Many of us have the habit of gathering things and keeping them, even if we don’t need them.
It can be due to emotional attachment, habit, or laziness, but most of us are guilty of this kind of behavior in one way or another.
“I might use this someday,” you tell yourself, but that day never comes.
There are numerous practical disadvantages to this kind of thinking, but what if I told you that there’s more to it than that?
Keeping clutter around doesn’t only make you disorganized, it also affects the way that you behave and react to certain situations.
The truth is that clutter is stress-inducing, and hoarding is a very damaging habit that you are better off without.
Why do we keep so much clutter?
In one survey, roughly 1 out of every 3 participants admitted that they avoid spending time at home due to the mess.
Yet despite that, we don’t actually deal with our stuff the way that we probably should.
There are many things that we own that we end up storing somewhere “just in case” we need them.
There is no pattern or reason for this kind of behavior, and for the most part our excuses are emotional rather than practical.
Sure, some of us just can’t be bothered to organize their things, and figure that as long as their stuff doesn’t bother them they can’t be bothered to remove it.
For the longest time, I myself was a part of that group.
Others simply have difficulties prioritizing – They might be afraid of throwing things out because they might be useful to them sometime in the future.
Other reasons have less to do with practical issues and more to do with underlying emotional motives.
1) Consumerism and status
Now more then ever we live in a highly materialistic society.
Possessions are a sign of wealth and combined with modern ads, we are now more likely to waste our money on unnecessary things now than ever before.
For example, according to one study Americans have 3% of the world’s children yet purchase 40% of all toys.
The truth of the matter is that without all of their things, many people feel insecure in their own financial situation.
Ironically, it’s precisely that kind of behavior that makes their finances so difficult in the first place.
Buying useless junk and keeping it around might make you feel better with yourself, but it’s not going to improve your financial situation or your status.
2) Inability to let go of the past
Another underlying emotional motive for collecting clutter is the inability to let go of the past.
Some people cling to material possessions simply because they remind them of better days rather them having any particular value.
For example, adults that refuse to throw away their childhood toys.
It isn’t so much that these possessions hold any sentimental value, such as a gift from a loved one, but rather they remind us of better times.
Throwing them away makes us feel as though we are “throwing away” our past, which is something that’s quite difficult to do.
A slightly less obvious example, but it’s definitely there if you stop and think about it.
In this day and age, impulsive purchases are more common than ever.
In the age of information, companies have more and more methods of manipulating you into making purchases that you don’t necessarily need.
The problem here is that once you spend money on something, you want it to be worth it.
After all, no one likes throwing their money away.
Because of that, you’re likely to keep the things that you bought lying around, even if you’re not going to use them, for the sole purpose of not feeling as though you wasted your money.
Let’s say that you’re an overweight person and you’ve decided that you are going to lose weight.
You buy weights, start a diet, get a gym membership and so on.
Everything is going well, you’re putting in a lot of effort and start seeing some results, and then you stop.
For whatever reason, you can’t find the time or energy to stick with your new regimen.
But all of the stuff that you bought, the training shoes, the weights, and cookbooks, are still there.
Are you going to throw them away? Of course not. Doing so would be admitting to yourself that you have given up.
You’re probably never going to use any of this stuff again, so why not just admit this to yourself and move on?
How does clutter negatively affect you?
So now that we know why we keep useless things around we can ask ourselves the important questions.
Why does it matter?
Or more specifically, in what ways does clutter affect you negatively? After all, it’s just lying there, not bothering anyone.
Except that it does.
On the practical side of things, keeping too many things hurts you in terms of logistics.
I’m not talking just about storage space, but also about your ability to keep your house clean and organized.
Clutter creates a mess that, aside from being unaesthetic, also costs you both time and money.
The average American spends 2.5 days each year looking for misplaced possessions, Collectively costing U.S. households $2.7 billion annually in replacement costs
Not only that but getting rid of clutter will reduce time spent doing housework by 40%, giving you much more time to relax during the weekend or after work.
Aside from these practical advantages, decluttering will likely help you improve your health, both physical and mental.
How clutter affects your mental health
Clutter is bad for your mental health because it overwhelms your senses.
Having so much of it around creates constant stimuli that makes our senses work overtime, creating the illusion of urgency and work that needs to be done.
In fact, according to one study, the amount of stress that we experience is proportional to the number of things that we own.
This level of stress can affect your performance, making you split your attention and not focusing on the task at hand.
It is also shown to affect mood and self-esteem.
The truth is that we need to be organized to be able to work properly.
Keeping things organized is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Can clutter make you sick?
Aside from stressing you out, and the variety of side effects that come from said stress, keeping clutter around can also make you physically ill.
You see, clutter collects dust, and dust can negatively impact your health.
According to one study, 90% of all dust samples examined contained at least one chemical toxin.
In the study, 45 different toxic chemicals were recognized. These chemicals are associated with health hazards such as hormone disruption and cancer.
Dust isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s a health hazard.
How clutter becomes a hoarding disorder
For most of us, clutter is an annoyance; something that bothers us but not to the point where it becomes dangerous or dominates our life.
For others, however, hoarding different items becomes an obsession, something that we can’t really seem to control or put a stop to.
Hoarding can be considered as a sign of a psychiatric disorder such as depression, OCD or ADHD.
The nature of hoarding also makes decluttering remarkably difficult, to the point where getting others to help you might really be the way to go.
How to declutter your home
So let’s assume that after reading this article you’ve decided that you want to declutter.
But where do you start? How do you get started in the first place?
The best way to approach your clutter problem would be to do so one item at a time.
Get started by preparing 4 bags/baskets for 4 different item categories:
- Junk – things that hold no particular emotional value, aren’t working properly or won’t be of any practical use to you in the foreseeable future (unless they are expensive/hard to replace)
- Donate – things that you don’t necessarily need, but can think of someone who might make better use of them
- Storage – things that you can make use of but not frequently
- Keep around – things that you use regularly and/or improve your quality of life
Generally speaking, most of the things that you plan throwing away should be donated instead.
Giving to others makes us happy and helps us reduce stress. Generosity is good for both the giver as well as the receiver.
Ask yourself the right questions
The biggest problem with decluttering is our own bias.
After all, the biggest reason we got so much stuff lying around is that we were unable to let it go.
The best way to overcome this gap in objectivity is by constantly questioning your decisions
Here are some examples to show you what I mean:
- Would a homeless person appreciate being given this item?
- If you lost this, would you spend time, effort and/or money to replace it?
- Does it hold any irreplaceable value?
- In the next 30 days, how likely are you to use this item?
- If someone gave you this as a gift, would you appreciate it?
By constantly questioning yourself you can gain many insights that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Most of your clutter needs to go
The truth is that we don’t really need all that many things to keep us going.
If you have a lot of stuff lying around the house then you should probably get rid of most of it.
Your body will thank you for it.
Still, if you find yourself struggling with stress then maybe getting rid of the clutter is only half the battle.
We have a lot of stressors in our lives, and there is a chance that your problems stem from an anxiety disorder rather than just stress.
If you feel as though stress is consuming your life then I definitely recommend getting professional help.
If you are more inclined towards the cheaper option, there are various self-help guides that you can learn from.
I personally recommend trying out the Panic Away Program to anyone who struggles with anxiety and stress.
Not only are the guides, tips and tricks excellent, but you can also refund the program within 60 days, so there’s nothing to stop you from giving it a try.
If you have any other questions about this article, or anything at all really, feel free to send me an email.