You are not your stuff

The biggest cause of clutter in one’s home is believing that giving away one’s stuff is giving away a piece of oneself. Thoughts like that will leave you paralysed from ever getting rid of anything or at the very least make it a very unpleasant experience. Repeat after me…


Consider this idea instead…

With every new day my life becomes a little different to the day before. I get older, my loved ones get older and we all alter to suit those changes. Looking back brings wonderful memories and some sadness at times while looking ahead is a lottery of potential outcomes. The time to live for is now.

 What we needed or enjoyed in the way of material things in our past will likely be very different to what we need now or in the future. Anything that is no longer suitable to our lifestyle may just be holding us back from enjoying the present. Your memories are not encapsulated in your stuff they are inside of you.

 Sure the stuff can trigger those memories but my experience is that we encounter those triggers, unexpectedly, in the most unlikely places every day. Laughter, familiar facial features, a browse through an antique shop, visiting someone else’s home, old photos, names and everyday object can evoke those memories. So storing stuff in your home is unnecessary to remembering happy times and loved ones gone by.

“What if life comes full circle and I once again have a need for some of the items I let go of?” I hear you ask. Once again another futile question unless you wish your home to remain cluttered and to which I ask this question in return ~ “Did you every really need those items in the first place?.

If you regret the path your life is now on then do something to change it and make your stuff useful again. If that is not the case then move on. You are not your stuff.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter one small shelf in your kitchen.

Eco Tip for the Day

If you feel your family could stand to reduce their meal portions slowly reduce them over time. Not only is this a healthy habit but you will also waste less food.

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. I have never needed anything I let go of. We are not our possessions, indeed…

  2. Colleen, this is so true. So many times we think our worth or who we are is based on what we have/do/etc. That is so wrong. I’m so glad that I know my worth comes from God.

  3. “What we needed or enjoyed in the way of material things in our past will likely be very different to what we need now or in the future.” So true! While working on decluttering different areas of our home I’ve run into a quite few items that were used in the past but aren’t being used into my today life, so they’ve been given new homes- either to relatives or to Goodwill. In most cases I wasn’t holding on to these things because of memories or sentimental attachment but rather they just got away from me. The past few years had been very very busy for me- I finished grad school while working full time, got married, and moved into a condo across town with my husband. In that season of my life I was preoccupied with many things other than paying attention to every nook and cranny of our home and so things that weren’t getting used just got shoved aside ‘somewhere’ and forgotten about. Now that I’m in a calmer season of life my husband and I are both working on finding these things and sending them out to find new homes! 🙂

    • Hi Melissa, life can get very busy and complicated at times. I often think about that when I write my post. I think that finding time to declutter everyday is alright for me to say because I don’t go out to work like other people. I have all the time in the world for this mission. But also,, like you one needs to be able to slow down enough to realise that things are getting out of hand in the first place.

      • Well I think that although much of the time I had good excuses to not be decluttering, they were still excuses. In my home clutter is often a result of procrastination. I’ve been working on that though. 🙂 Now when I receive a gift I know won’t be used, I immediately find a new home (aka not mine) for it rather than just find a place for it out of the way somewhere in our house. I’m working on browsing the magazines I was holding on to for ‘when I had time’ and then getting rid of them. When new magazines come in I have a specific time limit (which is until the next issue comes) and if it hasn’t been looked at the old issue still has to go. For me fighting the urge to procrastinate (even when that urge seems reasonable) is key to getting our home in the shape I’d like it to be.

        • Fighting the urge to procrastinate certainly is a good place to start Melissa. Keep up the good work. And those magazines, buy less of them if you don’t have time to keep up. 😉

  4. Yesterday I pulled a few boxes out of the attic that I had already gone through about 9 months ago. Most of this stuff was just trinkets and such. But a few items ended up on the yard sale stack, so it was worth it. Unfortunately I will have to do this again when we work on cleaning the debris left over from a re-roof job (those guys dumped nails all over the place) and then insulate the side walls. Yuck.

