Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

On Sunday I received the following email from one of 365’s regular readers asking a question I am sure we all wonder about at times.

Dear Colleen

Tell me,  does this decluttering task ever come to an end?  I attacked my clothes cupboard this morning – shoes to go, shoes to demould and then decide, shoes to keep – a jacket for my daughter, two blouses to the hospice shop, a pair of trousers to try on (some time), and the rest to face another day. During six weeks of convalescing I have tidied away a mountain of papers, and organised the rest, read many books, and sent most on their way, and still I can hardly see a lot of change (except in my outlook).  Do we ever get to a stage where we can say “There’s nothing else to get rid of”? I’d really like to know.


I must admit after decluttering non-stop for the last, almost, 17 months I have often wondered the very same thing. That being said I am not getting impatient to see the last of my clutter leave the house in fact I am very happy to still be plodding along. I have noticed lately thought that I have gotten to the stage where I know I am now dealing with items I have been ignoring almost since the beginning. Items I have known that I intended to get rid of but for one reason or another kept putting off. I suppose this is a sign that I am getting to the bottom of the heap and will soon be entering the maintenance stage.

Back to the question at hand and why decluttering can feel like an endless task at times. First of all we have to face the fact that the clutter didn’t appear over-night so it isn’t going to disappear over-night either. There are lots of memories tied up in some of the clutter that makes it difficult to part with quickly. There are phases we have to accept we are done with before getting rid of the related clutter. There is some clutter that requires a lot of time to deal with like the mountains of paper the e-mailer mentioned above. There are many items that when removed don’t even seem to make a dent in the collection. And if you are like me and most of your clutter was well hidden throughout the house you really won’t notice it is gone unless you open a cupboard or two.

The e-mailer actually hit the nail on the head when they wrote this line ~ “I can hardly see a lot of change (except in my outlook)” ~ this is key to the situation. Even though it isn’t always visually obvious that we have reduced our clutter so long we know in our head we have and feel the relief from this burden lifted from our shoulders then we are winning the battle.

Decluttering can be a bit like weight loss ~ if you go on a quick loss diet you will likely loose a lot of weight fast and then put it back on again soon enough because you haven’t changed your lifestyle. If you educate yourself about better eating habits and change your diet to suit, then you are likely to have a gradual weight loss and the wisdom to know how to keep that weight off.  Similarly if you declutter in a rush only focusing on making room for the next thing to come along then you will be back to square one in no time. If you learn from your clutter, understand the tendencies that cause the clutter to accumulate and break those habits you are more likely to reach your declutter goal and never find yourself in such a cluttered mess again. This can take some time but it is well worth it in the long term.

I have decluttered my home quickly several times over the last twenty three years, getting rid of lots of stuff I didn’t want to take with me to my next location. In essence that was twenty three years of decluttering to end back at square one, actually worse than square one, with more stuff than when I started. In the last seventeen months or slow and steady decluttering I have learned so many lessons will have given me the wisdom never to get into that situation ever again.

So don’t be discouraged if your decluttering mission is taking a while just enjoy the process and soak up the lessons you are learning along the way. You and your home will be better for it in the long run.

Today’s Declutter Item

This is the craft clutter that I sold last week. I did bring home about half the paper I took to sell and the box of foam stamps at the RH bottom of the lower photo. I intend to drop the paper off at the school down the street before the week is up. The foam stamps I am not too sure about. I made $230 and donated quite a bit of stuff to the craft group who were so kind as to allow me to have the sale.

My Gratitude List

  • Something that makes me laugh ~ When comedy shows reflect the silly goings on in your own life.
  • Something Awesome ~ Freecycle
  • Something to be grateful for ~ The 9pm cup of tea my husband makes me each night.
  • Something that makes me happy ~ Doing little favours for people. That always feels good.
  • Something I found fascinating ~ How sometimes your comfort zone is actually a case of “better the devil you know” when actually the grass can be a whole lot greener on the other side.

