a time. Mum is excited at the prospect of having just one row of books on each shelf, bless her. And funnily enough given this post title, we were discussing how quick it is to acquire something, but how long it takes to get rid of it!

    • Good example Amelia. However, I am glad that your parents do things at their own pace. At least they will have no regrets when putting such thought and effort into deciding what stays and what goes. Your dad should investigate the sci-fi books he is getting rid of though, there could be some gems among them that might fetch him some cash.

      • I’m pretty sure it was reading your posts on perishables that made me think of the VHS deterioration issue in the first place actually! Thanks for that.
        I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the books get put aside as a potential ‘gift’ for me or my brothers. But we shall see. I will confess to putting my hand up for his hardcover collection of Agatha Christie novels. But as I am a huge fan and have read many of them more than once they don’t count as clutter 🙂
        Otherwise, I will remind them of your suggestion that there might be some gems in the rest – this has happened several times over the years, funnily enough the ornaments etc that mum has always thought were ‘really worth something’ aren’t, but odd things like old tobacco tins that dad uses for storage, are actually worth quite a lot at the moment.

  7. I think that best cure for acquiring…….is several years of decluttering.

  8. I have had a very stressful week or so. It started with the purchase of a new mattress which I did need. But I suddenly realized that every new purchase usually results in the purchase of more and more. For instance, I also needed new sheets, mattress cover, mattress pad, box spring cover, comforter, bed skirt. It’s enough to make my head spin! Especially because I am a recreational shopper and the more time I spend in the stores, the more I am tempted to make unnecessary purchases. Well I think I am done now, at least I should be.

    Another for instance in marketing ploys is the fact that my comforter came with 2 sets of pillow shams. Two were for European pillows which I did not have, so I went out and bought them. They were very nice, but not necessary, so I returned them. Just because they were both included does not mean I had to use them all. Besides they were a pain to keep moving on and off the bed. I’m supposed to be simplifying my life, not complicating it.

    Now I better get back to decluttering and stay away from temptation.

  9. Another helpful post, thanks Colleen. I have started keeping a rough log of how many non-consumable items are coming in to my home vs. going out. I recommend those new to decluttering try this as I have found it to be an eye opener. There was a little more coming in than I had realised.

  10. I have a little story to share from a dinner out last night. My husband & I met up with the couple who introduced us 35 years ago (we are all still friends!). I offered that a client of mine had chatted about how he decluttered his parents attic for them. The client said the remaining items are maybe 25% of what was up there and it is all in labelled tubs. He wants to get onto purging their basement as well.

    As I was relaying this, the husband of the couple spoke up that they have been getting rid of things. They now have space for their grandson to play in the basement! This couple has a beautiful home… but their basement was very full when I saw it. My unspoken thoughts were something like, “My that looks overwhelming, it will take a lot of work to pare this down”. The husband also commented that it wasn’t good to go shopping if you could help it because it leads to temptation. I was very surprised (and pleased!) because all the time I have known them, they have enjoyed shopping. I asked the husband how they decided when to spend time decluttering. He replied that maybe a weekend morning he would ask his wife if she wanted to go through a couple of boxes with him. As they each struggle to part with certain things, they kind of encourage each other. I just cannot say how shocked I was that they are doing this and how excited I am for them!

    I think that maybe they were brought to this journey because they had to clean out his parents house when they moved into assisted living. Then, when his parents died, this couple had to clean out the assisted living place. The house especially was a huge job which took their entire family months to accomplish. They had to throw out a lot of things because the basement had dampness, so there was mold & mildew.

    • Hi Peggy, I have had a lot of readers who began their own decluttering journey after experiencing the task of having to clear up after losing a loved one. My constant hinting about decluttering as fortunately had an effect on both my parents and inlaws who have both made inroads into decluttering their excess belongings.

      • Hi Colleen, You must be so pleased to have your families respond to your decluttering efforts in their own homes! I have previously spoken to the wife about this journey of mine and I think she was interested to a degree. But the husband had been doing some collecting, which was expensive and created a storage issue. They both seem to be coming around! The wife said she is still wearing old too big coats because she doesn’t want to buy anything. I told her about the coat drive 🙂

  11. Having been a DVD collector for the past 12 years, I, too, am watching each DVD individually before deciding whether to keep or let go.

    With 860 titles in my collection, I am in the process of downsizing with the intention to sell some and donate others. I will keep only those that relate to my current interests. In the past four years, I have relocated my collection interstate (within Australia) twice and do not plan to do so again, especially as my interest in film and television has been decreasing for some time.

    • Hi Elsbeth, and welcome to 365 Less Things. I wish you speed with your viewing and decluttering of those DVDs. Like you, I wouldn’t want to move them again either. I think I have decluttered nearly all the ones that were mine among our collection so the rest of the decluttering is up to my husband. Now that we have Netflix the culling may commence soon enough.

  12. Hi, Colleen. I hope that things will work out for your art space soon. Sometimes, things have to fall apart in their present state before something better can come together.

    When it comes to acquiring stuff, it makes me wonder how much the economy depends on us as consumers buying things that we do not need.

    Stuff can sometimes provide us with an illusion of who we are and can create an inflated or false sense of self. I think that an awareness of our reasons for purchasing stuff, as well as knowing our “triggers”, if any, can be tremendously helpful.

    I’ve never hosted or attended a party plan event and intend to keep it that way. I think it was Wendy B who once mentioned that she now plans to schedule a headache on the day she’s invited to one – LOL!