Use your imagination to help you declutter

Today I am going to suggest five scenarios, that you can imagine you are a part of, that would likely force you to be more ruthless with your decluttering. You find an area in the house that you feel could do with some decluttering, and I will set the scene for a situation that would, if it were reality, make you let go of some items you might otherwise keep just because you have the space.

Scenario One: Your kids have left home and you have just had an offer, out of the blue, from someone who would like to buy your house. It is a very generous offer and you have been thinking of downsizing for some time. You have viewed a very attractive two bedroom apartment recently that you could imagine yourself living it. You look at your stuff and think what would I have to get rid of if I were to move into something smaller. What among this stuff could I find quite easy to live without should it not be likely to fit in?

Scenario Two: You have just brought a new puppy home and it is an indoor dog. You need a space to be able to leave it at home alone, at times, without it chewing up stuff. One room needs to be quite clear of items it can get at. So everything that is at danger either has to go or fit into another room in the house. What items would you give up to make this work?

Scenario Three: You are fifty-five years old and are already on the waiting list for a hip replacement. The reality is you aren’t getting any younger and your body isn’t as young and agile as it used to be. But joyfully it also isn’t old and decrepit either. This hip replacement is however a warning signal that there are certain tasks that aren’t going to get any easier as you get older. So now is the time to start getting your affairs in order. Not ten or fifteen years down the track when mobility could possibly become a real issue. What can you do now to make life easier for you in the future? What items can you start eliminating so it makes cleaning, organising and access easier?

Scenario Four: There is a new baby in the household. Whether that be your household or the baby is a grandchild that will be visiting. Soon enough the little darling will be mobile and able to get their sweet little hands on anything at their level. As wonderful as the idea sounds ~ “They just have to learn not to touch things.” ~ do you really want to have to be ever vigilant during that learning period. Or would it be easier for everyone if you just declutter items that you don’t need or care much for, to make it easy to move everything breakable out of hands way? What can you declutter from your higher and lower shelves so that what is important can be neatly displayed out of reach?

Scenario Five: You have just lost a loved one in your family and you have been helping in the process of sorting out the estate. Clearing out the home of this much loved relative has been a real eye opener. Oh, the things you have had to sort through. Items you aren’t sure are valuable or not. Personal items that would have been best left personal. Old correspondence that you just don’t have the time to read through and decide what is worth saving for family history reasons. Wardrobes full of clothes that clearly haven’t been used in years. A shed full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since this loved one lost their male spouse ten years earlier. And just the usual household items that seem far too abundant for someone who had so few to cater to on a daily basis. Do you want to leave the same mammoth task for someone to clear away should something happen to you. You think not, so what do you have in your home that no longer suits your lifestyle and probably never will again?

Use one or more of these scenarios to help see your stuff in a different light and use that to guide you in letting go.

Today’s Mini Mission

 Declutter a small section of a cupboard anywhere in your home.

Eco Tip for the Day

When you are out and about and there is no provision to recycle bring your items home if possible and not ridiculously inconvenient

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. The last scenario strikes a cord. An aunt of mine was executor of a friend’s estate. Her two bedroom apartment took almost a year to get through and handle. From the time my aunt started that project, she began gifting a lot of stuff — we were just out of college and getting a piece of art or crystal was SO cool as Christmas and birthday presents. She still had a lot when she passed but she’d labeled certain items to go to specific friends and family members so that helped. But starting early and sharing some of her wonderful stuff was a great example for us.

    In fact, as she talked about the process with her friend’s estate, my father began giving away books instead of just building more bookcases to hold them (and that was so shocking to me I was convinced he’d had bad news from his doctor — took a couple of years of good health to convince me otherwise;-). We’re trying: even after a big move and downsize event we still have stuff to get rid of. The current effort is a stack of stuff for our son to try selling on line to help him buy the bicycle he wants — gets it out of the house and I don’t even have to do the work: win-win!

    • Hi Sassy, everything about this comment is great in my book. I loved that your aunt gifted the items to others rather than just hoard them herself, that she spoke about the process and that when she passed she had labeled items as to who they were to go to. I love that your dad realised that holding on to things only made it hard for those left behind. And I especially love that you are teaching your son that if he wants a big ticket item he needs to liquidate some “assets” in order to pay for it. Your whole family has handed down some pretty good behaviours there.

  2. Oh, Colleen, always so eye-opening! When my grandfather and then grandmother died within a year of each other, we had soooo much to sort through. Most of the things they were “saving” went in a huge dumpster out front. They were both heavy smokers, so many of the things were nicotine-stained and unusable.

    I just went through a box of cards last night and saved only the ones with handwritten notes from my deceased grandmothers. Store-bought and signed with “Love, Nana”? Gone! I now have an extra square foot of space!

    • Hi Tammy R, I have been fortunate to have been spared this situation so far in my life but I do dread the fact that it will happen eventually. One thing is for sure my kids aren’t dreading being left with such a task when it comes to my stuff. They would take most of what is left now if I let them. In fact I am delivering one a bookcase, a bed and a mattress and the other a bed, mattress and two cabinets this Friday. Unfortunately I will be getting one lesser bed and mattress in return (long story).

      I think you did well with your choice on which correspondence to keep and which to let go of Tammy. Generic cards simply signed aren’t all that precious.

  3. My husband and I live in a smallish condo (1200 sq ft) and I’m very glad it’s not any bigger. This really is more than enough space for us and it forces us to be diligent about getting rid of things we don’t use. We are house hunting and everyone assumes it’s because we want something larger. That’s not it at all! We want to find a home much closer to where we work and it would be perfect if it were about the same size.

