The crushing reality of clutter has never been so apparent. Marie Kondo really is on to something.
Forced to stay at home for months on end, American families are navigating their own stuff like never before. In the pre-COVID days, we were leaving home much more regularly which gave us a regular respite from all of our belongings.
Now, we’re awash in it. All day, everyday.
Winding our way through all of our things with greater frequency has serious impacts on our mental health, according to the researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF).
They found links between higher levels of stress in female homeowners with a high density of household objects. Their research suggests that an untidy household drives anxiety for women. Even families working hard to reduce clutter encounter emotional paralysis when it comes to getting rid of possessions.
One of the most shocking findings: US consumers account for 40% of the world’s toys despite only having 3% of the world’s children.
We’re in a relationship with our things and it’s not a particularly healthy one.
Let’s dig into current trends around downsizing and its benefits.
Reducing clutter is a physical and mental process
It’s not as simple as learning the techniques of Marie Kondo or Fey Wolf.
The process of pouring through a pile of items that have sentimental value can be emotionally taxing—not to mention the physical toll that comes from hauling your stuff to the trash or donation bin.
Research tells us that the end result is a good one: Positive effects on mood and self-esteem.
From more efficient thinking and visual processing to healthier eating habits and overall mental health, decluttering can be a major boost to our emotional well-being.
As expected, many families are taking advantage of the extended time at home to change their relationship with those home goods. “Corona cleaning” is the name of the game as experts encourage people to categorize their stuff, donate to good causes, and think about reorganizing with an eye towards the daily use of spaces.
Parting with sentimental or just long-owned items involves a fair amount of mental gymnastics.
To overcome your own objections, experts like Marla Stone suggest focusing on making good decisions and grouping possessions according to how they’re used. Once you’ve got things categorized, it’s easy to what gets used often and what’s just sitting there most days.
It’s also important to think about your goals.
What do you want to accomplish in the space you’re decluttering? How does the space need to be shaped to make that happen? Thinking that way—about larger priorities—helps you see past the immediate attachment to the object.
Getting practical about the art of downsizing
With a solid grounding in the mental health benefits of decluttering and a strong sense of how to focus on goals and prioritize the use of space, you can start getting serious about changing your relationship with your stuff.
Map out how you’ll use a newly-decongested room. Brainstorm ideas for getting more value out of various rooms in your home. Consider the experiences you can create with slightly less focus on things and a greater emphasis on the people that occupy it.
Don’t just fill up the empty space you’ve just created.
There are plenty of helpful self-storage options in your area to get that job done. And sometimes that’s the healthiest move you can make—getting the stuff you’re not really using out of the way.
Make room for living rather than just juggling possessions around all the time. Focus on those goals and how changing your relationship with things will empower you to reach them.
Paul Perry is a freelance writer for Neighbor, a peer-to-peer marketplace for storage. A world traveler and a self-made pizza connoisseur, he covers business and consumer interest from strategy to education.