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     The Psychology Of It All

Most people don’t want their house to look like a used-toy warehouse, but when it comes down to getting rid of the clutter, they just can’t let go. Why is it that we CLING to items of no apparent VALUE? In this article I will discuss three reasons why people hang on to things -- but first a short story.

20 years ago this year, my mom passed away when I was just 16 years old and she was 46. Reality set in very quickly when my Grandma told myself and my brother that we could take ANYTHING we wanted from the house. Although, I could've taken anything I wanted from my mom’s house to my dad’s house -- to me, most of it it was just “stuff.” The memories were in a few precious things that I eventually kept -— such as our pictures, my mom’s recipes, our Christmas ornaments, some of her piano music (she was a piano teacher) and some of her jewelry. I don’t miss any of the other stuff, because after all, I have those few special treasures that I will always CHERISH -- those that give me the greatest memory. Why do I tell you this story? Because I had the opportunity to hang on to so many things that I did not need that would just take up space and that I would probably never use.

A very common reason for clinging to “things,” is because often those things REMIND us of someone who is no longer in our life. We save souvenirs from trips we took with ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, deceased spouses, or relatives who have passed on. Why do we hold on to these items so tenaciously? Part of the answer is that they hold precious MEMORIES of the past. We project the meaning of those memories onto objects from those time periods or vacations. The other part of the answer is that we are still in the process of grieving.

There are a few things that can help us facilitate the grieving process and encourage organization and healthy living. First, we can remind ourselves, that the MEANING is in the memory, not the memorabilia. Second, we can slowly begin the purging process, keeping a few very special treasures. Begin by going through just a few things at a time and allow yourself to re-live the memory, but agree that not everything with the memory will need to be kept. Do this every so often until the amount of treasures you are keeping are manageable. Lastly, we can simply move old memorabilia into storage until we feel EMOTIONALLY able to deal with it. Removing the memorabilia from our everyday lives is a good way of facilitating healing.

Many people refuse to throw something out because they spent good money on it, believe that it will be USEFUL someday, and don't want to be wasteful in getting rid of it. This is especially true with things that can potentially be turned into art or home-improvement projects, such as old out-dated fabrics, furniture, and other craft supplies. It is perfectly fine to save a few things in hopes of someday RECYCLING them. Problems arise when we want to save everything. In most homes, there simply isn’t room to hold on to everything.

There are a few things you can do to minimize clutter of this origin. First, keep one storage box that you designate for future crafts or projects -- keep no more than will FIT in that box. Second, if you can’t think of something SPECIFIC you want to do with the re-cycled item, throw it out. It will never be used, it’ll only collect dust. Last, if you don’t use the item in three months, donate it. We often have good intentions, but nothing to show for them.

How many of us hold on to items that were once a part of our life (a part we really enjoyed or feel nostalgic about), and that we believe that we will one day use again -- just not RECOGNIZING that it will realistically never happen? Sometimes this happens wiht old hobbies -- those skis you will never get on again or the sewing you keep meaning to pick back up but don't have time for. Clothes are the worst. Many people hang on to outfits that are the wrong size or from a different era. What we don’t realize is that these items of clothing that we cling most dearly to, will not be in-style by the time they fit again. In the end, they take up valuable space in your closet making it difficult to find those items you wear regularly.

Toss or donate items you haven't used in the past year (couple of years at most) and don't have any opportunity of using again in the forseeable future. Same thing for clothes that don’t FIT you, or haven’t been worn in the last year. If you need some sort of motivation for dieting, save one pair of “skinny pants.” Special occasion items can be kept for more than a year -- but try to keep in mind that they will go out of style and you’ll want something NEW to wear anyway.

These are only a few of the reasons people hang on to clutter, there are surely many more. I encourage you to look at what you are holding on to and DECIDE if it just “stuff” or a cherished treasure.


Laura Leist is an Organizational Consultant and President of Eliminate Chaos, LLC. She teaches individuals how to streamline their process and be more efficient in their work and personal lives -- and her products are available directly through www.OnlineOrganizing.com. She can be reached at 425.670.2551 or through her website at www.eliminatechaos.com.

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