    • Hi Melissa, do you ever find any inconvenience of living in a smaller home? We have just made an offer on an apartment in the heart of the city and will need to offload most of the stuff left in our garage. Luckily at this point that doesn’t amount to much. And I also can’t see us missing any of it either. I am so glad that I got ahead of the game but I dare say there will be some tweaking to do if this all goes to plan and we move out.

      I do hope you find exactly what you are looking for.

      • Hi Colleen, I am not sure I can really answer your question because I’ve never lived in anything larger than 1200 sq ft so I have nothing to compare it to really. I grew up in my grandma’s home which was the same size and housed 3 adults plus me. The first house I bought was that size and I had 3 adult roommates, a dog and a cat. I’ve lived in many apartments which were much smaller…most around 600 or 700 sq ft. I know what I do like about a small place and that’s the smaller sized bills that accompany it. Lower electricity bills, lower property taxes, and lower maintenance costs. I’d rather do other things with that money than pay for space we don’t really need.

        My husband on the other hand is used to having more living space and no pets, so I’d imagine it took some getting used to for him after we got married and moved into our condo. We’ve gotten rid of all of our duplicate items at this point (or atleast I think we have) and he’s gotten in the spirit of decluttering as well. We briefly looked at a 886 sq ft home but ruled it out as too small for us. 1200 seems to be about right for us at this stage.

        Good luck on your upcoming move!

      • Colleen, from my experience, the smaller a home, the more important is a good floor plan. And light!
        That’s about it. I once lived in a rather tiny home for three months. I think, about 32 square meters (350 square foot) for two (not a couple, but adult flat mates). Still, it didn’t feel small.
        It’s important that there is enough storage space (big closets, basement or whatever), and that both your needs for privacy and for spaciousness are met. (e.g. that little home had a sliding wall between the two bedrooms (or living room and bedroom), so you could open the whole thing and let fresh air in and host gatherings as well as space for a table to eat at in the kitchen). In my current home, the kitchen also is bright and a nice place to be in and has a set up table where we usually eat. It would be way harder for me to live with both desks (and noisy computers) set up in the living room and that comparatively dark bedroom, if I hadn’t the option of spending some time reading and drinking coffee in that third room (the kitchen) as well. Also sometimes, a friend of me comes over while my boyfriend has to make phone calls and it’s nice to not have to be in the same room then. These needs are probably different for every person, so it’s best to know yourself and your habits. Even very small things like a pretty balcony or a nook in the hallway where you could put a desk etc. can make “the” difference. For example, I like that we have a rather large laundry/storage room and a very spacious living room as well as an inviting kitchen, though this is at the expense of a second bedroom and means that the bathroom is rather tiny (yay! less cleaning!). Others might prefer more and smaller rooms. Anyway, I think you’re not going that small this time, so I think, you’ll do just fine!

  4. I’m sorry, but we don’t buy animals. Just like you don’t buy children.
    Your idea of scenarios is really interesting. Even more for people who could be in such cases and who could feel a bit lost.

    • Hi Cindy J, “bought” was probably a poor choice of words, I will go in and change that. I am glad you don’t buy pets as I am not a proponent of breading animals as pets myself. As much as I know how wonderful having an animal companion is, I am not convinced that it is ethical treatment to curtail their movement range and instincts so far from their natural behaviour. Rescuing abandoned or mistreated pets is far more ethical.

    • Cindy J – if you don’t mind me asking, what is the more pc word I should be using as per a financial acquisition of a pet? I’m not being facaetious, we have this story about the day we bought Nupi the cat as a kitten. We didn’t intend to buy him, but we couldn’t leave him behind at the pet store either. Best transaction we ever made. My husband and Nupi have a bro-mance and adore each other, most evenings Nupi is curled up on Adrian or climbing up onto his shoulders. Of course, Nupi probably thinks he acquired us and we are his minions.

      • Hi Moni. (The letters in italics don’t help to read, it’s an I.) That’s a tricky one, I don’t think rescued could apply. I guess there’s no other word. Let’s say you, your husband and you & Nupi, chose each other. I personnaly hate to enter into those kind of store, I end up feeling down.

        • Cindy I – sorry about the I/J – at the time we were surprised that nobody seemed to have kittens they needed to place, which was good news because it meant that people were being responsible about spaying/neutering their pets. In the pack we were given from the pet store, was discount vouchers for the first year’s vet care and de-sexing. The vet told me that there had been a big improvement in the area since he started offering the discount.

          Yes, Nupi the cat really truly believes that he owns us. He has this funny thing each night he sleeps on the end of our bed (on the faux fur blanket that has to be perfectly smooth or else he walks up and down me until I fix it) and after he sets himself down on the blanket, he turns and stares at the heat pump until I turn it on with the remote. We swear he thinks he’s turning it on with his mind control because he always looks quite satisfied with himself when it turns on. As I said, we’re his minions.

          • Hi Moni, it’s okay! I really love your story, family story. And your use of the term minions 🙂
            Unfortunetely it’s no longer the case (about spaying/neutering).
            Have a great day (I don’t know which time it is where you live, here it’s the morning).

      • Maybe adopt or acquire or chose as Cindy suggested? My husband grew up with purebred dogs and that’s what we get but we tend not to say “bought” more “we got her from a breeder” or “we chose her at the breeder’s.” Rescue might be the better way to go but it’s not happening at our house so I don’t worry about it beyond donating to groups that take care of animals.

    • Cindy J – I agree we don’t buy children but lets get real – we do buy animals ! We pay money to the breeder ,the pet shop or the animal shelter or RSPCA or Animal Welfare League .That doesn’t mean we don’t love and adore the animals we buy! And it doesn’t mean we give up campaigning to restrict the sale of dogs and cats from pet shops and puppy farms. It is a privilege to have these animals in our lives. But -really ,how else could Colleen have expressed herself ? (and she actually said ‘brought” , not “bought” ). Not wanting to offend but what is it that you are wanting to say?

