5 reasons to take clutter seriously

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You don’t want it in your life. Do everything to avoid it.

One of TreeHugger’s top-performing posts in 2017 was about Swedish death cleaning. This is a curious Scandinavian ritual that involves slowly but steadily purging one’s belongings, starting in middle age, so as to lessen the burden on one’s family following death.

The fact that this post did so extraordinarily well speaks to our culture’s confusion about dealing with clutter. We are very good at bringing it into our homes – too good, in fact – but terrible at getting rid of it, and we suffer because of it.

It’s time for a blunt discussion about why too much stuff is bad for us. Perhaps, when armed with that knowledge, we will gain the determination to declutter our homes and keep new stuff out. The following list is derived from an article called ‘9 hard truths about clutter you need to hear‘ by Erica Layne. My hope is that it will help you gain perspective on why we need to up the ante in the fight against excess stuff.

1. Eventually someone will have to decide what to do with every item you own.

Most of us know the agony and annoyance of breaking down the household of a deceased relative, so do your best to avoid inflicting that on others. Remember that your ‘treasures’ will likely mean very little to other people, so do them a favor and trim those belongings well in advance.

2. Everything you own is something you have to take care of.

At some point you will have to interact with every item you buy – moving it, using it, dusting it, disposing of it. Every interaction requires mental and physical energy, of which you have a finite amount. Layne writes:

“Our time is so precious; who wants to spend it cycling mountains of laundry from washer to dryer, replacing dead batteries or buying replacement parts, and shuttling items from room to room?”

3. Nothing you own is ever really gone; it will continue to exist… somewhere.

I’ve made this point many times on TreeHugger within the context of plastic waste, saying, “There is no away.” The same idea applies to furnishings, clothing, decorations, gadgets, and the many things we bring into our homes. When you pitch something, it still has to go somewhere; just because it’s out of sight doesn’t mean it has magically disappeared. That could be someone else’s home (via donation), a village in a developing nation overseas (that really does not want your crappy second-hand clothing), or a landfill down the road.

4. Clutter has been linked to depression.

“Women, in particular, suffer under the weight of our family’s belongings. UCLA researchers — who conducted a nine-year, rigorous study of how 32 families interacted their belongings — found a correlation between high cortisol levels (read: stress) in women and a high density of household objects.”

As a mother of several young children, this finding does not come as a surprise. Dealing with stuff takes up a disproportionate amount of time in the day and is a source of irritation and resentment. I’ve had moments where I feel overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer volume of laundry, toys, and school-related paperwork. This is no way to live.

5. The best way to clear clutter is to reduce what you bring in.

Maybe you’re a decluttering hero who’s constantly on top of whatever stuff is accumulating at home, making weekly trips to the thrift store or dump – but really, why do you want to spend your time doing that? It’s costly, both to your wallet and the environment. Better yet is NOT to bring stuff into the house, and then you eliminate the need to purge altogether. The house stays tidy, you’ve got extra time on your hands, and money stays in your wallet.

The new year is right around the corner. Why not make 2019 your year of less? (Read Layne’s full article here.)

You don’t want it in your life. Do everything to avoid it.



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