    • Hi Michelle, sometimes it takes going through the same things over and over again before you are prepared to let things go. When you do your debris cleanup you may be ready to let go of a few more things in those boxes. However with the yard sale looming it would suggest you get as ruthless as you can now. As you say those boxes are just trinkets and stuff.

  5. Colleen, I really liked the idea of a constant metamorphosis. We are never the same; rather, we are always changing. Holding onto things that are who we used to be or thought we might be can really limit the directions that we grow.

    Thanks for the awesome reminder!

  6. Yes Colleen, when we realise the truth of that statement “I am not my stuff” it is like the sun breaking through the clouds 🙂

  7. So I culled some kitchen cabinets today, and I admit, I felt a few pangs as I put about 15 or 16 pieces I haven’t used in years in boxes for Ye Olde Charity Shoppe….and if you were to ask me right now what I put in those boxes, I couldn’t tell you except in the most general of terms. Just sayin’ !

    • Hi Shelley and welcome to 365 Less Things. Your comment just goes to prove that letting go is the hard part. Once the stuff is gone it is soon forgotten.

  8. Thank you, Colleen, this is so true. Sometimes it helps me to think of things in reverse. One time when I was visiting my dad a few years ago he was straightening up in the kitchen and picked up a cutting board. It was old, cracked, difficult to clean and unpleasant to use and he was about to throw it away, and then said no, he couldn’t get rid of it since I had given it to him and my mother as a gift when I was about 11. It had certainly been well-used and well-loved over those 30+ years and was now past its useful life, and I really didn’t want to be the cause of an extra item of clutter (he already had a new cutting board), and I’m sure that my friends and family don’t want to be the cause of my guilty feelings if I no longer have a use for things they have given me. As you say, our relationships are about memories and experiences, not inanimate objects.

    • I agree Christine. I have no qualms about getting rid of anything I have have no use for it or don’t love it, no matter who gave it to me or how long I had previously owned it. My relation to stuff has most assuredly changed over the last three years.

      • This is the way I feel too. For me the things I have that I don’t need become a weight on me. I feel like I have to use things if I have them or I feel guilty. It’s just not worth it.

      • please give me permission to get rid of the ugly vase my son made in elementary school (he’s in college now) it’s purple, green, and orange, sigh…but he made it for me. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care if I keep it or not, he probably doesn’t even remember it.

        • You have our permission.

        • Deanna – you definately have our permission. I hiffed some child-made gifts a while back and the kids were “why on earth have you kept that?”.

        • Hi Deanna, I think it is a good practice to ask about these sorts of things. If I have something my son gave me but I really don’t want it I just ask him what he thinks about it, whether he wants me to keep it or if he wants to keep it himself. Usually he says I don’t want it, do what you like with it. He has no qualms about doing the same for the things I gave him. Neither of us have any desire to lumber the other with clutter.

  9. Definitely, I could not agree more, we are not our stuff. Once a person realizes that and can detach themselves from their things, you can see clearly how true that statement is. Like you mentioned above, it helps if one can slow down a bit, and really take stock of what they own and determine it’s usefulness or lack of usefulness. However, if there is not a lot of time in the day, just like you always say, one item a day works great. I am glad that I have had some time to breath and really evaluate my things. It has helped me tremendously, but I know that not everyone has that option; therefore, the slow and steady approach gets the job done effectively also.

    No one ever says, “I really like that person because they own __________”. No, they will say they like a person because of their good attributes as a human being, that is what matters.

  10. I love today’s post Colleen.
    Feels like I am on the home stretch. Looking forward to a ‘lighter’ future. 🙂

  11. Beautiful thoughts Colleen.

    I am having a hard time convincing my mother that memories aren’t held in stuff, but my mother is still holding onto so much of her late brothers stuff, including receipts, random documents and objects he probably never really used, but just collected (he had major OCD). All I can do is keep the conversation going, lead by example, and send her along to this site for inspiration.

