Why we clutter, and what to do about it

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By Jane E. Brody

Many of us have taken advantage of the long lonely hours of the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns to clean our closets, drawers and clothing cabinets from a bygone era, foods packaged well past their expiration date, and files that don’t. are more relevant. At first, I was among them and enthusiastically approached the fruits at hand: ill-fitting dresses and suits, shoes I could no longer walk in, hundreds of empty plastic and glass containers. .

It did me good at first, but I soon lost interest in decluttering and lacked the mental and physical energy to tackle what was left.

And, I assure you, after living in the same house for 55 years, there was a lot more to get rid of. Empty spaces have a way of filling up. In fact, I envy the friends and neighbors who have downsized and had to get rid of dumpsters full of items that are no longer in use or useful.

But when a leaking pipe recently saturated the carpet in my finished basement, where for decades I stored everything I didn’t know what to do with but couldn’t bring myself to throw away, I been sent back to action. Nothing like a crisis, minor or major, to deal with an unmanageable accumulation of stuff.

Congestion is a danger

People like me, who fill storage areas as long as living spaces remain tidy, don’t take being a hoarder seriously, which is considered your own psychiatric diagnosis. But clutter has its own risks. Among them are the chronic and repeated stresses that can arise, for example when one frantically searches through piles of shuffles for important paper or rushing to clean up piles of garbage before visitors arrive.

Not to mention risking a fall on objects left where they do not belong. When my 61-year-old friend, who can’t seem to get rid of anything, had complications from a head injury that kept him in hospital for several weeks, his wife s felt compelled to clear their apartment of the incalculable items lying around before she returned home. .

Plus, the clutter is distracting, distracting attention from worthy thoughts and tasks. It wastes time and energy and decreases productivity. And, a 2015 study at St. Lawrence University found that a crowded bedroom goes hand in hand with a poor night’s sleep.

The burden of clutter doesn’t even stop when we die. When my friend Michael and his brothers cleaned up their 92-year-old mother’s house in Florida after her death, among the many multiples they found were eight identical jars of mustard, five dozen tins of chunks of pineapple, 72 paper towel rolls, 11 walkers and four wheelchairs. Trucks loaded with expensive clutter had to be taken away. I wish my family had better things to worry about or laugh about when I die.

Reasons why we clutter

You might be wondering why people like me and my friend’s mom collect so many things that we’ll probably never need. The fear of running out is one of the reasons I often buy in bulk, especially when the products I want are on sale. A similar fear undoubtedly drove the frantic race for toilet paper, pasta and canned beans at the start of the pandemic. I never forgot what a neighbor said when, in the middle of a block party, she was asked where she kept her extra paper towels. “In the store,” she replied.

When I’m feeling weak, I’m not above indulging in retail therapy, often buying another comfortable swimsuit or fleece to add to my extensive collection. Scott Bea, clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, noted that our consumer society pushes many people to collect things they don’t need.

Some also feel compelled to hold on to the past, like a friend who keeps the programs of every event he has attended for the past six decades. Out of guilt or feeling, some find it difficult to part with unnecessary gifts from people they love or admire. “What if they come one day and find out it’s gone?” Is common logic.

I have many reasons for not parting with an item that has not been used for a long time. If this is something that I have cherished for a long time, like the silverware and porcelain that my husband and I bought with our wedding gifts 46 years ago, I want to give them to someone I know who them. will appreciate and use them. And I have an almost irrational fear that as soon as I have something, I find that I need it.

Still, I regularly bite the bullet and donate to charities that collect clothes and household items in my neighborhood. I also live in a block with a lot of foot traffic and if I put gifts – from shampoos and shoes to pots and frames – in front of the house, they tend to disappear within hours.

When I realized it was time to part with decades-old business records, I enlisted the help of an assistant, asking them not to let me see what was being thrown from my drawers. Now let’s do the same with the hundreds of work-related books I’ll never open again!

Tips to fight decluttering

  • Make a plan. You might want to go piece by piece or focus on a category like coats or shoes, but avoid changing classes halfway until you’ve completed the task you started.
  • Set reasonable goals based on your spare time and stamina. If an entire closet is too intimidating, even a task as small as emptying items from a single drawer or shelf can get you started in the right direction.
  • If a more gradual approach is more manageable, consider my friend Gina’s suggestion: keep a container in each room to house gifts. When she tries something that doesn’t fit or looks good anymore, it goes straight to the donation bag, not the closet.
  • If necessary, get help from a friend, a member of your family or a paid consultant who will not have the same attachment to your property.
  • Create three piles – keep, give and discard. Don’t question your initial assessment; immediately discard the discard pile and schedule a collection of the donations or take them to a worthy destination.
  • If your mess includes items that you are storing for other people, consider giving them a deadline to collect them or suggest that they rent a storage locker.
  • Finally, avoid backing up. Resist filling the spaces you clean with more stuff.

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