      • Hi Jez. Actually, I’m not from America/Australia, and I don’t know the process of every shelter, even though I don’t think we pay in every shelter. For example, there is a shelter in my town, where you can adopt cats, and you do not pay. You can give donations for sure, to help, but that’s not mandatory. We should not go to ‘pet shop’, when thousands and thousands of animals are waiting for a lovely family to adopt them, when thousands and thousands are killed each year because of a lack of place. No, we don’t have to buy them. Organizations try to rescue as much animals as they can from breeders that hurt them, and hurt females who have to have more babies than they can bear. If I am not wrong, Colleen have changed it from ‘bought’ to ‘brought’.

        • Sorry Cindy J – I didn’t realise she had changed ” bought ” to “brought” . I agree that pet shops should not be selling puppies .It encourages an industry of cruel puppy farming and mistreatment of male and female dogs and it encourages impulse buying by people who cannot commit to caring for the dog for the rest of its life. It seems whatever country we live in there are far too many abandoned dogs in need of a loving ,safe and secure home.

  5. Ah, Colleen, Scenarios 3 & 5 speak to me. Mom has already had the hip replacement and with her age and my problems we need to be somewhere else but Mom won’t agree to that yet. Having gone through the house clean up due to death thing a couple of times I am glad we have gotten rid of as much as we have.

    • Hi Deb J, it is interesting that your mom doesn’t want to move. It isn’t as though you are living in a home that she has living in for thirty years, full of memories and hard to leave behind. Perhaps she finds the move itself traumatic. Maybe she will come around. She has with most everything else. 😉

      • Mom’s problem is that she really likes our place here (I do too) and doesn’t want to move to some place smaller and with less light. I understand that. I don’t want to leave it all either but the outside takes a lot of work and we don’t have the money to pay someone to keep it up. I’m afraid that we will still be here when we actually NEED to move and then will have a hard time doing it. We will see what happens.

        • Hi Deb J, that is a problem. Although Steve and I are quite capable of taking care of yard and garden we have no desire to so an apartment would be great for us. So long as I can still grow herbs on the balcony I will be quite happy. Everything else I can buy at the growers market within walking distance of the area we are looking at buying in.

          Is it possible for you to start looking. You may, like us, just stumble upon the perfect alternative and once she sees the possibilities she might take the plunge.

          • When we moved here we had no idea that there would be so much upkeep to the fruit trees, roses, etc. We also didn’t know that it was going to be so hard to find someone to do the work for a reasonable cost and actually do what we asked. Put it all together and that was one thing we didn’t plan for.

            I have looked and would like to put our names on a waiting list for a place near here but Mom doesn’t want to do it. I am going to see if I can get her to go look the place over. Maybe that will change her mind.

          • Good idea Deb. Once your mother sees how easy it would be and calculates to reduced expenses she might well have that change of heart.

        • Deb J – perhaps take the angle with your mum that its your health that is prompting your desire to move but emphasis that you also need light but less garden to maintain. I’m guess the last move was probably quite a big one for your mum and she may not feel entirely recovered from the upheaval, and probably feels quite nicely settled again.

          Although our house won’t be on the market until next year (at this stage) I have been looking at show homes and plans to get the feel of how houses are being designed since our one was built. This has been interesting as I have identified a few areas that aren’t being allocated as much space as what was in our house. Entirely academic at this stage but useful info keep in the back of my head especially when considering what could/should be decluttered next. You could take that angle too.

          • Moni, I’m afraid the only thing that will get through to Mom is money and seeing what’s out there. I have done a lot of research and a place called Glencroft is the best place for us costwise. She says she doesn’t like the place or where it is located. I am hoping to take her there for a tour. I hope it will change her mind. We will see.

        • Oh, I feel for you and want to hear when and how you succeed in moving. I’m a lucky one with my mother but concerned about my in laws. When my Dad had to enter a nursing home a few years ago, Mom was ready to move. She said she hated worrying about keeping up the yard and the house, particularly since there are a number of contractors who seem to think a little old lady with gray hair is meant to be ripped off (like the guys who installed wall to wall carpeting with big lumps and told her it was done perfectly: fortunately the business owner saw the problem when he got out to visit and had it fixed but that’s just one example). She was just tired of it.

          She moved to a building in town with very small apartments (the senior high rise as it is known) quite happily. And she knew how she wanted it to feel which meant getting rid of all kinds of things. She gave away and sold stuff before putting the house on the market and after selling the house. The apartments are really small and she’d been in a three bedroom home but she set up a very small storage place, bought furniture that fit the new space (keeping the large bedroom set that she loved) and moved in only what she really needed and really loved. Over about six months she went through the storage space and reconsidered, repacked and got rid of more. Her place is a showcase for the manager to show new folks as she has not overcrowded it and she loves it. She travels a couple of hours to see my sisters whenever she wants (no worries about leaving the house) and when she needs a yard fix they are more than happy to have her putter in their yard.

          In contrast, my in laws have been in their house for thirty years, in an area with miserable winter weather and we cannot get them to move. It doesn’t seem to be a problem with leaving the area, it is the actual moving part, so I feel for you. We have suggested that they simply move to better weather near some close relatives for six months to see how they like it: get a furnished place and we would ship whatever they wanted, including clothes, the teapot, favorite pans, etc. They won’t do it. We are so convinced that if they tried it for six (winter) months, they would know what else they wanted from the house and would want to just stay. We’d be very happy to pack up everything else, label it and store it for them (well, “happy” would not be the process but the result). I will be following your efforts to see if my husband and I can help his parents. They are just too wonderful a couple to be stuck in such bad weather.

