(This is part 1 in the clutter series. Click here for part 2.)
Do you ever feel like your stuff is taking over your life?
You know what I mean. That closet full of old, unworn clothes. The basement packed with boxes of old trophies, photos and papers. The overflowing pantry with expired food items.
We have so much stuff nowadays, that families often leave their cars outside in order to store more things in their garage.
That’s why you need to let go of clutter.
Therefore, I want to dive into why we hold on to the clutter that we don’t use, so that you’re not swallowed up by a tsunami of stuff.
Why we can’t let go of clutter
• Sentimental value– One reason why we hold on to clutter is the sentimental value associated with an object, especially if someone dear to you gave it you. Letting go of that item can literally be painful, as discussed here.
As an example, my grandmother gave me her old gold pocket watch many years ago. It’s a beautiful watch that has been restored. I even pinned it under my wedding dress on the big day, but will never wear it now. However, the watch is something that I will always cherish and can’t bear to part with. It’s also certainly not clutter, as it has a prominent location in my curio cabinet.
On the other hand, I have a box in the basement full of old stuffed dolls and animals that are old as dirt and falling apart. Those objects are NOT being cherished and are basically just rotting away. I’m sure most of you have those things from the past, such as old tarnished soccer medals and worn one-eyed stuffed animals. It’s a way to keep a connection to the past, but we don’t always need a physical object. No one can take away your memories.
• You think you might use the object again– Another reason we can’t let go of clutter. What if we need it at some point in the next 10 years?
It’s reality check time. If you haven’t used it in the last year, you’re not going to.
We do this a lot with clothes. We say, “I can wear that again once I lose that extra 20 or 30 pounds.” But you never actually lose the weight, yet the clothes continue to hang in the closet. They sit there as a reminder of what you didn’t achieve. Who want’s that every time they open the closet door?
Therefore, why not let those clothes go to someone who can use them now and just keep the garments that flatter your current shape?
As another example, many years ago, my husband and I helped move my dad to a smaller apartment. We already knew about his hoarding tendencies to some degree, but our eyes were really opened at that time
He had over 60 large plastic containers in his basement, full of junk that was never used. He didn’t even know what was in them, but was still reluctant to let them go. He honestly thought he might need random car parts or my sister’s old baby dishes (she was a teenager at the time). In reality, he didn’t miss what was in the bins when he finally let them go.
• A feeling of overwhelm– A common reason to hold onto things. Where to begin? How do I actually purge these items?
I completely understand this one, because that’s how I felt when I had to pack up my dad’s apartment. Along with the bins, I was totally overwhelmed by the mountain of unopened papers and mail that were haunting me and appeared to multiply at a rapid rate.
I had to go through all of it personally in order to see what could be recycled or what needed to be kept or shredded. That was an extreme example, but never would have been completed if I didn’t just start somewhere. Consequently, sometimes it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you just start.
• You don’t have time– I’ve used this one before. We are all busy with day-to-day life: children, work obligations, home chores, running to activities, etc. You think you will eventually clean out that closet, but eventually never comes.
The amazing thing that happens when you purge and organize your things is that you actually have more time to do other activities. You no longer have to spend a half hour looking for your child’s shin pads for soccer practice (true story, by the way). You can quickly glance at your closet and know exactly what’s in there, instead of feeling like you’re on a treasure hunt every time you enter.
In addition, if you truly don’t think you have time to let go of clutter, read my post on performing a time audit here.
• Fear– Fear of regret, of loss, of emptiness. The “what-if” syndrome starts to take over.
What if I need that object later? (You can borrow it.)
What if I have a sentimental attachment to it? (You always have your memories; write them down instead.)
What if my things don’t get used properly? (Donate them to a homeless shelter or clothes/furniture bank where they will be greatly appreciated.)
What if I’m lonely without my things? (Go out into the world and meet new people now that you have more time.)
Negative effects of clutter
So why does it matter that your environment is full of clutter? Does it really make a difference to your quality of life? As a matter of fact, YES. You might be surprised by the negative impact of clutter in your life.
• Clutter impairs focus- It acts as a constant distraction and actually makes it harder for your brain to concentrate on tasks, similar to the difficulties of multitasking, as discussed here.
A chaotic environment leads to a chaotic mind. I think we all would prefer to have a mind more like a Buddhist monk and less like a volcano ready to erupt.
• Clutter increases stress levels- Just looking at an untidy pile can lead to increased stress. You basically become a ball of stress, and that’s no good for anyone.
• Clutter sucks up all of your time- Ah time, our old nemesis. As busy as we all are, have you ever thought about how much time you spend looking for things? If not, then you might need to perform a time audit, as mentioned above. We’re all in need of more time. Therefore, if you let go of clutter, it can help you win the battle with time.
• Clutter can make you sick- (As discussed here.) Dust and pet dander cling to all of your clutter and make it more difficult to keep things clean. That can lead to a worsening of allergies or asthma.
Plus, as in the case of my dad’s old apartment, you might not be able to see potentially dangerous mold developing, since it becomes buried under all of the stuff. In addition, too much clutter can be a fire hazard, especially when paper is involved.
• Clutter can prevent you from living the life you want to live- Does that sound crazy? Good, because I want you to think hard now. All of that stuff filling up your environment also fills your mind.
Therefore, if you release some of those things and let them go, you will free up space in your mind. You will feel lighter and have more energy to channel into doing activities that fulfill you and living a life that you love.
You can learn more about how your environment affects the quality of your life from my friend Sara, who is a Feng Shui expert, here.
By now, I hope that you are thinking about how much stuff you truly have and if you really need all of it. You might also be wondering about how to actually let go of the clutter. Be sure to read part 2 of this clutter series, where I dive into the art of decluttering.
Until then, please let me know your reasons for holding onto things and how that negatively impacts your life in the comments below.
“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”