    • Mark – oh dear – I have a daughter with mild OCD but I am fortunate as she works in the opposite direction and is the neatest teenager on earth, in fact her most recent thing is to sleep in a blanket on top of her bed so as not to mess up her bed. This isn’t my first rodeo, so I’m just waiting for the winter temperatures to drive her back under the blankets. 🙂

      Maybe you ask her if she wants to remember her brother by his OCD or the real person underneath? And pick out the things that define him as the real person.

    • Hi Mark, you are doing the best thing you can for her. Gentle persuasion can have an amazing effect just listen to Deb J and the changes she had made with her mother. Talk to her about these things and why they aren’t important to her memories, little by little bit by bit and I am sure she will eventually let go.

    • Mark, one of the hardest things it to deal with someone like this. But let me tell you to not give up. I think Moni’s idea is good. Spend time thinking about ways to talk to your mom about this and taking it slow can work. Look for opportunities in conversations with her. When you are talking about what you have been doing bring up something you have deluttered and your reasoning behind it. As hard as it may be for you, learn to be very expressive about what you are doing and why. That really seemed to be the change point with my mom.

  12. Hi Colleen! I have realized that is true and it is thanks to my friendships and family 😉 . As I have made this journey I have yet to miss any item I gave up. Sometimes you do remember this or that item, but soon enough you realize you did not need it in the first place, or you have a good enough substitute right there in your home. As Jen commented above you never like anyone because they have this or that. And if anyone measures a friendship or a relationship like that, I don’t think I want to be friends with that person. So as I declutter and move to have the home I dream of, I always remember that I need stuff to be used, I am not my stuff and if it is not useful anymore it should not be stored in my home.

  13. Colleen – I’m laughing! Not at the day’s post, but it was more or less what I was trying to convey in a reply to Dizzy on yesterday’s post – we were discussing ceiling storage – I was trying to convey “altering to suit changes” as we both have older children and maybe we should be thinking a little more about NOT using ceiling storage to accommodate out of season stuff as we may not have children at home much longer to accommodate. Ironic coming from me I know as I have battled the ceiling storage since my beginning here at 365, but as I’m about to start another round up in the ceiling, I’m seeing stuff like family size tents, collections of chilly bins, two nesting sets of suitcases that will be surplus once the kids leave home, so I’m all for letting things not be replaced and natural decluttering occuring.

    An example is that we have 5 fold out beds up there, perfect for sleep overs and guest’s kids etc, but once all the kiddies hit the teens they were too heavy and the metal thingees which held the wire slat system together, started popping off and beside that the teens found them unfortable with their adult size weight. Its obviously time to move these onto someone can use them and consider an air bed or similar for teenage guests. It will take up a lot less room, probably would fit easily in the hall cupboard versus the ceiling storage.

    I think this post has been excellent as I take on the ceiling storage again as there are things up there that – in a philosophical way – be said to represent our ‘ideals’ at certain times, but not our current ideals. The heavy framed family photos Adrian put up in our last house because he’d just lost his grandmother and had many old photos copied – well, he hasn’t had the same need in the last six years hence why they’re stored, but it seemed almost sacriledge to dismantle the photos from the frames.

    Thank you Colleen, this post has been timely as it will help me define what we have up there into seasonal, past-ideals and not-to-be-replaced-once-it-breaks.

    • Hi Moni! Why, do you think, we find so hard to let go of old pictures? I have 3 of the same pictures of my grandfather. I have old pictures of my grandmother. However, I am slowly realizing that if there are no stories, those pictures are nothing to people who will come after me….I admire the way you seem to “see” the changes in your life and act accordingly.

      • Andreia – I’m leaning to seperating the pictures from the frames and as they are already scanned into the hard-drive, filing the photos in the concertina file along with the wills and insurance details and birth certificates and getting rid of the frames. You are right, the next generation won’t know who they are. I don’t think I can comfortably get rid of the photos at this point, but the chunky wooden picture frames can go.