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. Congratulations on getting rid of all that craft clutter!!! That is on my to do list.
    I loved Colleen’s question – I too don’t see much of a difference in my decluttering efforts so far yet either in most of the house but I am trying my hardest to just keep plugging along.
    This weekend we redid the floor in our master bedroom – that required me to move mounds and mounds of clutter to the garage to clear out the bedroom. I set up two folding tables in the garage and I am slowly going through the mounds. My husband and I have agreed that I can only take back into the master bedroom what will fit under the bed (My sewing table is in the bedroom so this is mostly fabric and other sewing stuff). This means I have to get rid of a TON of stuff. But my bedroom looks more beautiful and more grown up then it ever has before without all that clutter in there. It’s good motivation.

    • Hi Raesha,
      your bedroom also now sounds like a better place to induce sleep which is what it should be about. Sometimes we are forced into these missions by other circumstances and that is a good thing if we have been spinning our wheels and avoiding the task. Good luck with your culling and I hope you learn some valuable lessons along the way.

  2. Sadly, much like cleaning, I don’t think decluttering does end. But, if you look at your intake of clutter and change those habits and bring in less as well, hopefully it won’t be such a monumental effort in the future.

    • Hi Minhus,
      welcome to 365 Less Things and thank you for leaving a comment. You have hit the nail right on the head here ~ the less you bring in, the more responsible you are about the way you shop, the less clutter that is likely to build up in the first place. That is all key to maintaining whatever stage of decluttering you are at.

  3. This is a great summary of the process, Colleen. I never tire of being reminded of this, as I am still “in progress” too, and sometimes it can still feel like pushing a boulder uphill.

    • Hi Jo,
      I am glad to say I have rarely feelt the weight of that boulder. Right from the start it was my intention not to rush this, clamber for the finish line or force myself to do things before I was ready. I am glad to say if there was a boulder for me on occasions it has now eroded to the size of a pebble.

  4. I’d like to reiterate that the clutter did not arrive at your house at once, and it’s surely not going to leave at once. I’ve lived in my house for 9 years. Let’s assume (incorrectly) that when we moved in, everything was perfectly decluttered, and we only had what we needed, wanted, and loved. In the subsequent 9 years, my first child has grown from 2 1/2 to 11 years old, and a second child, now 8 years old, was born. We have gone through two major remodels (first bedrooms and bathrooms, then kitchen, living, dining, and adding a second floor). The infant and toddler items and too small clothes have been passed on, but just image everything else that has accummulated in that time! Kid stuff from all stages, all sorts of misc. supplies, tools, and extra pieces from remodeling, PLUS all the regular clutter of a boring middle-age life. That’s a lot of clutter, and it takes a long time to pare it down. Plus, as Colleen rightly pointed out, some really big jobs aren’t very impressive: It took me days to reduce and tidy my filing cabinet, but in the end, it looked pretty much like it did before. Other things, like the removal of a chair from our bedroom, are way quicker and make a bigger impact, but let’s face it, how many chairs can you really remove before you’re sitting on the floor? (Ok for some people, I guess, but not for me.) Hang in there; slow and steady wins the race.

    • Hi Cindy,
      well said. The solution of course in the future is to limit what you bring in and maintain as you go. Especially where children are concerned as they continue to grow from one phase to another. Staying on top of the situation is paramount.

  5. When I was organizing (and decluttering) for people one thing I made sure to tell them was that they would need to revisit the process at least once a year but preferably every 3 months or so. IF you EVER get to the point where you are done then it usually only takes a few minutes to check everything out. BUT, I have not seen a completely decluttered/organized home. I have learned over the years that it is usually a continual process because our tastes/needs change over the years. Things we keep now because we use them often enough to value them may get stored away just a few months from now and not used again. Chidren move out and we have things for them we/they no longer want. We downsize, move, add children, children leave, buy or sell a vacation home/RV, etc. Life is full of change and thus we will always have need for decluttering and organizing. For me it has gone from being a chore to being something that calms me and gives me new perspective.

