The Psychology Behind Clutter

12 August 2014 by

That Barbie collection from childhood that you can’t seem to part with, a mile-high stack of old magazines, and the acid-washed jeans that haven’t fit you for two decades all contribute to an ongoing problem: clutter. Whether you hide it in the garage or it has slowly taken over your home like The Blob, clutter can be a big problem.

The best way to solve this problem is to understand the psychology behind clutter in the first place.

Common Reasons for Clutter

The basic reasons behind chronic messiness include:

  •      Lack of storage space
  •      Too many collections
  •      Cramped living situation
  •      Inability to say no
  •      Poor organizational skills
  •      Lack of time
  •      Depression-era mentality (never mind that you weren’t even alive in the ‘30s)

These issues can all be relatively simple to solve. If you have collected too many things, you can hold a yard sale and turn them into someone else’s problem. Or if your house is too small, you can rent a self storage unit or build some additional shelving. No time or interest in organizing? Hire a professional to take care of that for you.

However, if you resolve these problems but find that the clutter keeps coming back to life like the villain in a bad horror movie, there is probably a deeper issue that you’ll need to look at.

Deeper Reasons for Clutter

Psychology Today published an article on the topic of what your clutter is trying to tell you and offers several reasons why chronic disorder is such a big problem. It points out that we are “enabled” as clutter collectors. With all the fancy storage containers, devices, and organizers available to us, it’s easier than ever to collect and stow things while believing that we are, in fact, organized.

But that’s like cleaning your room by stashing all your stuff in a closet—you’re not decluttering your space, you’re simply moving it to another place. And one day when you open that closet door your hoards of junk will come crashing down on you.

The article goes on to explain that a cluttered life is a chaotic life. Your clutter doesn’t just cause chaos—the chaos in your life contributes to the clutter. If your life becomes more relaxing and less chaotic it may be easier for your to deal with the clutter.

How Clutter Can Impact Your Life

Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published a study on the effects of clutter in The Journal of Neuroscience upon discovering that a chaotic environment leads to a chaotic mind. In other words, clutter distracts the brain from focusing and restricts your ability to absorb information. While this might be a great excuse for why you forgot to pay your rent, it may also explain why your friends won’t come over anymore.

If you have too much clutter in your home or office, everyday tasks are more difficult than they need to be. How often have you been late for work, school or social events because you circumnavigated the house six times looking for your keys or wallet? Does tax time make you anxious because your receipts are stashed everywhere from your glove compartment to last year’s pants pockets?

And the disordered mind/environment doesn’t just affect us. Those who grow up with clutter in their home as children are more likely to replicate this messy lifestyle as adults. Your friends would probably do an intervention—if they could actually find you in your own personal Hoarders episode.

Can the Clutter Problem Be Solved?

The clutter problem can be solved, but not by sweeping everything under the rug. (“I have a rug??”) If no amount of willpower can help you get it under control, try hiring a professional organizer who will not only declutter your home or office, but will teach you easy methods to maintain your new clutter-free space.

If your issue goes deeper than merely lack of time or interest, then you will have to tackle the psychology behind clutter. It is just as insidious as any other addiction, like smoking or drinking—except your bender probably isn’t as fun (unless you’ve woken up in Cabo after a mountain of dishes in the sink caused you to black out…).

And if your problem is somewhere in between, spend a few minutes getting motivated with great decluttering ideas on Pinterest, like the Declutter Kit, a 15 Fantastic Reasons To Clear Out Clutter reminder, How To Store Important Documents, and fun Shoe Hanger Organizing Ideas.

As you can see, there is more to clutter than meets the eye. And if you do not address the underlying issues, you may find yourself renting multiple storage units to stash your entire Beanie Babies, Marvel comics or bottle caps collection for the rest of your life.


SSF Team

SSF Team

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