        • I have this picture problem as well. We have a number that are of family back before I was born. My mom wants to keep them but since neither my brother or I have children there will be no one to pass them on to. I bought an 8X8 picture album and put them all in that. When Mom is gone I will ask others in the family if they want them. If they don’t then I will dispose of them.

          • Deb J – that could work too, I’ll put names etc on the back. It occured to me last night, that prior to the invention of photos or at least the reduced cost of developing/printing a photo people wouldn’t have had this problem.

          • Moni, you are right. We have few pictures of my Mom growing up or anyone else in her family before her. We get inundated with pictures from family now.

    • I am glad this post was so timely for you Moni. I hope it will help in your ceiling decluttering. Now that my kids are leaving home (Bridget actually has a date – May 15) our life is definitely changing. Not only will her stuff be heading out the door with her but some of the things I no longer need as well. I have saved a few things for her and I gave some to Liam as well. It will be interested to see what is left when her move is complete. It is funny because both kids keep asking “Do you want to keep this? Do you want to keep that?” They’d pick the place bare if I let them. What that tells me is that what is left is good useful or much loved stuff. I think I may have succeeded in my mission. I am sure you will succeed in yours.

      • Wow, that is not far off, Colleen. What a change that will be for you and for your home.

        • Ooh yeh, Jen. We could move our bedroom down stairs, close off up stairs and never go back up there until we leave here. This home will be too big for us very soon. Somehow I don’t think my husband would go for the moving downstairs idea though. Instead I will close off the door to the downstairs bedrooms and bathroom and pretend that side of the house doesn’t exist. That should make cleaning day easy.

  14. How true that what we need in one phase of our lives we may not need in the next. I was amazed by how much stuff I had in my home but never used once my boys became adults and moved out on their own. Just because I had it didn’t mean I needed to keep it. When I moved, I moved with two car loads and that was it after a life of raising a family, and no I’ve never missed anything I’ve given away.

  15. Today’s mini-mission to clean out a shelf in the kitchen. I cleaned out the top, very hard to reach shelf in the pantry. Nothing left but some shelf paper we use as the old gets worn and a ricer that needs to be given away or sold. Mom thinks we should sell it. WHY?? I say give it away. Also got rid of a few things on the next shelf down. Am working on that one. We have a bunch of containers in the back of the shelf (deep shelf). I say get rid of it all as we haven’t used it since we have been here. Mom says we might use it. Will try that one again later.

    • Deb J – its funny that you mention rice cooker (is that what a ricer is?) because Adrian has learnt to cook rice in a pan while he was away on a fishing trip recently and he’s been nagging to get rid of the rice cooker ever since. (Me Man, Me Make Rice!). I like the set-and-forget aspect of a rice cooker but I’d already decided not to replace it when the time came.

      I’m eyeing up a big stock pot in the bottom of my pantry – its really big. I’ve never made stock in my life, in fact I’ve only ever used it to dye some fabric with tea bags. Adrian occasionally will use it on the bbq hob element to boil corn on the cob, but I do have a reasonably big size pot in my pot drawer that will do the trick if we keep the number down (he forgets that most cobs are long and can be broken into two which is a better size for most people and so we end up with half a corn field in the pot).

      • Oh Moni, you sure always make me laugh! “Me Man, Me Make Rice!” lol I have a variation in my house, “Me Man, Me Fix Stuff!”

      • Moni, we too do have a rice cooker. Actually, I have about 5 ways of making rice (depending on the style of the food and the kind of rice I’m using), and I only use the rice cooker for one of them. Still, I like the “set-and-forget” option, too. (I think I still use it twice a week, I really like rice 😛 )
        But I don’t think, I’ll replace it either. You can make rice in a pot (or a pan) as well after all.

        • Sanna – I’m curious, what other rice dishes do you do?

