The Clutter Cure

“I recently discovered the secret to livening up even the dullest conversation: Introduce the topic of clutter. Everyone I meet seems to be waging a passionate, private battle against their own stuff, and they perk up as soon as you mention it.” So begins Pamela Druckerman’s NY Times column.

NY Times declutter

It’s an interesting piece (click here).

Here’s her conclusion.

“But the more stuff I shed, the more I realize that we de-clutterers feel besieged by more than just our possessions. We’re also overwhelmed by the intangible detritus of 21st-century life: unreturned emails; unprinted family photos; the ceaseless ticker of other people’s lives on Facebook; the heightened demands of parenting; and the suspicion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes, forever. I can sit in an empty room, and still get nothing done.

It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of “mindfulness.” But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was. Less may be more, but it’s still not enough.”

This rather bleak assessment begs the question:  In the humans v. stuff struggle, who is the consumer and who or what is consumed?  And how much worse does “digital clutter” joining our “carbon clutter” make us feel?

Druckerman’s hypothesis that our stuff is consuming us is born out by the proliferation of storage warehouses, organizing services, and garages with nary a car in sight.  With the proliferation of cheap imports and discount retailers, being awash in clutter is no longer just an affliction of the well-heeled.

We think of ourselves as rational beings and in truth, we’re often not so rational.  Dan Arieley,  behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational has conducted experiments to prove just how irrational we really are. The take-away message is that we are more pained, psychologically and emotionally in letting go of something (even if it’s something we neither love nor use) than we were pleased to have acquired it in the first place.  Our things have a strangle-hold on us.

So what’s a person to do?

Embrace Will Roger’s First Rule of Holes- “When you’re in one, quit digging.  Consider a “spending de-tox.  Follow the advice of Sarah Lazarovic from, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.  Learn to wait.  “Don’t buy anything the first time you see it unless it’s the thing you’ve been searching for all your life and it is flying by on a speeding train, never to be seen again.  Even then, don’t buy it.”  Practice waiting.  What starts out as a hope, will become a habit.   Saying no to impulse purchases will eventually become second nature.  Exercise your will power and it will get stronger.

Stop hiding behind “conscious consumerism”. The goal of consumption used to be to buy and use things to satisfy (mostly) legitimate, practical needs.  Somewhere along the way, consumption morphed into consumerism. The goal of shopping became to kill time, drown our sorrows, keep up “The Jones” or even surpass them!

Again from Lazarovic, “Conscious consumerism is not an excuse to shop.  It may be a fair-trade, organic leg warmer, but if your legs aren’t cold, it’s still a frivolous purchases.”

Remember that just because it’s free doesn’t mean it isn’t without cost.  The kiddy meal prize, the thank you gift for the charity donation, the swag bag from a conference- leave them all behind.  If they never come into your home, you’ll never miss them.  Especially with the holidays approaching, be ruthless about what you let in your door.

By Robin Mcoy

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