    • Hi Deb J,
      of course you are right about this but I prefer to consider that the maintenance process. I would hope we have learned the lessons we need to learn to keep up with the changes and not allow the clutter to build up again. Although our tastes, needs and wants change over time I would hope we have learned to be a lot more selective and sensible about how we behave towards these changes and not overindulge in them.

  6. When I started decluttering, my goal was to get rid of 3 things a day instead of just one. Many days I got rid of more than 3 because I’d come across things I knew right away I wanted to let go. This was a good compromise (for me) between all-out decluttering and strictly 1 thing a day. I could really see a difference! After 4 months of this, it was getting so much harder to find 3 things a day (and my house was so much less cluttered!), so I’ve been getting rid of 1 thing a day for about 2 months now. Some things that were ‘keeps’ at the beginning of the process have now been let go because I’ve changed my goals, they’ve been broken, or other sorts of ‘natural progression decluttering’. I know the job will never be done since what’s considered clutter is always changing. Moral of the story? For me, seeing a big difference in the beginning really sold me on the idea and re-evaluating my process as I go is vital to keep up my enthusiasm. Now decluttering is just part of my life and who I am.

    • Hi Beth,
      I actually declutter on average one thing a day because there are always days where you are too busy with other things or times when one decluttering effort yields more than one thing. Due to my blog, I also make sure I have a buffer of about a months worth of decluttering in advance to cover holidays and unexpected emergencies. As you have probably figured out that the word thing is my case is subjective also, as my things are sometimes a pile of things, like the craft clutter last week. Last year I took a months vacation so I had to get ahead of myself and then not long after I came home my son was involved in an accident that kind if set me behind and I had to play catch up for a little while. Since then I prefer to stay a bit ahead.

      I am please you have gotten to a point where you feel content to step it back a notch and that you are finding that you are getting more ruthless as you go along. You are right about the fact that the job is never really done. It is a bit like housework, so long as you are still living, growing and changing things that once were useful will sometime become clutter but that is OK too. Hopefully though it will keep to a trickle now that we know to be more selective about what we bring in in the first place.

  7. I am by no means decluttered. But I try to complete a pass through the house at least once a year and while I have my perennial trouble spots, I can say that I also have areas I don’t have to spend much time on. I’m always happy when the post is to declutter the kitchen because I have sorted that area many times and really feel I use what is left even though there is a lot of stuff. We are big cookers and bakers and preservers and I can pick up each item and say that I have used it in a reasonable time. So it’s a good feeling and helps me keep going when I look at the overflowing library and craft spaces and jewelry still to go.

    • Hi Delores,
      Your kitchen sounds just right for you so no matter how much stuff is in there if it is being used constantly it isn’t clutter. Knowing where the weaknesses are in your home makes it easier to keep an eye on them in the case of your library, craft and jewelry.

  8. We can all sympathize with this feeling. I have been dealing with the paper monster this week, and though I feel great about making a dent and separating wheat from chaff, nobody else can see any progress yet (okay, there are 4 shelves which are empty-ish instead of jammed full, but that’s it). That’s one of the reasons it helps to ‘count things out’, it reassures you that you are making progress.

    I read a suggestion once that a good way to keep jazzed about the project is to, early on, get something LARGE out of your way. I’ve been neglecting that in favor of clearing room in closets for right now. But at some point, it’s time to get rid of the bed that’s too big for the room, the extra bookshelves, the awkward table that never worked in the space, the small desk nobody really uses, the ancient carpeting, or even the tired old paint.

    As I go along doing the little things, I am making room for all the big moves to happen some day. Can’t wait….

    • Hi Ruby,
      that is pretty much the same approach that I have used and now I have got to the big stuff. My huge display cabinet is leaving today at around 9am and I will be glad to see the back of that. You can’t declutter these things until the items that are in them have been decluttered. It is a process that has logical steps and I am happy to go with the flow in that process as are you by the sounds of it.