          • Oh, it depends. I use the rice cooker for plain rice like you need e.g. for sushi or other Eastern Asian food.
            However, I also make risotto (in a pot), paella (in a pan), or if I make indian style food, I go for rice made in a pan with a little butter and vegetable stock, flavoured with saffron, if I make European style food with rice as a side dish, I make it with lots of water in a pot with salt, laurel and cloves. Sometimes I might do it completely different as well. Rice tastes differently if you cook it in lots of water and drain it or if you cook it with little water in a pot (gets more sticky) or a pan (more loose – well that’s not the correct word, I mean that the grains stay apart) 😛 I also use different kinds of rice for different dishes (long grain, short grain, basmati etc), so, maybe I’m just a rice nerd, don’t take me too serious. 🙂

        • Sanna – no I need all the ideas I can get – once upon a time I was out of town and left Adrian a shopping list. I asked for 5 bags of rice to put in our emergency kit, meaning 200gram bags, like the ones I had always bought for our kitchen stock. When I got home he’d bought 5 x 10 kilo sacks. And he’d lost the receipt so we couldn’t take them back. So we have enough rice to feed an army, but obviously the family doesn’t want to eat rice more than a couple of times during the week, so ……. any new ideas are appreciated! I haven’t attempted a risotto or paella so I will put those on my list.

          • Oh, wow, you still eat that rice? 🙂
            We buy 10kg sacks as well, though not 5 at once! 😉
            If you like Sushi, you might try Chirashi Sushi (“Scattered sushi”). It’s fast and easy and you need a lot of rice for it! 😛 Basically, that means seasoning the cooked rice with a mix of a little sugar and vinegar (in Japan, they take rice vinegar, but any mild white vinegar will do, e.g. white balsamic vinegar or whatever you regularly use) and putting it in a shallow bowl (soup plate), then top it with whatever you like, e.g. cucumber sticks, crumbled eggs (made whisking eggs with a spoon full of sake/white wine and a spoon full of water) and fried minced chicken meat (seasoned with a spoon of soy sauce, a spoon of white wine/sake and a spoon of sugar) or smoked salmon, tuna, avocado, radish, really whatever you like. It’s really fast (rice takes the longest) and one of my favourite dishes. I don’t know whether you like sushi, I just mention this as many people think, making sushi always means a hassle, when really the “housewife version” is so easy to make.

          • Sanna, you sound like you are the Rice Queen. I love rice but as a diabetic I have to be careful to not eat much of it. You have some good sounding ideas there.

          • Haha! It’s funny how we sometimes love simple food so much, isn’t it?
            I really can swoon about things like rice or lentils.
            No need for foie gras for me!

      • Moni, I’m sorry I didn’t think to explain. A ricer means a cone shaped metal gadget with lots of holes. We used to put apples in it and use a wooden device to smash the apples through the holes to make applesauce. Mom has always called it a ricer.

        I’m with you on the stock pat. Mom always wanted one so back in the 90’s I got one for her. It had a double boiler insert too. I think she used it 2-3 times. So it went out early on in our decluttering.

        • Deb J – the stock pot has been sitting on the bottom shelf in the far corner of the corner shaped pantry – this year I have been yielding quite a bit off far corner cupboards. I’m thinking that it would be a better place to store our chilly bin (esky?) so I’m not toddling off to the ceiling storage for it. We are down to just two now plus some coolie bags that could sit in the chilly bin.

          Ricer – I think my grandmother had one of those – I’ve seen these fold out with heaps of metal ‘petals’ things in the shop recently, my grandmother also had one of those which I believe is for steaming smaller portion veges such as brussell sprouts, cauli and broccolli – my friend wanted to buy one for sentimental purposes (ie her grandma had one too) but talked her out of it.

          • I think I need to put out a picture of this ricer. The petal thing you are talking about we call collapsible steamers. We used to have one of those but when the microwave came along stopped steaming things any other way but the micro.