          • Sassy, I think your inlaws are resisting for 3 reasons. 1. they don’t want to admit they are to the point where they need to do this. 2. they dread making the decisions needed. 3. they dread the effort it will take. If you have lived somewhere that long it means they are entrenched. It takes a lot for them to be willing to move. I suggest an intervention. All the kids get together and sit down with them to explain why you want them to move. Then be willing to do whatever it takes to get it to happen.

          • Deb J, you are giving the exact advice my mother gives! They are so entrenched that even thinking about moving, even with help to sort, pack, unpack, etc. it is all too much.

            I’m in an awkward position, what with being the daughter in law. My husband and his sister want them to move, have suggested it, but insist that their father shuts down any conversation he doesn’t want to have quite quickly (he’s British and can do the reserved side quite well when he wants to;-). I keep nudging them to push more but they haven’t pulled it off yet. I fear that it will be a medical emergency that causes a change and I hate to think about it happening in emergency mode.

          • Sassy, that’s why I suggested the intervention if you can talk your hubby and his sister into it. My brother was having little to do with the family when I tried to get my father to open up about things. Then dad died 2 months to the day of getting him to sign a will. I still didn’t know where things stood financialy. Let me tell you that it was horrible for the next two years while I took care of it all. We couldn’t afford for Mom to stay in the house, she was in no place to make good decisions, and I had to deal with all the emotions too. They had a 3600 Sq ft house packed. It’s 20 years later and we are still dealing with some of the clutter because Mom was so emotionally in la la land that she didn’t want to let go of much of anything. You need to sit your hubby down and tell him some horror stories you have heard here and get him to then tell them to his sister. On the day my father died my Mom’s income was cut in half, there was very little in life insurance because of some small print my father never read and they had huge bills because they hadn’t owned the house even 5 years. You husband and his sister need to know exactly what his parents have as far as finances in place for retirement or in case of death and they need to get things in place so no one has to go through what I did. I’m speaking for those who didn’t know to do this.

        • Deb, it is just heartbreaking to read what you went through; sending some hugs and good thoughts your way. Yes, I am afraid that we will face that situation with my in laws (one has mobility issues and one is losing eyesight so if something happen to either one, there is a major problem) and I can see it coming and can’t seem to get the train stopped. We’re fortunate that my Mom at least has everything in order, has shared it all with us and my sisters live close enough that we’ll know if things are a change.

          • I wish there was some way to get through to parents. So many times it takes someone outside of the family to do it. Drove me nuts. My father would not talk to me about anything. He took it as questioning how he did things–like I was accusing him of poor money management. It was sad.

  6. For me, I like Scenario 1. But also 3. Our house has stairs to a finished attic that serves as my office/craft room/alternate TV and I very much know that I’d like to avoid stairs if at all possible in future homes.

    Off topic, but I wanted to share that on Saturday we dropped off to the cat charity all the items I have been decluttering since I found this site many, many months ago. The gal was so happy to have our things. Colleen, you’ll laugh – my husband told me dozens of times, “You can’t get rid of that!!” I stuck to my guns, but gave in on two items that don’t really take up much space. A small camera and a leather briefcase. We don’t use them, but I wasn’t going to argue about each item. The most funny battle was over my snowboard, if you can believe that. “But we might take up snowboarding again!!!” I told him that we’ll want new and improved equipment then. LOL Every time he battled with me, I kept laughing, thinking of you. The attic now looks pretty good, but as I gaze around, I can still see things that we really should send on their way. I guess it’s an on-going process. 🙂 Thanks for all your encouragement.

    • hi Michelle, it certainly is an on going process. Circumstances change or we become so removed from the old ones that it has to make sense eventually to let stuff go. I am sure he will come around to your way of thinking eventually. When he realises that you haven’t missed anything that is gone. And for Heaven’s sake if you do miss something, don’t tell him. 😉

      • Righto!! 🙂 I wish we had had time to go through the shed, but with all the projects that we’ve been doing, I guess we’ll have to tackle that later. There are only so many hours in the day. I used to work for this guy who would say, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I don’t feel like eating an elephant but someday soon . . . . declutter the shed!! 😉

        • I have heard that saying before Michelle and I think I have eaten an elephants a year for the past three years. 🙂 They were a little chewy in places but overall I enjoyed eating then. 😉 Hopefully there is only one small calf to go.

  7. We’ve done #1, #4, and #5. Have no desire for #2. When my parents cleaned out two family homes when my grandparents died in the same year, they committed to not making us do the same when they died. I was very grateful for their foresight. Now I hope to pass on the kindness (and not the junk) to my children.
    Colleen, I’m off to declutter that drawer and cupboard now. (Monday and Tuesday mini missions)

    • I have done #4, and have been watching my son experience #2. I dread #5 and am already ahead of #3. As for #1, we are living that scenario right now.

      I think I will follow those two missions also as the less stuff I have the easier it will be to follow through on #1. I am excited at the prospect.

  8. These scenarios triggered a thought that I will have a real life scenario in a couple years. There will be a large sports event near our home — apparently we will have the opportunity to rent out our house for a week for a hefty sum. I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that idea- but keeping with my current decluttering schedule will at least give me the option to do it when the time comes. Having fewer personal items and clearer rooms to clean and prepare will at least make it possible.

    • Hi Vicki K and welcome to 365 Less Things. I think I would ramp up the decluttering and go for it. I dare say you could make some very handy cash. I will keep this scenario in mind should such and even happy near to me. I would be very happy to cash in on a situation like that.

  9. Good scenarios Colleen – it would be the shame to miss an opportunity in life because of being bogged down with stuff.

    Do you remember a few weeks ago I mentioned I felt it was time to go thru my pattern boxes? Well, last night I did – initially I was swamped with a “I can’t get rid of these” feeling and I couldn’t fathom where the feeling had come from. Why was I reluctant to get rid of child size patterns? Mostly leotards, unitards, costume stuff. My girls wouldn’t fit them and I don’t sew for the junior part of the dance school anymore, so it was bizarre that I felt that way. I think it all comes from a time when I first joined the sewing team and felt creative, resourceful and useful again. I can be all of those things without owning these patterns.