  9. I answered the question out loud before i read your reply, and it was pretty much the same. I have always decluttered, say every six months or so in a ‘fast and furious’ manner then relaxing back to old ways, it would all creep back on. Like a ‘speed’ diet, loose weight quickly, creep back on= back to square one.

    After the ‘fast and furious stage, a slow and steady approach needs to be adopted, this like weight loss is the key to loosing weight, and shedding clutter=weight left off and maintanence. An equilibrium, a happy place!!

    It took me many years to actually realise this cycle, but what a light bulb moment is was!! For me, money, clutter, and eating habits are all intertwined.

    Love all the craft stuff you decluttered, i bet you felt loads ‘lighter’ not bringing that home!!

    Sharron x

    • Hi Sharron,
      better to learn these lessons late rather than never, with age comes wisdom right! And yes I did feel loads lighter after the craft sale. I am now working on reshuffling the craft area so it looks lighter as well ~ slowly but steadily.

  10. I’d like to add: One reason for not seeing the end of it is the constant change in our lives that Deb J pointed out, another is, that you are just getting more ruthless the longer you are decluttering. I am probably somewhere in the middle of decluttering but feel like I have practically just begun to REALLY declutter. However some objects I did not even want to get rid of in my original plan are gone by now.
    I absolutely agree that we grow with the littlest steps we take – but so do our expectations. As soon as we realize how something makes sense and can’t imagine to go back to old habits our appreciation for our achievements to get to this point starts to fade. Sometimes I find old to do lists (yes, paper clutter … long way to go for me) and am surprised, how many of the to dos actually can be crossed off!

    • Such a good point about our appreciation for our progress fading as our expectations grow! This is where keeping a tally of what you have gotten rid of can really be a pick-me-up. Although, at some point, that list becomes clutter too, ha ha!

    • Hi Ideelistin.
      you are certainly right about the fact the the goal posts keep moving as we get more ruthless. I must admit I have probably decluttered more than I ever thought I would and am still going and that is the beauty of the slow and steady approach. We do learn and grow and improve in our outlook as we go along on this journey and not only do you have less as we proceed but we also want for less and that is the best part. I can’t say my appreciation for what we have achieved is fading as I go along I am grateful everyday for the way this challenge has made me grow as a person. Maybe that is because I relive it everyday when writing my blog posts and get to also enjoy the delight of helping others along the way.

  11. I am a teacher and I would be glad to receive stamps at my school! Why not donate them there

    • Hi Cathryn,
      I am strongly considering that idea. They were one thing I put top dollar on for the sale because I wasn’t sure I really wanted to part with them but now that I have got this far I think I could be easily swayed.

  12. This problem is why some minimalists recommend the tabula rasa method of decluttering.

    Basically, clear EVERYTHING out of a room. Only put back what deserves to stay.

    I have not tried it on a large scale! But it makes a lot of sense: if you have to choose to put something back in, finding a good home for it, you’re more likely to realise you don’t really need it. When you pick and choose individually, you feel lots more attachment.

    Sometimes I feel like tabula rasa-ing the heck out of this place! 🙂

    • Hi Jess,
      the only problem with that approach is the kaos that is caused in the process. I am all for that idea once I have decluttered to a point where I could do it without disrupting the household but at the start it just would have been too messy for me. Everyone has there own way of doing things though and I can respect that.

      • Hi Jess and Colleen! I am starting to consider the tabula-rasa aproach with my closet on the shelves part. It is getting annoying!:-s

      • Yes, I think it works better for people who only have adults in the household, or with quite a lot of spare time and energy.