          • I keep my coolie bags in my chilly bin too Moni. Best place to keep them all together.

  16. Mmm…it seems to me the problem is if “I am not my stuff” then what am I? When facing mayor decluttering stages at home I realized I had been holding onto all that stuff just because it was easier to bring in than to take out. Taking out meant stopping and facing myself and telling myself: “Ok, you’re not all these papers, clothes, utensils, etc” Then what was I? Because there was a time in which I truly believed I needed all that to define myself, my lifestyle, my points of view. My purges have left me unprotected, exposed (and good God, I didn’t like what I saw) but they have also forced me to start from scratch, to allow myself to see the world in a new way, to rediscover me and to talk to me ’cause I was going deaf from all noise that stemed from my stuff. Now that I know I’m not my stuff, I’m building from there…it’s very hard work, but it’s worthy all the way!

    • Marina, it sounds like this has been a major life change for you but a good one. I’m glad you are embracing this and not running away from it. I’m cheering you on.

  17. I see this topic as popping up every now and then on the Minimalist blog scene, and while a lot of information about uncluttering and organizing becomes terribly redundant, this affirmation that we are not our stuff needs to be reaffirmed as often as possible. It so vastly inportant as a mental and spiritual defense against the onslaught of commercialism and ultra-consumerism. There is constant bombardment, and it’s been said many times before, but I will say it again, these advertising commitees have got us figured out! They know exactly what buttons to push! So it is that much more important for us to literally tell our selves that we are not things and our things are not us. I, too have a deep faith in God but for so many who don’t they especially need to understand this basic, universal concept “You are not your stuff!”. Stuff is trivial, people are not.
    I just wanted to add that I have been so blessed by your blog, Colleen. I started reading a couple of years ago but don’t comment (I I think I may have once). Usually when I think of commenting someone else has already expressed my sentiment, or I am finding an older post for the first time that really touches and inspires me. Thank you for the encouragment, the inspiration, and the motivation you and your friends and commenters provide for me and by result my young family. My preschoolers are growing up in a home where their parents don’t fight over money and they don’t have to worry that things are more important than their happiness, or that Mommy will throw a nasty fit if something gets broken. I can’t tell you how many times I have referenced your blog when I needed a moral boost on my slow journey to minimalism. Your heart is truly in it and your life experience is priceless to me. Thank you!

    • Hi Jean, you may not comment often but you sure do leave a good one when you do. Thank you so much for letting us all here at 365 Less Things know that we are helping inspire you to a happy life with less stuff. Your beautiful children will grow up better for it.

      Advertising agencies have not only got us figured out they actually attached those buttons so they could push them when ever they have something to sell, which is all the time.

    • Hello Jean

      That was a thoughtful, insightful comment followed by a deserving heartwarming thank you thank you to Colleen. I hope to read more of your comments in the future.

  18. Well said everyone!

    On the subject of ‘Stuff’ No we are not our stuff, never will be our stuff yet we all hold or have held our stuff in high regard. Just yesterday at Dance we were talking about the amount of stuff I was getting rid of and the crisis in Korea and various other topics and the death of Maggie Thatcher and I mentioned along the way that sometimes it feels like the world has had a hissy fit etc etc etc, when one of the mums said “Ooohhhh look Target is having a sale on blah blah blah!!!!!” What the Freakin’ What The!!!! I laughed so hard I swear I tore something. I had to laugh or I may have beat her with the flyer hahahaha Bless her!! She bought the conversation to a grinding halt and into a laugh fest by declaring “What??? if the world is going to get blown up I want to be able to get some cheap sheets before they all go!!” World politics and everything aside I feel this lady won’t be de-cluttering soon but I have a list of sites for her to look at.

    I like the clarity I am gaining through having less stuff !!!!!! The more I chat about what I have gotten rid of the more I am noticing the Mums listening whilst sorta chatting to someone else. One Mum has asked me if I would have morning tea with her and help her establish a plan of attack. Woohoo !!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂


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