The Psychology of Clutter
You’ve probably heard of the new hit Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. In the show, Marie enters the home of typical American families who collect too much junk and have no plan for what to do with everything.
Of course, the family is always stressed and fighting more than they’d like, and there isn’t enough time for the kids, yadda yadda yadda. Marie then does her magic of helping the family identify what “sparks joy” while eliminating the things that don’t fit that criteria.
Inevitably, the family is super appreciative and they let us know how much better their lives are after Marie’s intervention.
So why do we end up with so much junk?
America today is one of the wealthiest societies in the history of the country. We’ve all been raised with the American dream of getting good jobs and regularly upgrading all of our creature comforts so we don’t fall behind the Joneses next door.
Planned obsolescence is the goal of technology companies, because they want us to feel the pull of the latest bells and whistles and that our 2-year-old iPhones just aren’t cutting it anymore.
So many families have the spending power to spoil their kids with toys every time their at the store. Grandparents are more fluent than ever with online shopping so the Amazon boxes NEVER. STOP. COMING.
I’m ashamed to admit that it’s not uncommon that I order something on Amazon. See the box on the doorstep a couple days later. Realize I forgot what I ordered and get a little shot of dopamine-induced pleasure at the surprise. Followed by disappointment that it’s just something for the house.
All of this leads to more stuff entering our homes without ever having a plan for what to do with the old stuff. I mean, anyone else have the box of random cords in their garage from every electronic since 1999… just in case?
Clutter does increase our stress levels
There have been many studies on this subject that demonstrate a cluttered home is often a stressed-out home. The home filled with junk makes us feel a lower sense of well-being, have less of a sense that it is “home,” and can be an obstacle to happiness!
Clutter actually increases the stress hormone cortisol. A study of mothers showed that cortisol spiked when they were engaged in the act of cleaning up after their messy little ones each day. Chronic cortisol release can increase sensitivity to stressors, and actually change the structure of the brain!
Having piles of junk everywhere makes it really hard to focus on one task. Just personally I know that my trip to the kitchen to get milk more often results in cleaning 2 dishes, tossing some stuff into the recycling bin, and me standing perplexed about why I entered the kitchen in the first place.
Having too much stuff can even affect your children’s development. The lack of structure that often accompanies clutter and the easy availability of distraction can actually stunt the development of emotional regulation.
What to do about your clutter
Now that we know all of the problems associated with a cluttered home, what can we do about it? Listen to Marie Kondo! No, seriously, she does a great job in her approach to helping families make progress on their clutter.
Know your why
What is the reason you want to declutter? What benefits can you expect after decluttering? When you can keep those long-term benefits in mind, it can help keep you going during the sometimes mind-numbing work of going through all your possessions.
Have a plan
Marie doesn’t just sit the family down and tell them to just fix everything. She has a specific plan that she walks the family through with explicit goals to accomplish each week. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we look at the huge mess, so it’s important to start in one room and complete that task before moving on. By completing those smaller goals, you feel a sense of accomplishment and begin to see that there is hope you can achieve the larger goal.
At first I chuckled when Marie asked Rachel to hold an article of clothing, feel whether it sparked joy, and then thank it before adding it to the discard pile. However, I pretty quickly came to the realization that this small act actually helps us to show gratitude for all that we have. Every item in our possession has served a purpose and can allow us the opportunity to show appreciation where we may have taken things for granted in the past.
Develop processes and remember how much work it took to declutter
Once you’ve gotten rid of those things that weren’t contributing to your life, you want to create a system that will allow you to maintain the newly decluttered lifestyle. It will do you no good to go back to tossing things into a junk drawer. Notice where your biggest problem points were and come up with a daily plan for handling those situations. And also take a moment to realize how much time it took you to declutter so that you never have to do it again!
Decluttering your home might seem like just one more time consuming thing to add to your plate. However, the positive return on investment is almost immeasurable. From lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, to greater appreciation of the things you use, to improved quality time with your family, decluttering can produce significant positive changes in your life.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with going from cluttered to a decluttered lifestyle!