Clutter is a major source of stress for many people. Unfortunately, attempts at organization often fall short. You might get off to a good start, but before you know it the clutter is back and it’s worse than ever before! What is the deal with all of this clutter?
It turns out that there’s a reason why it’s so hard to get rid of the clutter around your home or office. A 2011 study titled “Our Possessions, Our Selves: Domains of Self-Worth and the Possession–Self Link” by Rosellina Ferraro (2011) and colleagues examined why it’s so difficult for us to get rid of the clutter in our lives. As it turns out, we have a tendency to link our possessions to our internal concept of self; getting rid of things that we associate with our view of self can actually elicit a response akin to grief, even if the object is something we haven’t used in years!
Does It Spark Joy?
This is one of the underpinnings of Marie Kondo’s method that you’ve probably seen in action on Netflix. Kondo advises you to only keep those things that “spark joy” in your life, getting rid of the rest of the clutter and living your best and simplest life. Those things which bring that feeling of joy are likely very closely tied to your sense of self and getting rid of them would almost certainly trigger a negative reaction.
So what happens when you have too many things tied to your sense of self? It happens to a lot of us. You may want to cut down on the clutter, but even those things you haven’t used in ages still bring about an emotional reaction. How do you even figure out where to start decluttering your life?
The good news is that there’s an actual answer to that question. If getting rid of clutter is hard because our brains link our possessions with our self-worth, then the very first thing to do is address the question of why we’ve associated these objects with our sense of self. Stop and think about all of those things that you just can’t get rid of. Ask yourself if your attachment has anything to do with the objects themselves, or if it’s related more to how you felt when you got the items or any emotional connections they might remind you of.
Breaking the Connections
Once you start asking these questions, you can begin to acknowledge that your attachments to items often has more to do with how you feel than anything related to the items themselves. This makes it easier to view your clutter more critically, weighing the actual usefulness of objects instead of the little emotional attachments you might not even realize you have.
When you make that shift and start looking at clutter as individual objects instead of reflections of who you are inside, that’s where the magic happens. You’ve made the first big steps, though some things will still be harder to let go of than others. Even if it takes a while, you’re still making progress. You’ve figured out how to get started, and now that clutter is doomed.
Ferraro, R., Escalas, J. E., & Bettman, J. R. (2011). Our possessions, our selves: Domains of self-worth and the possession–self link. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 169-177.