Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Psychology of Clutter

We are all guilty of some form of hoarding. How many things do you see that you haven’t used in a year or more? How many hours a day do you waste searching for things lost in a pile of rubble? Are you continually hindered just trying to complete your everyday day tasks? Some tasks, such as cleaning the house, can be too overwhelming to deal with when there is clutter in every corner. Uninvited guests might make you want to close the shades and hide out in embarrassment due to the state of disorder in your home. Clutter can be a reminder of how out of control your life seems and your failure to maintain a clean, organized home. Clutter is a monster that, when let loose in your home, can start a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

True hoarders may have extreme habits, but we all know someone who holds onto items of little to no function. Look around your house. How many things do you see that serve no useful purpose? Are your closets filled with outfits that you keep only in the vain hope of fitting into them again? Do you have piles of magazines and books that have never read? While these things may add ambience and security to your home, they may be costing you more time and space then they are worth. Think of all the time and effort it takes to dust small knick-knacks and all the space you could save yourself by thinning your wardrobe of outdated clothes that no longer fit. This sounds easy enough, but for some, the thought of letting go of their belongings is terrifying.

The urge to collect comes from the need to store supplies such as food and other necessities—a drive so primal it begins in the subcortical portion of the brain. But it doesn't end there. We use our prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain involved in decision-making, information processing and behavioral organization, to determine just what things are worth hoarding. The theories surrounding this “biological” urge to accumulate clutter borrow themselves from evolutionary history. Today abundance surrounds us. However, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers who lived a much harsher existence. Food and supplies weren’t nearly as accessible 10,000 years ago like they are today. Our brains have been genetically pre-programmed to save anything that could be materially useful. This biological predisposition transformed itself around the time of the industrial revolution from a biological urge to save for survival sake to the desire to acquire and collect things. This is the thought evolution of ‘need’ into ‘want’. What was once food and supplies has become ornaments and trinkets of every variety. Thus the clutter phenomenon was born.

Americans love for consumption could be one more reason for the problem. The clutter often seen in American homes reflects how many Americans feel these days: overwhelmed, disorganized and compulsive. With nearly continual media doing it’s best to convince us we need this or that, it’s no wonder that many of us fall prey acquiring more than we need. This blend of consumer fear and consumption in large part is reason for our overstuffed homes. So much in America is large and overstocked. 40 years ago an average corner market was only a few thousand square feet and stocked with less that 1,000 items. Today, your local Wal-Mart Super Center covers a little under a quarter million square feet and stocks over 130,000 products. The American clutter epidemic is fueled by multiple opportunities to buy unneeded stuff at what we are convinced are rock bottom prices.

To help with your clutter Jeff Campbell and The Clean Team have created useful rules for uncluttering your home and life. Here are a few of these rules in abbreviated versions:

Rule 1: When in doubt, throw it out! No other advice we can give will have such a liberating effect on your life. Keeping things in your home costs money and time. Don’t use the old excuse “It’s too nice to throw away”. If it is so nice, then give it to someone who will use and appreciate the item. If no one wants it then you must come to terms with the items real value and part ways with it. If it’s broken, fix it now or toss it. If it is ripped have it mended or discard it.

Rule 2: Use it or lose it. This rule is particularly helpful when you are attempting to implement Rule 1 and are getting ready to get rid of some of your stuff. How do you decide what to keep and what to toss? Sensible advice for this rule is if you’re not using something, then get rid of it. Keep in mind future time does not apply to this rule. Use it refers to here and now. It doesn’t mean sometime in the future.

Rule 3: Efficiency counts, so store things accordingly. Efficient storage reduces clutter by making it easier to find things and to replace things after each use. If it’s easier it’s more likely to happen. Efficient storage also means that things you use most are stored in most easily accessible places.

Rule 4: Handle some things once. This rule is necessary because of those famous last words “I’ll put this here for now”. This phrase should be forbidden to a known clutterer. Once you say “for now” you are admitting that you are going to have to handle whatever it is more than once. That decision doubles your workload and increases clutter. What you are really doing is putting off making a decision about it right then and there. Don’t be lazy. From now on, when the mail arrives, instead of piling it on the counter “for now”, tackle it head on, toss the junk pieces and file the bills to be paid in their designated area.

Rule 5: Recycle it. Help yourself declutter and help the environment at the same time. We’re not just talking about aluminum, glass and plastic. Recycle clothes and other household items to those who need them. Can’t think of anyone who needs those old books? Consider your local library - which is most likely under funded and short of books - or a retirement home. Used cell phones can be donated to multiple charities, as well as computers and almost any other e-waste item. You will be making a difference in your life as well as someone else’s.

** Our next blog will address the how to of cleaning and managing your clutter! For further reading, check out Clutter Control by Jeff Campbell and The Clean Team!

1 comment:

Ms. Lauren said...

About donating books to your local library: make sure you only donate books that are in reasonably good condition. Books that are falling apart, moldy, or smelly will end up in the recycling bin. Also, most libraries will warn you up front that they cannot use all donated books in their collections. Instead, your donations may go to a used bookstore whose proceeds go to support the library.

Contact Us

Contact Us
We're happy to help!

Site Visits Since 03/28/2008