    I got Dayna to help me as she also sews. In the end there were only 7 patterns that we felt were of use to us out of the hundred or so. The more useful patterns are being donated to the studio – have asked the teacher and she is keen to have them available to enthuisiastic new sewing mums, and the rest will be offered to the local seamstress who I refer a lot of work to.

    Now instead of having three storage boxes sitting in the ceiling storage I should be able to fit them all into something shoebox size which can fit easily into the hall cupboard. More accessible and even less stuff up in the ceiling storage.

    • Hi Moni, well done you letting go of all those patterns. I can understand your feelings of attachment. I have felt the same way many time during my decluttering experience. Perhaps just letting go of part of your history is a large fraction of the equation. Also I find things that have been useful and great value for money due to that usefulness harder to let go even when their time is done for me. Luckily n the end common sense prevails.

    • I’m so impressed with you letting go of those patterns. It’s so hard to let go of things that represent something we were so involved in — I am working on it all the time but tend to only go part way through the pile of whatever I’m trying to recognize is not really part of my life any more. Good for you!

    • Wow, great job Moni! I know these things can be difficult, but YAY you!!

    • Wow, Moni!! You did good. Doesn’t it feel good now you are done to have all of that gone? I’m proud of you.

      • Deb J – yes it felt surprisingly good but I was really surprised at the wall I hit with emotional attachment initially. Didn’t see that one coming. As I’m getting to the deeper layers of stuff, the oldest stuff – stuff which I would have assumed would be the easiest to get rid of – I am really surprised to be coming up against this every time and over things which hold no huge value in my conscious brain or current reality.

        It was quite funny because I said to Dayna “what if I need these patterns again?” – I got a “are you for real?” look from her (16 year old daughters specialise in such looks). She said, “if you find yourself needing to make a 6 year old a leotard again, go and buy a pattern” – I went off on a tangent about the cost of patterns – to which she replied, “if you found yourself sewing leotards for a 6 year old it would be because you and dad had another child (she went off on a tangent about how that would eeeuuuwww at my ancient age of 40) and $20 for a sewing pattern would be the least of the worries and expenses at that point” – good point.

        • It would be surprising to have that sudden wall over things that are older. I sometimes wonder what causes our walls. I really wonder about Mom’s. I can’t figure out why she is the way she when there are so many things we don’t use. I really wonder if the reason is because they represent when she was able to do more and she resents not being able to any more.

          Dayna is a hoot. I think is is neat you have her there to be another voice.

          • Deb J – I knew on some level already that there was no reason to hang onto these but something from somewhere in my psyche stood up and threw a monkey wrench into the works (do you have that saying? an English relative used to use it). Which is why I asked Dayna to join the project as I know she’d put up the right arguments and would make me accountable if I tried to sneak them back up into the ceiling storage,.

            It would be really interest to have a psychiatrist let loose amongst us on this topic. I too, am surprised, that it is older stuff that I am hitting these walls with, I will try and figure it out – maybe it was a particular year or around some event – who knows? Anyway, bit by bit I’ll have to confront them all and eventually in the end it will be gone.

          • Moni, I like the psychiatrist idea. Would be fun to get one’s take on it.

  10. I “fear” scenario 4 is not too imaginary … no crawling yet but she tries hard already so I better get at it. Especially since everything Takes so much longer These days.
    I had some success with the basement lately, giving away a pile of wood and jars for canning jam and selling Some decorative but unused crates. Also Wood Stored in the attic finally was turned into a nice balcony floor. And a pair of beloved but worn out trainers finally was trashed. All Not really Helping with the babyproofing though …

    • Hi Idealistin, I was thinking of you when I wrote that scenario. Good luck with your baby proofing.
      And well done with your basement and attic decluttering.

  11. These are wonderful scenarios to consider.

    In regard to scenario 5, I had that exact feeling when my uncle passed. He used to look after my late grandfather as well, so it was two peoples stuff strewn throughout the house that my mother, aunts and uncles grew up in. The amount of stuff we had to sort through was crazy.

    One thing I did do though through the process was pack up all of his fishing magazines, which he had over a thousand of. Then I donated them to a fishing club, and they distributed it amongst their members. I love being able to find more direct ways to donate specific stuff to like that.

    • Hi Mark, this is a very common scenario for many people.

      I, like you, also love donating things to just the right recipient. It feels good to know that the items are more likely to be used and appreciated that way.

    • Mark – my inlaws have rats-nest tendancies, the house is always tidy but open a door or a cupboard – and don’t even try to get into the garage! They have given up the dining room to store stuff that came from my FIL’s father’s estate – but wait, there’s more – it also includes stuff from my FIL’s father’s mother’s estate (she went a few years before her son, lived to 101) – we have never spoken to them about considering decluttering, I don’t think it would be received well and as they live 5+ hours away I have decided to just get on with my own stuff in the meantime and hope that I don’t land that responsibility for a long time.

      • Moni. Oh wow, that’s going to be tough.

        I do agree that we need to focus on ourselves, and when they ask for our help, be there for them. We can’t force them to change, only show them how good life is when we simplify and declutter.

      • I agree with Mark, we can’t force change in others. However it never hurts to gently suggest it. Doing this by starting a conversation about your own decluttering and how if anything happened to you then the kids and your hubby wouldn’t have a big job ahead of them to sort through you stuff, is a good way to broach the subject without making it obvious that you are suggesting they do the same thing. Seed of thought…

  12. Hi Colleeen, unfortunatly, somebody I held very dear passed away last sunday morning. His wife and children are going through hell at this moment. It definetly helped me to realise what is important in my life. We also are trying to carry out his last wishes. Even if that includes a 16 hour road trip (loooong story).