  13. Hi Colleen! I think we go at decluttering in stages. I have now got to the stage of clearing surfaces. Don’t leave things on tables, counters and desks. I had this Epiphany and suddenly I realised I felt better with all the surfaces cleared of. I never felt like that before. So I am getting to a new stage of decluttering. On the other hand I still haven’t mastered my clutter in the bedroom, especially in my closet (sorry folks 🙁 ). So I think if we break the tasks down, we get manageable spaces alongside with a few cluttered areas, that will end as we move along. I can tell that even with my declutter story, I have made a huge progress this year, which makes me feel really good. But as I have shared over and over again, and will keep on sharing, there’s always more clutter, because, even if we don’t buy/bring clutter into the house we outgrow stuff. So something that is very useful now, might be clutter in future. Like all that craft supply you have been talking about. Let’s keep going because I see the light 😀 😀 😀 😀

    • Hi Andréia,
      I am glad you see the light. Breaking the task down into stages is a manageable way to deal with the mission at hand. When you start on your closet don’t think about anything else in the house, everything has its day and maybe this week is the closets time. I have found that those big tasks we dread more often the not turn out to be no big deal after all. We have just built it up so much in our own minds that we can’t imagine concurring it. In the last week I have achieved three such tasks, my trophies, my scrapbook supplies and a big display cabinet. All three things are now gone from my home and I am having so much fun rearranging what is left. When you exert power over the thing that you fear it is amazing how much momentum you can build.
      You concurred your office now show me what you can do with your closet. Here’s an idea, pull everything out of the closet, pile it up in the corner of your bedroom and then you will have to deal with it. You don’t have to do it all in one day just tackle some of the pile each day until it is all gone.

  14. I think tabula-rasa will work for me! I just bought a place! Yay, so excited and scared (first home buyer). I hope to move ‘slowly’ from home to new home, as my parents will be away when I ‘settle’ and therefore will be able to move little things at my own pace. Except for a mattress and a wardrobe, most stuff is small and car moveable.

    All of a sudden I’ve realised the shelf of Paulina Simons novels aren’t really worth their weight. Now, where to sell or give away – always a challenge, as selling can be SO drawn out!

    • Hi Snosie,
      this is the perfect opportunity for you to have a thorough declutter especially since you don’t have to rush out of you old home and into the new one. One car load at a time not taking anything that isn’t going to fit your new life. Then when you have everything moved to the new place you can deal with disposing of the leftovers. I bet a lot of readers are envious of that opportunity. Lucky you!

  15. What a timely post. Yesterday I told my friend that I’m wondering how many tons of clutter I’m still hoarding. But I now there is an end. Or better a steady state. I live in two appartments. One during the week for working and one where I really live. I got the second appartment after starting to live simple and it is very comfortable. I’ve never started to collect stuff there. And when I live there I don’t miss anything.
    So I have the possibility to live what I will achieve in my other home.
    It helps me to take a lot of pictures. Some weeks ago I found pictures of my rooms in the state before the clearing out. I was shocked!
    However sometimes I must be careful that decluttering will not become a hobby. We should not spend too much time with it.

  16. Sarah, I think you are so right that decluttering should not become a hobby. But I think unless someone is OCD we usually notice, when we are becoming ridiculous. (I do ;-))The key is to then find out why. Usually it’s some kind of avoidance (or procrastination … yeah, my topic at the moment). Easier said than done though …

    • Hi Ideealistin,
      This is probably the reason why I declutter most effective in the period before exams. 😉

  17. I tried the tabla rasa approach to clearing out my garage a few summers ago. Hoo boy. I hired some men to carry everything out and place it on the patio. Then while one of them swept the space and the other worked on the garden, I started sorting through the stuff. I set up a lot of it to be taken away by the city in the free “Bulky Pickup” that they give residents once a year. I set up some shelves in a better configuration and put all the camping stuff back nice and neat and ready for easy access. But there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know what to do with and so it sat there on the patio. Because I put it on top of some greenery–I assumed I would get it back into the garage in one day–the greenery died. I didn’t get it back into the garage in one day. In fact, it took several weeks! So as much as I loved the empty garage and seeing a huge load of stuff go away to Goodwill, neighbors, and the Bulk Pickup, eventually I had to deal with the stuff I was keeping. I dealt with it too slowly, and suffered a bit for it. My next garage cleaning will be a modified tabla rasa: I will clear out a portion, declutter that portion, then move on to the next portion. I can’t bear to see all that stuff out in the patio again. Of course, it’s worse now because many of my mother’s things are “stored” in my garage. When she moved to assisted living and I had to clear out her house there were many things she didn’t want to keep but didn’t want to give away or sell. I have them now.

