Do we own our possessions or do they own us? The popularity of the television show "Hoarders" demonstrates that this is a question that more and more people are beginning to ask. Many are dismayed by the answer, which is that their possessions have far more control over their lives than they'd ever realized. Whether their value is sentimental, such as treasured gifts from friends, or symbolic of their shopping prowess, like those items purchased at unheard-of sale prices for use on that "someday" which still hasn't arrived, they all contribute to the clutter in our lives. Even when the amount of clutter begins to cause stress, it's difficult to part with them. It turns out that there's a biological reason for that.
In one study, researchers demonstrated through a number of experiments that physically touching an object creates a psychological bond with that object. Researchers at Yale University conducted a brain imaging study and found that the anterior cingulate cortex and insula light up in response to losing an item. That's the same part of the brain that lights up when we experience physical pain. One way to help reduce the sense of loss we experience when letting go of something is to replace it with a positive emotion. For example, you might picture the expression of delight on the face of a needy child upon being presented with some of those old toys in the attic.
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Similarly, someone else might enjoy the same feeling you did the first time you wore those fabulous clothes that have been hanging unworn in the back of your closet for the last couple of years. One of the sources of stress surrounding clutter is an unconscious feeling of guilt in keeping unused items. That's one of the reasons that so many people report feeling a sense of relief and satisfaction after having a yard sale or donating unused items to charity.
Of course, there will be items that will be too emotionally difficult to part with. The longer we live, the more of those items we collect. People often joke that their number of possessions seems to grow in direct proportion to the amount of space they have to store them. However, with soaring real estate prices, moving to a bigger house isn't always an option. For things that aren't used but have sentimental value, like those letters from your first true love in primary school, one solution is to purchase an external storage unit , which can be customized according to the desired dimensions.
Even after the process of eliminating unused items from your home, the sheer number of things we use every day is amazing. Add the things that we use only infrequently, and clutter can still be a challenge. Fortunately, there are a lot of ingenious new ways to creatively and effectively utilize available space. For example, stairs can be converted to storage spaces. Closet space can also be maximized with cleverly designed hanging drawers.
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If organizing isn't your strong suit, you might consider hiring a professional organizing service. Clutter usually results in the necessity of having to spend valuable time looking for things. Time is the most valuable possession any of us have, and coupled with the psychological benefits of organization, the benefits could far outweigh the cost. If your budget is tight, most people have at least one friend who is super-organized. Bartering is a great way to appreciate one another's talents.
Once they've de-cluttered their homes, people use a number of different strategies to maintain their newly organized low-stress environments. Some people make a rule that for every new item that comes in, an old item has to go out. Others make a rule to rent, rather than purchase items that aren't used frequently. Community lending libraries for every imaginable kind of tool, from gardening to auto maintenance, are also becoming increasingly popular.
Once people begin simplifying their lives, they often discover that the process is actually as enjoyable as the results. They are also often surprised at how much they learn about themselves by the conscious act of prioritizing what's really important to them—and letting go of all the rest.