Why do we have a problem with clutter? More specifically, why do I have a problem with clutter? I don’t like it but I also don’t have a strong desire to be a minimalist, although I find myself greatly at peace in a minimalist setting. I only desire to be tidy and to have a tidy life.
And to most people, it sounds ridiculous for something like this to be a struggle.
If you want less stuff, then… stop buying it! get rid of it! donate it! ______________!
On the surface, I understand that. On the few occasions I’ve had to watch the show Hoarders, I find myself saying similar things to the people that are literally buried by their mounds of things. I wonder how they can’t see the stuff or how they can’t understand that the stuff is cluttering their lives. In fact, in many of the shows, it’s ruining relationships.
But I’ve learned a few things from watching those shows. The first is that it’s a psychological disorder. Hoarders don’t have the same wiring in their brains that the rest of us do. I’ve also learned that the wiring is often disrupted by something in their past, usually traumatic.
Take the guy who was obsessed with toys. He didn’t play with them. He simply collected them. And to him, it was a valuable collection. In fact, to most of us, it would be considered a valuable collection. But it was stacked and stuffed and stored in so many places in his home that the dog would often get lost. Through the story that became the episode, we learned that he grew up with a mother that placed no value on toys and wouldn’t ever let him have or keep any. As an adult, he clearly overcompensated for that.
I’m happy to report that I’m not a hoarder. And I have enough friends that are probably reading this that can confirm that. To most people, I’m simply a little messy or disorganized. But to me, it’s more than that.
I grew up in a very frugal household. We often lived paycheck to paycheck and my mother was responsible for stretching every dollar as far as it would go. We rarely asked for candy at the grocery store because we knew the answer would be no. When we asked for a soda, we might be allowed one bottle to split. And these frugal habits have stuck with me, for better and for worse.
On one hand, I’m a bargain shopper. I appreciate quality and good brands but I also appreciate value. It’s why I’ll buy better brands of clothing but usually on the clearance rack at an outlet. I could amaze you with the deals I’ve gotten. On the other hand, I’m terrified of wasting anything. I use every last drop of ketchup or toothpaste. If I lightly use a napkin or a tissue, I save it to use again.
But it gets worse.
My need to avoid wastefulness goes beyond frugality. It’s also tied in with emotion and sentimentality.
Let’s talk about clothes. If a sweater is given to me as a gift, I’ll hold onto that sweater almost indefinitely. Even if I outgrow it in size or style, even if it’s itchy, even if I simply don’t like it. Because I’ll feel guilty. And if I have a great pair of jeans that just don’t fit anymore (because middle age loves to add a few pounds), I’ll hang onto them because I feel guilty about gaining weight. And if I have a piece of clothing that simply doesn’t bring my joy, I’ll be extremely hesitant to get rid of it if I feel like I haven’t gotten my money’s worth out of it.
What that means is that I have overflowing closets full of clothes I don’t necessarily like wearing. I have an office full of business cards from a conference I attended in 2011. I have drawers full of equipment that I don’t use but feel like I didn’t use enough to get rid of it.
It’s not a disorder. It’s a dysfunction. I save things because I attach emotion to things and let me tell you, that’s a lot of emotion to be carrying around.
That’s part of the reason I love to travel so much. I carry a finite amount of possessions. My clothing choices are limited to just what I have with me. And my hotel room is minimalist living at its finest. I never even turn on the TV when I’m traveling.
Most of my days, though, are spent at home and home is where I need a solution. Every day, I strive to figure out a better easier way to manage my life and live lighter.
Books to Help You Declutter Your Life
I’ve read a few books that help with guidance and want to share them with you. But if you’re like me, or especially if you’re not like me, I’d love to hear ways that you’ve learned to live lighter and manage your chaos.
The following are affiliate links for books I have either read or own!
Things I’ve Written About My Messy Life
To be honest, I was surprised when I went back through my archives and found how frequently I’ve written about this topic. Clearly, I’m a work in progress!
How To Get Ready for the Spring Thaw and Winter Purge
No one knows messy like I know messy
I don’t need a life coach. I need a housekeeping coach.
Clearing Out the Stuff: Variations on a Theme
when I move I will…
Stream of Consciousness Sunday: It’s All About Stuff
Shopping with a Purpose
If you feel like you have a problem with clutter, just know that you are not alone! And if you have tips to share, I’d love to hear it.