    Unfortunatly, that also means that my favourite hobby is done for this year and that I’m entering the winter season (except for one weekend in october, which was his weekend). It enables me to do some repair work (yay for repairing!) and some project which were on my to do list. I’m going to ask some help with some projects, and I have comissioned things (small things, for that matter) for a flying start next year.

    • Hi Dymphy, I am sorry for your loss and particularly sad for his family. A situation like this would certainly make you think about what is important in your life. I wish you safety on your road trip and I hope its completion adds a little happiness to this sad situation.

  13. These are great scenarios, Colleen, though for me, it doesn’t need any special imaginary scenario to declutter at the moment. I just know how little I use those things in my possession and I really can’t stand it anymore. It’s amazing how much there still is. How is that even possible?

    • It sounds like you have reached the title of decluttering expert. These items become easier to identify as one gets more and more ruthless.

      • Colleen, I’m really astonished. We still own e.g. a ridiculous amount of dinnerware and many purely decorational items. Given my sloppy nature, things still get out of hand here often enough and chaos reigns temporarily. (though I do gain control quicker and more regularly than before, as I mentioned) I’m still fighting subtle battles with my boyfriend over some things and some use-it-up-challenges are going on for years already (nonwithstanding occasional partial purges)… All of you with the big houses have been much faster decluttering – there can’t have been THAT much stuff in our apartment to begin with surely? I mean, we weren’t severe hoarders or anything, but I keep shoving so much stuff out of here… I really really want to reach “decluttered” now.

        • I feel for you Sanna. Keep going at it, you’ll get there. I am not totally decluttered yet either and we’ve been at it for about 4 years and our home is not large. My husband and I had both lived on our own for years before we got married so when we combined all our stuff for the first time, holy cow what a mess! We had doubles, or triples or more of just about everything. It takes time. We didn’t acquire all this stuff over night and we probably won’t get rid of it over night either. It sounds like you’re home is much lighter than when you started. Don’t be discouraged.

          • Thank you, Melissa! In fact, I’m not really discouraged, I’m more like looking at myself and my decluttering from a distance and shaking my head in wonder. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that it takes so much time and so many bags to goodwill – and I really wonder how much there will still be to go through. It’s more like a scientific study or something. Though I really wouldn’t mind it if I reached my goal soon. Whatever that goal is after all.

        • Hi Sanna, the ease of reducing the items isn’t about how much stuff you had in the first place but how personally attached you are to them. Whether that be sentimentally or a feeling of reliance on stuff, or fear of wishing you had it back once it is gone. Breaking those attachments is what slows people down. And always remember stuff isn’t clutter if you use it and/or love it.

          That being said, the chances are I might still have more stuff than you and just have a bigger space to spread it out in.

          • Colleen & Sanna – I agree with Colleen on this, was going to reply earlier but didn’t have the right line of thought ready – I have a bigger house but like Colleen said, I have more room to spread out and an area that I can drag everything when I want it out of a particular room and the luxury of time to sort through it without messing up a living area.

            I also had the blessing of my husband to go forth and do whatever needed doing to make our house uncluttered, I generally consulted with him but by and large he was happy to just see it gone. Also a lot of our clutter was what I call “bygone era” clutter and apart from a few emotional attachments here and there, a lot of it was obviously no longer useful or was obviously never going to be used again, ie stuff from when the kids were children, stuff from when the kids were preteens, stuff from sports they longer played etc etc so it was just a case of finding the right recipients of stuff or the right way of selling it etc.

            Also – dare I say this? I lived in the pre-digital era. And many of the readers here are also and we’re having a gleeful wonderful time digitising stuff onto hard drives and getting rid of the originals. Its very rare to hear of the more youthful 365’ers talking about video cassettes and photo albums. When my daughters buy a book, they buy a digital book to put on their e-readers – by time I was their age I probably already had my first 100 or so books.

          • You might be right about the spreading part. I make that experience when visiting some of my relatives whose houses seem always orderly and spacious but in fact hold many more things than I own. Therefore, Colleen, I’m actually looking forward to your downsizing. 😉 However, I actually like our “small” home (some other people I know live even smaller). It is spacious as well, when it’s cleaned and no major decluttering or other home project going on, but just as Moni mentioned, it’s hardly possible to just close the door behind the chaos, it almost always affects a living area.

            My boyfriend is on the whole rather supportive and sometimes purges quite a lot in one go, too, but some things take time and I’m not alway patient. 😉

            Moni, I think the “digital age” in it’s today’s form doesn’t really exist that long at all. When I was in elementary school, it was the era of cassettes and floppy discs, CDs came up when I was about 11/12 (I remember how when I was about 14 it was a big deal if someone in class owned a computer that could burn CDs – which is why we still made cassettes for friends, especially including our voices or other special stuff, way longer than that) and MP3 as well as USB sticks only really took hold when I was about 22. My teenage years were internet-free and I only got regular access to it when I entered college (during the first two years only at school and library computers, later I had it at home). My e-reader I bought not even a year back. So, of course I own(ed) CDs, physical photos and photo-CDs – and books. Probably not as many as if I had decades to collect them, but still, my consumerist youth was all about these media. 😉 Not to mention hundreds of physical letters from my teen pen-pals.

  14. I shudder at the idea of scenario five. My parents currently have a large four bedroom home that is stuffed to the gills, along with a full garage, full barn, full storage shed, full attic, and full basement. They own boats, cars, motorcycles and rental properties. To make things even more interesting they live about 3000 miles away from me. I don’t see myself being able to deal with all of their left behind stuff if they were to pass away. They are still fairly young, so let’s hope that day is far off and that they’ve down sized by then! If not, I really would be at a loss for what to do. It’s really a terrifying thought.

