Do you feel like you have too much stuff? Stuff is big business. Making stuff, buying stuff, and where to store all that stuff. Globalist companies take advantage of lower wages, looser labour laws and taxation differences between countries and bring us more for less.
If you end up with way too much stuff, reality TV shows will help you out. The host will tut about the unhygienic and unsafe living conditions caused by too much stuff before ruthlessly removing 99% of it. This makes for good (enough) TV but ignores what psychologists know about hoarding. Hoarders hoard to give themselves a sense of safety. They hoard in case they might need the items in future, or hold onto items because of perceived monetary value. Hoarders generally come from a childhood environment of deprivation of some kind, and hoarding is their way of ensuring they never feel those feelings of ‘without’ ever again (deprivation can include not just severe financial hardship and its consequences but also losing loved ones or childhood neglect). A ruthless de-clutterer leaves the collector feeling exposed, vulnerable and much more unsafe than they did sleeping next to a towering pile of overfull boxes. Simply taking the stuff away doesn’t work. The psychological aspect, working out how to reduce and manage the feelings of exposure, anxiety and potential loss, must be addressed or soon the houses on these shows will soon be just as full of stuff as before.
How does this apply to you? Like many psychological conditions, hoarding is a trait we almost all share. The difference is in the magnitude of that trait. Just as we all feel sad but not everyone develops clinical depression, we all hold onto objects beyond what we need to survive and flourish. For only a few people does it come to the point where this tendency impacts on their physical safety though.
If you have too much stuff and don’t like it, you may want to consider the KonMari method. Pioneered by Japanese organising expert Marie Kondo, its essence captures the psychological underpinnings of hoarding. KonMari promotes radical de-cluttering by assigning all objects in your home to one of three categories:
1. Brings me joy
2. Reminds me of the past (sentimental)
3. Quells anxiety about the future (I’ll need these loose buttons one day… for…something).
Kondo is ruthless. If it doesn’t spark joy, chuck it. And no cheating by just saying ‘spark, spark, spark’ as you walk around your home. You actually have to pick up each object and get a feel for it to decide if it’s contributing to feelings of joy. You also say thank you to each item you discard, acknowledging it was once good for you but no longer serves you.
It’s a beautiful idea - the thought that once this process is complete, you will be surrounded by nothing but objects which bring joy to your life. However it appears to assume a certain level of affluence which limits its applicability. The right towel could bring me joy, but if I can’t afford to chuck out my reasonable, non joyous towels and go buy a joyful one, what do I do? Is it a matter of realising that it’s a joyous experience to be dry, and the towel transforming into a joyous item as a result? But assuming you have disposable income, it directs this income in an environmentally sustainable, artisan supportive, pleasure bringing way.
Even if you don’t remove all your non joyous items, it helps to know an item’s true purpose in your house and life. How many items in your house invoke sentimentality about the same person/ event/ weight? Could just one replace it? Could your photos from that time serve this function instead? Yes, you might feel anxious about letting those buttons go, but once they’re gone, will you really beat yourself up when you one day decide to make a sock puppet and discover you have nothing for the eyes? Facing our attachment to a lost past, and our anxieties about the uncertainty of the future, will bring freedom in the present.
The next time you are motivated to clean up your house (and a newish year is as good a time as any), try using the KonMari method. Or apply it to letting new items into your home.
And if you find that doing so brings up uncomfortable feelings, feelings of loss, anxiety or guilt, well, I have another method for you. But you’ll have to wait until next week to find out about that.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.