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  • Writer's pictureHeatherAnne Norbury

The Psychology of Clutter and Why We Hold On to Stuff

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In the rhythm of our everyday lives, there's this ongoing tug-of-war we all face – the challenge of letting go, especially when it comes to parting ways with our stuff. We've all been there, right? It's like trying to bid farewell to old friends who've become part of the furniture. Whether it's the sentimental stories woven into our belongings or the classic "just in case" mindset, decluttering often turns into a psychological maze. So, as we wade through this mix of attachment and the need for some breathing room, let's unravel the psychology behind why it's so darn tough to let things go.

The Comfort of Familiarity

Picture this: you walk into your home, and everything is in its place - good or bad, cluttered or tidied. It is where you expect it to be. The familiar surroundings offer a sense of security and comfort. Humans are creatures of habit, seeking stability in the familiar. That's one reason we hold on to things – they become symbols of the known, creating a perceived sense of stability in our lives.

Dr. Russell Belk, a consumer psychologist, found that possessions often serve as an extension of our identity and a way to maintain a sense of continuity in our lives. So, that tattered childhood teddy bear or the worn-out bookshelf might not just be physical objects; they can be emotional anchors, connecting us to our past and grounding us in the present.

Emotional Attachment to Objects

We attach sentimental value to our possessions. That old concert ticket, a handwritten letter from a friend, or a piece of artwork from your child – these items carry emotional weight. They are tangible reminders of experiences, relationships, and moments that have shaped us. Emotional attachment to objects is a powerful motivator for holding onto possessions, even when they no longer serve a practical purpose.

Acknowledging these emotional ties is the first step in decluttering. Instead of letting go of the memories, consider creating a dedicated space for these sentimental items or documenting them through photographs. This way, you can cherish the stories and the memories without being buried under a mountain of stuff.

The "Just in Case" Mentality

How often have you said, "I might need this someday"? Guilty as charged, right? This mindset, known as the "just in case" mentality, is a common reason for clutter accumulation. We fear letting go of things because we worry we might need them in the future.

Humans tend to overvalue potential future rewards, leading us to hoard items we may never use. I encourage you to challenge this mentality. Ask yourself realistically if you'll need that item in the foreseeable future. If not, consider passing it on to someone who might find it helpful now.

The Decluttering Journey

Now that we've explored the psychology behind clutter, let's talk about decluttering. Remember, it's not about letting go of everything but about creating space for what truly matters.

1. Start Small: Tackling clutter can be overwhelming, so start with a small, manageable area. It could be a drawer, a shelf, or a corner of a room.

2. Ask Yourself Questions: When deciding whether to keep or discard an item, ask yourself questions like, "Does this make me happy?" or "Will I realistically use this in the next six months?" “If I didn’t have this item, what would I use instead?” This process can help you evaluate the true value of your possessions.

3. Embrace the Joy of Giving: Consider donating items that no longer serve you but could be valuable to others. Donating or gifting lightens your load and contributes to a sense of fulfillment.

4. Celebrate Progress: Recognize and celebrate your achievements along the way. Each step toward decluttering is a victory, so pat yourself on the back and keep moving forward.

5. Get Support: Whether it's getting your family onboard with you, hiring a coach (Hi! I’m a decluttering coach!), or joining a decluttering group, like my free Decluttering Community on Facebook, getting support from others makes the big job of decluttering a lot more manageable.

Our emotions, attachments, and fears are deeply entwined with our clutter. By understanding these psychological aspects, we can approach decluttering with empathy and a newfound perspective. It's not about getting rid of everything but about creating a space that nurtures your well-being and allows room for growth.

Remember, small, consistent actions add up to big changes. Declutter your life today!

47 views2 comments


Claire McDaniel
Claire McDaniel
Jan 03

Whenever I let go of something, it seems the Universe finds something better to takes its place. It doesn't even have to be a tangible item -- it includes activities and other things that may be cluttering up my life.

HeatherAnne Norbury
HeatherAnne Norbury
Jan 04
Replying to

This is so true!

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