    • Perhaps, Melissa, it it time to open a conversation with them over this matter. They may not be receptive but planting the seed of though can have an effect.

      • I have discussed this and other more important related issues MANY times and it has fallen on deaf ears. I get dismissed with a ‘oh well, you’ll have to spend a month here’ and when I remind them that I work and couldn’t possibly take a month off from my job that gets dismissed as well. To be honest, I don’t think a month would be anywhere near long enough!

        As far as decluttering goes, that is a lost cause. There have been many items that they have asked me to mail back to them after I stated I was going to get rid of said item. This includes a sewing machine, a glass pickle Christmas ornament, a train set, and a sleeping bag. I have now let them know that I will not be mailing anything else back.

        • Hi Melissa, as we have said before here at 365, you can’t force change on others. Do some research in there area as to the best way to off load all the stuff now so you are forearmed for the inevitable. That way you can dash in get things sorted as quick as possible and be done with it. Research, secondhand dealers (pickers), specialist traders in the stuff they have, scrap merchants etc etc.

          I am glad you have stopped the madness of send stuff back to them. No point in encouraging the behaviour you are trying to discourage.

          • Hi Colleen, I’m all for planning, but since my parents are in their 50’s it seems like doing research now is a bit futile as it’s likely I won’t need that information for another 30 years or more in the future. Surely many businesses will go under, company policies will change, etc etc in that length of time. It’s likely that my parents could move in that time as well, so I think that research is best left for later when it would be a more productive use of my time. Hopefully they will downsize in time.

          • I did send one last box back to my parents yesterday. I was sending a package to my sister anyhow that contains some crafting items I no longer use that she can use. There were a few items that my mom was sentimental about that I was ready to donate…those animal figurines that my grandma, great grandma and great aunt helped me collect when I was a kid that I mentioned recently, a jewelry set that belonged to a deceased aunt, and a bracelet that belonged to my dad when he was a baby. Since they were of sentimental value to my mom I figured it wouldn’t be right to not send them if she wanted them and I didn’t. I did decide to keep my favorite one of the little animal figurines.

          • Yes Melissa, I would have been inclined to offer items like that to other family members myself rather than just let them go.

            I didn’t realise your parents were so young. Yes research would certainly be a little premature.

  15. Excellent post, Colleen!

    In our house, it’s my husband who collects loads of stuff and has a hard time letting it go. He’s several years older than I am, and I’m constantly reminding him of one of the same things you mentioned–that he’s not getting any younger, and if he waits much longer to sort out his shop and yard space, he risks not being able to do it at all due to mobility issues, possible illness, etc. Even though I’ve offered many times to help him declutter and organize his stuff, he hasn’t taken me up on it yet. He feels I’m a little too “ruthless” in my decluttering for his taste, ha ha.

    Also, I know I’ve mentioned it here a couple of times before, but I grew up on a farm. My father passed away two years ago, and when my mother is gone, we kids are going to have a HUGE and overwhelming project trying to sort through, decide about, then get rid of all the stuff that’s on that farm.

    My parents were young children during the Depression, so I’m sure that’s where they picked up their tendencies to keep everything that “might be useful”. You can imagine what would accumulate on a farm over more than fifity years.

    We’re going to have to sort through an over-stuffed house, a farmstand, a barn, a huge storage shed, some greenhouses, and all the outside equipment that remains.

    It’s going to take months of full-time work for us to get through all that, and I dread it. I’m glad I’ve been a regular declutterer for many years because I wouldn’t want to leave a project like that in my house for my daughter to have to deal with when I’m gone.


    • Wow, that sounds like you and your siblings will have your work cut out for you. I don’t blame you for dreading that project. I feel the same as you that I wouldn’t want to leave that kind of project for anyone I care about when I pass some day. Sorting, shipping and selling things is quite a time consuming task. I hope that the farm isn’t too far from where you and your family live.

    • Decluttering Diva, I’m sorry to hear that you have so much ahead of you. It is a heavy weight. Added to that is when the time comes to go through it all you know that not everyone will agree. I have a friend whose dad died and her mother was left with a huge farm to get rid of. She has moved into town and is slowly trying to go through things and sell/give away. There are arguments among the kids about it all. Actually, it is between two of the sons and the mother. The mother wants to sell the farm but the two boys both want it but can’t afford to buy it. They want the mother to let one of them buy it on payments. The mother needs the money from the place to provide her a living. It’s her retirement.

  16. Your scenarios hit a nerve with me, too. Since my father died, I have become the primary caregiver for my 92 year old mother. She always wanted to stay in her own home and she has. I’m dealing with an old family home where she has lived and accumulated ‘stuff’ for 40 years. Should I mention that when my grandparents died everything from their two bedroom flat with a basement storage unit and attic storage area moved into this house as well?
    Any day staying in this house may become impossible, or moot, and yet my sister and her family resist my efforts to disperse the family heirlooms, donate what I can and clear out the rest. At this point, my mom is more concerned with people than things. If I could find a two bedroom apartment near my sister’s house so she could have me in the spare room and my sister down the street, she would be very happy and content. But, of course, I have to clear out and get rid of the house first.

    • What a mess. You are dealing with all this and your sister and family appear to somewhat less than helpful (is that tactful enough?)

      If your mother would be okay with the move, and is in a position/condition to say what she wants done with the heirlooms, then you have all the permission you need from my perspective. Why not find that apartment and move and then have a deadline to deal with the house.

      If your sister is just saying “no” then your mother could offer her whatever your mother has not designated for other people and give her a deadline to pick it up before it is given away or sold. But if your mother wants heirlooms to go to specific folks, then your mother might be ready to see them move to their new owners and feel their appreciation while she is still around.

