Proactive Stuff De-emphasis by Janice Russell

We choose the amount of stuff we have. Argue with me all you want, but bottom-line is that we choose to keep lots of stuff. In the last newsletter, we talked about stuff deletion, curbing acquisition habits, and honoring your stuff. This month we are going to dig a little deeper in order to tackle stuff accumulation at its source.

In the book The Paradox of Choice, Why More Is Less: How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction, Barry Schwartz gives a great example of how our stuff “unknowingly” amasses:

    You buy a pair of shoes that turn out to be really uncomfortable. What will you do about them?…
  • The more expensive they were, the more often you’ll try to wear them.
  • Eventually, you’ll stop wearing them, but you won’t get rid of them. And the more you paid for them, the longer they’ll sit in the back of your closet.
  • At some point, after the shoes have been fully “depreciated” psychologically, you will finally throw them away.

    Is there anyone who does not have some item of clothing sitting unused (and never to be used) in a drawer or on a shelf?

Schwartz is addressing the psychological attachment to stuff. I think that you would agree that the strong connection we have to our stuff impacts our ability to have less stuff. So let’s look at two ways to tackle this issue at its roots.
First, decide if you like the life you have or if you want something different in your life. In the book It’s All Too Much, Peter Walsh states:

    Clutter is insidious, a slow but steady tide. It enters your home little by little, usually over years. Clutter sucks life away. It leaves you depressed, overwhelmed, lacking motivation, and unable to breathe. Clutter prevents you from enjoying the most precious, intimate moments in life. Clutter robs you of far more than the space it occupies—it steals your life! 

Take a moment and write down two negative consequences of clutter that have directly affected you. Now it’s time to empower yourself. A blog entry from Matter Minders Motivations gives one idea of how to do this: “In Kathryn Porter’s book Too Much Stuff, she mentions a phrase, “You can’t keep everything and keep a clean house.” She started using this as a mantra to bring organization to her home. Depending on your goals, you might be able to generate your own organizing mantra. If time management is a struggle, maybe your mantra would be: I can’t do every task people ask me to do and keep a reasonable schedule. A mantra for children could be: I can’t keep all of my toys and get to all of them easily. The booklovers’ mantra: I can’t keep every book I’ve ever owned and know whether or not I have duplicates or whether it is worth reading a second time. For exercise lovers: I can’t keep every piece of exercise equipment and be able to maintain a reasonable exercise regimen. I could continue, but I am sure that you get the idea. What is your organizing mantra?” You may need to write your mantra down and post it in several places. You may need to mutter it under your breath as you enter a store. Anything you do to counteract the “power” that stuff has over you will begin to give you freedom from the psychological hold that clutter has on you.  

Second, decide what function keeping stuff you don’t use really serves. Does it make you feel important? Do you think that life as you know it won’t continue without that specific item? Are you afraid that you might not remember a certain time or event without the article in question? Keep in mind that if you are overwhelmed by stuff that you might not be able to find the “memory item” anyway. Plus, how many times have you said, “I might need it someday” but haven’t used the object in over six months.

Keeping stuff that you don’t use keeps you trapped in your clutter. Authors Barbara Hemphill and Maggie Bedrosian, in their book Love It or Lose It emphatically state:
    Everything–everything–you have in your life either nourishes you or drains you.  It either supports your dreams and desires or sabotages them.  If too much stuff in your immediate environment drains you, you are caught in the Clutter Trap.

    The Clutter Trap is a state of cumulative disorder that diminishes your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or financial health.  It is a dangerous threat to your productivity, your prosperity, and your peace of mind.  Underestimate that threat at your own peril.

    If there is anything around you that you do not know to be useful, believe to be beautiful, or treasure for reasons of your own, get rid of it.  Love it or lose it.  Things you do not love have no place in your heart, and should have no place in your home or workspace.  That’s the LOVE IT OR LOSE IT Principle.
So, do you love it (whatever “it” is)? At what price are you willing to keep “it”?
In Too Much Stuff, Kathryn Porter summarizes what we have been discussing:
    Psychological clutter is emotional heaviness that resides in our hearts. These weights are not tangible, but nonetheless they trouble our souls…. That which we possess and that which we desire to possess also clutters our hearts. We think, worry, and dream about these things. When it comes to the stuff we own, protecting it, insuring it, maintaining it, storing it, and cleaning it resides in the back of our minds. Even if we’re not actively thinking about it, it weighs on us, stealing the room in our hearts. 

If you need additional assistance de-emphasizing the importance of your stuff, the Stuff-flow website provides additional tips to help you get your stuff flowing out of your space. The Stop Letting Stuff Overwhelm You  audio covers topics such as making psychological transitions, dealing with internal versus external clutter, and creating new habits.
Start believing that your stuff is an accent to your life rather than the reason for your life; it will give help you decrease the stuff overwhelm!
© 2008 Janice Russell. North Carolina’s first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, Janice Russell, and her firm, Minding Your Matters® Organizing, have built a reputation for helping business and residential clients organize their space, items, documents, and time using the flexible structure principle™. Janice’s workshops on topics such as tackling the “no time” trap, perishing paper piles, and stopping stuff from being overwhelming are dynamic, informative, and practical. Minding Your Matters® is dedicated to helping people achieve organization with lasting results™ in their personal and professional lives. Janice is highly regarded within her industry. She is a Golden Circle Member of National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and past president of the North Carolina Chapter of NAPO. Janice is the author of the book Get Organized This Year!  and the audio Stop Letting Stuff Overwhelm You. For more information, please visit or call 919-467-7058.

This article may be reprinted as long as it’s reprinted in its entirety including the signature line.


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