    • Hi JanetW,
      that did sound like a disruptive declutter alright. Although the plan seemed good in the first place it really does pay to deal with fewer things at once. Work out how to dispose of something and let it go “rinse and repeat”. After a while you have enough space to more around and declutter effectively inside the space. I hope your mother won’t expect you to hold on to those things for too long as it is not fair to expect you to hold on to something neither of you want. Remind her every now and again that you have them and ask if she would like you to find a new home for them.

  18. Oh, this is such a timely post and hits me where I live. I have so many craft supplies sitting around the house and unfinished projects that I keep saying I’m going to do.

    I scrapbooked for years and started an album last year that I never finished. I don’t know whether to just abandon the project and get rid of the supplies or go back and finish it. I know that if I held a yard sale or a craft sale, someone would like these things that I am hanging on to. But I have this emotional tug when I think about getting rid of them.

    I also have multiple sewing projects (I do craft stitch) that are in various stages of completion. I can’t decide if I should keep them or give them away or sell them or vow to finish them and then actually do it.

    So this one really hits me where I live – amongst unfinished craft projects and lots of supplies that are waiting to be used. And it is weighing on me, whether I want to admit it or not. It adds to my stress level when I know I have projects that are unfinished but can’t seem to find the time or motivation to do them. And now they are just taking up space.

    • Hi Chelle,
      after I read your comment I went over to take a quick look at your blog and the cause of your problems with craft was right there for the world to see in the paragraph below your blog name. Bipolar disorder makes it very hard to stay focused on any project with the same frame of mind for very long. You can be full of optimism for the project one minute and feel it isn’t good enough the next. You thought you liked it to begin with but now you aren’t so sure. When things aren’t going to plan it is very easy to get frustrated and give up. The only way to ever get things completed is to set rules such as I am not allowed to begin a new project until I have finished the last one no matter what. This sounds easier than it is of course because when you are looking for an enjoyable creative outlet it defeats the purpose when you are forcing yourself to complete a project you aren’t excited about any more. You may find though that you get satisfaction out of reaching the finish line, so why not give it a try, pick a project you have had sitting around for a while, something that won’t take too long to complete and make yourself finish it. If you enjoy that go on to the next unfinished project. Instead of putting your focus onto the project, focus on achieving the goal of getting things completed.

      I find sometimes that I am in love with the idea of what the finished product looks like but the process just isn’t that enjoyable. For example I love the look of seed bead jewelry but to achieve the end result is very time consuming and it is very easy to loose interest before I reach the end. I much prefer a project that is faster and I get to see the end result more quickly. The only way to find out what suits you and what doesn’t is to begin and then maybe you don’t feel like finishing. I would suggest that when trying out a new craft pick a small project to begin with, complete that task and then move on to something bigger if you find it enjoyable. In the meantime don’t go in search of the next project because you will always find something cuter, fresher and more exciting than the thing you have become accustomed to that is right under your nose. Do not lead yourself into the temptation of something “better” until you have finished what you have already started. It is easy to suffer from an overload of craft stimulation.

      Learn your limitations and taylor what you do to that, otherwise you will just find yourself constantly paddling upstream. That is not to say don’t try new things just work out a system that works best for your personality that will cause you the least amount of aspirational anxiety.

      By the way Chelle, I would like to say welcome to 365 Less Things I hope you find what I write about here useful to your everyday life. The little bit I have read on your blog so far suggests that you have more than enough challenges in your life without added unnecessary frustrations to the list so declutter all those things from your home that cause you frustration of any kind and only leave the things you truly enjoy.