Today, people have a lot more “stuff.” Houses are bigger, there is more storage space, and with new technology, online “clouds” store our virtual photos, videos, and documents. It seems as though there are an infinite number of spaces to accumulate “stuff.”
Is it good to have so much stuff? Does all this stuff actually help us?
The short answer is no. Clutter makes people feel anxious, stressed, ashamed, guilty and less productive.
But if that’s true, then why do people have so much clutter? And what can be done to declutter our lives?
First, we have to recognize that we all have a tendency to accumulate. Perhaps in your case it’s documents, pictures, clothes, tools or souvenirs, with the clutter invading a bedroom, closets, the office, the garage, the computer, or even your entire house.
Some people accumulate more than others. There’s a continuum. At one extreme, some people have a minimum amount of stuff. They develop “Zen habits.” At the other extreme, some suffer from a hoarding disorder. This causes them to collect huge numbers of items, often of little value. This extreme cluttering endangers their health and security.
For the vast majority of people, clutter will never reach the level of a hoarding disorder. However, it can still be an issue that causes stress, interpersonal conflict, and financial problems.
So, when does too much stuff become a problem in your life? Here are some indicators that you need to make changes:
You have difficulty relaxing physically and mentally due to too much stimuli. Our senses overload. The brain cannot differentiate between what is important and unimportant.
You experience guilt and shame that causes you to blame yourself.
Alternatively, you feel anxious that someone will discover your mess and judge you for it. (Even if you don’t personally mind your clutter, there is a distinct possibility that others will take issue with it.)
You’re not sure what it will take to get through to the bottom of the pile.
The clutter is impairing your creativity and productivity.
You’re losing track of your bills and reminders amidst the clutter.
You’re running late to your appointments because of the time it takes to find your things when you need them.
Do any of these indicators sound familiar? The justifications people use for clutter vary. “I may need it later,” they may say, or, “It has sentimental value,” “I paid $75 for these shoes,” “I just like it,” “It is still working,” or, “I can’t get rid of it.” Researchers have discovered that, for some people, discarding their things hurts their psychological well-being.
But what can be done? Here are some ideas that may help:
Recognize your tendency to clutter. No change is possible without recognizing the problem.
Identify irrational beliefs that maintain your mess. Yes, you may need an object one day, but you need to ask yourself if you’re really likely to use it. Would it be better to just replace it when the time comes?
Ask these three questions: Do you really need it? Do you really use it? Do you really love it?
Decide if you want to keep, give away, recycle, or throw away items.
Evaluate the pros and cons. What is the burden of all this stuff in your life in terms of time, money and energy?
Accept that you will make mistakes. Sometimes you will discard stuff that you legitimately will need in the future.
Make peace with the sentimental stuff. You are not disrespecting your mother by giving away a vase she gave you. You can always remember loved ones without keeping all of their stuff.
Take pictures of the stuff before getting rid of it. Even though you will have more photos in the virtual cloud, they will take up far less space.
Declutter in small chunks. Start with one closet, one shelf, or a drawer. After that, go for bigger projects like an entire room.
Ask for help from a friend or family member. If it is too hard, get professional help.
Follow the one-year rule: If you haven’t used it in the last year, there is a high probability that you won’t use it. Give it away.
Set an alarm to declutter for short periods. You can go 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or two hours at a time if you have enough time and energy.
Practise meditation or relaxation. People who tend to accumulate things are usually more anxious.
It takes time, energy and money to declutter, but a messy life is too high a price to pay. As Wayne L. Misner once said, “Keeping baggage from the past will leave no room for happiness in the future.”