      My folks gave me a piece of crystal that I had great memories of being with my father when he bought it for my mother when I was 12. They had asked us girls what we wanted from the house (so they would keep it and not give it to someone else) and I told them that that piece of crystal was most important to me…they gave it to me on my next birthday and I cried (I never cry at gifts) — it is most precious to me and we all relived the stories around it at the time. But as I’ve said before my folks were ready to simplify things themselves and they gave us opportunities to ask for things. So it seems normal to me.

      • Actually, my mom and I have asked my sister to take everything she wants. The one thing I wanted is gone and I’ve kind of moved on from it and I know my sister will never allow our cousins to have anything, so it’s all hers. The problem is she can’t bear to part with anything, no matter what condition it’s in. Her house is already full of her own collections and my brother-in-law is not happy about adding any more things, much less a whole house full of them!
        Be grateful that you and your parents were all ready to simplify at the same time. Our biggest problem is that we’re in such different places and see things from such different angles.

        • Joanie, your sister sounds like my aunt. She wanted everything and has it all stored in her house. Now they want to downsize (ages 76 & 80) and they are faced with getting rid of it all. Her husband is more of a problem than she is because he doesn’t want to get rid of anything and she does.

    • joanie, if you Mom would prefer to move close to your sister with you I think you should work to do it. maybe if your mom told your sister that she wants to get rid of things and move it would help. Good luck with the entire thing. I know it is a heavy weight.

      • I found this blog a few weeks ago and in one of the first comments I read someone, can’t remember who, said she counted every thing as a thing – big or small – and it’s helping me to get moving again. I have to work around the edges, not getting into the areas that cause trouble with my sister, but I’m trying to get something done every day even though it may be very small.
        ‘A thing is a thing’ and every one of them that I donate, recycle or toss is one less to deal with and puts me closer to my goal. I hope that doesn’t sound too foolish but I have to start where I am and keep myself going forward.

        • Joanie, one thing at a time is great. That’s the big idea behind Colleen’s blog. If you just get rid of one item a day you will have 365 less things in a year. If you can do more that’s fine but one item gets you a long way. Maybe you can spend any time you have getting rid of all the things that won’t mean anything to your sister. Stuff that she already has and won’t have any attachment to. It’s amazing how much of the hidden stuff you can get rid of without anyone objecting. Figure out what you have to have to take to an apartment and then gradually get rid of anything else that she won’t notice is gone. Hopefully that will pare things down enough that she won’t want that much. Or tell her you are going to sell everything so you Mom has more money to live on. I had a great aunt that did that. She knew there would be problems so she just sold everything but the most important and lived off the money. No way anyone could fight. Good luck. I know it is a real pain to have to deal with all of this.

  17. Hi all,
    I’m gonna sound like a hard ass here but ‘Who’s stuff is it anyway’. If there is one thing I have learned over the last few years is to question everyone when they ask for something. I was de-cluttering ornaments ‘Uuuggghhh’ and my sister said to me that I can’t get rid of it because she bought it for me!! I said yes I can because it is mine, to which she said but you love it! Not anymore, it doesn’t fit my life now and I can pass it to someone who can make use of it. I laughed so hard at the look on her face, but, when I said would you like it back I got a “Hell No it’s not my thing”!!!!!! This prompted me again to get her to learn ‘Brain Change’. I want to get rid of whatever I want to get rid of. I no longer place emphasis on ‘THINGS’ I no longer want to have ‘STUFF’ I don’t use or want or need. I want to have the room to move but not to fill with needless things, only those that I truly want to have and take care of or take the time with!! My stuff My choice.

    It has been a rollercoaster and after having cleared the ‘Stuff’ of much loved relatives that have passed, it really hit home as to how much can you take from the process. I have been pointing my loved ones towards lightening up and thinking about the future. I don’t want anything to happen to anyone but let’s be real, it will, after the dust of the ‘loss’ has settled there is so much for the loved ones to do and that is on top of grief!!! It’s hard and it’s horrible.

    A friend of mine was over the other day and we were discussing the inevitable, and she said to me that everyone needs to learn the art of ‘De-Crap-U-Lation’ haha honestly I nearly died laughing. It is a word she uses with her family because they are so far flung apart in distance but very close at heart, she is very jocular with them all in saying, “When one of you bites the dust, I want a de-cluttered path to your last resting place and don’t even think about leaving me an old teaset” “let’s talk about it before you take a Swan Dive”!! Seriously I almost broke a rib laughing. I so see her point though, the whole family is good natured about the last hoorah, and I so see the benefits of it. Alas, not all have that open line with loved ones, but it sure makes you want to start. I do what I can and if I get anyone of my family saying to me ‘I can deal with it when they are gone,’ my reply is always, $100 and a carton of beer for the 2 blokes that’ll take it all to the op-shop!!! Needless to say the looks on faces is priceless. I am happy to downsize all my stuff and more than happy to help anyone else do the same, it is great fun when you lighten up and start to feel the change, I for one love the fact that I don’t feel attachment to items that aren’t really important. The one’s that are, I use and think about the one who gave it to me. I use it I don’t store it, well except my Christmas Decorations!!!!!

    Love to all and maybe we could Colleen might like to use the phrase, ‘De-Crap-U-Lation Missions’ heehee:) love to all and stay safe !! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  18. Scenario One is what keeps me going. Living in a house was not quite what I thought it would be and after being in this particular house 10 years I’m looking forward to downsizing.

    I keep going through each room trying to decide what can stay and what would be best to go. I think I’d rather wind up with too little stuff when I move than too much. I really don’t want to repeat my last move where I had to drive a huge truck from one province to another in Canada. No fun. And then when I did get here a lot of stuff was never unpacked anyway before I decluttered it. Clutter beware.